(See previous post for Part 1)
On Friday morning Jay sent us on our way armed with some amazing smoked salmon and a warning to watch out for the “knuckle draggers.” It turns out he had taken his family to the Anderson Bluegrass Festival several years before and had almost been run over in his tent by someone who went for a middle-of-the night motorized excursion, after consuming much alcohol no doubt. Jay and his family ended up leaving the festival early. Sherry had also warned us about the festival, saying it was a wild one. Maybe it was the alluring weather forecast that called for clear skies and temperatures in the 80’s, but after taking heed of the warnings of our friends we decided to give Anderson a shot anyhow. We could handle knuckle draggers, or duck out early if we felt so inclined.
We stocked up on more groceries than three women could possibly consume over the span of three days and in order to have optimal awareness before the long drive north we stopped at the Modern Dwellers Chocolate Lounge for some drinking chocolate, (like we needed an excuse.) I was looking forward to the drive with two of my favorite ladies, to listening to all the old-time music I liked (something my family doesn’t really appreciate) and getting north of the Alaska Range to where the summertime temperatures get well above what us coastal folks are accustomed to.
Honestly, our first impressions of the festival had us a little worried. We didn’t feel like we fit in very well. Not a one of us sports a tattoo or has piercings in unusual places. We didn’t bring a keg or a hula hoop or a dog. We drove around the grounds looking for a place to camp, feeling discouraged by our options until we spotted a group of people who looked a little like us. They were about our age, clothed, and most importantly they were playing stringed instruments rather than a boom box. We found out they were a bluegrass band from Anchorage called Bootleg Brown and they turned out to be great neighbors. I think they appreciated us as well. The group that camped beside them on the other side brought a pig, not the little pet pot-bellied sort, but more of a hog; the kind that would be in a 4-H display at a county fair. We were the neighbors without the pig, which automatically made us more favorable I think.
After getting our camp put together we headed over to the main stage. Peter, the birthday boy from the night before, was playing with the old-time string band Lost Dog from Fairbanks. It was a stroke of luck to get there when we did because out of the hundreds of people at the festival they were the only other old-time musicians we ran across all weekend. We took a close look to see who they were so we would know who to track down when we wanted to play tunes later in the evening. Kate is a great friend and a ton of fun to travel with, but I also discovered an added bonus of going to music events with Kate; she knows and remembers the names of musicians from all around the state. It turns out she recognized the band members of Lost Dog; fiddler Thomas Hart, banjo player Pete Bowers, Kim Blair on the mandolin and Ryan Bowers on the bass.
While watching Lost Dog on the main stage it hit me that I was as warm as I’d been all summer. It was already late in the day, around 8:00 pm, and the sun was still high in the sky and beating down on my skin. I haven’t spent much time in the interior of Alaska but at that moment I was a convinced there was no place on earth I’d rather be. There were a few people in the crowd I could imagine slipping into “knuckle-dragger” mode later in the evening, but I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. For a while we were just a bunch of people reveling in the sunshine, happy to be away from the real world for a little while.