Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spring Equinox

Some thoughts about spring on its first day:

I love how it is often warm and rarely humid.

I love that bright, shimmering shade of green that new leaves give to old trees.

I love how wildflowers turn ordinary roadsides into vivid profusions of color and life.

I love going swimming with my daughter again.

I love sitting outside in the afternoon and drinking a margarita beneath a cloudless blue sky.

I love spring training baseball.

And finally, I am riveted by the most intense pursuit in all of sports: the NHL playoffs.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Music Under the Sky

It was in Atlanta, in 1992, that I finally listened to Max Roach play the drums in person instead of through my speakers. The stage was at the bottom of a grassy slope in Piedmont Park, and I staked out a vantage point about a third of the way from the top. As Roach pounded away, the sounds he created galloped up to me and filled my mind with rhythm -- and then they vanished into the warm Southern air, unrecorded and gone forever.

I already had an appreciation for live music, but that evening I realized that live music in the outdoors has a quality unlike anything else. Now Erika and I combine our love of music with our love of travel by spending time at music festivals. If you have never experienced one, you should give one a try; and with winter in its final month, this is the perfect time to check out what options are out there for 2011.

There are as many varieties of music festivals as there are varieties of music. Some are focused on a specific genre, others are eclectic. Some are in cities, others in the country. Some are packed to the gills, while others keep the number of tickets down to avoid excessive crowding. And because independent artists and craftsmen sell their wares on site, these events offer more than just music -- some, like the Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF) don’t even put the word “music” in their title even though music is their main draw.

Regardless of genre, my personal preference is to attend festivals that are in the country. At these you can camp on the property and be in the midst of the action from beginning to end, contrary to city-based festivals where you have to stay in a hotel at jacked-up rates and commute to the action.

One of my favorites is the one I just mentioned, LEAF, which takes place every May and October in a valley near Black Mountain, North Carolina. It is where we were introduced to this rock band from Australia and this bluegrass band from North Carolina, and to an outstanding dance troop from Africa whose name escapes me at the moment. It is also where we were introduced to this Louisiana artist.

Plus, LEAF offers plenty of activities other than listening to music and looking at arts and crafts. You can ride a zip line from the top of a hill right down into the waters of Lake Eden, or you can try your hand at a climbing wall. Here is a picture of people camping at one end of the valley, on opening morning the first year we went:

Another example of a good springtime mountain festival is DelFest, which is staged in Western Maryland where the Alleghenies and Blue Ridge come together. This year’s will take place from May 26th through 29th and you can learn about it here.

But you don’t have to wait until May to experience outdoor music in gloriously mild weather. In just a few weeks, Suwannee Springfest will kick off a long weekend along Florida’s most famous river. The grounds include a natural amphitheater where people hang hammocks between trees to watch the performers. Festival rules are this: You can use any unoccupied hammock so long as you surrender it to the owner whenever he or she returns.

This festival takes place at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, whose camping options include everything from a developed campground (meaning there is electricity and running water at every site) to designated primitive areas (meaning people do without those luxuries and pitch their tents wherever they want in the woods). In addition, the park has some small cabins to rent. Canoe rentals are available so you can explore the Suwannee as it flows between sand bluffs.

When it comes to performers, the singers we have seen here include everyone from wooden-voiced Texan Robert Earl Keen to silk-voiced Minnesotan Jonathan Edwards. Musical styles have run the gamut from slow folk to the upbeat gospel-blues blend of The Lee Boys:

If you are interested in what I had to say after last year’s event you can read it here. And if today’s post does not give you enough advance notice to make it to the event this month, don’t worry. Next month the same park will host the Wanee Music Festival and Suwannee River Jam, and in October it will host Magnolia Fest -- which tends to be a carbon copy of Suwannee Springfest but minus the pollen!

Meanwhile, if listening to music in a scenic outdoor setting appeals to you but the thought of camping in the sticks does not, you should head to Telluride, Colorado in June. That is when the famous ski town will be staging its 38th annual bluegrass festival, as if to prove the Rockies are just as fun in the summer as in the winter.

And if jazz is your thing, maybe you should make 2011 the year you finally take in the annual jazz festivals in Newport, Rhode Island and Monterey, California. They allow you to listen to fine music near the sea while visiting some of America’s swankiest ZIP codes, and will be taking place in August and September, respectively. For a more affordable option, check out the Seabreeze Jazz Festival in Panama City Beach, Florida, from April 13th through 17th.

No matter what your taste is for music and venue, there is something out there for you in the coming months, so get out and experience it.