Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sunday, Back at Green River Festival

We had the air conditioner on overnight because it was really beginning to heat up, and though we'd been up until late the previous night and the sleeping was good, I got up and then got Dave up in time to leave the hotel in search of coffee-breakfast by 8:30 or so (Sarah got up early). We sashayed on back to the Trail TOC Diner and had another breakfast that couldn't be beat and then drove back to the hotel. We packed up for the day's activities and Dave and I headed for the golf course while Sarah tried to chill. Scott joined us for a couple of holes and though there were some fine shots we aborted the round early. Dave and I did a quick change and joined the kids and parents in the pool, but then changed back and hit the road for the Festival by a few minutes after 11:00.

The gates opened just as we got there ... it was much less crowded for the first couple of acts than it had been for Saturday. We pulled up a piece of lawn right in front of the stage again. You don't want to get too close because then you'll be swamped by dancers rushing the stage, but we set up about 30 feet back and with several rows of chairs in front of us this was just right.

The Two Man Gentlemen Band was up first, in their old-fashioned knickers and shirtwaists. If you haven't seen this act you need to. They've got a Tom and Dickie (Smothers Brothers) thing going but instead of talking around what they're really trying to sing about they get right to it and, in the most genteel way, they sing about liking reefer and beer and partying with girls. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that and when you back it up with a stand-up bass, a kazoo, and a rockin' 4-string guitar that probably has fathered several ukeleles then it's more than all right.

Next up was another of the shining stars of the Festival, Patty Larkin. I've seen her several times and had half-planned that this would be my time to wander down to the Dance Tent, but I wanted to stick around for at least a few songs and I ended up staying for her whole set and loving it. The thing that amazes me most about Patty is that she's such an accomplished guitar player who knows exactly what sound she needs next and has no trouble getting it. She's been playing some of the songs she did for decades, but it's like every time she plays one she can reach back to that moment when she composed it and it was filled with meaning, and she can hit the right notes to drive that meaning into our skulls. She's one of the best singer-songwriters I've ever hear and you could tell she was getting off on the hot and sunny summer day in the Berkshires with a folkie crowd thing. Absolutely wonderful. Michelle and hot (caliente no picante) daughter came up front in the middle of the set but couldn't stay.

OK, I was all set to hit the jets as soon as Patty finished and I headed right for the Melt Down Stage (the kids stage) where I was delighted to catch several songs by Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem.  Rani (ex of Salamander Crossing of course) and husband/drummer Scott Kessell have a young family and the band has switched to a kids sound from their adventurous bluegrasss-swing sound of the past.  As you might expect with such great musicians they excel at it and the thing I loved about their set was that they really excelled at getting the kids involved, from some whom they obviously knew and who knew all the songs, to some who were taking their first steps toward dancing and singing in front of an audience.  The band was great, the kids were great, and I was singing along with everybody about the wriggling snake, the sneaky monkey, and the waddling duck.  This was a different kind of fun then I had all day and just as valued.

BUT ... as soon as they hit their last note I was out of there and streaking across the back field towards the Dance Tent, where the Sacred Shakers were holding court.  I ran into Dave on the way and briefed him quickly about the band, then we moved up front when we got there and started dancing.  Daniel Fram (I believe) was missing, but that meant that Eilen Jewell was up front more often and who could complain about that?  Their "last" song (they did an encore) was Samson and Delilah and Dave (who had recently realized that that wasn't a Grateful Dead song originally) was as gobsmacked as you might expect.  Dan Kellar sang the key line as "and the birds and bees made honey in the lion's head" ... a slight departure from Reverend Gary Davis.

Time to chill and wander back to main stage now, as Wanda Jackson wasn't coming on for a bit.  I wove back and forth back up the hill through the green, green, but already severely trodden-down grass, past the short line at the popcorn chicken wagon, the long line at the ice cream booth, and the anxious people at the first aid station, past the noodles and wraps and smoothies people, back to the front rows.  The Pine Leaf Boys had one song left in them and I was up by the right speaker to groove on their textbook Cajun sound, though it was off to the port-a-potties as soon as they were done.  I took over from Sarah who was wilting in the sun and I waited for Wanda to come on.

