Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on July 14, 2013

I was off the grid yesterday (Saturday), gone up north near the Mackinac Bridge to Blissfest, one of the major music festivals in Michigan, about a three-hour drive from where we live. My daughter and her husband Seth Bernard close the show there each year and play a couple of other times as well. Saturnday night Margaret and I caught their 10 PM show on the third stage, a little alcove in the woods backed by a huge wall of hay bales to dampen the sound coming from the main stage. This stage offers a very close and personal experience.

We were at Blissfest most of the day. I guess I am getting old, because 12 hours in the sun and walking around found me sitting much of the time under this tree or that. Yes I love people, but thousands at a time is a lot of input and I find myself not that interested in this or that bit of music. After all, Bliss is a music festival, so why am I here?

Well, it is good to get out of the house for a day, good to drive up to the 'top of the mitten' (as we say), and meander the back roads of northern Michigan. Most of all, it is good to see my kids (two of which were there) and their partners, and other dear friends. That is why we go.

It is hot in the sun. After a while the oceans and currents of people flowing past put me in almost a dream state. I search for eddies in the flow, pockets of shade and silence where I find myself sitting on the ground, and for a long time.

Of course it is all wonderful. And there is a long row of food vendors, about whom I am always hopeful, but most often disappointed. Having owned and run a restaurant I know first-hand how hard it is to consistently make food that is edible and also good for you. My instincts are terrible when it comes to being sensible about eating out at festivals. I never am reasonable, but always order the long-shot, something I really should not eat at all, telling myself this is a one-time exception.

And it is not exceptional, but definitely is a one-time thing, because I would never eat that stuff twice. So I manage to eat too much and still be hungry or at least not satisfied. That's me.

In the early evening, around 8 PM, we drop in at a little house my daughter May and her husband are staying in. It is away from the festival by a bit. I can almost not hear the waves of the three competing sound stages washing up against one another. My daughter, her husband Seth, and Dominic John (bass player and old friend) are building a set list for the show in the next room. Their conversation kind of magically appears next to my ears, like one of those whispering walls.

It is like they are right next to me… old friends laughing and talking together, making jokes, playing riffs, trying out chords and introductions. They are relaxing. I am drifting off to a nap on the couch where I sit. In a way, what I hear from this gentle discussion they are having are the most beautiful sounds of the day, the familiarity of old friends.

Then the golf carts roll in to whisk May and the others (along with the equipment) on to the stage. It is almost dark now as Margaret and I make our way toward the stage nestled in the woods. We came early to get good seats.

Surprise! The entire crowd from the previous music-set are still there. Usually there is a turnover, as one group leaves and the next sets up. Not this time. We forget that her parents are not the only folks who love May and Seth's music.

It is pretty dark by now and I can't see how far back in the woods people are jammed, but they are way back there. There no seats. It is after 10 PM before May sings the first song.

Margaret and I are kind of wedged right on the stage apron. We can't really see, but by moving our heads, we can see something. The stage manager and sound crew figure out we are May's parents and make some room up where they are at the side of the stage. We are soon able to see somewhat better.

May starts off the set with one of my most favorite songs, one I have linked here many times before, "Sweet Days.


The lyrics of the chorus go something like this:

"Cause these are the sweet days,
Hold on to what you love,
Who knows how long it may stay.
Count your blessings while you can,
Take your loved ones by the hand."

Indeed, these are the sweet days. I can feel the hair go up on the back of my neck as the meaning of these words sweeps through the crowd. The audience is visibly moved. I look up and see standing by the sound engineers my wife watching May singing and next to her my 26-year old son (6-foot two-inches tall). They are hugging one another.

Then I remember this is why I come to these festivals, not just for the music, but for the closeness of family in moments like this. I realize that I am happy, and the first time today. The set is wonderful. Seth and May alternate, singing songs. Seth's guitar playing is deep and brilliant. The bass of Dominic John is gentle and strong, and my friend Tyler Duncan (Irish world champion on the drum instrument) plays the Bodhran behind the group. Like my favorite Dylan song "I Shall Be Released," points out, I am released into the moment. It does not get better than this.

It is after midnight before we reach our motel room, because all the rooms in nearby towns were booked. We had to drive probably 30 or more miles before we could sleep. We were up and out of there a little after 6 AM and heading back home. And here I am.

[Recent photo by me.]