Just returned (Sunday) from my first festival of the summer-- 10,000 Lakes Festival in Detroit Lakes. You may have heard about it this year: two men were found dead and $25,000 worth of drogas were confiscated from 12 peddlers. The death thing kinda shook me up, maybe more than it should have, but what are you gonna do? People OD and that’s the hard, fucked-up facts that come with hard drug use... I guess, right?
It's a sad reality that comes with loving music. Musicians and fans do drugs; it's all around us. Sometimes they abuse 'em. And sometimes they die from it. Neil Young wrote some of the best songs about it all, and the lesson remains: just be careful and watch out for yourself and the ones you love. It's all you can do if you plan on being a part of that scene, man.
The music and the community and the scenic beauty is what I was really diggin’ on, though. Fitzy and I had a great time this year—he boldly claims “Best 10K ever,” and he means it. It may have a lot to do with the fact that he got a sweet gig—writing about the festival, *for* the festival. An act which allowed us to eat and drink like royalty with VIP passes. The swank salad bar city in the shade was the sweetest reward. A huge bonus to our bodies when you consider the amount of time we were out in the the brutal, hot sun for 4 days straight. Festivals can wreak some havoc on your bod, that's a known fact. But we did our bodies good. And it made such a difference. Maybe it's cuz we're getting...older...? eeek!
Now, some of you who know me and know all the shit I can't get out of being into know that I'm no fan of improvisational, "jammy," meandering guitar music...it tends to bore me. Just can't get down with it. (Of course, the drug thing comes back into play, here. It's inextricably linked to the Dead and everything after. So, the drugs seem to compliment the music and vice versa.) I think so much of it comes from the fact that I've never been into jazz, as shameful as that is to admit(I've tried!). Improv in music is something I deeply *admire*, but can't really enjoy listening to. Since I've been with Fitzy, he's opened my ears to so many different things (reggae was always something I was on the verge of loving--E Beth knows this and she taught me all about how the punks and the hippies come together when 'Babylon By Bus' is spinnin. Strummer and Fitzy made my love for it expand, big time). I've gotten over some of my prejudices--but still will never fully "get it" when it comes to how much people *adore* this music. It almost feels like something you're either born with or you're not. I just wasn't born with the gene to like noodling, I guess. ha!
Something that came up in my mind again and again as I watched all the bands was the Fran Healy (lead singer/songwriter of Travis) who once said that *bands* are really irrelevant, it’s the *songs* that really matter—that’s what lasts through the years. Discussing his album title from years ago, "The Invisible Band," he remembered (as most of us all do) growing up and listening to the radio. And as we all know, when you listen to the radio, you rarely hear which band played the song you just heard for the first time and fell in love with. You don't know what the singer looks like, and you don't care (this is pretending MTV doesn't exist, of course, but this theory still stands, because I still listened to the radio and loved songs by faceless bands even though I grew up with MTV). Maybe it's 40 years old and the band was a one-hit wonder. It doesn't matter, you end up knowing all the words and maybe you never know who sang it, wrote it or even what the song's title is. To me, that's one of the greatest powers of music and Healy hit it right on when he said that bands fade away, the image doesn't matter--it's great songs that last through the years, the decades.
The very best example of that at the festival, for me, is our very own local (Duluth/Minneapolis)boys (and old friends of Fitzy) Trampled By Turtles—who tear up a mean mix of bluegrass with rock and punk that make even the mellowest hippies get down and dirty and down-right aggressive—at times. Near the stage, the crowd on Friday night could have been part of a Rancid pit at the Entry--plenty of rough, good-natured pogoing and flailing about. Their fast and furious rendition of bluegrass-rock has been compared to the Ramones because their fast songs clock in under 3 minutes and the style they pound out is precise, polished and poppy--just like those New York boys playing Beach Boys or Ronnettes songs at CB's, TBT showed their stuff and blasted out a fucking rocking version of "Sloop John B" for their final song of the night. Perfect.
Each member is fucking talented beyond their years, but it’s Dave Simonett, the group’s lead singer, guitarist and songwriter that shines as an up-and-coming star. His songwriting is something that struck me instantly, the first few times I actually concentrated on the lyrics(specifically, a song called "Never Again" is what shook me. check it out.) To me they come from the same place as Westerberg and Springsteen (hell, Simonett even holds his guitar like Bruce, it's fucking hot).
The other three highlights for me all were at the blessed Barn Stage as well. Two of groups were from New Orleans, Dumpstaphunk and Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentlemen (both have played with Bonnie Rait). The other was Cornmeal, out of Chi.
After getting shut out of God Johnson playing the cigarette-smoke-filled Saloon stage, we drifted over to the magical Barn Stage to the sounds of the breakdown of the Stones' "Miss You." It was Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk—the last band of the festival, playing till the late hours and getting the crowd riled up and wanting more. A tribute to James Brown was most definitely in order, and we got it good. Then came an original (I presume) and the chorus was "No more 'okey doke'" --which I know as a rhetorical line from Obama's speeches. It stuck a chord, man. Then, after a minor on-stage (off-mic) bicker back and forth, the band funked it up for the festival lot (a la Woodstock, no doubt) and pumped out a joyous version of Sly & the Family Stone's “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).”
That song completely connected with me, more than anything at the festival. During a lot of the shows I felt quite disconnected, cuz I don't have that gene inside of me to dig so many of the bands. During Dumpstaphunk, I felt a part of something I really understood, with my brain and my booty. The song says it all--I felt like mice elf, listening to the pure funky bass lines and dancing my ass off in front of the stage with Fitzy doing the same, right by my side.