Last year at this time I was getting ready for a trip to Colorado. The main purpose of the trip was to help my mom clean out my Grandparent’s house in Clifton, but it was about more than that. My grandmother had recently died and Marla and I wanted to be near family.
We rented a car in Denver early on a Thursday morning and drove to Durango so Marla could check out the college there. We were tired after flying all night, but coming from a town with only one road out we were fairly giddy at the opportunity for a road trip. I haven’t spent much time in southern Colorado, so even though the drive was long, the scenery was new and having so much open road in front of us felt liberating. We made it to Durango, spent one night and then headed over to Pagosa Springs the next day. There we attended the Four Corners Folk Festival which was great fun. The sky was that stereotypical Colorado blue all weekend and being beneath the ponderosa pines for a few days with no responsibilities gave me a chance to fill up some of those empty spaces that come from a scheduled life. We played old time music with new friends, had some high quality sister bonding time and then headed north to see the rest of our family. On the way to Craig from Pagosa Springs we stopped in Palisade for peaches and tomatoes. If you’ve never had peaches and tomatoes from Palisade, Colorado you’re missing out, and since those flavors were a part of all of my summers as a child, every single bite seems to unleash a memory.
The trip last summer was especially nice. I got to spend a lot of time with my Granddad Acree who is no longer with us. He was frail and still shaken about losing his wife of 75 years. When he wasn’t sleeping he repeated himself a lot but the words out of his mouth were always full of gratitude and sometimes even wonder. He appreciated the tree in my mom’s back yard. He commented often on the beautiful paint job of my step-dad’s pick-up truck. He enjoyed the banjo and fiddle music Marla and I played for him, even joining in a few times with some singing. He liked nothing more than sitting in the sun on my mom’s deck and at age 93 he still had an amazing appetite for those peaches and tomatoes we brought from Palisade.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing and it’s sometimes hard to separate out what I miss for real and what I miss in my imagination. I know that each time I go back to Colorado there are aspects that I love and others that disappoint. It’s changed a lot since I lived there. But it’s the most familiar place I know.
Three times this week I’ve dreamt of peaches and tomatoes. It’s harvest time and I’m missing the flavors of home.
So much more could be said about the Four Corners Folk Festival that Marla and I just attended. It truly was a beautiful event. I would have liked to blog more from the festival grounds, but my laptop battery was limited and in retrospect it was nice to have a couple of days without plugging in. I also didn’t want to be known as the geeky girl, always in front of a computer at one of the most happening parties ever.
The highlight of Saturday was attending the late night show at the Pagosa Springs Community Center. We left Ricky Skaggs early in order to acquire a good seat, which turned out to be a good move. The venue was the equivalent of a middle school gymnasium and we were in the third row.
First up was a band called MilkDrive. This Austin based group wasn’t one that I’d heard of before the festival, but their musical prowess was impressive. All four of these young men were extremely talented but I must say I had a soft spot for the guitarist Noah Jeffries. The way he looked and played reminded me of my son Dillon. I so wish he could have been there to see the show.
After MilkDrive it was time for Crooked Still. Their energy and musical ability created an experience for me that bordered on the spiritual. All of the band members seem like lovely human beings, which added a huge dose of charm to their nearly perfect sound. When I first heard their song Ecstasy several months ago it hit me on a very emotional level, so much so that I listened to it repeatedly for many days. I even dedicated an entire blog post to it. Often times I have trouble finding the words to describe how music makes me feel, and to say that hearing Crooked Still perform Ecstasy live, from the third row of a small venue was the highlight of my weekend is an understatement. I’m not really sure what it is about that song. Perhaps the low cello notes hit me on a cellular level.
The Infamous Stringdusters, along with musicians from all of the aforementioned bands wrapped up the evening around 1:00 AM. They took to the stage in a variety of combinations; four banjos, five mandolins, three guitars to name just a few. Watching the musicians interact and visually display their awe for one another gave me the sense that I was invited to an intimate party. They all seemed to be having a fabulous time.
