Friday, March 30, 2007

Micanopy and Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park

Old Florida is alive and well and living in Micanopy. After a tiring two weeks in a festival site we came to loathe, we drove to Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park and checked in, quite dispirited because we had been sideswiped on I-75 while heading south. Fortunately, while there was small damage to our trailer, no one was injured. Like other Florida state parks we have visited, Payne’s Prairie campground is located toward the center of the park, far removed from road noise and bother. The park has 50 campsites with fifteen reserved for tenters. The campsites are separated by walls of palmetto, live oaks, and heavy brush allowing a lot of privacy. Toilet and shower facilities are centrally located, clean, and pleasant. While there are no sewer connections, the water and electric hookups are well-located and provide all that’s needed. The park is located about ten miles south of Gainesville along U.S. route 441 and perhaps five miles east of I-75. In late March, it is nearly completely full. We hooked up, showered, and took off to explore the village of Micanopy, looking for a place to access the Internet. That’s where the real surprises occurred.

We drove about a mile south and turned right into the village of Micanopy. Low houses from the early twentieth century with tin roofs and lots of shade which were built in the years before air conditioning saved or ruined the south, depending on your point of view. We drove down the main street, divided by a median strip with lovely trees and plantings on it. We stopped in front of a little shop called Coffee and Cream, part of a two story building with an antique shop attached. Inside a lone employee was sampling some of his own ice cream. He told us that the whole building was a Wi-Fi hot spot, so we gave up our hunt for the library, bought some ice cream and sat down at the comfortable sofa at the end of the room. Soon, Cliff Harris, proprietor of the shop when he’s not on the road in the dangerous job of rodeo clown, dashed in, welcomed us to Micanopy, asked our names, told us what was for lunch the next day, and invited us for ride on his boat on the lake on Wednesday. He’s a human dynamo with the energy of one of the bulls he risks his life to protect rodeo cowboys from.

The next day, one of Cliff’s employees, Tony, a refugee from north Jersey, filled us in with local history as he prepared corn bread muffins for lunch. Miconopy is the oldest town in Florida not on water. It was once a thriving town, but pretty much died when the nearby lake suffered a sink hole and almost completely emptied itself, leaving the swamp that is Payne’s Prairie. In recent years it has rebounded as a lovely stopping place for touridsts seeking some antiquing, good food, and a stroll around this lovely small town. Cliff has create a friendly, welcoming environment. He is much helped by Katie and Kayla, his two very pleasant counter and service people. The food is simple, tasty, and reasonably priced. A rotating group of local people, aspiring writers, and a busking guitar player, who plays and sings at lunch, make Coffee and Cream the sort of place a funny and touching situation comedy could be located. The film “Dr. Hollywood” with Michael J. Fox was filmed in Micanopy. Nearby, the Old Florida CafĂ© serves lunches and dinners on the porch and indoors. A lovely looking mansion offer bed and breakfast accommodations, and there’s a local history museum that should be visited. People looking for a taste of old Florida should be sure to take a leisurely day to stop and visit in Micanopy.

For RVers this stop should be combined with a stop at Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park. The park is a 21,000 acre preserve partly a large swamp with abundant wildlife and partly a heavily forested area. The campground, while small, is spacious and very pleasant. On Wednesday afternoon we drove to the visitor center, which unfortunately closed at 4:00 PM, a modern looking building with a balcony overlooking the prairie. We took a short walk to a tower with good views of the Prairie, which was discovered in 1774 and continues to be a marshy, nearly treeless area with low wetlands, lots of water birds, and recently introduced bison. The surrounding woods contain huge live oaks dripping Spanish moss, providing a cooling shade that was lovely on this hot spring afternoon.

Other local attractions are the towns of Evinston and Macintosh, which we did not have time to visit, and the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park where the author’s restored home is located and which was the setting for several of her books, including the noted children’s Pulitzer prize winning novel The Yearling. Payne’s Priaire is about ten miles south of Gainesville, home of the University of Florida, where there is lots to do, good restaurants, and good shopping.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Suwannee Springfest - Part III - Saturday and Sunday

Saturday was a day, for us, characterized by wonderful music and a continuingly difficult environmental situation. Because of the hours we keep, when we awoke on Saturday we headed for the shower at about the same time a good number of other attendees were showering and using the toilet before heading for a few hours of sleep. The Herd compound was the center of a good deal of noise and a bass could still be heard pounding out its rhythm somewhere across the lake. At home we’d call it a pond; an impoundment of perhaps an acre with no visible inlet of outlet.

