Monday, June 21, 2010

Clearwater Trip Day 3

I'm always amazed at how well I can sleep in a tent. I wake up feeling pretty refreshed despite having gotten up briefly a couple of times during the night. I'm glad it's early. The event camping area has inadequate facilities (two sinks, two toilets, and two urinals for about 100 tents worth of campers) and I want to get washed up before it gets crowded. As I bruch my teeth, one of the guitarists I played with at the previous evening's jam session ambles up to the other sink. As we wash and chat a line begins to form behind us. Without warning, the guy lifts one of his feet into the sink and starts scrubbing it. "Mulberries," he explains. "I walked through a bunch of them barefoot last night and now my feet are all purple." He washes one dirty purple foot, then the other, oblivious to the line of people behind him waiting to do things like brush their teeth at that sink. I make a note to use only the left-hand sink for the remainder of my stay.

It's pretty early and so I do have time for kayaking before the festival starts. I drive down to the car-top boat launch and spend a nice couple of hours paddling around Croton Point. The Hudson scenery is pretty awesome. The river, even up here, is quite wide with high bluffs on the western shore. On the way back I stop at the festival's "working waterfront" area to do some rolling practice. After a while I'm joined by another guy. He's paddling a recreational kayak - sort of a low end thing - and makes a number of attempts to roll, failing and wet exiting each time. The first time I see him struggling I paddle over and put my boat's bow near him so he can do a bow rescue. It turns out, however, that he's never heard of this technique. The only way he knows to get back into his boat is a mad cowboy scramble from the stern. As we talk he tells me that he's planning to travel by kayak from his home in New Jersey to Baltimore to visit his brother. He says he's got the route all worked out. I expect we'll be hearing more from this plucky young fellow - most likely in the next volume of Sea Kayaker's cautionary "Deep Trouble" books.

About noontime I head over to the main stage and stake out a spot with my chair and raincoat. I then make a bee-line to the dance tent to hear more zydeco. Today it's C.J. Chenier, who is a close friend ... well, I once rode in an elevator with him. I'm taking mental notes as I watch - my klezmer trio is scheduled to play the dance tent at the Takoma Park Folk Festival in September. I meet up with Sherry and Ken (and briefly, my DC kayaker friend Matt). As we're heading back to the main stage at the end of Chenier's set the heavens open up with a summer thunderstorm. Between Sherry's umbrella and my raincoat we get only partly drenched as we watch the band Donna the Buffalo. The rain does help cool things off a little, which is good as I stay largely rooted in place for the next couple of acts: Joan Osborne, then Shawn Colvin (I do take time off to get another delicious felafel .. worth the 30 minute wait). I also browsed the Activist Area, but stopped myself from engaging the folks at the "Israel out of Gaza" and "Close Indian Point Nuclear Power Station" booths. Didn't feel like ruining my good mood by picking arguments with these folks. But it made me realize where the lefty orthodoxy is these days.

I had decided that morning to drive home Sunday rather than stay over another night. I had already broken camp and my gear was in the car, so at the end of Shawn Colvin's set I bid Sherry and Ken adieu and got on the road. They were incredulous that I wouldn't stay for David Bromberg, but I'm not a big fan. Likewise, I couldn't believe that they were totally unfamiliar with Shawn Colvin, who is in my opinion an amazingly talented singer-songwriter.

A leisurely drive down the Hudson through Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown, over the Tappan Zee Bridge (it never occurred to me growing up that it was unusual how many things in NY had Dutch names), and then a Starbucks-fueled dash down the Garden State Parkway and I95, and I found myself home again.

Note that there's no mention of Charles and Lori in today's write-up. They made it back to the festival but I never saw them - they spent all day at the beach and kids activities and we never met up. I was bummed about that.

All in all, a really enjoyable weekend. I'm already scheming how to do it again next year and maybe entice some of my family members to come along.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Clearwater Trip Day 2

I start the day with a bowl of cereal and Starbucks Via Brew instant coffee - unsatisfying in a different way than the French press coffee I usually make while camping. It's too early to head to the festival so I take a leisurely stroll along the beach at Lake Welch. I'm really impressed with the beauty and maintenance level of this campground. Unfortunately, it's not where I'll be staying for the Festival; just a stop along the way, so after lounging for a bit I break camp and get on my way.

After a pretty river crossing of the Hudson at the Bear Mountain Bridge I arrive at Croton Point Park and proceed to spend 30 minutes creeping my way into the festival. I set up camp and head down in time to catch Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek). The aptly named Hudson Stage is right alongside the river. A marvelous location to hear music. I settle in and by the grace of G-d my spot soon gets shade from a nearby tree. Let me say that if I have any say in what heaven is like, it will include outdoor music festivals by the water's edge. With shade. Of course, in heaven I won't have to wait on line to use the Porta-potty, and arch-angel Dominic (those of you from the vicinity of Avenue J know to whom this refers) will be there to serve me freshly made pizza. But this was a pretty good earthly approximation of the heavenly music festival.

