Thursday, July 23, 2009

Grey Fox 2K9

The Northeast's premier bluegrass festival, Grey Fox, recently transpired among the rolling Catskills of New York state, and I and my brother were fortunate patrons (or volunteers, rather) of this fine festival that just finished its 32nd year. This was my fourth time going, third time volunteering, and 47th time taking time off of work this summer to do something fun at the expense of saving money for my trip to Europe. Ah, well. I got to work on my tan, and that's all that really matters.

Us staffers were up close
I realize that some of you, at least one of you, have not even heard of bluegrass music. I am appalled, but I'm too lazy here to give a scholarly background of the music, but I'll take a couple sentences to explain. Bluegrass, as a genre, essentially evolved from the old-time musical and vocal traditions of rural America in the early 20th century. Figures such as Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, Flatt and Scruggs, and others are considered to be the most influential in founding and developing the music, which I like to think of as a cleaner, tighter, more modern version of old-time string band music. Today, bluegrass has taken some routes that have roots in country and jazz, the latter being improvisational solos and complex musical twists and turns that keep the music interesting for the players (but sometimes confusing and disagreeable for the listeners, in my opinion). I go for the real, hard-drivin' original stuff. Anyway, that's bluegrass, and you can imagine that a bluegrass festival attracts some characters. Can't say I'm not one of them, but folks just let it all out for these things. You see plenty of extravagant RVs (loud-as-hell generators included), tattoos, straw hats, beer koozies, facial hair, and yes, white people. Will and I at least made an effort to improve the melanin discrepancy by getting some sun but, alas, the honkies prevailed. Bluegrass, though, is certainly a more progressive music than most, especially its close counterpart country, and several artists including Peter Rowan and Tim O'Brien played political songs. There was even a group, The Maybelles, that boasted a gay female bass player who wrote and played a song with the title of something like "My Little Christian Girlfriend." Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, Ricky Skaggs spent a good amount of time preaching the gospel in the hopes of converting any weak-willed listeners right there at the festival.

Crooked Still

Will and I worked the morning shifts, preparing and serving breakfast to the crew and performers, which meant that we got the whole rest of the days to ourselves. We spent some time exploring the charm of Oak Hills, NY, riding bikes or going for a jog and ending our tours with a few refreshing swims in a nearby creek. Then we'd head back to the festival grounds, slather on some sunblock and prepare for a day of nonstop pickin'. There were too many great performers to list them all, but a few notable shows came from the Kruger Brothers, a Swiss duo who compose beautiful tunes and can play the classics at supersonic speeds (check out this video), Crooked Still, the funky, soulful group of young musicians from up around the Northeast, Mountain Heart, the almost pop superstars of the bluegrass world,

Mountain Heart (this banjo player has no fingers on his left hand)
Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives, a quirky and very showy group that is allowed to sport tight leather and frou-frou hairdos because they're f*cking great,
Marty Stuart

and Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, great musicians who play the stuff as it really should be played, most of the time: straightforward and unbelievably crisp.

Old Man Skaggs

And to add icing to the acoustic cake, Will and I had the pleasure of meeting and giving a ride to the Albany train station to two lovely Danes. Sigrid Hasling and her daughter, Marie, were visiting the States for the first time and decided to hop from NYC to Grey Fox for a little vacation within a vacation. We drove them to the station after the festival and shared facts about our respective educational systems and demography; you know, the usual dialogue that's exchanged between Danish tourists and US citizens. Marie is a grad student in Copenhagen, and I'm looking forward to perhaps making a stop in the city if I can find a brewery farm somewhere in the green pastures of Denmark (which may be very likely, actually).

That's it for tonight, ladies and gents. Soon I'll be posting updates about my brewskies and other tantalizing tidbits, so keep your appetite well whetted. Oh, and to clarify about last post's title: I was going to explain it in that post, but I forgot. Must've been a head-scratcher for you all. I was just remarking to Noah, the baker I work for, about the monsoon that we're experiencing this summer, and he replied with, "Yeah, it might be the summer without...", after which I thought he would finish with "a summer" or something. Instead, he said "tomatoes". I didn't ask him why he said tomatoes, but I thought it sounded funny. Maybe tomatoes abhor rain? We will never know...

Hey, this blog isn't all hot air

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