Summer doesn’t technically end until late September, but the spirit of summer seems to dim the second Target publishes its back-to-school circular. At least, for me. Of course, I’m a teacher, so the end of summer vacation means a lot of things: it means way-too-early mornings, way too many meetings, way too many new names to learn. It means full-blown shoes instead of flip flops, dress suits instead of swimsuits, and seventeen-minute lunch breaks. So it’s nice, as hundreds of out-of-state plates flood through our city and parents get their college kids moved back in… as traffic goes from hardly noticeable to downright irksome… as the evenings cool down enough to warrant a sweater, wrinkly from its sojourn in the closet… as these changes do and must occur, it’s nice to remember the timelessness of summer and all we did to achieve that temporal suspension.
As I look back over my summer, here in my kitchen a mere two days before I meet 135 fresh new students, I think most about an event that stopped time in its tracks for three whole days: The Red Wing Roots Music Festival. In just its second year, the festival is a coveted gig for musicians far and wide who celebrate their culture’s musical roots. Essentially, roots music is folk music that has aged. “Folk music” is just music created by a particular group of folks: jazz came from a group of folks, blues came from a group of folks, and today’s music has evolved from those “roots.” Whatever modern music you enjoy now is rooted in very culture-specific traditions. This is why roots music is so appealing: somewhere, at some level, it’s in your blood.
It was like the earth stopped spinning on that little patch of the globe, everyone breathed, everyone ate and drank, everyone sang and danced and filled up on whatever it was they’d been missing: love, friendship, music, sustenance, nature… Time became vertical rather than horizontal; it became deep rather than linear. It was SUCH a relief.
Heading out to Natural Chimneys that Friday evening, I listened to The Swell Season and watched the bars on my cell phone, and my obligations, disappear one by one. I was late getting to the festival – had to get my kids all squared away for the weekend – and I felt a little guilty for missing some performances already, and even though I had to count the rows of cars to be sure I’d be able to find my car again later (it was THOUSANDS of people, people), parking and getting through the main gate was a breeze, thanks to careful planning and a super-helpful staff.
It took a little time before I finally ran into Brandy, but even in a crowd of thousands we always manage to find each other. In the meantime, I ran into a friend there for the weekend with his wife and toddler, brave soul. He told me that HIS friends, on their way to Virginia for the festival, decided, “Screw it! Let’s just buy a pop-up!” and that’s what they did. They just pulled over and BOUGHT A POP-UP. Of course, as my friend explained, they’re DINKs (Double Income No Kids), and so it’s not so far out of the realm of possibility as it is for us SITKs. Soon after that I saw tons of Harrisonburg-ers. Most of my social circle was there, in fact. At first I was a little leery of leaving my belongings in the Blue Mountain brew garden, but then I realized if anyone stole from me, it wouldn’t be long before I caught that person with my pilfered item back home. The odds were that if you stole something, you’d be stealing from someone you knew. I was among friends. No one was stealin’ anything.
Brandy appeared out of nowhere and we headed over to see Pokey Lafarge, one of the festival’s favorites last year. He didn’t disappoint. His old-time concoction of saloon ragtime was refreshing and lively, complete with watermelon served directly to the crowd. The man is like a time capsule himself. So much of the past contained in that slender frame… he must be much older than he looks. He sang a song about River City and how to treat a lady, back when people gave a rip about that. Just kidding. Sorta.
He also sang an old Hank, Sr. song, “Lovesick Blues,” which blended seamlessly with all his other work. It made me think about what breaking up used to mean… back when saying goodbye meant no contact. You saddled up your horse and rode out of your lover’s life forever. There was no turning around, no flying back the next day, no email or texting or social-media stalking. People probably broke up less back then than they do now because they understood the permanence of it. In a way that makes it easier than it is now.
I spent some time during Pokey’s performance to check out some people’s festival gear. I saw lots of really cool, versatile, utilitarian back packs. Some even contained babies, in addition to all the other necessities: bug repellant, sunscreen, water, lip balm, sunglasses, hat… those things plus shoes you don’t really care about… but really very little else. I set my chair and blanket down when I first arrived and didn’t return to it until I left for the night.
I also noticed a resurgence (or maybe it never left?) of hippie clothing. This made me smile. I used to wear that stuff. Does this mean a bona fide resurgence of hippie-ism? I sure hope so, now that our post-Reaganomics, post-Lewinsky planet is a complete mess. My generation – Generation X – is officially old and tired. Come on, new hippies… we need you.
Next up were The Duhks. I’d never heard them before, and I LOVED THEM. These twelve-year “soulgrass” veterans out of Canada added a modern element to the festival with a blend of gospel, blues, bongos and tattoos. The singer took a break for one number and I actually missed her, but it turned into an all-out jam that got some feet moving and some wild-eyed spirits touching. Darkness fell and they played a few more. Fireflies appeared, decked out for the party in yellow. Little kids easily caught them and set them free. They’re the friendliest of all insects. They move slowly, they don’t seem to mind if you put them in a jar for a few minutes, I’ve never been bitten or stung by one… I’m not sure how that cute rear flasher could intimidate a predator. They must survive on karma. They make other organisms happy, and in return, nothing eats them.
And then, what always happens happened: I lost my friends! And I just had to go with the flow because on this night, nothing really mattered and the whole world was my friend. People were lined up, squished together and screaming long before Trampled By Turtles even started. And when they started, a massive hoard of fans flooded in. I sat on the moist earth and watched their feet hurry by.
I had decided from the start that I would drive in and out each of the three days. I only live about twenty minutes from Mt. Solon, and my bony frame makes camping uncomfortable. I began to regret that decision while driving out, when my phone lit up like a Christmas tree with all the messages I’d missed. But tomorrow held the promise of timelessness again.
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