I had the crack ‘o dawn set at this sweet festival. I found out that this was the 29th Blueberry Festival, which puts it back to the same time as the first Musikfest. Great energy back then and it seem the energy went in two different avenues. BBF stayed local (for the most part, excluding the days when they went ‘big’ time with Tom Chapin, Bill Miller, and I lost my spot in the mix), with great crafts, good music from PA sources, and they have developed this site into an incredible, functional PA farm. Indeed, a far cry from the simple farmhouse down a forgotten dirt road in the middle of Bethlehem. Musikfest went commercial, and BBF centered on this festival.
My history about this place predates the festival when I was invited to play at the initial ‘opening’ of the site. My friend and eco-terrorist Gertie Fox asked me to check this place out. Gertie was an incredible force of nature, a small, white lady from Bethlehem who took it upon herself to patrol the Monocacy Creek to find and expose polluters of this rare patch of water. She also carried a violin in her trunk, along with her waders that threatened to swallow her.
I drove below the shadow of Martin Towers, the looming headquarters of Beth Steel, (now empty) and found an unimposing dirt road along the river. As I drove back through the woods, down this gravel path, past an over-grown field towards a distant stucco farmhouse, I reflected that I was in the middle of Bethlehem, yet could have been in a very distant rural PA farmland. It was magical. And it still is.
I had very few folks out to listen at 10:30 on a Sunday, and some of them were eating blueberry pie at the tables on the right. Some hearty few sat in the rows of chairs in front of me, and, perhaps just one family that I had cajoled to sit up front with the bag o’ instruments. Coochie Coo.
As usual, the set went from adult to family and back again and I’m amazed that some adult couples come for this spectrum of a show.
I was looking for some kind of theatrical hook to vary from ‘playing folk songs well’ to entertainment. Giants, of course. But there were no kids here at the time. So, I trusted my instincts and invite a couple that seemed to be post-kids, yet receptive to what I was doing. They looked vaguely familiar (as does most of my audience these days) so I invited them up to do Thunder Tubes. And they did.
These folks knocked it out of the park, from figuring how to play the TT’s, to shouting out the refrain, to playing the TT’s with zest. The electricity was flowing. As they left the stage, they said it was their anniversary. In jest, I said that that was an embarrassing way to celebrate, but I knew that it was a moment that we all will cherish. Powerful stuff.
It remains hard to play this festival with little to no response in what I do here. But, they paid me fairly, I did two very nice sets of family music, and I said that I was proud to have my DNA embedded in this festival in my home town.
Did I say it was HOT? 90’s.
Off to Berks County for an late afternoon family show.