Wednesday, June 22, 2011

No Country For Sane Men - Wednesday, June 22, 2011 - Crunchy (Vegan Organic) Granola on the River

No Country For Sane Men

  No Country For Sane Men
    One Man's Journey Into The Mind Of America

"People get upset with my sharp wit, acerbic, yet lucid tongue and my not-all-that-bad grammar yet they still read my stuff.
I'm shocked! Shocked, I tell you!

Good Wednesday Morning,

There's more than 2700 words in this edition so make yourself comfortable.

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For reasons not fit for this column I was volunteered for the Clearwater Revival, an annual and rather fine crunchy-granola music festival held alongside New York's fabled Hudson River to raise money for Pete Seeger's 19th century Dutch sloop, Clearwater and its education programs.

It's not the first time I've volunteered at this festival, having done so for several years in the past, but I found it wanting in the sense that nothing much changed from year to year. This, as guests to the festival and repeat volunteers tell me, is its charm. Tech crews, road crews and performers will tell you that Clearwater is a "nice" festival, that it has a good vibe, and they would know. But for me it was always the same. Nice, sure. But just, ya know, there.

Upon arriving early Friday morning I set my tent in the same place I always had, and walking through the festival grounds as setting up was going on I saw many faces previously seen. But this year I was assigned to the sound crew at the smaller of the two main stages, the Hudson Stage, which sets itself directly along the river and that made all the difference. I'm not a newbie at this kind of stage/music thing and being part of putting the actual show together was clearly more my ken than the advocacy work I'd done there in the past.

This was hard work, there's no doubt about that, as we hauled tons of equipment. We were up at 7 in the morning and up late at night. And helping "Ace" set up the drum kit was a learning experience like no other. But standing in the campground 3/4 of a mile away and hearing the show as clear as day, you know you did your job and you know you did it well.

But before we get to the free-range, organic meat of this story, some impressions:
  • I'm 53 years old and I have to ask why, at 9PM and out of 948 volunteers, am I the oldest person dancing, singing and partying? I'm the oldest person at rock shows. I'm the oldest person at punk shows and I'm the oldest person - out of all those volunteers - enjoying rock and roll and Cuban and Cajun and Mexican music and all that goes around it in the Night Owl campground? What happened to the rest of my generation? When did you get old? And why? You're the sons and daughters of hippies, for chrissakes! What's happened to you? You're supposed to be out rocking and rolling, smoking and having sex, not driving Volvo's talking on your freaking iPhone. No wonder progressives don't win anything. You're all asleep by 9PM!

    But it's okay. I am happy - and proud - to carry the banner for you lazy fucks and these kids know that my time in diapers will come long past that of their parents who are fast asleep in their LL Bean, 6 man, walk-through tents. Rock on!
  • This festival, like some others, feeds its volunteers and does so extremely well. There's no shortage of food nor variety and it's good, well served and well prepared. Talking with crews who travel with the bands they almost all agree: Clearwater has the best food. With that said, here's a note to a lovely young woman in front of me on line Saturday evening for dinner:

    MAKE UP YOUR MIND. For once in your life, take an action and stick to it. No, the servers are not your mother and no, they're not going to take food off your plate because you've changed your mind. And yes, there are 700 people in line behind you. Waiting. For. You. Live a little dangerously! Eat something blue! (It was rather interesting.)

    In line at the dining                     tent

    And while we're on that subject: When there's PBJ fixin's out here's what you do:

    You take a piece of bread and decide in exactly which position to hold it. You then reach out for the PB suddenly realizing that you need two hands to scoop some out with the knife they've provided for you. So you look around for something safe to put your bread on for fear that if you place it on the table you will develop bubonic plague or acne or your trust fund will run out. You finally balance the bread on your forearm and carefully reach out for the PB but because of the precarious position of the bread you can't scoop an adequate amount. So you repeat the process until you have what you want. Then you hold the bread and lovingly smooth out the PB until it's as flat as an aircraft carrier's main deck and exactly 1/2 inch thick. Not more. Not less. Then you repeat the process with the Jelly while people behind you on line, a line that now disappears into the darkness behind, are dropping from malnutrition, withered and pale. But you've been catered and pampered your whole lives so, what's 20 minutes so you can make a PBJ? They're dying out there anyway so who cares?