One of the problems of being an aspiring musician is that I sometimes have a hard time just enjoying the work of other musicians without my incessant critical voice making me feel bad for not being as good as them. Somewhere along the way on Saturday night I lost that invalidating voice and accepted the gift the musicians were giving me without any strings of guilt or regret attached. In Kundalini Yoga there is a move called the Ego Eradicator. The term seems to apply in this situation as well. By the end of the evening I felt refreshed and inspired. My ego had been sufficiently snuffed away.
By early Sunday evening the official festival line-up was finished, which left us with a night of jamming with our new friends from Paonia and New Mexico. We played until around 2:00 and then found our way back to our tent for a few hours of sleep before the long drive on Tuesday. Sleep did not come easily with the sounds of music and laughter wafting around the festival grounds, and as I tossed and turned I thought of ways to bring some of the experience with me into my real world. It’s never easy to maintain the high after a great festival or a week of fiddle camp, but the friends made along the way, the exposure to new, invigorating music and the tunes that I learn keep me going until the next gathering. It’s addicting for sure, but in a good way.
For my take after the first night of the festival:
photo by Michael Pierce
First of all, I can’t imagine a more beautiful setting for a festival. Maybe Homer has vistas as beautiful as Pagosa Springs, Colorado, but I’m certain it couldn’t muster up blue skies and eighty degrees. And if you think it sounds too hot, not to worry; the festival grounds are located in a Ponderosa pine forest. Shade and sun abound. Beyond the big, white, open-air tent that houses the stage, a panoramic view of the San Juan mountains acts as a frame for the entire scene.
Yesterday after setting up our tent we made our way to the meadow, spread out our blanket beneath one of those Ponderosas and enjoyed The Black Lillies, a country, rock, roots band out of Tennessee. For the next band up we moved into the tent (skin was turning pink on this pale Alaskan girl) and gave Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen a listen. Frank, an accomplished bluegrass and classical musician, has Alaska ties and in fact came to Homer for one of the Bearfoot Bluegrass camps that Dillon and Adella attended several years ago. The last band of the night kinda blew my socks off. The Infamous Stringdusters, a six man string band, put more energy into their performance than seemed humanly possible. They are young, they are cute and they rocked the house. They managed to stick to traditional bluegrass, add an element of jam-band magic and throw out some phenomenal solos to create something modern sounding, and incredibly fun. Thankfully they play a couple more times over the next couple of days.
Festival people know how to have a good time. And they take their festival set-ups seriously. I’ve seen a couple of camp arrangements that are more comfortable than my own home. Marla and I in comparison feel like little orphan girls. Our creature comforts include a back pack tent and a fleece blanket. This morning while the camp next door was frying bacon on their triple-tiered fold up camp kitchen unit, underneath their twenty foot shade tent, while sitting at their picnic table on their deluxe camp chairs next to their pop-up camper, we sat next to our rental car on a couple of rocks and ate our gluten-free sesame bars. I’m not complaining though. I’m happy to be here.
Most everyone here is friendly. We met some folks from New Mexico who welcomed us into their fold for a while to enjoy their chairs and the heat from their campfire. And they let us play a few old-time tunes with them as well. We also met someone who went to Alaska Fiddle Camp a few years ago. While we were chatting with him about Alaska two members from the band Hard Pressed out of Paonia, Colorado wandered past, turns out they were at last year’s Anchorage Folk Festival.
Most amazingly, the people here are strangely civilized. Last night the whole place was silent by about 1:00 AM. No fireworks, no loud parties, not even any music. I can’t imagine it will be that way again tonight, but who knows? Maybe Colorado people are more sane than Alaskans. What the quiet night meant for me was a good night’s sleep. I woke up well-rested and ready for another day of sun and phenomenal music. On today’s schedule we’ve got more of the Infamous Stringdusters, Crooked Still and Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder. Right now, at this very moment, I’m sipping my double-shot Americano on my blue fleece blanket, listening to Sweet Sunny South play old-time tunes. There’s not a cloud in sight.