I left you with my arrival at the New Bedford Festival. I have a schedule here, so I will at least remember the music. What I’m afraid I’m going to forget is some of my meetings with friends. That’s is half the fun of festivals.
The New Bedford Folk Festival is set up a bit different than any other I’ve been to. It’s held right in the historic Whaling Museum district. There are seven stages, you can always find something you like. Four of the stages are indoors, safe from the elements. Even the outdoor stages have most of their seating under cover. This year the weather was perfect and the only protection we needed was from sunburn. I don’t believe the temperature ever went over 80° or under 65°. You couldn’t ask for more.
I started the day at the Custom House Stage for the He laughed, Clicked His Heels & Stepped Workshop; the artists were Kristin Andreassen, Emerald Rae, and Mustard’s Retreat. Part of the fun of workshops is that they just give them a name and the artists have to figure out what they mean. This name is a song reference; do you get it? Don’t feel bad, I don’t think anyone did but Libby Glover, or maybe Michael Hough, from Mustard’s retreat. It’s from the song, Mr. Bojangles. The order was Kristin, Emerald, then Mustard; the first two thought of it as songs about dance, the last funny songs. Kristin and Emerald are both cloggers, so that was natural for them.
Kristin is the one I know by far the best, I’ve seen her scores of time and she’s a friend. We didn’t remember it but Emerald and I had corresponded when she was in Annalivia. I am a fan of her music. I saw Mustard’s Retreat at my first Falcon Ridge, they are named checked in Moxy Früvous’s Beware the Killer Tents but I have seen them only at festivals.
Kristin and Emerald accompanied each other, and Kristin danced while Emerald played. That was natural. Then Mustard’s retreat did a funny song. Emerald declared that she’s from the “Island Nation of Gloucester” so in true song swap fashion Libby said that Mustard’s Retreat was from “Peninsular Republic of Michigan.” They did a song about the state bird, the mosquito and challenged Kristin to follow that. If you have read my blogs on Kristin you should know as well as I the song she followed it with, the greatest song ever written, 13 Wolverines. Michigan is the Wolverine State; the song is simultaneously hilarious and charming. The crowd lost it. The other artists lost it. I kvelled. Emerald said that she doesn’t write funny songs because her sense of humor is twisted. My response was, “Then I want to hear you do funny songs.” She demonstrated her twisted humor to me in conversation, I was right, I love it.
After the set I went backstage, that just means behind the tent, to say hi to Kristin and to introduce myself to Emerald. She’s is one of the emerging artists at Falcon Ridge, an Emergo, as I put it, and will be playing the Budgiedome and camping with us. That’s how I discovered her sense of humor. Then I became Kristin’s roadie as she and Emerald had to bring her merch over to the Zeiterion Theater where the merch tables were set up. From there I went to the Greasy Luck, a café with a theater, where the Kennedys were playing. That’s where I arranged to meet Emily, Joe, and the kids. Part of the joy of New Bedford is hanging with the VanMerc clan. The room was packed, no seats left, and I found Emily outside the door with their two-year old. We went in for the Festival highlight. The annual Kennedys VanMerc Sisters rendition of Stand. This started four years ago when Maggie and Cate ran on stage at one of the small tents and joined in the “Allah Buddha Yahweh … ” chant. Now they are invited up, are joined by Elie, and even sing a verse. Watching that is worth the trip up there. I kvell along with Joe and Emily. Other people’s kids and pets are the best. You only have to deal with them when they are fun, when they become difficult it’s back to the parents.
We were joined by Mike and had our traditional New Bedford Pizza lunch. Getting friends together with other friends is wonderful. There’s a lot of wonderful to go around.
After lunch Mike and I went over to the Whaling Museum to see Though My Story’s Seldom Told with Amy Speace, James Keelaghan, and Matthew Byrne. Mike couldn’t get it, that was packed. I could because I had a Premium Pass. I went in with Perry who was soon joined by Beth. I got the very last seat in the house. It was down front, so I couldn’t complain. This was my first time seeing Amy since she became a mom earlier this year; Amy had just turned 50. That warranted a write-up in Modern maturity. When Amy lived here I saw her all the time both musically and socially. Then she moved to Nashville and I rarely see her. It’s been a couple of years; the longest we’ve gone without seeing each other since we met in 2003. She still has it. Being on the road constitutes a rest for her, she got to sleep 10 hours straight, you can’t do that with an infant.
The only one new to me was Matthew Byrne from Newfoundland. He did a song about destructive storm with the refrain, “Great Big Sea!” That must be where the band got their name from. I can’t believe I didn’t know that.
I then gave myself some free time to wander around, find an ATM, and get ice cream. I love spending time with friends, I love listening to music, I also love alone time taking it easy. Need I mention that I love ice cream? The Acushnet Creamery had a booth in the vender area by the Zeiterion. They had limited but interesting flavors, the only ordinary one was vanilla. I had Cookie Monster and Cookies and Cream. Cookie Monster is espresso ice cream with Oreo pieces in it. The creamery ice cream was wonderfully creamy.
Instead of seeing Cheryl Wheeler for the 20th time I decided to check out Mile 12, a bluegrass band. I adore Cheryl, she’s one of the greats that I feel a connection to, but I will always have opportunities to see her again.
