Don't Believe Everything You Think

I knew we were in for it when we made a U-turn to get a cocktail flag that we saw in the window of a store in Yuba City. We told the man that we were heading to the Kate Wolf Festival and he said, “Look for an old deadhead named Schnag, tell him the Admiral sent you.” Now, we weren’t even there yet and we knew the secret code. What’s the chances of that happening? We never could pick him out of the crowd of deadheads though, there were too many.

Camps are divided into practical areas to allow for difference in lifestyle: quiet camp, RV camp, family camp, walk-in camp, and jammin’ camp. Walking through the camps among the trees would bring you to the sweat lodge, the clothing optional beach along the creek, the kids’ zone with crafts, sing-alongs, and a hill covered in straw for cardboard sledding. The best were the small groups of musicians, huddled together, tuning and practicing and jamming on guitar, mandolin, fiddle, or washtub.

They had early morning gospel sing-alongs, 12 step meetings, tai chi in the meadow. How often do you see adults playing games, hula hooping, and laughing? Say whatever you want about hippies, you will never find a more open, friendly, generous group of people. They thrive on the uniqueness of individuals, honoring creativity.

At this little festival of 3000 people in the heart of Mendocino County, you have to accept that a certain amount of political left-ism comes with the territory. A giant peace sign, probably 30 feet tall, made of lights, hangs amongst the trees. The cuisine is all organic, vegan, “live” food. Tom Russell sings, “Who’s Gonna Build Your Walls, Boys?” and Eliza Gilkyson does her anti-Bush song, “Man of God” to big cheers.

Walking into the music bowl, you pass the “smoking area.” Being Mendo County, that means that there is a generous baggie, papers, and a rolling machine sitting out on the lawn for anyone’s enjoyment. While I didn’t partake, strolling by definitely brought back pleasant memories, wink, wink.

I have to mention the showers, because they were incredible. Clean, with abundant warm water, batik curtains divided the stalls. The center divider between the men and women’s sides was topped with metal sculptures, twinkling Christmas lights and masses of plants, lily of Nile, coreopsis, and others. Baskets of donated shampoos and lotions were available to everyone.

We got to see Richie Havens, whom you may remember from Woodstock. The ranch where the festival is located is owned by Wavy Gravy himself. We listened to John Trudell, spokesman for The Indians of All Tribes who took over Alcatraz Island during 1969. He speaks quickly and deeply about how we need to use our collective, intelligent conscience to improve the world. He reads his poetry while his partner chants traditional songs and pounds a drum. They have started a website to help women and children get medical insurance: Givelovegivelife.com. I’m telling you this is the real deal here, people.

I listened to Utah Phillip, an anointed Grand Duke of the Traveling Nation, sing songs and tell stories of riding the rails and spending time in tramp camps across the country. They had a hobo jungle campfire set up for late night stories, but we never made it there.

Most of the music was folk style; some of it we loved, some of it not so much. We went specifically to see our hero, Dave Alvin. Also, Guy Davis impressed us over and over again. Marcia Ball rocked the house on Friday night. David Bromberg's Saturday night finale was kick ass. Ramblin' Jack Eliott showed up unscheduled, just 'cause it's soooo cool there.

But, if you haven’t yet been introduced to this new wave of bluegrass music coming around, you need to open your ears. Bands like The Mammals and Devil Makes Three are young, hip, intelligent, humorous, and immensely musically talented. They start wailing on those fiddles and mandolins; the crowd goes crazy, twirling, stomping, and kicking up the dust. As Guy Davis said, it has high BSQ—Butt Shaking Quotient!

If you are one of the strange people that this appeals to, you have a few chances to go check out some real fine music and savor that festival lifestyle. High Sierra Music Festival is this week in Quincy, CA and a very small version is happening July 14 at the Solar Cook-off in Taylorsville, CA. One of the biggest festivals is Strawberry Music Festival, near Yosemite on Memorial Weekend and now Labor Day Weekend too. And of course, there is always Kate Wolf Festival next year too.


A note on the photos: If you see yourself in the pictures, please know that I took the photos with only the best of intentions and respect. I don't know your name to credit you, but thank you for understanding.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love the way you described a hippy sound like fun, we'll be near there in 30 days, with lots of hippies!