Friday, March 23, 2007

Suwannee Springfest - Part I

WARNING - THIS IS NOT A BLUEGRASS FESTIVAL!!

On Monday morning, after all the bluegrass fans had evacuated, except us and canoeist named Roger who is also staying over, a few pioneers began to arrive and set up camps. One group, not far from us, strung ropes in a big circle from tree to tree and hung tarps and tie-dyed cloths from them. Inside this compound they erected a couple of tents. Nearby, in another compound, a couple of pop-up tent campers and a tent were erected and the owners left. By Wednesday afternoon, they had not returned, but their territory is all staked out. On Tuesday afternoon we took a walk around the small, cypress surrounded lake, and found several more compounds laid out and minimally populated by squatters. They told us that by Friday there would be thirty of forty tents and maybe a hundred people inside their compound. Throughout Wednesday, additional cars arrived, tents were pitched, tarps and tie dies hung, fire pits arranged, and small individual villages gradually sprang up. We learned that we’re in the midst of a section where the herd stays. The herd are cult-like fans of Donna the Buffalo. Their music, described in the program as “a unique blend of reggae, roots rock, country, zydeco, Cajun, and folk traditions” apparently draws a cult-like crowd to their performance at festivals like this. Over our right shoulder an elaborate two tent construction containing padded chairs, a barbecue grill, and low, round tables is the place where Donna the Buffalo hangs out between performances. The host tells me it’s his job to keep them drunk as they perform better that way.

We are more than a little out of sync with this agglomeration of post hippie counter-culture types here for a great time. We don’t own a tie-dyed T-shirt between us, although we each wear a pair of Crocs. Our small travel trailer is quite elaborate compared to most of the tents pitched for this event. All these people are clustered around several acres served by one bath house facility with three showers and three toilets for each sex, which the campground deigns to clean every day or so. It’s difficult to imagine what this facility will be like by the weekend when seven to ten thousand people arrive.

We took a walk in the afternoon and discovered that a huge stage was being erected in a meadow about a quarter mile away from our campsite. It has grown off the bed of a flat-bed truck with all eight wheels lifted off the ground on jacks. Several vendors set up tents nearby. Across the meadow from the Meadow Stage, vendor’s row was being set up. The music doesn’t start until 4:00 PM on Thursday afternoon, but by Wednesday evening, quite a few people have already set up and begun to enjoy themselves.

Springfest has five performance areas for large and smaller events, including workshops and lesser known performers. The grounds here are spacious and well spread out, able to accommodate a crowd like this. It seems to us that there are not enough toilet facilities or water sources for a crowd like this. Time will tell. Much depends on how often the pump-out trucks service their portables. Or maybe we’re too anal….

On Wednesday morning we stopped by both the park office and the festival office to complain about the condition of the bathrooms. We gather some others did, too. The upshot, as of Thursday afternoon has been that there is a pair of park employees stationed outside the door keeping the place absolutely spotless. I suggested to the man of the pair that they put out a tip jar and we plan on posting signs on both the men’s and women’s side that we do our best to fill it up. We’ll see how the service continues and whether they’re there for the next three days.

Music begins on the meadow stage at 4:00 PM and we wander down around 7:00 where a blues singer from Texas named Seth Walker is concluding his performance. The smallish crowd is spread out, some are dancing, others twirling huge hula hoops, small groups chat and drink beer sold by the park in each venue. There’s lots of smoking, but we learn that the area in front of the sound board is supposed to be smoke free. We head up there as a group called Ollabelle comes on. The choice turns out to be between too loud music and too much smoke – a devil’s dilemma which we solve by heading back to our own campsite. It’s pretty quiet as we head for bed, but the noise level increases around 1:00 AM as the performance of Donna the Buffalo closes. When we take our showers at 5:00 AM on Friday morning, people are still awake talking and laughing in their campsites and the odor of marijuana fills the air. Irene is constantly amazed, despite plenty of evidence over the years to disabuse her of her idealism, at the lack of consideration some people show for others. She comments that people in New York City are more considerate.