Red-Eyed Harvest

Observations from the Harvest Music Festival

It’s Saturday night, 12:30 central time on top of the Ozarks and I am sitting in a camp chair with my computer on the bed of my truck, a sun-bright street lamp 100 yards away washing out what would otherwise be a sky filled with stars, the Yonder Mountain String Band playing half a mile away. They are perfectly loud from here, another jaw dropping, awed-out jam, string musicians taking their instruments to new places, creating gusts in your face with music. The sensation of riding a train up and down steep hills and around sharp curves through some green sonicsphere has been constant.

The Harvest Festival weekend is just about over for me. Tomorrow my daughter Sam, her significant other Eric and I are leaving, headed back toward Little Rock.

There was something like 70 bands here. I only fully saw about a dozen of them, heard some others, saw a bunch of old hippies, neo-hippies, weekend-hippies (“It’s Monday, Bob, leave the clip-on ponytail at home.”), hipster writers, rednecks, punks.

There are four stages, and you can hear everything from this campsite. I heard and saw a lot in two days, some of it might even be worth sharing.

•••

Made it all the way to Cass, Arkansas, two miles from the venue (Mulberry Mountain), about 650 miles from home, before being pulled over by the law, which is amazing because I drive an old truck with suspicious bumper stickers and a speedometer that doesn’t work, and I’ve run a lot of cop gauntlets between Georgia and Arkansas, so my inner speedometer must work pretty well.

Drove like a boy scout, made sure to use my turn signals, wore my seat belt. Wore it until Cass, anyway, when I took it off to reach for something in the glove compartment. Fifteen seconds later, there was the cop, his blue lights swirling, his siren whooping.

Guy gave me a lecture on safety, went back to his car with my insurance card and driver’s license and sat there for what seemed like a drum solo, or longer. Came back and said, “sir, here’s what I’m gonna do for you. I’m gonna let you go with a warning. But here’s something you probably didn’t know. This license is expired.”

He’s right, I didn’t know, I’d totally forgotten and was genuinely embarrassed, so I let him off with a warning, “buddy, don’t turn 50 any time soon.”

•••

Waited until nightfall to pitch my tent. Hit the dust running at Mulberry Mountain and was just too busy seeing the Emmitt-Nershi Band, Split Lip Rayfield, Railroad Earth, interviewing Yonder Mountain String Band (the official hosts of this festival), Drew Emmitt and Bill Nershi, to bother myself with sleeping arrangements.

So when you camp, you go through a red-shirt security detail that asks, “do you have any weapons, fireworks or glass containers?” Doesn’t matter how you answer, because they search your stuff anyway. Sort of (during the weekend, I saw many fireworks, at least one gun, and a couple of mason jars with clear liquid). Anyway, they didn’t find the six-pack of beer buried at the bottom of my cooler, beneath the benign yogurt and juice containers.

I pull into my camping space around 9:30 that night and met my neighbors. There was Grant, Spencer and David on one side. Very nice guys, Grant bought a bag of ice that he let me have when mine had evaporated.

On the other side was Zach, who is 19 and from somewhere in south Arkansas.

Zach tried sneaking his friend Jimmy, also 19, into the festival. Jimmy hid in one of those Rubbermaid tubs, the kind you might use for your recyclables at home. Somehow, this kid contorted himself into the tub. He really wanted to see this festival, and he really didn’t want to pay.

Our heroes were just about through the checkpoint when one of the security guys decided he needed to check through the tub in the backseat. He poked through one side and somehow didn’t find anything. He decided to go back for another look, opened the lid on the other side and felt Jimmy’s head. Guy said (in my imagination, in a war movie German accent), “nice try, I admire the effort, but you’ll have to sneak in some other way.”

Jimmy did. It involved a hike through the woods in the dark, but when he broke through into the venue, the first thing his little penlight found was a $20 bill lying in the grass, primo ground score. I think I want Jimmy to manage my financial affairs, if I ever have some.

•••

Random thought: If there is no cheering in the press box for sportswriters, does that mean there is no dancing in the photo pit for music writers? More later.

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