The annual trek to Rhode Island happened to coincide with Hurricane Earl's slide up the East Coast. I left not sure how Earl was going to affect the festival and our onsite camping. On Thursday the predicted winds had decreased slightly. And they were going to open the camp grounds at the usual crack of dawn. A group of us stayed with friends, Mark & Gerre, nearby in Connecticut. But because of the weather threats, we didn't feel the need to get "in line" for the prime spots. And we were disappointed when we got there about 9 and were relegated to the overflow lot. It was as far back in line as we had been. But the line moved quickly and we ended up at the exact same lot we were in the last couple years. We dutifully set up the camp ground, staking down everything that could be staked.
Friday Night's show went on, but not quite as planned. The rain and wind had arrived, but the predicted weather intensity diminished every time we checked. The Main Stage ended up cancelled, but they gave everyone sets at the Dance Stage. There was enough of a crowd to fill the dance tent; and it got steamy. Little Freddy King, a veteran New Orleans blues guitarist, sounded pretty good, after a rather lack luster performance last time I saw him (due to health issues). The Red Stick Ramblers were only at the fest on Friday; they sounded great, but pulled up Jesse Lege for the last couple songs and were magically transformed into just another Cajun band. Jeffery Broussard sounded good too; and had added Classie Ballou on Bass from the late Boozoo Chavis's band. Johnny Nicholas was back again with a different band of "Texas All-Stars" and put on a fun little set. I was glad to hear Johnny playing harp in a rack and doing it very well; an incredibly rare feat for a guitarist. Horace Trahan ended the night, but most of us were too tired to keep dancing.
The air in the tent was pretty stagnant, and we were soaked through with the 100% humidity and not the rain. Leaving the dance stage the winds were much more apparent, but still weren't very strong. By that time Earl had been downgraded back to a tropical storm, and was out at sea. The rain quit shortly after midnight and Saturday woke clear and without a cloud in the sky. The winds were actually significantly stronger on Saturday. In the end Earl was really not much of a storm, but we stared it in the face and had bragging rights over all the wusses (including our Thursday night hosts) who waited until Saturday morning to arrive. From Saturday morning on, the weather was gorgeous, if a bit breezy for the rest of the weekend.
Saturday is a full day of music starting at noon with Uncle Earl (an all female neo-old time band, not to be confused with the Hurricane of a similar name). They sounded great on the Main Stage and later at the workshop stage; a good thing too because the sound was never right the before. The highlight of it was the finale including many of the day's best performers: The Texas Tornados (a reconstituted Tex/Mex super group), Marcia Ball (Boogie Woogie piano master), Steve Riley (who got the opportunity to play some of the Swamp Pop he hasn't been doing as much of since fiddler David Greeley gave up the sax), and Johnny Nicholas.
Sunday got us Geoff Muldaur & Jim Kwreskin doing a fun jug band thing, Dave Alvin rocked with his "Guilty Women" (and indy Cashdollar was very impressive in both bands). C.J. Chenier was putting out some high powered Zydeco to properly wear us out. Robert Randolph played a not-all-that Sacred Steel concert to close the main stage. And, as is tradition, the last set was with Steve Riley at the Dance Stage. Steve sounded great and eventually pulled up the bulk of jam band Donna the Buffalo on stage. Meanwhile we were all asking "was I really this wiped out last year?"
It was a good lineup, but smaller than usual with more sets from a lot of the performers. They lost the Mohegan Sun Casino sponsorship this year (the economy? competition?) and I suspect that's why. Attendance was down this year, how much was evident during Steve Riley's afternoon set where the dance floor was typically packed to point of immobility, this year it was crowded but you could two-step around the floor. The daily/local attendees may have done better because chairs & blankets laid out in front of the main stage stretched nearly as far back as usual.
This group I camp with is pretty tight, been camping together for years, and has a great setup, an extensive kitchen including the ubiquitous kitchen sink, shade tents complete with a chandelier, and a useful sun shower. Our campers came from the DC, Baltimore, New York, Connecticut, and one homeless vagabond. We are also blessed with some good cooks & bakers. As morning rolls around coffee is made, baked goods appear, fruit, and scrambled eggs are cooked, meat is kept on the side for the benefit of vegetarians in the crowd. There is a semi-planned return to the camp site for some semblance of dinner & a new round of drinks. At night quesadillas appear along with sweets, chips, etc. as we shoot the s#!t & jam around the fire pit. What? Another batch of Paul's Class 4 Hurricanes?
Ben & Jack's annual cocktail hour two blocks down had a scouting theme this year (due to the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts). A lot of very stretched vintage scout uniforms made an appearance. And later there were a lot of very questioning looks when the crowd of somewhat tipsy overgrown scouts hit the dance floor en-masse. Special kudos to Bonnie, who in her Girl Scout uniform complete with beret & mirror sunglasses looked a lot like a female Che Guevara ready to take over a Central American country.
Saturday night around the fire, not one but three groups came through camp looking for a guy named "Toad". So an impromptu song of "We don't know who Toad is" started... second verse "Who the f^@# is Toad"... and it degenerated from there. I skewered a pineapple and had it roasting while Mark tried to remember more than the first line of any given song. That night there were jams all over the camp ground. But I ended up staying put, and played a sad bit of harp along with Walter's lovely guitar. Sunday by comparison the campground seemed pretty quiet, while others found some music. We burned up the remainder of the wood and chatted with more food being passed around.
Monday morning a futile effort was made to eat up all the rest of the food. We slowly packed up, sorted stuff, and said our goodbyes. None of us had a lot of sleep, so the return trip gets interesting. I found myself pulling over about every other rest stop throughout New Jersey, to nap, refill (or unload from) my caffeine binge. I made it home with enough energy to unload (but not unpack), check for fires, and rediscover the back of my eyeballs.
Another fun labor day weekend down...