I was rewarded for being adventurous, I loved Mile 12, they were one of my two great discoveries at the Festival. At first, I liked them; It’s bluegrass, I like bluegrass. As I listened they separated themselves from the crowd. They were more than generic bluegrass that I like, they are a band that I love. As many bluegrass bands do they play around a condenser mic and keep changing positions. The bass player was in the back and I couldn’t see him. Then he came forward and I knew him. I couldn’t get his name out, I was thinking, “Nathan” but then Noah Garbedian’s name got stuck in my head and forced everything else out. He is also a tall dark bass player from New York that plays with friends of mine. He’s in Silver City Bound.
I knew I knew the bass player. I was pretty sure his name began with an N, I knew I met him at Spiral Sounds concerts. I knew I talked to him quite a bit there and hit it off with him. I just couldn’t get his name or who he played with. Then it hit me, he accompanied Mari Black. I adore Mari; it says something that he grabbed enough of my attention to make an impression. Turns out his name is Nathaniel “Nate” Sabat. He lives in MA but he’s from NYC. I got the New York part right. After the set I went “backstage” and his first words were, “Gordon, I didn’t know you’d be here.” To which I responded that I didn’t know he was with Mile 12 and admitted I didn’t remember his name. It’s not easy being an idiot. Sometimes it takes courage.
We hung out for a while then I went back in the tent to see Crisscrossing the Pond with The Mammals and Connla. One of my goals each New Bedford Folk Festival is to discover a new Celtic Band. This year the potential was Connla; they fulfilled their potential. They are from Northern Ireland. Just seeing the instruments was enough to get my interested, uillean pipes, bodhrán, harp, flute, and guitar. Notice what it missing? No fiddle.
The Mammals continue on their roll from Clearwater. That wasn’t a fluke, they have taken it to another level. Don’t judge them from the old Mammals. Don’t judge them from Mike + Ruthy. The reborn Mammals are built on those foundations, but they are greater than either.
I made friends with the woman sitting next to me during that set. She lives out in Port Jefferson but grew up in Rego Park. Her oldest kid is about my age. She knew “the barracks” the temporary housing built for returning veterans where my parents lived after WWII until they bought the house I grew up in. She knows Charlie Backfish and the Kennedys. The strange thing is that even though her oldest kid is my age her parents are my parents’ age. My family skipped a generation. She was a child bride and my parents were old when I was born.
During the set I couldn’t get my hair out of my eyes. She didn’t see any hair in my eyes. Then I realized what it was. During the set a giant floater got loose in my right eye. A capillary must have burst and bled into the vitreous humor. It’s still there and interfering with my vision. Nothing can be done about it. If it were getting worse, I’d worry, but it isn’t. I mentioned it jokingly on Facebook and people are worried. At some point I have to see an ophthalmologist about my cataracts so maybe this will get me to do that sooner. Now that I’m writing about it, it’s become particularly annoying. .
After the set I went to talk to Connla. I wanted to get a CD to give to the Irish shows at WFUV, but they didn’t have any on them. I saw them but didn’t talk to them on Sunday, so I never got one. I’ll have to write to them.
I was going to meet the VanMercs for dinner but there was miscommunication. My new phone stopped giving me alerts about messages. I must have somehow changed the setting, so I missed Emily’s message until it was too late. I ended up eating alone. I wanted comfort food and something fast. Google found me Mary’s, a few blocks away. I went in for hot dogs but ended up getting a steamed cheeseburger. I’m not thrilled with steaming, but their add-ons are the appeal. I had mine with Fritos, jalapeno, tater tots, Cajun and creole spices, and one other ingredient I forgot. They are all free except for the tater tots which were 75¢. That’s my kind of meal.
I then tried to go in to see Tom Rush at the Zeiterion, but it was full. That’s the one problem with New Bedford, it’s grown too big for the facilities. I had to wait around for the rest of my party, so I went into the premium lounge. The only people in there were musicians. That’s fine, I was friends with many of them. I hung out with Cliff and Louise, they stalked me all weekend as did Emerald. Then I mingled and ended up talking to Nate who wanted to see Tom Rush. We couldn’t get into the auditorium, but they let us backstage to watch from the wings. That is my life. I find myself treated like a VIP when I’m not. Nate had to vouch for me and that was enough.
Tom was accompanied by the lovely and talented Matt Nakoa on piano. I’ve seen Matt countless times. I’ve been right next to him when he’s played, but I never heard his footwork before. You know how some Celtic fiddlers will do foot percussion while they play? Matt does it when playing piano. His feet do a dance while he plays. The floor there must have been particularly resonant as it worked as a percussion section. Did anyone in the auditorium here it or was it because I was on the same floor as him that I heard it?
After a bit we went back into the lounge. After I had spent most of the set there socializing and scarfing down food, hey it’s me, there were cookies and cheese thingamabobs, one of the employees came over to me and told me that she just noticed that I wasn’t a musician and that this was a private party. She wasn’t pushy, but I knew that mean it was time for me to leave. That was just as Tom finished his set and I had to go out and meet my friends anyway. Things worked out perfectly.
There was some more miscommunication, Gary and Mike didn’t get my text telling them where I was waiting for them. They were waiting for me by the exit of the theater. I was at the corner. Luckily Kathy came by. Once again things worked out better than planned. She told me where they were, and it gave me some time to talk to her and meet her son Daniel. I love Kathy and could always use quality time with her. Her son is in the foreign service and is fascinating. So sure, I was blind in one eye and my stomach kept acting up and there were miscommunications, but it was a perfect day.
I guess I’ll have to wait till tomorrow to tell you about Sunday. John Platt’s On Your Radar is tonight. It better be uneventful, I don’t know when I’ll get to write about it.