The 16th annual Falcon Ridge Folk Festival took place July 22 to July 25, 2004 in the Berkshire Mountains at the beautiful Long Hill Farm in Hillsdale, NY. Complete festival info is available here: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/
Early Bird Camping (Wednesday July 21st) - The site opened on Wednesday afternoon for campers to arrive and set up. We pulled in around 6pm and set up the tent in what we thought was the quiet side of the upper camping area. Had a delicious and inexpensive dinner a few miles down the road at the Crossroads Diner (routes 23 & 22, Hillsdale, NY), and picked up dessert and some excellent Cape Cod chips (Beachside BBQ potato chips and a three flavor tortilla chip assortment) for the festival at the corner gas station/convenience store.
Another festival attendee was in the store at the time asking for a hoagie and acting surprised that I could tell he was from Philadelphia. I helpfully translated for the attendant that what this guy wanted was a "sub." The guy seemed to really be annoyed that they didn't know what a hoagie was - I guess he doesn't travel outside the city of brotherly love much. It has always seemed like common knowlege to me that the term "hoagie" is only used within an approximately a 50-100 mile radius of Philadelphia. Any hoagie lover knows that once you venture beyond the realm where this sandwich is called a hoagie, you might as well not even bother because the roll will be substandard. A good hoagie requires a good Italian roll and for some reason this is rarely found outside Philadelphia. But I digress.
A good night's sleep turned out to be elusive as it turned out that we were not in the "quieter camping" section after all. A guy in the next tent engaged in extremely loud and obnoxious conversation all night, trying to coerce everyone who walked by to drink and carouse with him, which I could have dealt with if he hadn't progressed to hooting and hollering between 4-5am, finding a like minded soul across the campground who answered each hoot and holler in kind. Before I finally drifted back to sleep around 5am, the loudmouth was lamenting that he couldn't find anyone to form a drum circle with him. In the morning we took down the tent and moved to another spot that was actually in the "quieter camping" section.
Day One (Thursday July 22nd) - Historically, the festival began on Friday night, with a five hour emerging artist showcase on Friday afternoon as a bonus. Traditions die hard sometimes, so even though the welcome announcement still comes during the Friday night concert, the festival has expanded to Thursday, to make a four day event. By the time we moved the campsite on Thursday morning, it was too hot and humid to think about hot coffee or even cooking anything for breakfast, and since events weren't scheduled to start till afternoon, we took time in the morning for a trip into Great Barrington, Massachussetts, about 10 miles from Hillsdale. After picking up a few items, like a new tarp to cover the tent to keep rain out, it was nearly lunch time so we stopped at Martin's Restaurant, an old favorite of ours from the time when daughter J went to Simons Rock College in Great Barrington which is also how we originally became aware of Falcon Ridge.
After an excellent meal, we set off in search of the Great Barrington health food store. I found the location from memory but the building was deserted. We hadn't been standing there more than a moment or two when our puzzled look apparently caught the eye of a passing motorist who kindly volunteered that the health food store had moved to larger quarters. We then went to the new location and what a drastic improvement - it now is a quite large food market specializing in natural, organic, and health food products. The new store has large departments for produce, meats, cheeses, dry goods, bread, packaged products and so forth, plus they offer a very attractive selection of hot and cold prepared foods that you can buy to go or eat there in a cafe section. We picked up up a few excellent items for consumption during the festival, then it was back to Falcon Ridge.
Thursday Workshops - To start the festival, there were six workshops structured for discussion of music business issues, divided between two stages. We opted for "Music Biz II at the Family Stage".
Art and the Recording Artist: Making an Honest Record with Crit Harmon and Dave Chalfant - This was an interesting discussion workshop on how to deal with artistic issues while recording in the studio and how to avoid many of the pitfalls that often hamper the process. Chafant is best known for his work with the Nields, both as player and producer, while Harmon has made his mark as guitarist and producer for artists such as Mary Gauthier, Martin Sexton, Susan Werner, and Catie Curtis to name a few.
