It's been a long time and you know I have been really busy with life events, etc. However, I did want to check in and get in my yearly thoughts about The Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival. Usually it is pretty blurry after the fest and this year isn't much different, but I thought I would take a shot at a chronological recollection of the week.
Got up at a reasonable hour and finished packing the truck and cooler with the last minute stuff. Left the house around 8am and stopped at the convenience store for beer and half and half for the coffee. While I was there I got a text message from my Crew Chief asking if I was on the way. I drove up to the farm past the Winston Farm in Saugerties where they had a huge concert weekend with disastrous results just in the few days prior. On Monday after that event they still had over 1,000 cars stuck in the mud. I saw the wallow marks from tractors and 'dozers sent in to pull those cars out. Sheesh, what a mess. I thought to myself 'boy am I glad we don't have issues like that!'
I arrived on the farm at about 9:30am with heavy overcast skies and a forecast of heavy rain until midnight (not good, but workable). I checked in at my Crew Chief's trailer and he was not there. So I checked out the medical tent and was surprised to see everything was already delivered to the tent. This is what I expected to be doing, so my day just got a lot easier! All I have to do is get my camp set up before the rain starts and I can get to work here, knowing that when Steve and Jerry arrive from Kentucky, they will have a dry spot to sleep.
So I set up camp and took some extra precautions to make it bullet proof for the heavy rain. Not a bad job, if I say so myself. I sent a photo off to Steve and Jerry and no sooner had I done that, than the skies opened up, BIGTIME. I waited the rain out for a bit, but when it showed no sign of abating, I jumped in the truck and drove back to the med tent. Big mistake. I should have walked, I slid sideways for most of the distance on the slick grass.
|2 minutes before the rain started. Note there are no other tents around.|
|Things have 'filled in' just a bit.|
We tried getting some setup done in the tent, but with the heavy rain and the water working its way in along the ground, it was pretty tough. At 2 pm there was a ban placed to prevent anyone from driving on the field and making ruts. Not even golf carts could move. My truck was stuck where I had parked it. We piddled around here and there with what we could do, interspersed with greeting new arrivals and catching up since we'd last met. We had some dinner but I don't remember what. Steve and Jerry arrived around 7:30pm, I think. We had to park them by the med tent and carry in the stuff they needed for the night. It rained lightly, but picked up again around 2am and rained heavy until 5am. The tent remained dry inside, a huge relief to me.
The day dawned grey, but the rain had stopped. I made breakfast for us and prepared to watch the rodeo (the gates are opened to the public at 7:30am and the field fills quickly in about 3-4 hours). We enjoyed our coffee and talked for a bit. Soon I realized that 7:30 had come and gone and nobody was coming in. Hmmmm. About that time I learned that the festival had decided to hold off opening the gates until 10:30 to let the field drain. This turned out to be a brilliant decision that saved us from the same fate as the Winston Farm Concert. Still when they did open the gates, they had to use large farm tractors to pull in the largest mobile homes and rigs. Through the day they pulled out a bunch of cars, but not nearly what they would have done if the gates opened as planned. The 'roads' on the grass remained fairly good with only a few bad spots.
Steve and I tried to give Jerry, who was here for the first time, a run down on what to expect and where things were. Steve is a DJ for WorldwideBluegrass.com and Jerry was his engineer for the weekend. Jerry is a whiz with sound, sound files, and audio editing among many other skills. Their goal for the weekend was to maintain music transmissions for 48 hours from Thursday night to Saturday night, and they darn near pulled it off too.
We went and checked out the main stage progress, and at that point I went down and tried to help get the med tent going. We spread hay to walk on and suck up some of the water. In fact, they were spreading hay on a lot of the roads and walking areas for the same reason. Things started to come together slowly. I grabbed a golf cart and did a few loops around the check on the crowd and ran into a few friends here and there, making mental notes of where they were camped. Our med staff started to drift in over the day. The stages were getting set up, vendor row was coming together and folks were getting settled in. Around 3:30pm Bill Keith arrived and soon after that, the Cody's came in too (or maybe I have that backwards). Putting up Bill's Tee Pee is always an adventure requiring careful planning, skill and coordination. I enjoyed watching Ron, Steve, Jerry, and Bill make it happen while Wendy documented the process with photos.
