From Festival to Family Reunion
The first time I went to a bluegrass festival in June of 2016, it was so not exactly what I expected. A genre of music, which tends to have an older-time feel, I found paired with a fairly raucous but communal environment. Despite the stories my brother had told me to convey this, I went for a relaxing time and the mountains and found myself in the middle of a pretty intense party. Many people like my brother, even head to the festival grounds in Telluride days in advance for "pre-fest", a five day gathering prior to the four day festival. I was in over my head. Despite enjoying many of the bands that played, the seemingly non-stop party, large temperature swings (low 40s at night and 80s and full sun during the day), and little sleep left me exhausted and mentally fried by the end.
Despite it not going so well the first time, I let my brother talk me into a second go-round this year for a festival called Rocky Grass. While it had the same elements as Telluride, I was better prepared mentally this time and found as promised, it to be more subdued and my speed. There was still plenty of partying to be had, late night gatherings and an endless number of jam sessions to take in well into the wee-hours. But going back a second time allowed me to see something I missed the first time.
I looked beyond the parties and saw the relationships that existed in and across camps. I learned many people have been coming to these festivals for a decade or more. For them it wasn't just about music as it was for me. It was about the friendships they had built over the years. For some they view the people there like family. And whether they are just lovers of music or musicians, for many of them, its the chance to connect with their tribe. As Seth Godin says, "People like us. Do things like this." My brother had told me about the familial atmosphere in Telluride but now less overwhelmed, it finally sunk in. I had a particular powerful moment one day while standing in someone's camp, listening to a jam session and remembered my brother telling me one of the bigger names in bluegrass and the host of "Live from Here", Chris Thile, met one of his band mates while jamming in camp at Rocky Grass. So much more than music was happening here. This festival reawakened my desire to continue finding tribes I identify with.
One other thing caught my eye during the festival. I realized there were a lot of families there. Despite the parties happening all around me, I saw children of all ages running around, playing in the river, playing on their own instruments and hanging out with festival friends. It was interesting to think about something like that having been my own summer getaway growing compared to the one I experienced at the Lake of the Ozarks. One of the people sharing our camp had been bringing her daughter, who plays the fiddle, to the festival for four years. It helped me see another way to raise kids that hadn't dawned on me before.
What all of this means to me I do not know. But I am glad I ventured back to another bluegrass festival. Thank to my younger brother Clayton, who sometimes feels like my older brother, for being a guide and challenging me.
Go Forth Boldly
p.s. if you're a Pokey Lafarge fan, you should definitely check out, "Bill and the Belles"