The night had been colder than expected. I thought that because Upstate New York was way down under the Arctic Circle it’d be quite easy to camp there, but I was mistaken. The night was cold as I said, and I woke up with a rather fungal throat. Compared to that, the mosquitoes and slugs were almost not such a bad disturbance. The day/night dichotomy which is all but normal for 99 per cent of earth-dwellers was most confusing as well, turning our bodies into a strange winter mode that left us exhausted all day long.
Friday marked the actual beginning of the Great Blue Heron music festival: multi-day event focusing on bluegrass, country and hippie music that had been going on for more than twenty years. I don’t particularly like hippie music, country or bluegrass (bar some select exceptions) so I was considerably less enthusiastic about being here than Linnea, who had basically been raised with the festival.
It was also diabolically warm then, temperatures I hadn’t experienced in years, literally. The sun shone high and bright, leaving no respite for the arctic dweller I have become. All in all, I was disoriented, tired and then came the people:
Spread through the fields, woods, paths and hills/ In shacks, hammocks, tents and barracks/ Dye-haired, scruffy and wild, gentle funny, happy and high/ In Grateful-Dead tees, shorts and tie-dye/ As far as the eye could see:
You can imagine my shock.
I hadn’t really seen that many far-out people since my late teens in southern France and I still never encounter a situation where I was lost in the midst of that many peace-minded oddballs. As I finally understood the scope of the event and the fact that I would have to stay 72 hours in a camp-ground infested with patchouli-smelling folk I realized something very seldom and very wrong had happened:
I had been out-weirded.
The initial shock was a bit hard to take. Blue-haired girls with belly-dance-belts were wandering barefoot among hordes of round-bellied baby-boomers, guys in Stetson hats fended off teens hoola-hooping and people with dreadlocks seemed to sprout out of the fields like sticky sunflowers throughout this long summer day.
It felt strange. Like, real strange. But at least these guys were real nice. Something I really did not expect was how warm Americans are. Lots of passersby smile, nod and even salute you, USING WORDS all the time. You got help from completely random people without even asking and everyone is overall chatty and good spirited. It’s nice, but for someone who has been living in Norway for so long, I felt kinda lost. When the waitress asked about my order by calling me “honey” I was speechless for about half a second. Weird.
Anyway, the day’s musical program started with the Tiger Maple String Band, a country/bluegrass band in which Barry, the manager of the festival Café plays banjo. The music is quite nice, some songs are really slow and driven by vocal harmonies and acoustic guitars while others have a more “square-dance” feel and make full use of the band’s two fiddle players. There are also a couple songs sung by Barry himself. When he opens his mouth, he reminds everyone of his bear-like nature, and it rocks!
Following the concert Linnea and I wandered around. My fiancée showed me some wondrous funky food and crafts stands where the only common ground seem to be the pious worship of Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. Among this bustling market place, our eyes spot the most unlikely thing: A pouch adorned with a Saami flag. As we approach the stand, curious, we meet the artisan that crafted the item, Eileen, who is actually of Saami ancestry! After a long and fascinating chat we leave with her card, but not without realizing that, an ocean apart, we actually have some acquaintances in common! The Saami world is a tiny world and that’s just great as it is!
The day was proceeding with great merriness and joy. This hippie festival wasn’t that bad actually! The next band coming on stage Smackdab was even almost heavy! Funk-Rock with a killer drummer and great guitar/organ melodies it was a literal blast of energy + the big black singer was funny. Still we were really tired from all of our travelling and decided to take a short nap before the beginning of the evening program. This plan backfired though, as we took a loooooooooooooooong nap, waking up as the night had already fallen unto the camp site. Courageous, we nevertheless managed to raise our flaccid bodies of the ground in order to get there on time for Linnea’s fave band: The Town Pants.
The Town Pants have a really, really odd name. Doesn’t make sense to me at all, but it doesn’t matter because they rock. I rarely have seen a live show where so much energy was thrown unto the public and where the public reacted so positively. The band plays some kind of super-upped Celtic Rock built around the singers’ banjo and acoustic guitar groove. This night, they performed in kilts (despite being of Irish-Canadian heritage) and gave thousands of hippies the most delirious legal trip of their life. I think that of about twenty songs the band performed, all but two were played at a really high tempo. The band really enjoyed themselves, joking around as they requested more and more booze from the public. This show was purely excellent and converted me for good: I can now voucher that the Town Pants are the heaviest band ever that doesn’t use electric guitars. Look’em up, they’re worth your time, your money and your admiration.
Upon leaving the main stage, Linnea and I were all energized by the band’s flawless performance and we decided to go meander through the woods before calling it quits. For the duration of the festival, the woods around the Heron farm become alive, populated by thousands of partying hippies. Those hippies, assisted by the festival staff, transform the woods every year into a wicked Faery cove, complete with fire-pits, projectors, tapestries and lots and lots of glow-sticks. Walking around those woodlands with the sound of the music and the sight of joyful hippies was the perfect way to end this long long day, and with a smile on our face as a bonus.
Maybe those hippies aren’t so bad actually?
Text by Lyonel Perabo | | Photos by Linnea Nordström