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Festival immersion

Posted by GreasyCreek on Sunday, May 23, 2010

Long after midnight, I lay awake in my tent, listening. Raindrops on the fly above me and runnels directly underneath didn't much matter anymore--tarpal runnel syndrome, my failure to bring enough tarps to handle Clifftop weather, no longer bothered me.  The rain just made it all wierder and more special. I knew I'd never forget crowding into that big old lodge to hear the fiddle and banjo competition finals in the only dry place left to me--hearing a fourteen year old Tatiana Hargreaves send multi-layered waves of oldtime sweetness through the room to win the fiddle competition, hearing Adam Hurt show his special genius and repeat as banjo champion.

Up the hill past my feet to the west the hilltoppers beneath the water tower belied their geezer reputation by playing on, and on, and I thought fondly of the kindness they'd shown me, a novice--Laurie's awesome kitchen, Gene's camp, Chip Arnold and Tish patiently demonstrating tunes with that lovely two-finger style and their unique gentle competence.

On the right, just to the north, the Roger Sprung encampment clearly loving their sendup of southern culture and cuisine (do they know we really don't eat fried possum?) while telling tales of tunes in Greenwich Village in the 1950s and openly welcoming any and all players of whatever ability and upbringing. My buddy Alan who'd come, as I came, a first-timer at Clifftop eased in by the great teaching experience Dan Levenson gave us through Clawcamp at Jorma's Fur Peace Ranch--showing me how appalachian music had gone across the Ohio and onward and outward and all the way back around the globe. And Shane coming all the way from Ireland to prove that point.

A little further east the stage, now quiet, but having permanently etched in my mind the excitement and pathos of the New Lost City Ramblers' final concert, with so many friends and admirers, cut short by a sudden downpour-- fittingly so,  as Mike Seeger had not made it, word having spread of his having gone to hospice a day before,  prompting many tears to fall before the storm itself moved in.

Back over my head due east, the never ending sounds from the swamp rising in intensity like cicadas in a southern wood--a funky musical stew of cajun, oldtime, and lord only knows what else.

Down the hill to the south, the cliff itself overlooking New River Gorge and the beautiful little mountain stream where we'd splashed around in the morning, soaking up the place and the waters that fed this culture and this music from the start.

I lay awake long after midnight, listening, thinking how far I'd come in the last couple of years, thanks to the music, the teachers, the new friends, and how it felt like I'd finally arrived home by being here. I had been to festivals before--dipping my toes in a bit at Mt. Airy, watching from the stands at Galax. But I was then just an observer; I really didn't get it. Now I had at least put my head underwater...well, and thanks to Clifftarp, most all of my gear had gone underwater, too. And it was like the best baptism; I was born again as an oldtime musician. I knew I'd be back to these festivals and friends.  Oldtime, forever....

7 comments on “Festival immersion”

mandolin123 Says:
Sunday, May 23, 2010 @6:36:12 AM

Waxing poetically.

TopCat Says:
Sunday, May 23, 2010 @3:21:09 PM

Lovely, evocative post. Thanks!

gailg64 Says:
Saturday, May 29, 2010 @8:59:49 AM

Hi Richard, Beautiful post summing up what's it's all about. Until the last few weeks I had not planning on going this year--too much sadness, nonstop rain (all skinhead banjos were silenced), mud & crowding in 09, but your blog adds to a growing will to return again this year (that plus our getting a slot a friend's babcock cabin :-).
It's also a reminder that there are actually many clifftops! With you & Chip & Tish up in the water tower neighborhood, I should take a hike up there. We're usually in the lower region, down behind the bathrooms. There's usually a nice crowd down there with whom I feel musically compatible but it's a heck of a distance from the stage & occasionally other kinds of music impinge with loud drums, triangles & horns. (Sigh, I'm such a fuddy-duddy-curmudgeon!)

GreasyCreek Says:
Saturday, May 29, 2010 @9:27:48 AM

Thanks, all. Gail, I hope you and Dwight make it this year. It's been great having you at the tuesday night jams. I'm thinking of edging down the hill at Clifftop and maybe the bathrooms are a reasonable stop before the full-tilt descent into the swamp. Although I thought the Charlottesville and Lexington communities controlled that turf? the geography of festivals fascinates me. by the way, I went to the show at Blue Ridge Music Center last night--Backstep from Mt. Airy followed by the Red Stick Ramblers doing cajun and honky tonk, and you know, in the right context that triangle was nice. Of course, long after midnight laying in bed is not the right context for a triangle...

dannnjo Says:
Thursday, July 1, 2010 @5:58:50 AM

Hope you post some music online sometime, I bet u are a good player

dannnjo Says:
Thursday, July 1, 2010 @5:58:51 AM

Hope you post some music online sometime, I bet u are a good player

Bob Buckingham Says:
Wednesday, July 21, 2010 @7:54:09 AM


Good writing. Been there, felt that and more. I love Clifftop, rain or shine. Been flooded out, burned up , dust bowled, half froze but I keep going back. See you there.

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