We arrived at the main stage to find a group of fellow campers brushing the leaves and dust off the concrete pad in front of the stage before placing their chairs. At around eight a couple of festival volunteers arrived to tell us they had been sent to clear all the chairs of the pad. This was actually one of the first efforts by the festival to enforce any of the principles that appear to stand for rules here. They managed to get the people standing around to move most of the chairs to the side before we put them right back. They commented that they weren’t there to be police. We ended up on the front row, which seemed to be a good thing at first, but later turned into quite a problem.

the everybodyfields” were the second group on the bill for Saturday. A competent trio without much to distinguish them in either voice or musicianship, they continued the pattern of droning sadness we had heard floating up the hill on Friday. But the monotony ended there as The Infamous Stringdusters took the stage. This is a very versatile bluegrass group that plays both progressive and traditional music with enthusiasm and skill. Lead singer Jeremy Garrett and Dobro picker Andy Hall sing and play well. Chris Pandolfi on banjo is the guy whose brilliance on the banjo helped encourage renowned Berkley School of Music in Boston to permit students to major in banjo. Chris Eldridge on guitar provided strong flat picking with a strong rhythm guitar and quality voice. This Nashville based group has a distinctive northeastern sound and feel without ever spurning the southern roots of bluegrass.

Joe Craven appeared on Friday with Darrell Scott. On Saturday he appeared with guitarist Bobby Lee Rodgers in a thoroughly satisfying performance. Since Craven is a one man band, there was no need to worry about there performance appearing thin. Craven has led a diverse and interesting life as musician and scholar. He now prefers to blend his formal performances with musical outreach to local schools. It’s difficult to imagine that his school appearances aren’t very well received. We first saw him last year at Merlefest, where he appeared as a guest with virtuoso jazz banjoist Allison Brown. On one number in that set he got down on his knees in front of her and drummed on her banjo while she continued playing. Wonderful!! Craven opened his performance using his mouth and head as a soundboard, creating percussive sounds in accompaniment of Rodgers’ guitar. He also played a jawbone, his boot lace, his chair, and a cardboard box. In Craven’s hands, anything can turn into a credible instrument. I’d love to see him play a car with all its many surfaces and the sounds they could produce. His John Henry, sung and played on a canjo he had built out of a commercial size tomato can with a neck and two strings was a wonder. Craven, while seeming to be something of a novelty, does his thing with such skill and taste it never seems out of place. His fiddle and mandolin playing are also superb and should not be overlooked in the whole picture.

The wonderful thing about festivals, even ones that aren’t fully working for us, is the discovery of a new performer or group, one we had not previously heard or been aware of, that simply jumps out and grabs us. Verlon Thompson is a long-time Nashville songwriter whose songs have been recorded and performed by the biggest names in country music. Why he never became a headliner himself is a complete mystery. On this day he is paired with Shawn Camp, a younger version of himself, whose songs are well known and whose voice and flat picking are nothing short of great. Mike Bub, perhaps the finest bass player around, only makes any band he plays with better without calling undue attention to himself. We’ve seen him four times in the past year with four different bands, and each time he has added his rock solid beat and virtuoso sound to the mix, sometimes turning ordinary into special. Thompson’s song about Johnny Bench pictures this Hall of Fame catcher as a great who pays for his greatness with knees that won’t carry him anyway. The refrain from Thompson’s wit and freshness comes through in his “Tornado Time in Tulsa.”

Tornado in Tulsa’ll take the paint right off your barn.

Tornado time in Tulsa’ll blow the tattoo off your arm.

By turning it funny, Thompson increases the horror of the storm and makes it acceptable.

Similarly Camp’s song about his grandfather’s funeral called “The Grandpa that I Know” says:

I won’t commit this to memory,

That’s not the Grandpa that I know.

