There’s an amazing movie on a loop in my brain. My foot taps to the beat of a great song, my mouth waters at chicken hot off the grill, women’s laughter surrounds me, and if I could, I’d draw big red hearts all over this blog post. There’s more. Read on.
My GPS lied to me and said I had a five-hour drive from central Pennsylvania. Seven hours later I arrived, a bit grumpy, into this beautiful spot in the country, right off I-64 between Richmond and Charlottesville. Why was I complaining? It’s like getting a fully restored ’65 Mustang for your birthday and bitching about the color. After the cheerful greetings from the women at registration, I motored to my housing for the weekend. Upon meeting my new digs, I joked with the festival worker, “How drunk did y’all have to get before painting this?” My ugly duckling trailer grew on me, though. She was clean, waterproof, had a comfortable bed, and my neighbors were great. Every time I passed their tent trailer they offered me food. One morning it was bacon. Crisp, just how I like it. Another time, ribs right off the grill. Fun conversation, too. One of the women is a longshoreman, only the second woman hired at her dock. (“Longshoreman” is the word she used. Is there a gender-neutral title for that? Longshoreperson sounds dumb.) When she talked about her supercharged forklift, her face lit up like she’d gotten a Mustang for her birthday. (I’ve got a thing for vintage Mustangs. You figured that out, eh?)
I watched some of the RV women setting up, from tiny tent trailers to enormous vehicles that looked like a sideways skyscraper. Over the four days I was there I got used to walking down the RV road and having women call out to me. I got so many food offers I could’ve forgone going to the festival kitchen but there was no way I was missing that barbecue chicken. Or half and half for my coffee. Or biscuits and gravy. It’s the South, y’all.
Food or not, I often plopped my happy ass down with my neighbors and heard about their kids, their jobs and in this case, a run-in with a turtle that should have its own Stephen King novel.
Yes, it’s a music festival and I’ll get to that in a minute. First, you’ve gotta see the grounds. It’s green and lush. Somewhere there’s a lake but I’ve never made it there. I grew up in a desert and water’s not that important to me unless it’s a shower after a long day. There’s a stage, a crafts area and lots of women. And a shower. Which was good because it was bloody hot and if you’re single you don’t want to spoil your game. Fortunately, shade and cold drinks abounded. If you didn’t bring your own frosty drink, you could buy one at the kitchen.
There wasn’t a lot going on that first night except a dance and I was too exhausted to join in. The faraway thump of the bass was a lullaby.
Friday, I led a music jam. We sang everything from “Take Me Home Country Roads,” to “Time After Time,” to a round I learned in Girl Scouts.
The stage starts up on Friday night. I had to miss Alma Hesson because I was rehearsing with my bass player, Mary Anne Barckhoff. We live in different countries and neither one of us has learned teleportation. I heard Alma’s clear expressive voice in the background.
I caught most of Kristen Ford, who was on next. Surrounded by a plethora of instruments, she played an amazing pop/alt rock/hip hop set. One of my friends thought for sure she had a few band members hidden backstage but it was all her. She’d play a part
and record it on stage, then layer another part, then another, then … you get the idea. The only thing that hit me wrong – and this had nothing to do with her – was that the sound was cranked too high for me. Maybe I’ve got dog ears because except for a few of my friends, no one else seemed bothered by it.
Sharon Katz and Peace Train was on next. I couldn’t help but move to their South African sounds – a riff-laden guitar, driving bass and
tasty beats. I was on my feet stomping and swaying for most of their set. Sitting politely to that kind of music is probably Illegal.
My sound check was at 8:15 the next morning. They’re lucky I’m a morning person. I’m not sure how my bass player got there. I think I saw her wife wheel her in on a dolly and prop her up. Sound checks are done in the opposite order of performance and since I was on at 12:40 pm, this is how it rolled. Or how Mary Anne rolled.
I was busy shoveling lunch into my face – I don’t do well when my blood sugar drops to my ankles – and freaking out about my set to really concentrate on the two acts before me. I did, however, crash Christy Snow’s rehearsal ‘cause I’m like that.
I heard some nice harmonies from One Third Wish before it was time for me to hop on stage. What a pleasure it was to play for happy women on a gorgeous sunny day. I forgot a verse of “Menopause Mambo” but, as I pointed out to the audience, memory loss is part of it. I was merely trying to be accurate. Yeah, that’s it. I did a combination of old and new songs, then ended with a medley of my hit, “Run.”
Later that afternoon I had a massage. As I relaxed, a lovely spring breeze tickled the trees. And me.
Saturday night featured Crys Matthews with her poignant songs. I especially loved what she did with the Sisterfunk Trio. Their melodic pop/singer-songwriter set followed hers. Last was festival favorite SONiA.
The dance with Wicked Jezabel is always a highlight of my festival. 1. I love to dance. 2. They are phenomenal musicians. 3. I love to dance. As they cranked through song after song, the audience shook what their mamas gave them, sang along, and pumped their fists in the air. Toward the end of “Baker Street” guitarist Pauline and sax player Heather leaned together and traded a flurry of notes that built to a wild crescendo; I’m pretty sure they levitated.
I hate to say anything negative here since for the most part, I had an amazing time at the two-hour dance, but when you mix alcohol and party music, you sometimes get bad behavior. As soon as I jumped on the dance floor, another dancer ran her hands down the sides of my body. Later on, someone else reached under my skirt and another woman grabbed me from behind and squeezed me so tight I couldn’t get away. I don’t blame someone for having fun however they want but, in these instances, one of us wasn’t having fun. The dance was almost done when a woman approached me and said she’d been watching me dance and that it made her heart beat a little faster. She didn’t touch me and then faded into the crowd. How sweet. That’s the way to do it.
