Nearly two weeks overdue and likely still very much in need of editing and/or further thought development, it is necessary that I finish this blog as life continues each day at a rapid pace and I am anxious to write about many other topics/adventures. During my short time as part of the blogging community I have yet to have struggled as much as I have with this entry in being concise and in articulating what was in my head. I think that the reason I have struggled with this article is that I am writing about an experience that was so fully dependent on the senses in order to fully appreciate and understand. No matter how well a person describes a beautiful mountain backdrop, a setting sun, or the mind bending riffs of a given musician it is truly impossible to experience through pen and paper what the observer felt when in that moment. However, that being said, it would not have been acceptable to me to fail to write about my five days of camping, acoustic music and personal encounters; thus I have managed to write a blurb that I hope does the whole experience some semblance of justice. I will preface all of this by saying that if you are reading this and you have not yet experienced a bluegrass festival please promptly put it on your bucket list and waste no time in crossing it off. You will not regret it.
The Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival is an annual New York music showdown that tends to attract the hottest artists from the bluegrass, newgrass and everything in between scenes. This particular festival has been going on for twenty some odd years and has only continued to grow in popularity and success since its inception. This year, the festival was held on the beautiful Walsh farm in Oak Hill, New York. Since early childhood I have been exposed to and surrounded by bluegrass/jam band/acoustic music varieties, dabbled in playing the fiddle and as a young girl, tagged along to quite a few festivals and open stages. At some point during my high school years I began to stray away from the music scene, from playing my violin and from everything that I should likely have kept nearer to me. At that point in my life I imagine I thought that athletics were the “cooler” thing to be involved with and opted to drop the violin in lieu of running, soccer, friends and school. Not entirely atypical I am sure, but to this day I wish that I would have taken a slightly different course in life. We all know that regret tends to get you absolutely nowhere and so I look at the experience at GF not only as a great one in and of itself, but it has also served to be a motivating force in me picking up my violin again and in making a few changes in who I am, what I want to be and the type of life I wish to live. The following is a collage of my thought and of different moments throughout the several days in Oak Hill. They are not necessarily in order, but I am not going to mess with them too much as they capture the emotion and the exact thought(s) that I was having at the given time. Some pieces were written late at night after everyone else had retired to their tents and others were written throughout the days as I found moments to myself. Enjoy.
*** Well, the experience has been, without question, the best weekend that I have had in a very (very) long time. It was the perfect combination of wonderful people, truly jaw dropping musicianship and a big handful of hot, sunny days and cool, clear nights. Add to that the fact that I was camping under the stars and entirely without any internet access, cell service, or any of the other luxuries and amenities that we all have become so accustomed to using each and every moment. (It is interesting that when you don’t have the option of wasting time watching TV, being online, texting etc. how much more you seem to actually live life) My dad and I pulled into camp before 8:30 pm on Wednesday night (surprising most everyone as there had been a betting pool running amongst our group about when “Dave would actually get here”) and had camp pretty well set up my shortly after 10. No real complaints as I have my own little tent, an air mattress (albeit one that has a hole so tiny that I will fall asleep comfortably on a fully inflated bed only to wake up on the cold ground with two big puffed up areas on either side of me) and I found out that there are in fact shower with electrical outlets available. Life is good. What remained of the first night was largely camp setup, chatting and lots of guitar/mandolin pickin’. Our tenting area is actually pretty phenomenal as there are about 13 separate canopies of friends all put up adjacent to one another- thus, it has turned into a small community rather than a bunch of separate campers. One of the men has, what could only be described as a full kitchen set up and has been cooking pancakes, bacon, eggs, fajitas etc.; as a result, this group is far from “roughing it” in regards to food. Most of the group had been drinking all day by the time my dad and I pulled in so they called it an early night. I ended up staying up with father for a few hours and we wandered and found little groups jamming well into the night. One of the many, many aspects of this whole atmosphere that I really enjoy is how a complete stranger can simply meander in any direction through the maze of tents and campers and just stop and join in with a friendly group of musicians pickin’ a way. I have learned and seen first-hand that my father can hold his own musically with nearly any group; as a result I have had the privilege of being an appreciator of both his talents as well as the collaborations of many a musician.
