Day Two (Friday July 23rd) - An integral part of the Falcon Ridge experience is the laying of the tarp at 7am. Mainstage rules went into effect on Friday, and by the time I arrived at the stage at about 6:45am, early risers had already lined the perimeters on all sides of the seating area, waiting for the okay signal at 7:00 to stake (and I do mean stake as many secure their tarps with tent stakes) out seating locations for that day's concert.
Cool Morning - The day's music began at 10am on the Workshop Stage with "Cool Morning" which not coincidentally happens to be the title of Sloan Wainwright's current CD. Wainwright was joined in the morning song swap by Lowen and Navarro, Ellis Paul and Nerissa & Katryna Nields. Each artist gave a nice sampling of their music with Lowen and Navarro seeming to be (unintentionally) bent on breaking all of the rules that Vance Gilbert taught the aspiring singer-songwriters yesterday.
Gather the Family - Another nice morning song swap at the Workshop Stage with Aoife O'Donovan & Crooked Still, Jake Armerding, Mark Erelli and the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival House Band which included Radoslav Lorkovic who sometimes accompanies Greg Brown in concert. My primary interest in this event was hearing the house band who were all quite good. It was somewhat surprising to hear Crooked Still do all repeat songs from their Mainstage set of last night; I can only guess that since they just finished their first album that they wanted to stick to this material for their various Falcon Ridge appearances. About halfway through this set it started to rain lightly and the audience bravely tried to ignore it.
Emerging Artist Showcase - This five hour concert which invites about two dozen new and hopeful artists to do a few songs each was one of my best memories from the 1999 festival. Even though it was brutally scorching hot that year, I thoroughly enjoyed spending the afternoon catching up on some reading while getting to hear lots of new artists, many of which were excellent. This year unfortunately the elements were not so kind. By the time we moved from the Workshop Stage to the Mainstage, the rain had become steady. The crowd continued to brave the rain, sitting under ponchos, umbrellas, etc. until the heavens opened with a torrential rain after only two of the emerging artists had played, causing the Mainstage to shut down. We ducked into the food concession tent to get out of the rain for a bit and have lunch, and after a while it sounded like the Mainstage had reopened as speakers in the food tent seemed to be carrying a live feed from the stage. What we heard over the speaker sounded really really good however I could only assume that this was Meg Hutchinson according to the schedule. By the time we ventured back out, the storm had increased so we headed back to our campsite to wait out the rain in our tent. We never did get to hear any of the other emerging artists, however I did find a Meg Hutchinson CD in the merchandise tent, picked it up, and am happy to report that it is terrific (more later). It's a shame that the emerging artist showcase didn't get rescheduled later in the weekend during off hours at the Mainstage, like mornings. Our Friday afternoon was spent sopping up the water that kept coming into the tent through the exposed lower part of the walls; the new tarp worked well in keeping the water out of the tent otherwise.
Johnny & June Tribute - By 5pm the storm seemed to have rained itself out, but due to the mess, this event was moved from the Workshop Stage to the Mainstage, and seemingly all artists present on site crowded onto the stage to participate in the tribute. The good feelings of the artists were evident, but musically this workshop tended toward the tedious as many artists didn't know the material that well and often tried to follow lyric sheets. There was a noticeable feeling of relief that the rain had let up enough to allow the music to resume.
Inner Visions - This reggae outfit from St. John (U.S. Virgin Islands) was another happy surprise for me at this year's Falcon Ridge. I enjoyed this group's music perhaps more than any reggae artist that I've heard since the death of Bob Marley. Armed with nothing other than the basic instrumental lineup, Inner Visions for their first time at the Ridge cranked out some really fun tunes with amazingly great sound, fully showing off the talents of the Klondike Sound company. Group leader Phillip "Grasshopper" Pickering played some great lead guitar and shared lead vocals with honorary family member Paul Samms. Phillip's brother Alvin "Jupiter" Pickering played bass, and Phillip's two sons Akiba and Aswad played keyboards and drums respectively. This set was so good, that their latest CD was my only other disc purchase at the festival.
Disappear Fear - Fans of this folk-pop duo were apparently excited to see sister Cindy make a rare return to the stage to join Sonia who has continued on her own since Cindy's retirement. Never having had the pleasure of hearing this group before, the magic of the reunion was somewhat lost on me and on first listen, their songs really made no impression one way or the other.
Airdance - Another import from the dance stage, Airdance acquitted themselves quite well on the Mainstage as they totally obliterated the genre lines between Celtic and bluegrass fiddling, complete with percussive dance by Sandy Silva. Their set was totally enjoyable.
Nerissa & Katryna Nields - Having been to a Nields concert at the Point in Bryn Mawr, PA just a few months ago, I went into this year's Falcon Ridge thinking that I'd sort of had my fill of this quirky twosome, however that said I must admit that I totally enjoyed all of their various festival appearances. Their Mainstage set concentrated on material from their current album This Town is Wrong and, similar to their show at the Point, totally ignored their excellent previous album, Love and China. Locally based in Northampton, Mass. the Nields are unofficially permanent performers at Falcon Ridge and a perfect choice to follow the offical festival welcome message.
Friday Night Summer's Eve Song Swap - Introduced as the "mayor or perhaps the governor" of Falcon Ridge as the festival's consistently most requested performer, Greg Brown left all the other swap participants in the dust with his bluesy tunes many of which were customized for Falcon Ridge with witty lyrical references to the festival. Lucy Kaplansky, Richard Shindell, and Eliza Gilkyson bravely tried to keep up, but Kaplansky and Shindell were saddled with mediocre songs and Gilkyson while displaying an impressive vocal power, seemed somewhat clueless as to the dynamic and progression of the swap. Brown's tunes were so good however that his performance outweighed any shortcomings of the other performers. His "I Want My Country Back" galvanized the anti-George Bush sentiment that seemed to dominate this year's festival. He sent the crowd home chuckling with references during the final song about him going back to his motel while "you go back to your damn tents." Although some light rain restarted during the last two sets, it was not enough to interrupt the music.
Again it was well past midnight when we made the hike back to the upper campground to happily find no more water in the tent. By the time we reorganized to recover from the day's rain, it was probably 2am by the time we got to sleep with only about four hours to go until time to get up to set the next day's tarp. As wonderful as this festival is from a musical standpoint, it's certainly not conducive to sleep or relaxation.
(To be continued...)