I spent the weekend at the Great Blue Heron festival. It was my first time, even though the festival has been going for fifteen years.

I went for the whole weekend and tent camped on the grounds, along with a zillion other people.

The music was great, with a lot of bands I wanted to see and a whole bunch that were new to me and I have to say, every one was a wonderful new surprise. The music was literally non-stop for three days. Yes, all day, all night, one form of music or another was going on.

The main stage ran until 2 or 3 am. Then there was the Dance Tent, which ran even later. Besides that, there were the campfire sessions and drum circles that kept going until sunup. Really, the only time to sleep was in the morning!

That wasn’t a surprise to me. I’ve been to similar festivals before and know how the nighttime drums and hooting and hollering go on all night. It sounds brutal but once you understand that’s what people come for, and expect it, you just have to go with the flow and enjoy.

Friday night was rough. I had worked the midnight shift the night before, gone home and packed up the camping gear and drove down during the day. I never slept from sometime Thursday until about 4:30am Saturday. I was also exhausted from lugging all my gear from my truck to the campsite. There was no parking on the campsites. (There were other camping arrangements in other areas, but I didn’t know about them until too late.) You lug your stuff or ride a haywagon from the parking lot to your campsite. Even on the wagon, you only rode half way. Campsites were not assigned, you just picked a spot and plopped down anywhere.

But that I can chalk up to experience and next time, I’ll know to expect it. One thing I won’t do again is carry a lot of food and cooking equipment. The only thing I cooked all weekend was two hotdogs. I later saw a vendor selling hotdogs – 2 for $3. I found a lot of good food for sale at very reasonable prices, so I ate from the vendors most of the time. It was like county fair food, but for a weekend, who cares?

One of the reasons I wanted to go to the festival was to see John and Mary and The Valkyries. I had recorded their show at the Sportsmans the week before, which was basically a public rehearsal for the festival gig. I was curious to see the final product. It was cool to see them there and say hello again. They put on a great show and though it was early, a good crowd was there enjoying it.

John and Mary were at the original GBH festival and have played many times since, either themselves, or as part of 10,000 Maniacs, so it was like a tradition to be there.

Another highlight was The Town Pants. I love Celtic music and had heard of them through the Celtic Music News Podcast and the chance to see them play locally was one I had to act on. They played both Saturday and Sunday and had a huge crowd for both shows.

Other highlights:

Big Leg Emma – I had heard of them before, but I’m really not sure I ever heard their music, even on the intrenet. I really liked their show and music.

The Avett Brothers – I had never heard of them, but wow! They were unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. A trio from North Carolina, they play with an upright bass, a banjo, an acoustic guitar (flatpick, I believe) and the guitarist plays basic percussion at the same time – a small kick drum and high hat. While they were a kind of folk style, they played with an intensity and rawness that was amazing and I am at a loss to describe. you will just have to hear them yourself. They are a sound you will either love or hate, there is no middle ground with them.

Mojo Hand Blues Band – A blues band from the Olean NY area, the singer was a tiny little black lady who came out on stage and opened her mouth and let out a huge voice. She could sing!

The Crumbles – Jeff Erickson of 10,000 Maniacs’ other band. I didn’t realise that until I saw him there and playing on stage. At one point, I was standing in the crowd watching John and Mary (former 10K Maniacs members as well) and talking to Roger Cormier of The Feast about them. We were talking about the Maniacs and some of the changes tha band had been through and I was just saying they had a new lead singer and guitarist, when I looked up and Jeff was about three people behind Roger. I couldn’t remember Jeff’s name and I was just pointing at him and saying he was the guitar player for the Maniacs. I could understand if Roger thought I was nuts, but he seemed to believe me. It didn’t help that I was telling him the singer was a girl named Oskar…

Other bands worth mentioning that were new to me were People Of Earth and Boy With A Fish. Both were new to me and exceeded any expectations by far. I didn’t get to see a whole show by either of them, but caught partial shows.

Of course, Donna The Buffalo was the headliner and while I had never seen them play before, I have heard a lot of their music. I enjoyed their show Saturday, and while they didn’t dissappoint, it just didn’t have any special feel to me. Maybe it was because it was the headline act and I could only stand way back and watch from a distance.

It was a weekend that brought back memories of the sixties. Everyone was just happy to be there, be part of the scene, and have fun. Everyone got along and while there was Security, it was volunteers and generally just kept order by smiling and asking. It was so refreshing to not have police or hired security and yet little or no trouble, largely because everyone agrees to get along. The rules are simple and basic. No fireworks, no fighting or rowdiness. Everyone was friendly and cooperative. It wasn’t unusual at all to strike up a conversation with someone as you walked along a path in the campground or to drop by a campfire and say hello. No one messed with anyone elses property. you could leave your campsite and not worry about your beer vanishing! If only everyday life was so good.

Of course, officially drug use is not condoned, but it must be considered a personal choice to follow that rule. There certainly was a certain odor of cannabis almost everywhere, but it wasn’t obvious who was using it. At least they were discreet. Security only seemed to be concerned if someone got out of hand. I overheard one such event and they handled it by giving the person a ride in a golf cart back to their campsite to sleep it off. A very low-key, gentle approach.

There were a number of tapers there and I found them at the sound board in front of the main stage. There was a feed out of the board and someone had set up a distribution amp. I was invited to join them and set up my recorder. I had brought a lot of my equipment just in case such an oportunity arose. I didn’t get set up in time for the John and Mary set, but was set up shortly thereafter. I got some great recordings and some with some glitches, but mostly they were good. Many of the recordings may eventually get posted on archive.org, so If you want to hear them, watch there. I’ll be waiting for the John and Mary set.

All in all, it was a nice change of pace for a weekend. I’ve been to similar festivals at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park in Ohio, and it’s basically the same situation there. People just go to get away from their world for a few days and some enjoy the music, others live some little fantasy life for a couple days. But it’s all fun and simple – much simpler than the rush and bustle of the real world.