*** I will be the first to admit that what was a large part of my thorough enjoyment and what enabled a wholly unique Grey Fox experience was my being on the Stage Crew. When I made the decision a few weeks ago while still living in Miami to join my father in his adventure I also chose to go the volunteer route (versus the ‘regular attendee option). If for no other than saving the several hundred dollar ticket price, I have also learned through other experiences that becoming involved at a participatory level is often more fun and allows you to meet a ton of great people that you may not have otherwise been able to meet. Well, on this particular application, in addition to requiring all of the standard information, I was given the opportunity to tell about myself and basically talk myself into a “good” volunteer job. So, the Reader’s Digest version is that I said I was a classically trained violinist, had a Bluegrass musician as a father and that I was an appreciator of music, but I was not a groupie. Thus, I figured that I covered all of my bases…and she didn’t have to worry about me stalking any musicians. Well, lo and behold, this lovely woman ended up calling me and directly following a very nice conversation I found myself on her backstage crew. I didn’t know exactly what this would entail, but compared to my trash carrying duty at Bonnaroo I really didn’t think that it could get any rougher. After arriving at Grey Fox and working my first shift from 1-7pm on Thursday I knew that I had lucked into something pretty unreal. My “job” was to make sure that the musicians were happy, give them water, chat with them, fetch mints and towels and help carry their equipment on and off of the stage in between sets. Rough. In my first day I met Del McCoury, The Gibson Brothers, The HillBenders, Chris Thile, and was able to get a picture with the one and only Tim O’Brien. Now, getting a picture of Tim may likely be one of the many highlights of my weekend. I don’t actually know if I would love his music as much as I do if I had not literally grown up listening to all of his CDs, hearing my Dad and Keith Brown play them around campfire and singing (attempting to sing) the Remember Me CD with a young Casey Brown. Regardless, it pretty much made my day and may be the one thing that my father was a bit envious of. Anywho, I was forewarned that the man was a bit of a cynical guy so I approached the situation delicately. I told him that as much as I hated to be “that” person, I had grown up listening to his CDs and would love to have a photo with him. We ended up talking for a few moments and ultimately decided to ‘pretend like we had known each other more than 5 minutes’, he put his arm around me and I had a photo snapped. Simply put, a great guy and a phenomenal songwriter and musician. In a nutshell, working on the Stage Crew gave me the opportunity to meet and talk to a ton of phenomenal people (both musicians and other volunteers) and to be up close and personal for any of the performances that I wanted. Similar to comparing hearing a musician on the radio versus seeing him/her “live”, being able to be with 10 feet of the stage only increased my respect and admiration of their talent(s). I admit that, for a good part of my weekend, I was entirely content camping out solo in front of the stage and just taking it all in.