Lyric after lyric from each man sends a strong emotional message presented with conviction and in fine voice.

Crooked Still’s appearance proved without doubt why the cello is not a bluegrass instrument. The bass and the cello don’t meld well or fit in effectively with the very good Aoife O’Donovan is a fine lea

d sing

er. Rushad Eggleston on the cello is too affected for words and the de

pth of his cello clashes with the bass to make a sound unrelated to the material the band plays. Dr. Gregory Liszt on the banjo is quite good.

The Duhks, through some visa mix-up, were unable to appear, but their fine fiddler, Tania Elizabeth was there with a scratch band featuring Dan Freshette, Canadian singer/songwriter. Through good luck or good management, she also asked Joe Craven to sit in as percussionist, and he did his magic again, saving the evening. Around this time on Saturday evening, the young people had at last slept off last night’s party and began showing up and crowding the stage area. Deciding that the stage front was their territory, they crowded in front of those of us seated there, smoked cigarettes at will, danced wildly, and became increasingly drunk and intrusive. For many people, the smoke, which the rules require be kept behind the sound booth, was the greatest insult. People seated near the front tended to be older, to prefer sitting during the long hours of music, and to react negatively to cigarette smoke. The dancer/smokers cared not at all for these people’s comfort or ease; rather they pushed in front and took over.

Peter Rowan and the Tony Rice Quartet, that is the Peter Rowan band with premier flat picking guitarist Tony Rice, are familiar to both bluegrass and Americana fans. Rowan has the distinction of having been a member of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys and Jerry Garcia’s bluegrass band “Old and In the Way.” As such he spans the spectrum from bluegrass to rock. His song “Midnight Moonlight” alone would make him a famous song writer. In his performance at Springfest he was at a better level than we had ever seen him. Playing with Rice, a taciturn man who plays with great discipline appears to curb the self-indulgent excesses that Rowan is prone to. His band includes Sharon Gilchrist on mandolin and Kathryn Popper, replacing Bryn Davies, on bass. When he performs as a trio, Rowan manages to project a lecherous sensuality that some fine offensive. In performing with Rice, he seems somewhat more controlled, leading to a more nuanced and effective performance. Meanwhile, an offensive girl smoking in the front row and screaming, “I love you Tony,” managed to diminish a fine performance while calling attention to herself, something no one in the audience had paid for or wished.

The Avett Brothers followed Rowan. Before the Avetts appeared a mass of people intruded between the front row and the stage barriers, standing and waiting. As this very popular punk bluegrass band which at extremely high energy and speed uses banjo, guitar, bass, and a lot of screaming and jumping around to sell their brand of music to young hipsters. What’s interesting about them is that within their seeming chaos lies a level of discipline and musicianship beyond superficial early assessment. While not exactly our cup of tea (or anything else) they still create a level of excitement approaching hysteria that cries out to be danced to by young people. The lone security person tried his best to keep the dancers to the side, but eventually enthusiasm overturned discipline and the crowd triumphed. As the Avetts finished their performance, we headed for our trailer, passing up the Saturday evening performance of Donna the Buffalo, a cult seeking band that played into the night.

Opening Sunday morning was the kids camp group headed by a group of adults who must have been counselors and abetted by a clown on stilts. The kids sang three or four songs with enthusiasm. Efforts like this provide parents with an opportunity to be free of their kids while having them supervised and promises that at least some kids will grow up never remembering a time they weren’t involved in traditional music. This is a worthy effort. Sunday was a day devoted to the memory of the late great fiddler Vasser Clements who died a year or so ago. Never having been at Springfest before, it’s difficult to tell the extent to which his presence truly dominated this festival. Surely the tributes to him from co-promoter Beth Judy and especially from Joe Craven were heartfelt and moving. Nevertheless, the dominating spirit of this festival seems to be more Donna the Buffalo than the pure music played by Vasser who was one of the most creative musicians and whose sound covered everything from old time through bluegrass to jazz and progressive styles. He was a true innovator.

