I had three workshops scheduled for Saturday, the first at 12:30 noon, so I could arrive at a leisurely pace and settle in. The weather called for some storms later in the afternoon but I knew I could get my workshops in before the foul weather would come in, I hoped.
This festival is workshop heavy and that’s good. The Altamont Fairgrounds has lots of buildings (Sheep Barn, Cattle Barn, Dutch Barn, etc.) so the festival presents 10 areas for workshops and performances. And the festival organizers like to work the performers hard, and that’s good. Slide guitar, shape-note singing, ballads, mountain dulcimer, uke, vocals, hammered dulcimer, …. you name it. Something for everyone. Saturday alone featured 60 opportunities for up close and in depth situations.
I was at the children’s area in a pavilion with other children’s activities. The act before me was Roger the Jester, a wonderful juggler/performer who worked up a size-able crowd of kids and families, using his skills as a mime and juggler to delight the crowd. He’s a regular at this festival and it’s plain to see why. His silent skills and gestures were wonderful and artful.
I often expect the crowd from the preceding act to follow over to the next act (me), but that is, more often than not, a mirage, especially with a first-timer like me. Sure enough, the pavilion emptied out as I did my sound check.
Performance wise, I really need people, and especially kids, to play off of, but here was only one curious family with two incurious brothers reading comix with a few elder folkies mixed in. Again, another folk anticipation dashed to the dusty gravel in front of me. (god bless Tim, the sound man, who understood the whole situation for my sets this weekend. He got it…)
So I launched into my good stuff, invited the kids to come up and grab instruments and join in. Perhaps a grand total of twelve folks. I love these situations, in spite of the seemingly dire performance attendance, but I get to work one-on-one with the kids, the parents and the grandparents and work on the connections that are put in front of me. It’s basic ‘folk’ and remains essential in what I do as a performer – connect.
Often the grandmoms (and moms) lead the way and that happened today. These women understand that this experience is a vital chance to connect over generations. That’s pretty powerful. (If I can connect with the dads and granddads, that’s even better – though harder to do..)
Several adults were in tune with my work and precipitated some great conversations later in the weekend, especially concerning school work with special needs kids. I’m always curious why the adults are there.
“Giants” continues to be a focal point in the set. It’s the first time I get other people up on stage and it becomes a theatrical piece. I asked the two diffident brothers to come up and play the Thunder Tubes. Again, the focus shifts from me to the various interactions of the lads with the instrument, with each other and the on-stage situation. Always cell phone cameras out for this. The boys were great and they were sold on the rest of my show.
At the end, two wonderful brown-skinned sisters came up on stage for the freeze dance, and, in spite of only a handful of people in the audience, we transformed the set into some rock and roll, some folk humor and creative movement into a unique and memorable moment. That’s all I can ask for as a performance opportunity.
Off to the Jug Band Workshop.