    Look, let me cut to the chase: When you're on a line such as this here's how you make your PBJ:

    Lay your bread on the table, scoop out a hunk of PB and throw it on the bread. Scoop out your J and drop that on top of the PB. Take the other piece of bread and place that on top - then go to where you're sitting and smush the whole thing together there. It's exactly the same - But Better! The 30 second PBJ. Got it? Good.

    (And if I catch you smoothing out the soy butter on your bagel in such a fashion that Queen Fucking Victoria would sign a Royal Proclamation declaring you the best soy-butter-on-a-bagel-spreader in the British Empire, I will gleefully rip apart a BBQd chicken wing and slop its contents into my mouth while sitting directly across from you. And for the grand finale I will touch your organic, hand picked, free-trade vegan rice with a piece of raw, factory farmed meat.)

    I believe we are understood?
  • What is it about 6AM that wakes you up and makes you go get that thing out of the car, slamming the door behind you?

    You know that thing. The thing that cannot possibly wait until 10AM or even an early 9:55? You know, that thing you could have brought in to your tent the night before because you knew that when you went to get it in the morning no one would hear your car door slam shut?

    That thing for which you could have left the car window open, free from the fear that some 63 year old math genius would steal and hide it in his 2008 Outback with the ass-end bearing a Darwin Fish With Legs thing? You know that thing.

    Well, next year, don't bring it. 
  • We volunteers, those camping and standing guard over the event, happy to ensure things move along swimmingly, that guests find their way around, that the garbage cans are emptied, that your lost children are found... we could use Wifi in the campground. It's not something that's expensive, it just requires two nodes, one at the pool and one at the lodge, and a fat pipe for bandwidth. I'm sure we could find a company to sponsor it and if not a donor to pay for it. A gateway, a high gain antenna, a couple of repeaters is all. Oh, and the desire to do it.

The Plot Moves Forward

There's an old saw about this festival: If It's Clearwater It's Going To Rain and quite miraculously it did not rain during the festival. In fact the weather was damned near perfect.

But, Thursday night it poured. Friday afternoon as we were setting the stage it poured. Then it poured again. Then just for fun it poured one last time. The wheels of 200lb cases refusing to turn and hauling heavy boxes of amplifiers and speakers and cables across the mud was fun -- if you're a BDSM masochist into grunge play. And setting up scaffolding and the speaker towers? You pray the lightening doesn't strike too close.

But the crew I worked with, Jason, Daniel and Cody from Klondike Sound of Greenfield, MA, and volunteers Martin, Daryl and myself made a fine time of it anyway, persevering, doing something different while the rain was coming down and the lightening striking all around. In other words, no time was lost, no work was set aside and by the end of the evening with daylight to spare, the stage was set, speakers wrapped in tarps, mic stands lined up and all was ready for the start of the festival the next morning.

We became a tight crew, the 6 of us, and saw each other frequently over the next couple of days whether we had a shift working or not. And when the event was over Sunday afternoon we dismantled everything just as quickly as we had assembled it. And in a few hours time the stage which was once alive with music and song was bare, the scaffolding removed and not a wire was left behind... just the echoes of the music. And ruts from the electronics cases now hardened into the mud. And some beer bottles from the Justin Townes Earl show which were not ours. And a couple of orphaned beach chairs. And The Tape Of Death...

Performing at the Hudson Stage this year were some good acts: Carlos Varela, Josh Ritter, the Low Anthem, a regional favorite The Felice Brothers and on Sunday morning, fresh from a late show the night before in Brooklyn, James McMurtry and the Heartless Bastards brought their special, infective brand of Texas rock to the shores of the Hudson River.

As a writer I'm always looking for a story and this festival, like any other, has hundreds if not thousands of them. But there's always one or two you take away with you and the McMurtry Revolution, as I call it, is one. The other has to do with the "Night Owl" camping and that's not really fit for a general audience. Suffice to say that three days later, I'm finally sober but I have no idea whose underwear these are.

