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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Good Times Like Nowhere Else Music Festival

We hadn’t been to an outdoor music festival in a long time. In fact the last time was for World Whale Day on Maui

So when we headed out Saturday morning for the Nowhere Else Music Festival in Ohio, I wondered if we were too old for this type of event, particularly with the uncertain weather of late May in the Midwest. Would it be too hot, too sunny, stormy, too cool or too buggy after dark? Would I find anything to eat since I have a gluten allergy? Hard to know. So we went prepared for anything and everything.

 I packed enough food for a village and a variety of drinks into a wheeled cooler, several sensible footwear choices, hats, jackets, sunscreen, insect repellant, towels and umbrellas, chairs, and a picnic blanket. We left the love beads and other hippie paraphernalia at home. In truth we have long since lost any  festival paraphernalia, unless you count our camping chairs.

We ended up arriving at the Nowhere Else festival later than we’d intended. A little plumbing emergency at our new home that resulted in some plunging of the toilet and two baskets of wet towels to deal with before our departure seriously delayed our heading out. But it was a nice day, a little overcast and the first real summer heat was upon us. Maybe we should have packed a portable fan?

When we arrived the party was in full swing. Volunteers directed us to park amongst the hundreds of other cars in the grassy fields. Someone had vacated a space just past the VIP parking section. We walked the short distance to the large tent and found two empty chairs with a great view of the stage. 

Larry Groce, of Mountain Stage was performing with his wife. They are both talented musicians and were performing Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had a Boat” to the audience’s obvious delight. We thoroughly enjoyed that song and the rest of the set of bluegrass favorites. Groce, in his bib overalls, and with a folksy style and humor, also served as host throughout much of the day.

Next up were Lily and Madeline. The two lovely sisters have very sweet and harmonious voices and their set was delightful. If I had a wish it would only be that their set had been a bit longer and had interspersed some of their covers of energetically-paced songs from their album.

The next performer, Joe Henry, brought his own distinctive singing and songwriting which soon filled the tent. Joe Henry spoke a little about the magic that has occurred at his recording studio in the basement of the old Garfield house in California. One particularly memorable story concerned trying to keep some of the magic that surrounded the singer, songwriter (as well as Renaissance man) Kris Kristofferson who Henry credited with writing songs about  very specific topics but that then have universal elements. 

Into Joe Henry’s set he was joined by his son and standout saxophone player, Levon Henry. 

Again I wished that this set list had been longer. And had included the song about Willie Mays (“The greatest center-fielder of all time; Stooped by the burden of endless dreams” ) and America spirit (“His and yours and mine.” ), “Our Song”. I hope Joe Henry sang “Our Song” the second day of the festival. So many of the lyrics speak to the angry political season we are enduring:
This was my country
This frightful and this angry land
But it's my right if the worst of it might
Still somehow make me a better man

Later, Karin Berquist and Linford Detweiler, the Over the Rhine hosts of the festival and creators of this music venue, paid particular tribute to Joe Henry, highlighting his contributions in producing two of their beautiful albums, as well as thanking him for introducing them to a number of the musicians performing at the festival. As they noted, Henry has produced music for many musicians, including some in the line-up.

For some reason, Willie Mays was still sitting in my mind, and I could only think how the next group, “Birds of Chicago” certainly fit the bill as all-star musicians. Allison Russell’s full-bodied singing blends beautifully with the outstanding playing in a host of rollicking songs that brought the audience out of their chairs and to their collective feet. Something very unique in the chemistry of this band that made the audience call out for more.

The sky was darkening with an approaching thunderstorm as the next performer, Lucy Wainwright Roche, took the stage. She has a stand-out voice and performed several songs, interspersing a casual telling of her travels as a musician, as introduction to “Deliver Me to the Next Best Western”. 

The ensuing  sudden thunderstorm caused Lucy only the slightest of pauses as the crowd under the tent made way for those who had been outside to find shelter under the big tent. The thought occurred to me, if only the politicians, political parties and this country could be as accommodating as the attendees of this music festival. Made me think of Over the Rhine’s song, “If a Song Could Be President”.

Lucy used the interruption to tell a humorous story about performing in Lithuania to an unreceptive crowd, only to discover that at the mere mention of basketball she was suddenly a hit. So she told of how she had performed a sing-along there of Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart”, substituting “basketball” for the title phrase. Lucy then led the Nowhere crowd in a stirring rendition of that song with the original lyrics. I will confess by this point, as the storm had passed, I headed to the portable toilets but could still participate in the sing along. This was no reluctant crowd.

One might think this line up, particularly “Birds of Chicago” are a hard act to follow. And they would be for ordinary performers. But as the sun set on the Nowhere Else Farm,  Over the Rhine and the Band of Sweethearts closed the day with the unmistakably beautiful vocals of Karin Berquist and their compelling sound and original songwriting to end a magical day. 

A little story-telling and goofiness, in particular, Karin’s encounter of a star-struck June bug, brought the day to a close that no one was quite ready to have end. But there was a promise of another festival day, starting with art, nature hikes and song-writing workshops to be followed by another afternoon and evening of music. 

Ah, if only we had planned to stay both days of the festival--maybe most of my wishes would have been fulfilled.


1 comment:

  1. If you liked "The Next Best Western," I think you'll love its writer, Richard Shindell, who also performed with Lucy Kaplansy and Dar Williams as "Cry Cry Cry." Here's Richard: