This year my passport might stay in storage. When a couple of kitchen appliances died in December, I knew 2016 would mean swapping travel abroad for house projects: clear clutter, repair or replace things that are broken, and finish projects. Truthfully, it’ll make me happy to check these things off the to-do list.
Even forbearance needs some balance. I might not travel across the ocean this year, but North America is vast with plenty of places to see. Locally, I’m getting to know the DMV (District of Columbia / Maryland / Virginia) better. This area is a world-class destination! And then, there are also road trips for long weekends.
Speaking of which … my brother, David, had the idea to bring the family together Memorial Day Weekend for a folk festival in Ohio. It’s only the third time in 10 years that my brothers, sister and I were home at the same time. My sister-in-law and niece joined us.
Why a folk festival? In 2015, David took Mama for a Memorial Day picnic and outdoor concert to see the Ohio folk group, Over the Rhine. She absolutely loved it. The concert was a fund-raiser for the new barn construction. The barn is now complete and was inaugurated in 2016 with this full-blown art and folk music festival. Hence, David’s idea to bring the family together for what he calls a “signature event.” I was into being with my family and the picnicking. The folk music? Not so much.
My music of choice is classical, soul, Latin jazz, and hip-hop, and some rock. I thought I was well-rounded enough when it came to music… until this folk festival challenge. I wondered if I could stand two days of it.
Based on the vague response of the GPS, the site for the Nowhere Else Festival was nearly off-the-grid. It was on a farm in Martinsville, Ohio… near Wilmington… and not far from Cincinnati. It was also just 45 minutes south of my mother’s house.
Festival hosts, Karen Burgquist and Linford Detweiler of the folk band, Over the Rhine, live on another farm they call “Nowhere.” The band is named after a neighborhood in Cincinnati. Their “Nowhere Else” farm hosted the festival and housed the artists.
Karen and Linford infuse their lyrics with love for each other and Ohio. “Meet Me At the Edge of the World” is my favorite song of theirs. Song lyrics, like visual art, invite you to create your story of what they mean.
“That lone tupelo soon will be on fire
For all I know with God’s desires
As Autumn in Ohio spirals
Off of the edge of the world.”
(Excerpt from “Meet Me at the Edge of the World” – Over the Rhine)
David’s brain is a database of lyrics from any music genre. Give him a couple of words and ask for a lyric to match, and he can pull it up and give you a story about it. I, on the other hand, am usually lyric-deaf. When I listen to songs, I hear rhythm and instrumentals. But, when I really really listened to this music, I could hear the poetry — the art within the art.
The new barn’s ground floor was used for artist demonstrations and gallery space. I get all nostalgic about Ohio, and was lovin’ the painting of the state bird.
The festival was two complete days of scheduled visual and performance artists. Two tents were set up: one for picnicking and the other for the musical performances. Those who couldn’t fit inside the tent sat outside on their own chairs and blankets. So did we, at one point.
We packed enough food and drinks for lunch and dinner both days. Everybody in the family contributed to the picnic fare. Our menu was ridiculous: smoked salmon; smoked chicken; two kinds of deviled eggs; fresh green salad; crab, avocado, and quinoa salad with technicolor tomatoes; Christians and Moors salad; potato salad with sausage; and cut-up fresh fruit for dessert. Although the festival had food available for sale, like pizza, the best part was bringing our own grub.
My brother is laser focused on his plate. Get it, David!
Other things that were cool about this festival were: 1) the size of the crowd, 2) the ease of parking, and 3) decent toilet facilities. About 1,000 people attended the festival,which meant there was plenty of space. It was easy to come and go from the site, and parking didn’t cost extra.
A few words about the toilet facilities. I’ve been turned off by many an outdoor event for fear of the toilet facilities. Some would test the stoutness of anyone’s bladder. At Nowhere Else, the outdoor hygiene station was impressive and had foot pedals to turn on running water. There were also soap dispensers and paper towels. That was better than I’ve seen in county parks and recreation areas! The port-a-potties weren’t smelly, disgusting, or gag-inducing…most of the time…just avoid looking down the hole. A couple of port-a-potties were even spacious. But, when the high heat of the sun was done, I eased up on hydration. By 7 pm, those port-a-potties had been through hard duty and gone beyond the limit of tolerability.
My favorite discovery at the festival was the band, Birds of Chicago. Catch a bit of their sound here. The female lead vocalist, Allison Russell, is from Montreal. She plays banjo, ukulele, and clarinet. Her husband, J.T. Nero, writes most of the songs and plays lead guitar. His raspy vocals perfectly complement hers. Twang meets soul.
At Nowhere Else Festival, the band mostly played songs from their album Real Midnight, produced by Joe Henry. Evidently, Joe Henry is a big deal and artists score a coup if he produces their album, which is yet another thing I learned about the folk music world. Joe Henry was there performing his own music and he held a songwriting workshop. (As a side note, Madonna is Joe Henry’s sister-in-law.)
See the video clip from the festival — Allison and J.T. join Joe Henry’s band for a song. (Joe’s the guitarist in the black hat.)
I struggled to describe Bird of Chicago’s sound until I read Jewly Hight’s NPR review of the album Real Midnight. The artists describe their music as secular gospel. I can hear that. Hight also said this about the band’s lyrics: “They show us a way to fully live with the awareness that nothing’s forever and everything’s at stake.”
I was surprised by how much I really enjoyed the music at this FOLK festival. What??!! I also liked other artists, like Lucy Wainwright Roche — a solo artist and guitarist with a gift for humorous story-telling. Blind Boys of Alabama closed the festival and took us to church!
But, back to Birds of Chicago. Less than a month later, my sister, a friend, and I saw them at Gypsy Sally’s in Washington, DC. I’d never been to that venue before and it was great, too!
See what happens when you open yourself up to new experiences? Have you opened yourself up to anything new this year?