September 17, 2006

Strawberry Park Folk Festival

Spent most of the day and late into the evening in Preston CT at the inaugural Strawberry Park Folk Festival. Our experience was top-notch. Aside from not taking credit cards at the gate (which left Zippy and I somewhat cash poor; the onsite ATM was also down), the facility was wonderful, the music stellar. All good.

We missed The Nields (I would have liked to have seem 'em) but caught:

* The Kennedys - always affable, inspirational and entertaining. They sort of provide evidence to the old angst vs. art thing - they seem so connected and happy that you wonder if they just do not have the bad karma mojo to write a couple of the sorts of heartbreaking songs that hit the folk charts (such as they are).
* Jeffrey Foucault - new to us, singer songwriter who reminded me a little of Bill Morrissey, who I have not seen live in forever and I need to play some of his albums and catch up with his music
* Eliza Gilkyson - always wonderful. She had some guitar issues and played a borrowed one which I think threw her off a bit.
* Tracy Grammer - She's one of those "I hear her all the time at Falcon Ridge, but have never sat through a full set in the audience" artists. She was wonderful. Her "manservant" (as EFO quipped from the stage) Jim Henry accompanied her and plays some of his own stuff - and it was a nice pairing.
* Eddie From Ohio - Another FRFF "always in the background, never really sat and watched" act, and they were wonderful.

Mostly, we kind of shook our heads at the great lineup and artists booked for the festival, and how light the turnout. We're used to the FRFF folk music juggernaut of 15,000 people, and we pulled into day parking with maybe 20 cars in it. The amphitheater had maybe 300 tops. It was not a huge crowd. Kind of a pity, really - the space is wonderful, the facility is beautiful. The dance stage (smaller than FRFF but very nice) had maybe 20-30 dancers, at most, and often far fewer.

One could not help but compare to Falcon Ridge (there were lots of FRFF logo's in the crowd, I spotted Ernie and said hi, and several of the acts mentioned FRFF from the stage) and indeed, it looked as if the organizers of this festival had decided to try to recreate FRFF. My advice (as a 15 or so year FRFF volunteer)

1) Start smaller. FRFF did not spring from the womb as a 4 day juggernaut. You could have had a Saturday festival, with Friday night ad hoc music (open mike? song circle?) and Sunday morning light stuff.

2) September is tough - the kids are back at school. Anything extending past the traditional weekend is going to be an issue for families. Cut it back to a Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday festival.

3) FRFF is not sacred space because of its music, stages, artists, grounds. Its the community that has built up around it - and that takes both time and some community building savvy. There were no staff or volunteer tee-shirts to be seen, to give the festival a family feel. There was no real identity, except maybe the campground identity that was not exactly the folk festival community. Anne and Bub from FRFF seem to have stumbled upon the magic - and I am not sure how much of that was deliberate and how much intuitive, but the Strawberry Folk Fest needs a shaman to guide them.

All in all, a good experience - I suspect it may not happen again, depending on how much money was lost and how committed people are to making it work again. But it was nice to be there for the inaugural one, if it sticks around.

On a high note, the folks from Eagle Ray Traders were there, and I chatted briefly with them - and bought a pair of batik pants which will be ideal for kirtan. Gotta find a rust colored sleeveless top to go with 'em.....

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