*** The highlight, albeit hard to choose only one, was Friday evening/night/early morning. The entire day was fairly ideal and is one that I would happily relive at least once a month for the rest of my life. I woke the same way as I have been the entire trip- on the ground with two puffed up sides of the air mattress surrounding me. I imagine that it would be quite a comical sight, but truthfully, it didn’t make a damn difference as by the time I made it back to my tent each night I am pretty certain that nothing could have kept this girl awake. I enjoy the fact that it is rather difficult to sleep late when tenting because whether you like it or not, come 7 or 8 AM your tent will go from comfortably cool to something that resembles a hotbox. As a result I found myself up early each day and privy to the sights of those characters just arriving back to their campsite at 6 or 7 AM; this is always a fun sight and provides for great entertainment while enjoying a cup of morning coffee. While most people might consider a festival and camping trip an inopportune time to work out, I couldn’t help but venture out of the campgrounds both Thursday and Friday. I cannot even fully describe how incredibly gorgeous the entire area was; think huge blue skies with picturesque clouds, a mountain range backdrop and a clear, sunny day (granted, we were blessed with pretty perfect whether as it did not rain even once). On both Friday and Saturday I ventured out before it became too unbearably hot and ended up exploring the back roads of two little towns called Oak Hill and Durham. In my opinion, a run is an almost perfect way to start a day. After visiting the “shower trailer” (an experience in and of itself) I quite literally spent the entire day enjoying the The HillBenders, Tim O’Brien and his family, The Steeldrivers and the Yonder Mountain String Band. Not a bad little lineup. However, what truly made the day/night one to remember was the after hours jamming that took place down at a place that had been christened the Creekside Cantina. From Day 1 my father had given me the mission of finding him a great place and group of guys to jam with. I knew that he was partially at the festival to observe, but just as much, he was there to play. Well, like the good daughter I am, I fulfilled my mission. I had had the pleasure of befriending one of the bands over the course of several days and as a result was invited back to their camp Friday night. I am not sure if they fully expected me to show up with my poncho garbed father with his guitar in hand, but no harm no foul as he was quickly accepted into the group of 15 or so musicians/friends as the ‘cool old man that could play.’ What ensued can only be described as the perfect combination of some high quality music, tequila and a full moon (true story- it was a full moon). I was the slightly inebriated, silent observer to this group of 20 something year old musicians and my father tearing up their guitars, mandolins, fiddles, harmonicas, basses … and I believe that someone broke out a tambourine around 3 AM. It was easy to see that they were all having the time of their lives playing (yet another thing I love about musicians- it is so evident that that is what they live to do) and I couldn’t have been more content at that moment in time. Somewhere near 5AM the combination of the late/early hour and the beverages consumed began to take their toll; my poncho-laden, exhausted father and I meandered back to our site in complete agreement that we had just had one hell of a night.
It is interesting how situations and circumstances can completely diffuse a characteristic/trait of a person- in a good way. Grey Fox has managed to do that to me in a very much needed and very significant way. From super Type A/college athlete work out/”to-do” list maker/never “waste” a moment/gotta plan everything girl I have genuinely taken a (very) deep breathe and found a lifestyle that I rather enjoy. Just last week I was in Miami, in a city that could not be more opposite of the campground/bluegrass/tent living place I am now, doing what I largely felt like I was “supposed” to be doing. Working as many hours as I could, running and working out as hard as possible, applying for jobs/fixing my resume/reading current events, not going out with friends as I “had so much to do” etc. etc. Sitting here, it becomes even more obvious to me how much I don’t want to live like that anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I will run until I can’t anymore and am still very much trying to find myself and the type of job/career/life that I want, but I really need to chill the F*ck out much more often (as my Father so eloquently says). It was during my morning jog(s) and my numerous moments to myself over the past few days that I realized just how content I am…and it becomes so very clear why my Dad does what he does. Music, good people, a cold beer, a little sunshine, a cool evening = good times for all. I wish that everyone were as fortunate as I in being able to be exposed to the different ways to go about living.
As a result of Grey Fox 2011 I have not only added another (very necessary) piece to my personal puzzle (a constant work in progress), but I have also decided to start on a new kind of challenge. (And I am putting this in black and white as a way of further ensuring that I hold myself accountable) I have started to play my violin again, or should I now say fiddle, after a near 5 year hiatus. Never content to sit on the sidelines, seeing the countless talented violinists both inspired and challenged me to see if I could break into that world. My goal is a realistic and fully attainable one- that I be able to participate at some level in the fireside fiddling next year at Grey Fox 2012. So throughout the next year as I continue on my road trips, journeys (both literal and figurative), and whatever else life might throw my way I wholly look forward to more thoroughly enjoyable and influential experiences.