|View from the back of our campsite looking out toward the 'road' with Bill's Tee Pee in the center. Many would call it the epicenter.|
The weather was now perfect. Warm and sunny, but not too hot. This is also the day I work the overnight shift, so it is important that I lay low, take it easy, grab a nap if I can (HAH!) and be ready for a long night in case it gets busy. Thursday is when the planned music starts, and this year they had a very heavy lineup for the first night which included Steep Canyon Rangers and Nickel Creek We were also expecting Ryan Cavanaugh and Leah to arrive on this day later in the afternoon. I caught some stuff here and there between meals, Ryan and Leah arrived and came by to say 'hi', then went to set up camp. I got a text from Ryan about an hour later that he would be sitting in with Town Mountain on the Catskill stage at 7pm and then up on the main stage with the Steep Canyon Rangers at 9pm. Wow, he is on the farm to 2 hours and he scores sit-ins with 2 major groups. I missed his set on the Catskill stage, but was working up around the main stage when he was called up to play with the Steep Canyon Rangers along with the mandolinist from Red Wine. They each had killer breaks and Ryan especially drove it home. What a joy to watch the crowd go nuts over a friend's playing. We had a huge crowd at the main stage that night because Aiofe O'Donnovan, SCR and Nickel Creek were on the bill. After the main stage closed for the night and I headed back to the Med tent I ran into my buddy Rushad Eggleston and his Mouse Princess. He was jonesing for a good jam, so I pointed him in the direction of our camp where I knew those great kids from Maine would be playing. Rushad went over to his car and changed out of his stage clothes into something more subtle (That's humor, right there, in case you missed it) and he started playing as he walked out of the artists parking area. By the time he had traveled 100 feet, he had a crowd, at 1:00 in the morning. Mostly youth with a few musicians among them, a jam started up and the next thing you knew there were 40 people, including Medical staff and Security, who were mostly smiling and taking pictures. The played a nice round and all the youngsters got to play a break with Rushad and were quite good. It was a super moment. Then the jam broke up and Rushad went down to our camp, where, I am told, he jammed for a couple of hours, and I missed it. I was on duty for the night.
I only managed an hour sleep, as we were kept busy tending to folks who needed us. The temp dropped to 48 degrees F and it was hard to keep from shivering as we worked on some of our patients in the dark. Flying across the field with the pedal to the floor made we a lot colder than I expected and I never thought about the wind chill factor in July, until that night. Thursday night always seems to be a busy night for the med crew at GF, I don't know why. I am just glad I have one of the best working partners a guy could ask for in Terry, she is top notch!
We got off shift around 9:00am and I borrowed some wheels and ran over to the camp and gave Bill a lift up to breakfast. One of my biggest joys at GF is being able to hang out with, and around Bill. I confess that I make excuses to be in that situation, I give him rides here and there through the weekend, walk with him to his workshops, because I would not miss them anyway, and generally find any excuse to be around him. He thinks I am 'doing him favors', but the truth, as you might guess, is that I am having the time of my life just hanging around him.
So we went up to breakfast and as usual, folks would take turns coming by and having a meal, and a chat with Bill. Many are old friends and some are new friends. Some just want to meet him, get a 'howdy and a shake' and say 'thanks' for what he taught them through his music. Some days it could take 2 hours for Bill to get through a meal, because as soon as one person would wish him well and move on to let him finish his meal, another one would sit down and start a conversation. Now this may sound like an annoyance, but I am quite sure that Bill really enjoys this social atmosphere and the conversations are always enjoyable and animated, with many good stories crossing the table. Some days it seemed that we had barley gotten back from breakfast when it was time to head up for lunch.
Friday was another 'lay low' day for me. My cognitive abilities from being up all night meant that I could not go on duty and treat patients. There was no way I could go into a tent at around 110 degrees and try to sleep. So the only option was to stay up and take it easy. Bill had a workshop with Mike Munford, Mike Kropp, and (surprise!) Ryan Cavanaugh. . It was a killer session. I spent the day relaxing, grabbed a much needed shower and visited several times with Matthew Goins at the Blue Chip Picks booth. Matthew is a great guy and we share so much in common having both been raised as shop rats in the machining trades. We could, and often do, talk for hours. Matthew treats me way better than I deserve and I very much enjoy his company as well as that of his young assistant Daniel who is a scarey good musician.