Sean Camp and Verlon Thompson kicked of the music with another set of their wonderful work. The two sets following exhibited some of the most exciting music found at this festival. It turned into an extended jam with most of the musicians remaining at the festival, with the exception of Donna the Buffalo folks, appeared on stage with the listed band and jammed with energy, skill, and enthusiasm. It’s hard to imagine a group of musicians, many of whom had never worked together, creating a more enthralling musical environment. Verlon Thompson and Sean Camp reprised Saturday’s performance with more great work.

Peter Rowan and his group returned to lead a jam devoted to the memory of Vasser Clements. This jam, mostly with a bluegrass feel and sound to it, included most of the performers remaining on the grounds. It was a particular pleasure to see members of a new generation of bluegrass players on the stage with men who had played with the first generation. Peter Rowan and Tony Rice, old masters, on the stage with Josh Pinkham, Shawn Camp, Tania Elizabeth and others, showed that passing the baton to new players will maintain old traditions while shaping acoustic music for new listeners and new players. The future of acoustic music is assured as long as the fans allow it to revere the old while finding new directions. Bands like The Infamous Stringdusters, The Pinkham Family Band and other bands Josh has and will play with, Crooked Still, and The Avett Brothers will continue to experiment with the old forms. Some will join the pantheon, while others will die off without leaving even a ripple. A problem of niche narrowcasting is that it doesn’t ask music lovers to learn to listen to developments in the music as they occur, and we become stuck in watching music die as its adherents pass away.

Summing It All Up – Springfest is not a great festival because it is poorly managed by both the promoter and the Suwannee Music Park. There are so many really good things to say about Springfest that it almost seems churlish to focus on the negative, however, what’s wrong with this festival so seriously interferes with the pleasure of so many that a reviewer cannot ignore them. Furthermore, the problems can be addressed and solved by the application of a little money and a lot of courageous leadership. Our own experience might, indeed have been quite different if we had known more about what we were getting into. Perhaps reading the web site with more insight or asking the proper questions when we made our reservations would have helped. At both Merlefest and Gray Fox we had the advantage of an active message board or mail list to ask previous attendees to help us understand the festival. In each case our experience was improved because of the advice we were able to get from resources sponsored by the festival itself. If we had camped in the loop rather than in the lake area, we would have slept better without finding ourselves so far away from the main stage that we would have felt isolated. However, no amount of planning would have solved the problems of smoking in performance areas, dancers impinging on viewers, inadequate concern for safe health practices in rest rooms and portable toilets, playing amplified music, and general lack of concern for the comfort and enjoyable experience of others.

It’s important to say that on an individual basis we met lots of people from a variety of communities who we enjoyed talking with and being around. What I have to say here is not a reflection on cultures or lifestyles. Rather, it’s a comment on behavior and the true meaning of mutuality and concern for others. Also, while we have definite musical tastes, we heard music that was new to us and will be on our list of music we want to hear in the future. My criticisms have to do with the need for leadership and modeling in an environment where youth, music, alcohol, and generations meet, interact, and try to have a good time together.

In the end, the issue comes back to leadership from the festival promoter. Randy and Beth Judy were happy to take the stage to speak of the great traditions of the festival, to introduce the bands, and to say they wanted everyone to have a “good time.” But when it was necessary to ask people at the Amphitheater Stage to alter their behavior, they sent a minor staff member to do the job. For instance, on Sunday morning, I sent a note to Beth asking that she request smokers to stay behind the sound booth as the rules of the festival request. She gave me a smile and a high sign, but sent someone no one in the audience recognized to deliver the message. And the message was delivered with no great conviction. Leadership requires the leader to stand up and be counted. If the Judys wish to host a festival where all have a good time, then they need to tell people that their behavior makes too many people uncomfortable to be continued. In the case of smoking, many people sitting in the “No Smoking” area commented how glad they were to hear the announcement, but it was to no avail. Also, there were no “No Smoking” signs in evidence, even though they were posted the week before at the bluegrass festival.