Wanda Jackson is, of course, the rockabilly goddess and though the years had taken their toll and she needed to be helped up the stairs to the stage, when she got there she rocked us all.  The big hair must have helped (her lead guitarist had certainly bought into the big hair thing), and her timeouts to tell great tales about her days with Elvis were a good break for all on a godawful hot day, but Jesus she was authentic.  She's recently had her career jump-kicked by Jack White, that Pygmalion of the modern music scene (and producing/playing genius himself of course), and she gave us a much more professional and heartfelt set than I was anticipating.  I'd have to say that she was 5 times more entertaining and hip than what I expected.  She sang songs I barely remembered from my childhood and her band, the Lustre Kings, backed her up right.  I was left with the taste and smell of the old bowling alleys and big cars of long, long ago ...and this was live!

Oh boy, time to calm down and get some veggie wraps for me and the still-sunned-out Sarah.  I acquired the food and then let it sit on my chair while I danced because the next goddess, Eilen Jewell, came on and proceeded to take over the Festival.  Talk about generations: Wanda Jackson, Emmylou Harris, Patty Larkin, Eilen Jewell, Zoe Muth ...

Eilen came out in her trademark little black dress and cowboy boots, but this time she had a frilly collar and a lot more confidence than when I first saw her.  She knocked us out with some classics like Rain Roll In but mainly stuck to her new material.  Highlights of her set were Bang Bang Bang and Queen of the Minor Key from her new record.  The new stuff doesn't feature Jerry Miller's wizardry as much as her sets of a couple of years ago did and her songs aren't quite as sharp as a few years before that.  I'd have to say she's in a little slump, but it's probably akin to Adrian Gonzalez's last "little slump" and she'll come busting out of it soon.  Next year I'll probably be saying that Warning Signs and Home To Me are my favorite songs of hers ... give them a little time.

Two more sets left and this next one was going to be another exciting, exciting experience.  I had checked out JJ Grey and Mofro on Youtube and just a ten-second listen was enough to make me know I had to hear this guy live.  Again, our friend Scott had also heard his songs and was as excited as I was.  JJ came on at 5:00 and played until just after 6:00, while the temperature gradually cooled off to something approaching liveable and the vibe wrapped us all up and took us away to another land, where the bayou/swamp/lowlands are full of wonder and the relations/loves/work are tedious but self-affirming.  He has some great songs and is one of those unexpectedly soulful singers who belt it out of their innards for us all to testify to and enjoy.  Another guy you've got to see.

Next was Emmylou.  It would take me pages to describe what she means to me as an icon, a musician, and ... well, don't get me started.  She wore a headband and an off-the-shoulder pancho and was much more sexy and cool than a 64-year old should be ("Will you still be sending me a valentine...").  She had an ace band with her in the latest incarnation of the Red Dirt Boys and took us through a tour of her newer stuff, like Home Sweet Home (just a fantastic song!), My Name Is Emmett Till (more moving live than I'd ever thought it would be off the record), and Big Black Dog (at a nice slow tempo, again, much better then the record).  She closed with the classic Wheels and then Six White Cadillacs from the new record and then she was gone off into the night, as was the Green River Festival.

We tried to gather our stuff, both physically and mentally ... the same thing many people around us were going through!  The guy behind me mentioned that he had seen me sitting and/or dancing in the hot sun all day and asked how I did it?  I told him that I had no idea.  We packed up and made it back to the car, waited in line past delighted campus/town cops who were directing traffic (they were as rosy-cheeked as anybody), and finally made it back to Route 2 West where we floored it for the Oxbow and the pool.  We all changed into bathing suits as soon as we got there and ran, not walked, into the pool around 8:30.  It took us at least a half-hour of total submersion to cool off, and then we were rejuvenated!

We made some quick sandwiches for dinner and joined Scott, Michelle, Jeannette, Tristan, Dave, and Rebecca for some beers, margaritas, and true confessions late into the night, mixed in with raves about the Festival we had just been at.  The kids kept on waking up and trying to join us, as kids will, but we navigated through that.  Finally to bed around who-knows-what-time and we woke up in the morning and drove back to work *early* on Monday, wounded warriors to say the least.

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