After about half an hour I was starting to wonder how I was ever going to find the friends I was planning to meet at the festival when up walks my friend Charles with his wife Lori and kids - a miracle, given the huge size of the festival. We settle in and are joined a bit later (aided by cell phone reconnaissance) by our other friend Sherry, her husband Ken and cousin Seth, and her mother. We proceed to spend the afternoon each cycling in and out of this base camp spot while also tending to other needs. Lori and Charles take turns entertaining their antsy kids. Sherry & crew move up closer for a while then wheel Joyce (her mom) back to their RV. I disappear to hear some bands at other stages and browse through the crafts booths. We all wind up back together to see David Amram, who is an excellent and inventive musician, but whose patter leaves something to be desired. In between songs he made negative comments about, among other things, various styles of music ("suitable for torturing prisoners"), the current state of tambourine playing, people who don't get counterpoint in music, and Western Europeans for what they did to the native Americans. Oh, and he advised the crowd not to listen to the negative people you come across in life.

During the afternoon I watched as Charles entertained his kids with balls, stuffed animals, snacks, and just about everything he could think of including little xylophone mallets that younger son Seth proceeded to clock his dad in the head with. Mid afternoon Charles and Lori ran out of parenting patience and headed down to Yonkers to rendezvous with his parents on their boat. Hopefully they'll be back tomorrow.

The rest of us split up for a while in the late afternoon. Early in the day I had spotted a felafel stand and set my mind on felafel for dinner. I understand why they had the longest line in the food area - it was really good felafel. For dessert I dug out a packet of Powerbar Energy Gels out of my backpack. This was a free sample Valerie had gotten some time ago. If your food tastes run towards jellyfish embryos with raspberry jam I'd highly recommend these things. Otherwise, maybe not so much.

I also trekked back to the campsite to take a little break. Camping next to me were two middle-aged guys, both of whom were the kind of characters that have been Joe Pesci's bread and butter for decades now. They had with them a toddler, who was clearly the child of one of them, since every time the guys were out of the kid's sight he would yell "Daaaaaaaaad!" endlessly until Daddy returned, or at least responded with, "Yo, Nick, I'm right heeere!"

After cooling off a little I headed down to the Dance stage to catch Buckwheat Zydeco, a perennial favorite of mine. I haven't mentioned my back problems here, but what kind of weird back problem do I have?? -- five minutes of sitting and I'm in pain, but an hour of dancing to zydeco and two nights sleeping in a tent are no problem.

I caught up with Sherry and crew at the main stage for Steve Earle. A very nice solo set on what turned out to be a beautiful evening. I lay down on the grass, watched the sky and let the music roll over me. I don't agree with all of his politics (a couple of songs that I feel were overly sympathetic to the so-called Palestinians) but he's undeniably a gifted singer-songwriter.

After saying goodnight to Ken and Sherry I headed back to the camping area (the RV area where they were staying is in a different section of the park) where I found a little jam session going on in the picnic pavilion. After listening for a few minutes I unsheathed my mighty accordion and joined in. At peak we had about five guitarists, three banjo players, a bongo/flautist, a harmonica player, some singers, and me. Oh, and an even weirder instrument for a while - a melodica. There was one woman who kept bringing up songs to sing. "Do you know this one It's an a cappella number." She'd then proceed to sing solo. Don't get me wrong, she had a nice voice, but she wasn't quite grokking the concept of a group jam session.

Anyway, about midnight I started to lose focus so I put the King of Instruments to bed and headed for my tent. Aided by a dose of some suspicious cough medicine (OK, it was bourbon in a reused cough medicine bottle) I was soon asleep with the goal of getting up early and kayaking in the morning.

Clearwater Trip Day 1

I had cleverly arranged a meeting at my company’s office in Columbia, MD Friday afternoon in order to give myself a head start on heading up to NY. Unfortunately, the meeting ran a little late and I hit horrendous traffic for the first 100 miles, yes, 100 miles, of the trip, so I found myself blasting up the Garden State Parkway trying to figure out if I was going to make it to the campground before dark. After briefly considering a hotel I pressed on, making only the briefest of stops along the way, and made it to Harriman State Park just about at sunset. Having not wanted to waste daylight time changing I was still wearing a suit. In fact, in homage to the Men In Black type work our folks in Columbia do, I was wearing my black suit. Losing the jacket and tie, I proceeded to set up my tent in what was still a most formal fashion, much to the bewilderment of the folks in the adjacent campsite.

Lake Welch campground has a couple of unusual attributes: all of the tent sites are wooden platforms. This is nice in that everyone gets a level, flat, dry site. I could see a downside if it’s windy though – there’s really no way to stake down your tent. The other thing I noticed about the campground was the large raccoon population. Once it got dark they were out in force, roaming the campground in such numbers that I thought I was imagining things until I’d flick on my headlamp and catch the reflections in their eyes.

I must admit that despite 20 years in Virginia I still have a bias against the South. It was nice to be in a campground with zero pickup trucks and no Southern accents. My fellow campers may have been just as rednecky as anyone, but I didn’t get that creepy Deliverance feeling I sometimes get camping back home. People up north here seem to invest less in over-the-top camping setups too – fewer mega-tents, canopies, campground-rattling sound systems, and extensive camping furniture. I swear, sometimes I see people camping with enough gear for an entire Army brigade. I guess that’s where the pickup truck comes in.

Oh, and I really like the new New York license plate. It looks a lot like the ones from when I was a kid.