Sunday, August 10, 2003
Falcon Ridge Folk Festival July 25 to 27, 2003 in Hillsdale, New York
Clean Like Disneyland But Better
The first thing we see is colorful tents and the green green hill side. The grass stays relatively litter free despite 10,000+ people on Sat night. This is not the Disneyland DaVinci's Notebook sings about, it is the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Volunteers in orange tee shirts, not paid staff, keep the parking orderly, the crowd flow comfortable, and provide for both order and good spirits.
During the day women are nursing infants on the hillside, protecting babies and small children from the sun with umbrellas and tent canopies large and small. Disabled folks park their wheelchairs in special listening areas at the sides of the stages. The hearing impaired sit in front and, with the rest of the audience, enjoy the lovely sign language interpreters. This place welcomes the vulnerable, young, old and in between. . We wonder if we will still come when we are old and frail; maybe for fewer hours per day.
10,000 people on Saturday night, to hear Dar Williams and Arlo Guthrie ( preceded by Tracy Grammar, Eddie from Ohio, and Greg Brown). the mood is friendly and mellow.. And the rich gift of glorious sound is heard all the way up the hill in the camper's tents, and is piped into food and shopping areas down the hill. Performer after performer thanks Klondike Sound for making the sound at this festival the envy of other festivals.
Performers are sometimes audience too. We see Nerissa Nields on the path on Sunday and she tells us the same thing she says onstage I think, that this is a weekend she has been looking forward to all year to connect with friends.. Many sets are groups of performers scheduled to do round robins (one performer after another) but they end out backing each other up seeing harmony on each other songs, adding instrumental backups. I can't hear bands like this at home that include so many of these groups all at once -the Nields, the Kennedy's, Tom Paxton, Tracy Grammer all singing together. The gift of rich sound is very special here.
Sometime after midnight when music ends at the main stage, there are song circles up the hill where main stage performers mix with professional and amateur singer-songwriters share song circles till wee hours. On Sat morning Nancy from Baltimore tells me she stayed up till 5 am at Baltimore's Big Orange Tent (the BOT) and is back down the hill for a 10 am workshop stage performance. On Sunday morning Vance Gilbert is awed by Tracy Grammar's ability to sound so great after leaving the HappyTown songcircle at 3 pm and driving an hour back to her hotel.
From the stage on Sat night Dar says hello to the Camp Dar which has a song circle in her honor. I hear about the song circles every year, but since I have trouble staying awake for the main stage performance, we have not yet gone. We wonder, could we sleep till noon and come to FR in the afternoon only?. Go back to our motel for an afternoon nap (and park in the far parking across the street when we come back?) What could we miss given that we are not willing to forego sleep for 3 days?
We are not campers; can we be comfortable outdoors for so many hours? When we leave our motel Fri morning at 8:30 am I realize we won't be back until after midnight.
Falcon Ridge Logistics
We do pack both clothes and equipment for ranges of temperatures. It is cool Thurs and Fri nights (but only in the 50's, not like the first year we came. Despite the fact that the temperature went down to the 30's, the first year we were hear, but we stayed up and shivered through the last main stage person, Dar Williams.) This year, Sat night it is very temperate and we don't need the jacket or even slacks we brought, and mercifully Dar is on a little bit earlier.
Daytimes, Fri and Sat it is hot under the 80+ degree unrelenting sun, and on these days we sit under a beach canopy, alternating between beach chairs and camping seats, with rain umbrellas as backup sun protection. It is fun to see the assortment of interesting canopies people bring and erect in the "canopy" area behind the main seating. Sunday is mercifully cloudy and mild, and the couple of short rain showers are pure godsend, except for our fear that they may include the predicted lightening storms. However, the festival is totally graced and there is no lightening or heavy storm.
