"This is my home
this is my only home
this is the only sacred ground
that I have ever known
And should I stray
Into the dark night alone
Rock me goddess in your gentle arms of eden"
Dave Carter, Tracy Grammar, Gentle Arms of Eden
It's five in the morning, you're trudging across the grounds to get to a port-a-potty after staying up singing and listening until two in the morning. It's already hot, you've been "burned out" of your tent. Yesterday it rained so hard you lost your easy ups for shade, and your clothes are kind of damp from the humidity left over.
You hear music though, because no matter where you go and at what time there's always music. Someone carrying a sleepy kid says hello and smiles as you pass, your neighbors who have not gone to sleep yet wave to you joyfully from their various drunken states. You hear a lot of people murmur "welcome home". Everything is genuine. Everyone is happy to see you. You are happy to see everyone, and there is always music in the air.
I just got back from my favorite place on this planet, and though it was a different location this year, it still felt like home.
It's hard to fully describe the magic that happens at this relatively tiny folk music festival. It's a family fest, and not just in the literal sense of the word, but also a place where as rare as it sounds, most people when I get to know them, I would add them to my chosen family. I'll pepper the article with past years photos, and the main image is from this year right as Richard Thompson came on stage to wow us all. There's also some new finds (and old loves) that I'm going to add in here. "Emerging artists" they're called at Falcon Ridge.
This year, since it's been so long, I really didn't feel the need to take photographs. I used to take a full set up, film, digital, medium format. I rarely ended up using them for more than a few images here and there. I like completely unplugging. The longer I've been going the simpler I want my time to be there. I told my person, "the only requirements are no rushing anywhere and I get to finally hug the friends I camp with every year".
There's really not a way to express the vibe without being there. I always give it my best shot though.
I've been going to the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival since I was seventeen years old. I had my heart set on it, everyone that said they were going to come ended up pulling out. Until I called my good friend Katie crying because something was pulling me to this place and all my plans were falling through. She very calmly told me she already had budgeted the ticket and was coming. We balance each other well. We used to use I'm Elphaba to her Glinda. A more modern translation would be she's the Enid to my Wednesday. After that, it was a tradition to try to get friends to give a tiny folk music festival a shot.
This was my first year back post lockdown. We don't say "we'll see you next year" we tell each other "I'm going into town for fifty one weeks, be back soon". So these past three years without seeing my once a year family at Brigadoon, has been tougher than I thought it was. Until I stepped on to the grounds and was greeted with smiles and warmth and "Welcome homes" from my people, with my person for the first time, I had not realized how much I missed it. How much I missed the atmosphere and people.
Falcon Ridge is the one place on earth a man has commented on the way I smile and I didn't feel uncomfortable. He meant it, "keep smiling".
Falcon Ridge has been my once a year spiritual experience for a long time. It is a place where I can silently take in the environment with little to no pressure to jump in on the conversation. You are however welcome to jump in at any time, even if you don't camp with us. We usually have snacks and beer, if not we've got lively banter and some excellent musicians that camp with us.
It's one of the few places I watch children be truly children without being told to be quiet or slow down. You want dance kid? Go for it. You want run down the hill screaming? Yes please. Remind us jaded adults how to have some unhindered fun singing and dancing.
Of course, when it's been three plus years things have changed. We felt the gap of those who are no longer with us. For me this year it was Martin Swinger, he used to camp near us. He flew a rainbow flag and a peace flag high enough you could see the top above the tree line. He would stop by camp every morning for coffee and banter. He was an exceptional singer/songwriter. He may have visited my friend Carolann and I early Friday morning as a dragon fly.
Falcon Ridge is the only place I might believe in that kind of thing.
The most beautiful thing about it is everyone accepts and meets you where you are. I camp with the same group of people, many of them I only see at the festival, they are still family. We have this powerful place in common, this magical community that pops up for a week and disappears into the fog once it's over. I can say, though the time I spend with the people I camp with is minuscule compared to the grand scheme of things, that the kindness shown to each other and the acceptance and love give us a bond that is different.
We weather the literal storms together, one year before I started going there was a tornado. The heat, another year when I did go it was 103 the whole weekend, we not so lovingly called that year the "dust bowl". There's still not a consensus on whether the heat or the rain is worse. I'm solidly team rain, at least the sun isn't actively trying to murder us, thought the deluge on Thursday was a little terrifying.
I digress, it's not about the music, but it's all about the music. Typically I spend more time at camp than at MainStage, mostly because camp has shade, the sun is evil. I'm mostly Irish, so I am more or less translucent unless sunburned. At night the camp sites come alive though, our site hosts after hours music. I've watched the sun rise as the last few acts finish up.
One year I realized is you kind of get the festival that you need. There have been years that I've gone there broken and people just made space for me. A panic attack in the middle of a song circle, two of my friends were on the ground with me bringing me back. There have been years where it was the thing that kept me going, I'm going to go home soon, my festival family will be there. Of course mostly there have been years that I've gone with my heart wide open ready to receive whatever gift and lesson I was going to learn that year.
I've never made it through the festival without crying. I'm not really a crier. The tears are usually those of release, not grief, not sadness, just relief. That I am in a place where people will look at those tears as what they are, connection.
I could, and would, speak volumes about this festival. The place where I feel most at home even covered in my least favorite sensory nightmare (sunscreen). There's not really a way to experience it through words.
So, if you're ever in the North Eastern United States at the end of July/Beginning of August. Come home, ask anyone where the Budgiedome/Dharma Cafe (where I camp) is, most people will know. Come say hi, share our snacks and beer and scotch. If you have a song bring it, if you don't, your ears and stories are enough.
You are wanted.
It's midnight, you just danced your butt off to the Grand Slambovians, or you just sat and watched another gorgeous Friday night Song Swap, you're walking back to camp, a little tired but also your soul is on fire because how could it not be? We greet you like an old friend, pull up a chair, this is where the magic continues. Do you need hot chocolate? Coffee? A blanket? We've got you. In a few minutes the music will start again, close your eyes, everything's gunna be okay.