Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival (Part 2)
Sometimes I think being a photographer and documentarian is a curse. I keep making all these pictures and videos and doing all this writing and it keeps me sort of "once removed" from what is actually going on - there's a big lens or a big pad of paper between me and reality so I never quite see things directly. Maybe some day some of this stuff will get somewhere to show folks who aren't as lucky as we are what these days were like, how special festivals are, how folks step out of their "ordinary" lives and come together in a community of kindred spirits, how we let down those stony faces and iron curtains and let someone peek inside our hearts every now and then at a festival. I've said this before -- my favorite times at festivals are not when all those great bands are onstage pickin' and singin'. They're not when an audience rises as one to shout and applaud a great performance by (you fill in the blank). My favorite times are always before the proper festival starts and, maybe most especially, after the official closing of the festival; this is when you really get to know folks somehow, when people are not in overdrive, when they're content to have a quiet walk and talk or sit around a fire and share. So this year wasn't any different, despite the efforts of many, many fine bands. I'll make a confession: I didn't even get to the stage for very many sets.
The place where my gang camp is not all that far from the stage - straight out from it, in fact, behind the audience area, behind the gigantic yellow-and-white-striped tent, behind the handicapped parking area....almost to the beach. You can hear the show very well there, almost like you're in the middle of the audience. So while the "visual" is absent, the sound rings! This is the way my friends and I sat around a big ole blazing campfire on Saturday night talking quietly amongst ourselves, laughing at some little joke, and listening to our pal Ole Bubby as he played bass with Peter Rowan and one of the Simpkins boys on the big stage. Tony Rice was scheduled to be there but at the last minute he had some health issue that caused him to miss the trip....never mind. No doubt some folks were disappointed and that sort of thing causes a promoter a ton of anguish (Pati Crooker was telling earlier -before Tony cancelled - how she'd had loads of calls from folks who wanted to confirm that Tony would indeed be appearing because they were coming all the way to the festival just to hear him on Saturday) -- but I think (hope!) it all worked out. I can tell you that my friends and I all agreed that Rowan's show from where we sat around the old campfire was one of the best we've ever heard him do. Rowan is nothing if he is not a 100% professional showman; he's got the pipes and the chops to carry off not just a wonderful trio show -- but even a solo spot. While Tony Rice would have been icing on the cake, this Rowan show was surely a 5 star gourmet concoction nonetheless.
Now Thomas Point Beach has to be one of the very finest bluegrass campgrounds in the country; I haven't been to them all, but I've been to a lot of them. It is pretty well flat (being on the seaside) and well laid out. There are groves of trees nearly everywhere providing that much needed shade and shelter to those of us who don't have sense enough to do the "early to bed, early to rise" thing. Most of us stay up well on into the night and try to catch some sleep on the other end when the sun comes up. That can be hard to do in a tent or the back of your truck like you're obliged to do at so many festivals held in pastures and city parks where there is NOOOOOO shade. So let me call TPB luxurious. Now I've been to bunches of festivals but TPB is the only one that offers a clean, sandy beach on the ocean, inlets for your kayaking pleasure, flush toilets that are kept meticulously clean, soap and paper towel dispensers that never seem to run out, clean and roomy CEDAR shower houses with ample hot water where you have hooks to actually keep your clothing dry and a bench to sit on while you dress....a gigantic campground store where you can buy food, clothing, any number of souvenirs of both the festival and Maine, good real ice cream and thousands of other items. There's a clock that resembles Big Ben in the concert area. You can be sure that anyone in a "STAFF" t-shirt is going to be friendly, professional, and helpful and whatever they say will no doubt come with a smile, and if you're lucky, a bit of that droll down-east humor (hum-ah). Can you tell I love this place? Well, I can't help myself! With easy-to-navigate grounds, a beach, great food vendors (this year I really liked the Mexican food stand where I enjoyed a great chicken burrito made to order) a very polite and enthusiastic audience in their multi-colored lawn chairs, and loads of wonderful music how could anyone help but have a great time? I saw NO instances of anyone being rude or out of line.
Maybe the worst thing I personally witnessed was some folks in these massively large motor homes (kind of tour bus size) with all those bits that crank out to form even larger motor homes....these people were already taking up massive space but then they had to park about 20 feet from the next one, had 2 or 3 cars with them, and an awning on one side which I honestly NEVER saw them use AT ALL....and then they threw a fit when a friend of ours parked a small car a few feet from the edge of all their real estate - they deemed the car too close. Some of those folks I never even saw come out of their motor home...they just stayed inside with the generator running all kinds of hours...so why did they even bother to come to a bluegrass festival and get so territorial? We don't blame TPB beach for this because I suspect these folks are the same kind of jerks wherever they go. But what's up with that? My friends just moved their vehicle because what they wanted to do was have a good time and get along with everyone.
At a festival as big as the one at TPB, even though they have many flush toilets, you need portable toilets as well. The program claimed there were 38 of those stationed around the grounds. I don't know; seems to me there might have been more than that but at any rate without exception they were kept clean and I never found one that had run out of paper. Hand sanitizers were available in each one as well. Now maybe that stuff doesn't matter to some folks but I sure appreciate when someone pays that extra to be sure folks can keep their hands clean.
These are just a few of the things that make Thomas Point Beach my #1 overall favorite bluegrass festival.