Randy and Beth can address these issues and improve their festival. All it takes is commitment and courage. Will they show it?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Suwannee Springfest - Part II - Friday

Take a campground unprepared for the five or six thousand people claimed to be here and combine it with a festival promoter more interested in everyone having a “good time” than in seeking to maintain the standards proclaimed in their written materials and you have a recipe for disaster. That Springfest hasn’t turned into a complete meltdown is a testimony to the general good nature of the majority of people here. It doesn’t take too many people not cooperating with the rules to turn what could be a good experience for everyone into a difficult or impossible situation.

The festival booklet has a page of “A Few Simple Rules and Reminders.” For instance, smokers are supposed to stay behind the sound booth, leaving a large smoke-free area. We noticed right away that “behind the sound booth” doesn’t include backstage. Thus, smoke constantly drifted into the audience from where the staff and performers congregate. But even absent this smoke, there seems to be no effort to keep smokers from standing or sitting wherever they wish. Not once did we even hear a request from the stage to observe the standards the festival espouses.

While there are lots of “security” people checking wristbands, it seems that once through the gate into the Lake area, anything goes. Prohibitions against amplifies music, drumming outside the designated drum area, and legal age restrictions for use of alcohol are publicly flaunted. The aroma of marijuana is evident. The restriction against coolers and cans and bottles in the performance areas is well-policed, because the campground has maintained the very lucrative beer concession. The exhortation “Please treat everyone as you would like to be treated” should actually read something like “Please let me alone to do what I want, no matter how much it disturbs others.”

In many ways, campground employees try to satisfy the problems that arise. While we were at the office doing our computer chores, several people came in complaining that their camp site was being squatted on by someone else. Efforts were made to accommodate these people even though moving people out of hi-jacked camping space, even those paid for by others, was no longer possible. It’s probably worth saying that the foregoing comments are not a disgruntled rant from a couple of old fogies. We attend lots of festivals and music events. While we prefer bluegrass, in both its traditional and progressive forms, we’ve been to rock and country concerts as well as other events. The pre-concert tailgating and in-concert behavior at a Bruce Springsteen concert in Hartford, CT was better controlled and more fun than most of what happens here.

All this having been said, the festival should be about the music, so let’s look at it. For the most part, the music we heard pounding up the hill to our trailer had a kind of monotonous, dreamy, drifty quality devoid or melody or passion – surprising to me. On the other hand, the bands we chose to see were really good. Scythian is a Celtic group fronted by a buff fiddler whose athletic appearance and defiant postures represent his playing well. The band offered a range of Irish and Scottish songs with a rock edge to them that works well.

The Pinkham Family Big Band with Josh Pinkham was terrific. Pinkham is one of the crop of great young emerging mandolin players that promise to keep acoustic music alive. Josh has only been playing mandolin for about four years, but has been recognized as a prodigy. He began his music as a drummer and has expanded. Since then his playing has only become better and his range has continued to widen. Singer Terry Pinkham, Josh’s mother but looking like his somewhat older sister, is a fine jazz/pop singer. Father Jeff Pinkham, by his own account, is a mandolin player who has played with the best but now plays rhythm guitar for his prodigy son. They were backed by a first rate drummer Kenny Suarez and bass player Manny Yannis, cousins from the Miami Cuban community. Jeff’s composing showed itself in Siren’s Lullaby, catching the longing sound of the siren’s song that haunts the listener ever after and a samba they also played. The band’s range showed in covers as diverse as Billy Holiday, Prince, and Bill Monroe.

I used to denigrate the mandolin as putting out too little sound and having no sustain, leading to a choppy unmelodic impression. How wrong I was. In the hands of a master, the mandolin is versatile, rich in resonance and nimble. It fits into a wide variety of music from bluegrass through rock to classical Italian songs. Josh Pinkham, at sixteen, is already a master. Players like Alan Bibey, Adam Steffey, Sam Bush, Chris Thile and many others each have a unique and recognizable sound that demonstrates the range and capacity of this marvelous instrument....

The Biscuit Burners were an old-timey bluegrass band that used to get a good deal of play on XM channel 14, Bluegrass Junction, which serves up a pretty conservative view of the genre. They have moved, at least for Springfest, toward a much more world music oriented sound. Their Dobro player spent part of last year in India studying a 22 string lap instrument that plays like a Dobro and sound other-worldly. A song, Annie Oakley, was particularly effective. Josh Pinkham joined The Biscuit Burners for a song that rocked. The band has recently added Odessa Jorgenson, who is both decorative and talented, on fiddle. This creative band is pleasant to listen to. It features lots of instrumentals that really are its best feature.