I could worry about food, water and toilets (the essential ins and outs we take for granted at home), but there is no problem here. Lots of water is essential during the days of hot sun, and I see people filling water bottles for free from the public hoses. But I bring and also buy bottled water and some frozen smoothies. There seem to be more soda options this year too. My husband loves the iced coffee. The lines are never too long (although maybe we time meals well), and the portapots I visit never run out of toilet papers, and incredible outdoor water hand wash things don't run out of water or soap this year (amazing!) - so I don't need the extra kleenix and handwipes I packed.
The days go smoothly, and no, I can't get enough of this music. I get more and more mellow, and am less and less worried about anything. People are for the most part in a pleasant holiday mood, and mostly wait patiently where lines do happen.
The shopping and food tent area is well lit, and the public walkways in and out of the festival. But it is important in the evening is to carry a flashlight, or walk close to people who do have one, because there are no other lights on the grassy hill. Although the stars are bright this year, I don't notice much of a moon, and there is the issue of going down the hill for food and/or a pee, and having to find your seating companions again. It will be dark, with no daytime colors and landmarks. This happens on Sat night to one of our very favorite performers, Eliot Bronson. He finds us in the dark but can't see where his friends are. We shine our flashlight, so he can rejoin them some 12 feet down the hill. My strategy works - I ask my body to cool it for ins and outs for a couple of hours and it cooperates.
Some Few Festival Highlights
This year was about falling in love with the Nields. My appreciation has been growing and growing. This year I couldn't see them enough at the festival! I am still playing and replaying their CD's. The Nield's main stage set end with an all perfomers present joining them in the sweetest version of GoodNight Irene I have ever heard.
Dar Williams continues to be a solid favorite. I will see her again with Eddie from Ohio at Merryweather Post in Columbia Md on Sat.
And as ever, the Vance Gilbert song-critiquing workshop, and Vance on workshop and main stage, John Gorka, Richard Shindell, Lucy Kaplansky and so many others. Da Vinci's Notebook are funny as always, and this year I join the conga line.
I love Iris DeMent songs. I am so thrilled that Greg Brown sungs of his wife's songs:
When My Morning Comes Around (from The Way I Should CD) as part of the Fri night song swap, and These Hills (from her Infamous Angel CD) - as part of his Sat night mainstage set. Greg Brown is a fair songwriter himself - Everything with you is Sex is quite a song.
It was great seeing We're About Nine on the main stage, twice on the workshop stage, and all over the grounds. Brian Gundersdorf, your intro to Writing Again was the best ever. And several times between acts on the workshop stage I heard your CD playing, and hear people talking about it.
Another highlight was hearing the Kennedy's new song Stand several times - these folk rockers can really do an anthem.
Holly Near recommended several times during the weekend that when we visit friends we bring a CD of this kind of singer-songwriter music as a gift in lieu of flowers or a bottle of wine. Holly Near is great and I want to see more of her. I loved her song - Send in a Thousand Grandmothers.
I find is missed a excellent Richard Shindell's set on the mainstage. I was at the workshop stage at that time. There were so many difficult choices between stages.
Dave Carter Music Was Very present
It is great seeing Tracy Grammer the several times she appears and seeing her even more backing up other performers, hearing Dave Carter's songs also sung by other performers, and continuing to remember the tribute to Dave Carter last year.
Thurs night - the Kennedy's said as they drove into the FRFF they saw a great blue heron fly over the festival site and seeing it they said, hello Dave Carter. The next day a presenter on the main stage repeated this story. Maura Kennedy sings "When I Go" and Pete contributes an exquisite guitar solo. I have goose bumps hearing her sing this.
Fri night Mainstage - Railroad Earth does an incredible version of When I Go - Tracy Grammer joins them on stage.
Sat in the Study War no more workshop Tracy Grammer's accompanist, Donnie Wright leads off in singing Gentle Arms of Eden with Tracy accompanying on violin. We all sing along on the chorus.
Sat night on the mainstage, Tracy tells us she drove 3000 miles from Portland to just say thank you to us. Her set list includes:
Crocodile Man - in a workshop stage Tracy tells us she is from Florida, which is where Crocodiles come from. Still it is not easy to explain these lyrics.
Love the Magician
Gentle Arms of Eden - in a workshop stage Tracy tells us this came to Dave in a dream (which I had heard before). It was an interesting discussion the day before with an agnostic. (Sort of like an answer to the agnostic?).
I Go Like the Raven
When I Go -Tracy remarks that this song has been performed each day so far (Thurs and Friday on this stage) and she would keep with the tradition of playing it each day. And she invites everyone to join Camp Happytown, with blue prayer flags up the hill, where the song circles is dedicated to Dave Carter songs. She also said she doesn't know how she sang on the main stage last year, she was one woman in shock.
Gentle Soldier of my Soul - Tracy says that when Dave wrote this for me to sing, he probably never knew how badly I would need this song.
In the Sunday in the Tall Tales workshop - Vance Gilbert does priceless cover of Gentle Arms of Eden. He really slows it down, and adds his own emphasis. And at Vance's request, Barry Marshall from the Storycrafters adds a drum beat. Tracy Grammer tries to add supporting vocals, but has to look at Vance to follow his new rhythm for this song. It is so great! Vance MUST record this.
From mainstage on Sunday Lucy Kaplansky sings Cowboy Singer.
In this workshop, Tracy talks about The Power and the Glory (from Drum Hat Buddha) - This was written after Dave Carter went to Nashville, and was told you have good songs, but they have too many words. Luckily he decided that didn't matter. Then he met Emmy Lou Harris once when she was very tired. She told him she had his CD, she hadn't listened to it yet but it was on her living room table, and Dave was so happy.
Tracy sings several unrecorded Dave Carter songs;
Lord of the Buffalo - on the workshop stage Sat on the Songwriting Process. They were in Wyoming and Dave realized there are no buffalo in Wyoming. They were thinking about the buffalo dying out and one was last As this song came, they wept together. "There's a home for the restless soul, says the last buffalo".
And in her Sat night main set - Shadows of Evangeline This song may combine thoughts of his evangelist mother and a sense of voodoo. It is about the mythical story of Evangeline and the swamps of Louisiana.
Hey Ho - about the selling of war to children
Hard to Make It In This World Today -a tired prostitute at a bus stop (Vance calls Tracy a great guitar player in her own right after this song)
Acoustic Live In NYC and Beyond present a number of performers on in front of their booth on the mid-way - between other venders, and just up the row from the food tents. On Sunday we see Eliot Bronson there and Erik Balkey (backed up by We're About Nine) on his first song, God's Poet Now, in the memory of Dave Carter. God's Poet Now is the title song of Erik's new CD, God's Poet Now, which we listen to repeatedly on the drive home. This CD was our best FRFF purchase
This year there are more political comments than ever before - sometimes sharp/pointed, sometimes funny, sometimes hopeful, sometimes bitter. Is the country more divided than ever? The comments I hear are anti-war, pro social programs, and upset with the current administration, and fearful of erosion of civil liberties at home. I hear a wake up call for complacent liberals.
Examples: On the workshop stage, Kate McDonald sing a lovely song "Mercy" - words like boy king, drops his toys on the floor, to hear the news you'd think there's no one here but us. Is it Pete Kennedy who says: We are here to subvert the dominant paradigm? Noting, during the Study War No More Workshop that there is a human peace sign - people are lying on the hill in a peace sign design. Tom Paxton wonders why we wanted to study war in the first place and sings a great new song, Homeland Security (about how they didn't find it in Iraq so now they are investigating his garage). Greg Brown from Iowa sang I want my country back. Richard Shindell's old time ballad sounding song - that has the words: "darkness darkness bind them to me - false the king, false his ways". Dar said - In this next year we'll be challenged to think the people are not in charge, but we are the landscape, we are the light, hold onto that.
There is much more to say about Falcon Ridge and other are posting comments all over fan email lists and on the web. Someone should write a book.
Links to a few Falcon Ridge 2003 pictures:
Fan and Brian Gundersdorf and Antje Duvekot
Eric Schwartz and fan
We're About Nine