On August 4th, 2001 I woke up in my tent in a magical little meadow just outside of Clarendon, Ontario. It was likely a bit late in the morning, I was likely a little fuzzy from the night before, and I was definitely in one of the greatest places it was possible to be: Blue Skies Music Festival.
Ah, what bliss Blue Skies is/was/were/will be. My tent was nestled in The Finger amongst the tents of good friends, which were themselves nestled amongst the tents of a couple of thousand Zen-like music-worshiping strangers, each one with a broad, honest smile firmly attached to their face. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if the term “happy camper” was coined at (or at least about) Blue Skies.
The morning would have been full of slow coffees and lackadaisical workshops, like Ten Tunes an Hour hosted by towering fiddle-meister Oliver Schroer or Music and the Law with Lloyd Greenspoon, though I would have already missed Tunde Nemeth’s Wild Women’s Full Moon Magic Belly Ritual in the Tipi.
I know for a fact I took part in the Taoist Tai Chi workshop in The Meadow. This was my first introduction to the slo-mo fight club and I remember being quite taken with an exercise program who’s first move was simply lifting your hands up to chest level…slowly. “Whatever you do, don’t exert yourself,” cautioned our sensei as we practised move #1 again and again. Now here was a martial art I could get behind*. It was like doing karate in a lava lamp.
Blue Skies guru and fingerstyle demigod Don Ross hosted a workshop too and I really doubt that I would have missed it. He and Oliver opened the main stage that night with a set of acoustic jaw-dropping gold, followed by a solo set from Stephen Fearing. Heck, there was lots of good music at this one; like the late Malian musician Alpha Yaya Diallo, Arkansas Ozark acoustic funksters Still on the Hill, and a Sunday evening closing set from Georgette Fry.
One of the nifty aspects of Blue Skies is that there is no “artist only” area. In fact, the festival organizers offer the artists weekend accommodations in randomly-placed tents that are scattered throughout the campsites. This year the Still on the Hill trio was camped next to me and my pals, and I remember them jamming around our site all weekend. What I particularly recall is one of the guys had recently acquired a 1928 parlour-sized Martin guitar. It was a beautiful, highly sought-after instrument that had somehow made it through the decades in remarkably good shape. But I tell ya, this guy played it like it was a beach guitar; I mean he beat the hell out of the thing. I talked to the guy about it and he conceded that under his ownership the instrument probably wouldn’t last more than five or six more years, but he insisted that instruments were meant to be played. I had to agree, but I mean this guy went at that beautiful hunk of wood like a drunken sailor. Sounded good though.
Anyway, after an entire long weekend of such soul-sighing relaxed wonder Monday came and it was time to flatten it all out for another year. But with every goodbye hug and farewell handshake the warm glow of Blue Skies expanded until it bled out of my pores, leaving me to exude the calm spirit of musical beauty everywhere I went for the next month or more.
Which is good, because I went to a lot of places in the next month.
*It took more than fifteen years but I finally signed up for a bi-weekly class and learned my way through all the moves. And I tell you, Tai Chi may be soft, slow, and squishy but it’s hard, man.