Darrell Scott is one of the great singer song writers. His lyrics tell of mis-spent childhood, the despair of addiction, and lost love. For his performance at Springfest, he added Joe Craven, an inspired musician who only adds quality and taste to whatever group he joins. Scott sang some of his great songs like “River Take Me,” “It’s Whiskey That Eases the Pain.” Scott’s voice bottoms out on the word pain sending the pain right into people’s guts. He sang “Helen of Troy Pennsylvania” which is a wonderful song about two teenagers’ first sexual experience with the lovely and generous local divorcee. A song we own but have not paid attention to called “The Indian Side of Chicago” tells of the difficulty of growing up poor in a big city. Scott’s deep, throaty voice adds an extra instrument to his group the compliments his own fine playing on both electric and acoustic guitar. Scott lays it all out on every song. His band, including Gary Ogan on drums and a fine bass player worked well together to present Darrell's great songs and voice.

Joe Craven, who also appeared on Saturday with his own group, is a natural wonder. He plays mandolin and fiddle very well, but is most interesting when he takes on the role of percussionist. He plays any instrument that can make a sound and uses mouth sounds to supplement them. More about Craven on Saturday. Craven and Scott had never played a set together before, but no listener could tell that this group was anything other than superbly rehearsed and practiced together.

The rest of the evening held little interest to us, so we went up the trailer to watch the NCAA games. A group parked next to us had set up a satellite dish with a large screen television set on the tailgate of a pickup to watch the Gators play. A cheer arose after each good play and the gators won. This good hearted group put a positive punctuation on the day, as we drifted off to sleep.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Suwannee Springfest - Part I


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.

Dancin' Dave's Festival Camping

We were sitting in our camp site recuperating from last weekend’s bluegrass festival when we saw the big suburban pulling a large utility trailer with Dancin’ Dave’s Festival Camping scrawled across the side in script. I knew Springfest was going to be a big festival when I saw him arrive. I had never met Dave before, but I knew him from his contributions and promotions on the mailing lists of Merlefest and Grey Fox. Dave provides a service unique to bluegrass and Americana music festivals.

Dancin’ Dave rents on-site tent accommodations to people wishing to attend a festival who do not have camping gear and who don’t want to or can’t afford to rent a class C motor home to attend. Many festivals are held in venues where there are few motels available or the ones available are booked months or years in advance. They are often in rural areas, on farms, music parks, or campgrounds where the facilities are limited or non-existent. Through Dancin’ Dave a person or family can rent a bare tent or a full setup with tent, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, and folding chairs at a range of prices from $200.00 to over $600.00 depending how elaborate the setup is and how many people are involved.

I strolled over to his tent and introduced myself, and, to my surprise, he knew my name from the e-mail lists. Dave was busy, but not too busy, putting up one of the Eureka tents he uses as rentals. He said he works seven festivals a year (Suwannee Springfest, Merlefest, spring and fall Lake Eden Arts Festival, Grey Fox, Floyd World Music Festival , and Magnolia Fest in Suwannee) and can handle up to about twenty clients. At this festival he pitches all his tents on one site, but at others, like Merlefest, he has clients at four different campgrounds. He has very little problem with his equipment being mistreated.

Dave is not only a festival entrepreneur, but he is a noted dancer, as his nickname attests. He has a laid back, easygoing approach to life. For a day job he works for his home town in northern Wisconsin, where he drives a snow plow. Because he’s been on the job for many years and works holidays and vacation periods he builds up lots of comp time, which enables him to get away for the festivals he works. Since most of the work takes place before and after each festival, he is free to enjoy the music and get plenty of dancing during the festival itself.

You can contact Dancin’ Dave at:


If pulling a trailer half way across the country to attend one of the festivals he serves seems like too much of a bother, or even if you want to meet a guy whose zest for life enriches the experience of those around him, you might just give Dancin’ Dave a call.