Della Mae was on the main stage at 9pm Friday night, but there was no way I could stay awake for that. My head hit the pillow at 9pm (after 40+ hours awake) as I heard them take the stage and I listened to their first 3 tunes, and I could tell this was a great performance, but after that, I remember nothing. My bladder woke me up at 2:45 and I found my sandals in the dark while listening to a killer jam going on in our camp. When I stepped out of the tent, I had to wade through a crowd of about 30-40 people who were listening to the jam. Good music attracts good musicians, and this was one of those special times. Still, I was exhausted, so I went to the head and went back to bed. In 2 minutes I was back to sleep and didn't stir until 7:30am. I learned later that the jam started around 2am and went to about 5am. At one point, there were 2 saxophones in the jam. I never heard any of it except when I made that short trip.
At this point my recollections are starting to get blurred because I am getting my days confused and for the most part was still behind on my sleep. The day was generally filled with socializing, jams, visiting, catching various performances, and of course, meals. I was feeling a bit guilty for taking all of Friday off and I noticed that my crew Chief was looking tired. I also noticed that we had the biggest crowd up at the main stage that I had ever seen. So after dinner I grabbed my 'uniform' and went back to work up around the main stage, both back stage and 'front of house' where the crowd was. I had concerns because there were so many people, you could no longer see where the walking paths were. If something odd were to happen, I thought we should have folks in the crowd. I needn't have worried. The Saturday night lineup was killer and that's what drew the crowd, of course. We had Tim O'Brien & Darrel Scott, Del McCoury (always a huge draw) and the Carolina Chocolate Drops closing, another huge favorite. I wandered the crowd looking for issues or warning signs and saw none. As the Carolina Chocolate Drops were nearing the close, the crowd started to thin, just a little at a time. and by the time they finished their final encore, the crowd was back to normal. They exited the main stage seating without any issues and we did our normal sweep finding the usual 2 or 3 people sound asleep and sent them on their (safe) way. That's why I love GF, I always expect something challenging to happen, and it almost never does. When it does happen, we have such great people, that it is always handled well and without undue stress for anyone. It is, by far, the best large event I have ever worked at, bar none. Anyway, I turned in my radio and headed back to camp at around 1:30am where I found Ryan Cavanaugh, Steve Martin, Jerry Schrepfer, Bill Keith and a friend/student of Ryan's by the name of Doug Goldstein all sitting around and talking.
I didn't know it when it happened, but Steve's computer crashed around 10pm this evening and he lost all his software someplace and could not recover. They decided the best thing to do was bag it, as they were so close to the end and they could try to salvage it when they got home. I knew if Jerry couldn't get it going in 10 minutes, they probably made the best decision.
Ryan was noodling away and talking about diminished 7ths and 12ths and other stuff that makes my head hurt, Bill was listening and enjoying Ryan's noodling as were the rest of us. Ryan invited Doug to play some of the stuff he was working on, and what followed was an incredible example of how far you can take a 5 string banjo as they swapped leads back and forth and played some incredible light touch, jazz inspired music that is impossible (for me) to describe. All I could say was WOW. I looked at Bill's face during this, and near as I could tell with the available light, he was smiling broadly. When they had finished, Jerry looked at Bill and said 'Now if I understand this correctly, we have you to blame for what we just heard?" Everybody smiled...except Bill and he was quick to deflect the compliment to the players involved, however, those players would have none of it and reminded him of specific things Bill had done to influence the paths they chose to follow. It was sweet and I felt as if we were watching a circle come back around on itself and close the loop. I could not invent a better ending to the week. The conversations went on for a while and eventually the younger folks headed off to a jam and the rest of us turned in, even though it was only about 2am. Steve and Jerry had a very long drive back to Kentucky the next morning (12-14 hours as I recall) and wanted some sleep.
This is always the worst day for me, because we all have to say goodbye and hope we run into each other at some point during the upcoming year. It's also a busy day, because all this stuff has to be taken down, rolled up, and packed into vehicles. Everybody leaves around noon or 1pm and then I head over to the med tent and help pack up there. We have sweeps to do to make sure all the patrons got out safely and nobody is left behind in a hot tent to sleep it off. It's a big farm to cover, but once we are satisfied that all is well we, the staff take some time to wish each other well, have a parting drink, or cigar, or hug, or all three, and slowly and reluctantly drive off the farm.
This year it wasn't too bad, because I already had plans to meet with a bunch of folks in the coming months at various other events.
Diary, you know Grey Fox holds a special place in my heart and serves as my yearly re-charge station. This year was no different and I am already looking forward to next year. Check out this handsome crew: