Grey Fox, A Peace Sign, and Festival Highlights
I spent over 80 hours up on the hill at Grey Fox. During that time there were so many conversations with old friends, spine-tingling musical moments, and amazing sights to behold (you haven't lived till you've gone to the top of the hill, kicked back and watched the sun set over the misty green hills). I'll share a few "moments" with you, just in case you weren't able to be there making your own special memories to return to over those long winter months.
* After the last note was played onstage on Saturday night (and that was around 2:00 a.m.) I was backstage chatting with great bassist Dennis Crouch who hails from Strawberry, Arkansas . We were remembering Roy Huskey, Jr., who left us way too early and trading anecdotes about Roy (he was SUCH a character). Nearby, way up in a big ole tree this gigantic peace sign made of big light bulbs glows in the night (you could see it all across the hillside). A jam starts up behind us with Tim O'Brien, John Miller (of old time music "fame") Mary Burdette and others....they're doing "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning" and it seems just right in that soulful late-night heavy air...I love that song. Kit Swaggert (Tim's better half) and his son Joel (of dancing and hamboning fame) are right there and they've been dancing around....Tim slides into possibly my favorite of his songs (though it changes from day to day)...."Like I Used to Do," and the mood goes in two notes from jubilant to attentive, pensive, the huge peace sign is glowing brightly in a nearby tree, the moon is rising full over the hill, a circle of warmth...Louis and Cathy, Libby, Chrissy, Lisa and all are gathered round and I know that soon this circle will break and we'll go our separate ways, away from this cocoon of friendship and great music....I suddenly feel like I'm on an island and this VOICE is surrounding me, reassuring me, making me glad and sad all at once...I'm standing next to Kit and our eyes getting moist, then brimming...I reach out to her and we hug...tears spill down my cheeks. As he sings Tim quietly moves over to Kit and leans forward and kisses her so gently...I've heard him dedicate this song to her at other shows and I feel privileged to stand here, now, a part of this special time. This beautiful sentiment of a song fills the sweet night for a long time. The last notes are sung, Tim comes and kisses Kit again and I walk off toward the snow fence to be alone for a bit. There are people standing there on the other side, straining to hear the music. I turn back to the jam then and it goes on but I'm still feeling vulnerable and sort of weepy (50% marshmallow, that's me).
Not too much later the jam breaks up and we fan out into the night. I wander over to the Uncle Earl girls campsite which is peopled with the murky shadows of King Wilkie boys and Crooked Stillers and even some Red Stick Ramblers and it's the kind of scene I was very much a part of 15 years ago on the hill, but I'm that much older now so I stand back and watch and listen and enjoy a kind of satisfied "elderly" take on the younger scene and hope that they don't mind too much if I just look on and appreciate their own memory-making on the hill. Later, I see the sun rise from the mist over the hilltops below...once again.
* Del and the Boys did a great set prime-time on Friday and I enjoyed every song they did, but their encore was the best. Del came back out with the boys to thunderous applause, grinning and winking, and laid us flat with "When I'm 64." He was so damned cute. He urged the audience to sing along and predictably forgot some of the words, but who cared? He's DEL. And don't forget it! Their new gospel album sounds like a keeper.
* Jerry Douglas did a set of music I might normally have skipped but I didn't want to forfeit my front row seat. His set was a little far out there for my particular mouldy fig kind of taste, but hey! he's Jerry! and he had a fine band! Those of you who know me realize that I am a fan of great singing, and there wasn't a lick of singing the entire set. But...I especially liked Guthrie Trapp on the electric and acoustic guitar with his smooth head and cool grin...I loved the anonymity of digging his vibe yet knowing that he was completely unaware of me out there in the darkness. And Bernie Velluti on the board (on loan from Alison Krauss)...geez, I've known Bernie a long time. He took time out of his busy night to fix my camera bag with duct tape; stuff had been falling out everywhere! My favorite Jerry line of the night (ain't Jerry the coolest?) was, "I know where the wild things are -- they're on this hill."
