Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival (part 4)
You're already thinking I'm going to go on for days about this great festival at TPB and I could (but I won't). It's just that TPB combines a whole lot of the things I love - sand and sun, sea and woods, incredibly fresh air, great music, wonderful folks, memories and new experiences and it's all to the tune of high tide and low tide. We all probably have a favorite festival. I have a LOT of favorite festivals and I talk about about most of them on here. But for me the best of the best is found at TPB, maybe just because it's such comfortable camping in such a gorgeous place. Surely lots of other festivals I attend have lineups (for my taste) that are as good or probably even better. And the staff at TPB are just wonderful folks. I love the Maine humor that pervades the very air and stuff like Security head George "Whistlin'" Whitney - I swear he's taught most of the birds up there how to sing.
I love to watch the bands backstage as they prepare set lists, tune, and exchange greetings with their friends who have just finished a good set. I love the chance to photograph folks when they're a bit more relaxed and the sun isn't beating down on them. Love to catch up on news of their families and the things that are important to them. Love to hear a new song someone's just written or see the latest photo of their youngest child. It's a privilege, too, to be backstage with a camera and able to step up and take photos of the great field of faces, especially when they're laughing or clapping, from above and behind the band....a nice way to show both the band and the reason they're there. Don't know why I first picked up a camera 25 years ago but it has put me in a lot of (good) places I'd never have been without it.
So the four days of the festival proper drew to a close on Sunday night with the Gibson Brothers closing out delivering a great double set of music and, despite pretty chilly temperatures (remember that's the night I had gloves and four layers on!) there was a LARGE and appreciative audience there listening to every last word. Pati and Shari and her staff took the stage then and went through the usual thanks and goodbyes...there was a band jam onstage after that and folks all stood for the final number, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," joining hands with friends and strangers alike and forming a big link, dancing all around the concert area hand-in-hand. I haven't seen such a thing at any other festival and that is really special. I'll confess I didn't join the circle because....you guessed it...I was videotaping the moment instead of living in it.
The music died down and folks drifted off to their campsites. Ours had a big fire and a bunch of folks already around it, talking and laughing gently, huddled in toward the warmth. I look forward to this festival each year because it brings together the largest concentration of my friends and we all camp near each other and visit a lot, eat together, laugh over old times, play and sing together and just, well, live together for a few days. One friend brought his granddaughter and she was the big hit of the campsite - what a grin - what a happy child - and she's learning to mash on the ukelele. I expect she'll be a hoss of a musician just like her granddaddy (who happens to be one of the MCs). Since I don't have kids I always love being around other people's kids and this weekend I especially enjoyed the company of Daniel, Gracie and Dixon. I've watched these kids grow. A really fun thing we did was go on a couple of photo shoots. They're naturals in front of the camera and we had a good time using the sea as a backdrop. Chloe and Clementine camped next to me and we had a lot of fun taking pictures by the sea as well. Two of the MCs were camped in our gang and they both livened things up considerably. Country Man Dan cooked up a mess of haddock he'd caught up in Newfoundland; he brings along a truckload of food and beverage and makes sure everyone has the best time. He and some of our gang led the final - very late Sunday night - official jam session down under the big yellow and white tent.
So a bunch of us chose to huddle around the fire and talk quietly amongst ourselves and laugh at the antics of some of the others. We had a darned good time. Like I said the last night of a festival after some folks have already packed up and left tends to be one of the memorable times...people are tired and sometimes emotional and just tend to loosen up more than, say, earlier in the week when folks are full-throttle bluegrass and keen to do all they possibly can. It's a nice gentle way to share some more and gear down to return to "normal" life, leave behind the bluegrass-old time utopia that is a festival such as TPB. In this case it's a time to kiss summer goodbye and notice the leaves that are already turning red and gold and yellow on the sugar maples here in the northeast. It's a time to start planning to learn all those songs for next summer's jams and to reflect on all the good times enjoyed this summer and other summers. I tried to go around the circle of friendly faces and get folks to share what their favorite thing about this year's festival was but we didn't get very far....too hard to keep people focused and maybe too hard to choose a favorite, too. Soon Pati Crooker, festival put to rest, and her right arm Shari, rode up in a golf cart and joined our merry circle. We all expressed our gratitude for the great 29th TPB festival and the way we were already planning to be there for the 30th anniversary next year. I had such a good time I plan to go earlier and stay later next year...it's that good, and after a week of solid fun, food, friends and great music it is just TOO hard to drive 365 miles home in heavy Labor Day traffic! Like the sign said so many times, "Heavy Traffic Ahead."
A while later Pati and Shari and some of us walked down to the Greenwoods where they and the Gibsons were holding forth on some great old Stanley material, and Jimmy Martin songs and music of that ilk. Boy was it good! But next year we need to be sure the Greenwoods have a campfire, too, because it was flat out COLD over there where they played till 4:30 Monday morning. And dark, too.
Next morning my sister and I rose early and did all those things you gotta do to pack up camp and get on the homeward trail. We hugged all our friends and made plans for a big pickin' party in October then pointed our vehicles down all those interstates toward the Catskill Mountains. Usually I enjoy long drives by myself but not this time. After two accidents in the last couple of weeks and being so tired and sometimes bumper-to-bumper traffic for the eight hours it took me to get back here I just wanted to get home already. Only Hunter Berry (WOW, Baby!) and Nat King Cole's velvety voice and some of that French Way of Red Knuckles and a little bit of Eva Cassidy's Songbird helped me ease through the miles to home.
Reflecting on the wonderful times among friends and meeting so many folks from the L like my buddy Randy Getz, hearing all that great music, having a nice boat ride and eating two lobsters, singing a few tunes with Eddie Greenwood one early morning, surviving three Hi T's and all those other things I find myself, once again, feeling so blessed to have discovered bluegrass music and the wonderful people that, like me, love it, over 25 years ago. The music and its people have enriched my life in so many ways that I'll never be able to write about them all. Maybe one day my photos and videos will speak for me. I hope. Thanks to all of you for making life just a little bit brighter!
And hope to see you all next year at Thomas Point Beach - as Pati and Shari said from the stage on Sunday night - they're going to be there again hosting the Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival next Labor Day weekend for the 30th anniversary - "just one more time." And what a great time it is sure to be.