During a song in the second half of McMurtry's set he asked his fans, who were dancing pretty hard at stage left and right, to come to the pit and be part of the music. They (I should say we, as I'm unabashedly part of that crowd) were only too happy to oblige. But there's a problem here: that area in front of the stage is reserved for our peeps on wheels and yet this vast space, the width of the stage and some 15' or more deep, was empty save for three people, and all of it outlined by The Tape Of Death. How was it possible we could let this space go so unused? This space that beckons and calls. This space that would be happy to have a hundred people dancing? This space that ached for attention! Unused?

We didn't leave it unused and chaos ensued.

Oh, not chaos for us or our fellow peeps on wheels dancing in their way to the show, but chaos in the ranks of the volunteer Access Crew whose job it was to keep that space clear just in case someone else on wheels wanted in - as if they would not been welcomed with us dancing fools.

When the song was over the Access folks waded into the crowd forcing everyone out and back behind The Tape Of Death, a line of black on yellow plastic tape that said,


which they did. Faces red, anger rising, pushing and shoving the crowd back, Back, BACK! until the space was once again the domain of three peeps on wheels and a very tired and out-of-breath Access Crew who, had they weapons, would have held them drawn. Luckily all they had at their disposal were biodegradable spoons so no one was injured during this initial mélee.

Needless to say this was like pissing in our corn flakes and though it cast a pall over the show the Access folk, especially one "Kip", were not dissuaded from their overly righteous, almost religious cause and were determined to restore and maintain their arbitrary order at any cost.

Well, when there's Texas rock being played and James McMurty is playing it, you can't keep the crowd down for long and though we were well behaved for fear of having hand-picked organic rice thrown at us we did keep to the sidelines. But you could feel the energy building with each song and so at the end during McMurtry's last song he called his peeps back to the stage and we went and the party was on again.

Talk about occupied Timor!

You had to see the faces on the Access Crew as they fought in hand-to-hand combat with a hundred dancing fans. Then the Access Crew got on their radios and the next thing you know the stage manager comes running out and she brings her crew and we're at it again: On one side, a hundred dancing people rocking out and on the other a small handful of determined STICK TO THE FUCKING RULES volunteers - but this time we didn't move. Sure, we backed up a bit otherwise the lady with the earpiece and microphone would have been trampled with Birkenstocks and - clearly - this wasn't the crowd for that. And while she did succeed in creating a space of about 8' deep over at stage right the fans remained stoically on the wrong side of The Tape Of Death, dancing, singing and having a good time. McMurtry was having none of this get-out-of-the-way shit and so coming down off the stage with his guitar in hand and enough cable to keep him wired he finished the set rocking in the pit with a hundred happy fans.

Rock and roll wins the day.


We could get into a discussion of whether our actions as fans was appropriate. We could talk about the validity of the Access crew's claim to that vaunted space. But we won't and we never will. Instead we'll just say this: Sometimes you gotta rock and roll and you want to do it with the band and the Access folk need to take a chill-pill and worry more about keeping emergency exists open and less about the peeps on wheels who were doing their best to bop, dance and sing along with us. Now those peeps were part of a crowd and no longer isolated and alone like some red-headed step child. Now they were part of our family and we, theirs. And that's what the music is all about.

So, even in this liberal bastion of freedom, love and all things hippy, there are times when It's No Country For Sane Men. But the Access Crew didn't ruin the festival, not at all. The McMurtry Revolution became just one more heroic story to tell, a way to keep the spirit of music alive.

Wars. Death. Republicans. Eh, that's nothing compared to good music, a good vibe and good peeps on wheels and good peeps on foot.


Thanks to Klon and Lance and Cody and Jason and Daryl and Martin and Jacob and Zak who is visiting the US for the first time from the land down under. Thanks to Victor, you sexy Puerto-Rican-Mexican devil, and Gregor and Susan and Ryan and Roy and Lucinda. To James and Tao and Chris and Billy. To Eli and Ben and Laura and Jordi. To Indra the god of weather. To the goddess of the river. To Euterpe and Terpsichore and Thalia, the muses of music, dance and comedy. Thanks to you all.

Next week, a No Country... exclusive: Sarah Palin's sings Verde's La Donna é Mobile - in the nude.


Copyright © 2011 No Country For Sane Men
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