Working With Agents & Managers - This was another discussion workshop with a ten person panel consisting of an assortment of folks from all sides of the music business including agents, managers, artists Lowen & Navarro, a record company guy from Koch Records, and Anne Saunders who selects the artists who perform at Falcon Ridge. This was another interesting discussion, especially for the many different perspectives offered.
Performance Skills Critique with Vance Gilbert - Initially I hadn't planned to attend this session, not being a musician myself, however having been impressed by Vance Gilbert the last time at Falcon Ridge in '99, I decided on the spur of the moment to stick around for this workshop. Gilbert's sense of humor and rapport with the audience is better than than most stand up comedians and while his music is fine, his personality is what really makes his contributions to a festival like this something special.
First he conducted a class in what to do and what not to do if you're a musician who wants to make a positive impression on the audience at an open mike gig opportunity. He then selected four performers from the audience to each perform a song, stopping them when necessary to make adjustments. This almost two hour session was every bit as entertaining as any of the musical performances at the mainstage. The first three victims were excellent performers as well, with lots of talent and good songs to sing. The last subject kind of insulated himself from ridicule by performing a song he wrote for his wife on their wedding day. This workshop was a totally unexpected pleasure that really got the festival off to a roaring start for me.
Mainstage, Thursday Evening Concert - By the time the Vance Gilbert workshop ended and we picked up some food for dinner at the vendor area and made our way to the Mainstage, the first set was well underway.
Charivari - This was one of several fine bands imported from the Dance Stage to play a Mainstage set and although we missed the beginning, we heard enough to know that this outfit is a first rate purveyor of New Orleans style Cajun music.
Steve Forbert - A very happy addition to the Falcon Ridge lineup this year; Forbert's voice and presentation seems not to have aged a bit in the twenty-six years (is it even possibly that long ago?) since his first album arrived in 1978. Hearing him play was like revisiting an old friend. He did a nice job structuring his set to include both his new songs and old favorites like "What Kinda Guy" and "It Isn't Gonna Be That Way" and his live renditions were significantly enhanced by the excellent lead guitar work of Mark Stuart. I didn't realize quite how much I enjoyed his set until Sunday morning while striking camp when I discovered that "Going Down to Laurel" was seriously stuck in my head ("it's a dirty stinkin' town").
Mark Erelli Band - Although I'd heard of Mark Erelli, I'd never actually heard him before. With his excellent backing band the Spurs, they did a nice mixture of styles concentrating mostly on western swing. The Spurs most assuredly would consider it a compliment to be compared to Asleep at the Wheel although Erelli seems a bit more laid back than Ray Benson. An enjoyable performance.
Aoife O'Donovan & Crooked Still - Just out of the gate with their first album released simultaneously with their Falcon Ridge appearance, Donovan and her band by virtue of their Mainstage set and many workshop appearances wound up as the happy beneficiaries of much positive festival buzz. Donovan's voice is lovely and her band is made of of highly talented musicians playing cello, banjo and bass. The overall effect is not unlike Allison Krauss & Union Station or Nickel Creek although it remains to be seen if Crooked Still can write memorable music like their forebears. They seem to still be finding their live legs and their genre-busting cellist Rushad Eggleston seemed to have his cello on overdrive much of the time.
David Bromberg Band - The headliners of all three nighttime concerts were all amazing and it was a somewhat rare treat to hear the great David Bromberg who proved that he still plays and sings the pissed off blues better than anyone. For his first Falcon Ridge appearance, he added Ashokan fiddle & dance specialists Jay Unger and Molly Mason to his band as special guests. Considering that he grew up in the Hudson Valley, it's sort of surprising that it took this long to book him for Falcon Ridge, but in any case his set was a definite highlight of the festival for me. It was well after midnight by the time we arrived back at our tent to pack it in for day one.
(To be continued...)