Maybe this is a good place to mention the daily AA meetings.
On Sunday, I woke up feeling like I’d been hit by a fleet of loaded dump trucks. Maybe mixing dancing on a concrete floor until midnight and spring allergies isn’t such a great thing. However, it was nothing that a lot of coffee and friendly conversation couldn’t cure. I loved talking with several musicians including Pauline from Wicked Jezabel who wasn’t quite awake.
Hanging out with women at meal times is one of my favorite things. Here I am talking with two members of the Sisterfunk trio. I learned yet another thing about ukuleles.
I also learned how to unzip a tent:
I did some shopping and got a hula hoop lesson. I can now do it around my thighs, thanks to Tree Frog. She’d given a workshop earlier in the day. I missed it so I stopped by her booth and she generously showed me a few things.
Indigie Femme and Someone’s Sister were my background music while I shopped. Sometimes I’d stop and catch a verse or two. Christine Havrilla was on last. Like Kristen Ford, she records parts live on stage. She calls what she does neofunkadelicfolkpoptwangrock. That about covers it except I’d put freakin’ good at the front of that.
Somewhere in there I had a rockin’ Scrabble game with festival friends Katie, Kelly and Emily. Despite my vast knowledge of two letter words, I lost.
The dark clouds that had threatened us much of the day finally followed through on their promise. I took shelter in my trailer but a metal box in the woods was probably not the best place to be. (Yes, it had rubber wheels but they were flat so the rims sat on the ground.) Thunder would crack overheard, shaking my humble abode, then immediately the sky would light up. At a lull, I set off to find a safer place and ended up ducking under a neighbor’s RV canopy. Billie, the festival producer, happened to walk by as a crack of thunder shook us. Maybe it was my scream – I am not trying to be funny, I really was screaming – she took pity on me and let me hang out in her house for a while. See, that’s one of the many reasons I adore this woman. She runs a great festival and she has a heart of gold. Her volunteers have a lot of respect for her. She told me once that she wouldn’t give anyone a job she wouldn’t do herself. Here she is cleaning out the johns.
Speaking of the johns, I have a good story about those. Billie didn’t want to hire a company to come in to clean them because they would come on their schedule and perhaps disrupt the festival. So, Billie learned how to do it. Problem was, the hose was leaking. She called and asked for a new one. There was a lot of hemming and hawing on their end. Her calm reply was that either they could send her a new hose or deliver ten clean porta-potties by 2 pm. She got her hose.
The rain continued to pummel us. Electricity went out. Bad news for the stage. Bele Bele Rhythm Collective, like the Amazon drummers that they are, decided they didn’t need any stinkin’ electricity so when the rain let up, they did their set. And of course, rhythm + women = dance. The electrical shortage was also bad for the kitchen. Fortunately, the stoves are gas. Unfortunately, the AC wasn’t working. Have I mentioned the thing about the south in the summer? (Technically, it’s spring. I live in Canada. Anything over 70 F is summer.) Kudos to the stellar kitchen crew who still got dinner out on time.
There was a Memorial celebration at the pavilion for veterans and active military, to honor those who’ve served, especially those we’ve lost. I wasn’t in the space to go – I figured breaking out into giggles would be inappropriate – so I didn’t attend. There’s a lot of military women who are at the festival and I know this event is really important to them. I get that.
Dark clouds kept rolling overhead so it was decided that the last act of the festival, Mama’s Black Sheep, would perform at the pavilion. It’s a small area where the dances are and not great for most live music but we are women, hear us roar. They did an amazing set full of tight harmonies and emotional lyrics with memorable melodies and a groove so delicious you could eat it for dessert. It’s the first time I’ve heard them with violinist Helen Hausmann and bassist Christine Havrilla. If I didn’t have anything else going on in my life I’d follow them around. If Dead fans are Dead heads, would that make me a Sheep Head? Nah. Whatever.
There was karaoke on Sunday night but by that time, I was collapsed in a chair at a friend’s campsite and sucking down dark chocolate.
The ticks were bad this year so we were encouraged to do regular tick checks. I got to where I’d jump up and look every time something brushed my skin. There have been years I’ve brought one of the little devils home with me. None this time, though. Too hard for them to hit a moving target, I guess.
The next morning, I motored slowly down the road lined with RVs and waved goodbye to all my new RV friends. I had a four-hour drive ahead of me and didn’t turn on the radio most of the time. Women’s laughter and pieces of songs drifted through my happy thoughts. That’s all the music I needed.
Not long after my drive, I got some bad news. Kris Koth, the festival’s sound engineer, had showed up for work before the start of the event. It was clear she wasn’t doing well and festival worker Moos took her to the hospital. On Monday afternoon, Kris passed away with Moos and family members around her. A guitar player gently played as she was let go to the other side.
Kris was one of the big reasons this festival was so popular. Sound isn’t something you want to skimp on and Kris knew her job well, even designing the sound system. Fortunately, Colleen was there to take over. She’s a professional, too, and had worked with Kris at recent festivals. Kris has been involved with women’s music for years and as condolences flooded social media, it’s clear how well-loved she was. Rest in peace, dear Kris. We’ll send you sweet songs every Memorial Day weekend and you won’t have to move any mikes.
You want to attend next year, right? Here’s where you find out more.
Thanks to Sandy Snyder for letting me use her wonderful photographs.