At one point Jerry gets out the electric guitar and plays it with a bar...I look past him and there's Bela in the doorway with his banjo (most folks on the hill didn't know surprise guest Bela had been hanging around backstage for hours). Bela comes out and stands between Gabe Witcher and Jerry sporting that sweet sly little grin of his - the one I've loved for like 25 years...and, well, you had to be there.
*Tim O'Brien and Corn Bread Nation. Whoa. Now THAT was a set of not-to-be-forgotten music! Maybe best part was the attitude of it all, like you were sitting in someone's kitchen around a big ole oak table and grandma was making cathead biscuits and you were slurping down cups of coffee - or even something a bit stronger - and the sun was coming up (or going down) and all was well out in the barnyard, chickens and cows dancin' around with plenty to eat and a bright future ahead. You know, just like that kind of glow - "feel good" music. Tim was joined by Casey Driessen (fiddle), Dennis Crouch (bass), Danny Barnes (guitars) and Doug Billot (sp?) (drums). Tim launches right into "Busted." He does that so cool. And then "Come On Boys Let's Go A-Huntin'" which if you know anything about me you know I'm on like the top of the moon when he does that one. I don't know how I lived in Nashville for so long and never heard Danny Barnes, but that man can play a guitar and he's so much fun to watch. Over the weekend lots of great performers commanded our attention but Danny was special...he just looked like he was enjoying himself up there Sooooo much...kind of like someone who loves his guitar and has been stuck on an island without it for oh about 10 years....he was jubilant with that thing. Watch him sometime!
* When Glenn proposed to Pauline onstage (see one of my previous blogs - are the individual writings called blogs?). Geez, that made me catch my breath, too. Has anyone ever loved me like that? Nope. Lucky girl, Pauline! A wonderful public declaration...I'm glad she said yes.
* I had a really nice chat with Eric Gibson (of the Gibson Brothers). He's a man who writes a song straight from the heart and if you're looking for good material give Eric a call. Upstate New York has much to be proud of in young Eric.
* Sunday night was the final fling for the backstage gang. After a great supper of turkey, ribs, salad, potatoes and a bunch of other stuff, we all ran out to watch the sunset. I ran up the hill and met a whole cast of characters, many of whom were on the Site Crew and ended up down at the backstage later on in the evening. By then the snow fence had been removed. Sometime not long before I crawled into the back of my truck I heard a nice blender-wielding guy (he was walking around filling up people's glasses with his concoction of cherry brandy, blueberries, strawberries and stuff) proclaim, "Y'all are losin' the frog. I'm gonna head out." I didn't know what "losin' the frog" meant, but it seemed quite serious. I later learned that he was, literally, The Frog. Go figure. He has some website called "Southside Temple of the Holy Prune" or some such thing in case you want to know more about The Frog and how he came to be lost.
It was pretty difficult to turn in, though, because Lisa and Mary and others were jamming as if there were no tomorrow and it was lovely and there were a couple of fine voices in the mix I didn't know (but won't soon forget) -- a lady named Caroline who lives in Albany and has a gorgeous bluesy voice and a lady named Mary Maguire who has this incredibly calm, relaxed intoxicating sort of voice - you just want to hear more and more - (check her out at: marymaguire.us)...but I finally pulled away and spent several happy hours sleeping, at last.
* The staff at Grey Fox are like a really good (non-dysfunctional) family. It ain't Wally and the Beav, but they are close and who wants mom walking around in a starched white apron anyway? Seriously, I've known some of these folks for over 20 years....they are great. Folks like Darwin Davidson, Gerry Katz, Libby and Chrissy made the Green Room and the times backstage flow smoothly and comfortably. Those are great folks!!! I really enjoyed getting to spend some time in their company. It was wonderful to see my ole pals Mary and George Doub, Chuck Wentworth, Pete and Kitsy Kuykendall...they've been constant friends throughout my bluegrass experiences. Grey Fox was, once again, a truly special time. (more later).