Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Blue Skies Music Festival

The four of us -- Anthony, Alexander, Kathleen and I -- spent the August long weekend camping in a farmer's field near Clarendon in Ontario.

We do this almost every year, while attending a little-known music festival called Blue Skies. The weekend amounts to a trip back in time when flower children roamed the world and it was (supposedly) a kinder, gentler place.

The music is eclectic, and few really well-known talents take the stage. But the entertainment is for the most part first-rate, ranging from performances from young Canadian artists poised on the edge of stardom, to hill-billy acts perhaps more well-known in the province but not elsewhere (except in certain learned musical circles I suppose), to foreign entertainers who are beginning to carve a niche in the Canadian market.

Almost without exception the musicians are brilliantly skilled, beautiful and very approachable. The may camp right next to you in High Meadow, or Magooville, as certain parts of the property are named, pausing to chat as they scrub dishes side-by-side with you at the pump, which dispenses ice-cold well-water. Not great for cutting grease, but most of the bigger food chunks are removed.

Or they will offer afternoon work-shops over the weekend, where you can rub shoulders with your friends as you sit in the grass, awestruck by the talent on display. These are always good times to half-doze in the afternoon heat, while dragon-flies flit through the air overhead, sometimes pausing to land, delicate and glistening, on one's knee or head. You can cat-nap while listening, a skill that helps get you through the weekend, because sleeping after dark is not always easy.

The night air rings with music, laughter and later, loud snoring. Your tent is cramped into fields full of similar tents, which are full of musicians of both the amateur and professional variety, most of whom want to stay up until the wee hours, hovering near sparking camp-fires, jamming
their hearts out with anyone willing to play along.

Blue Skies organizers make a truly incredible effort to program the most fantabulous activities, workshops and fun for children on site. The place turns into a magical world that entrances all ages, full of tie-dyed hippies, costumed kids running amok amongst flurries of bubbles, and everywhere, music in so much variety.

The first year we attended, Kathleen and Alexander were completely and absolutely hooked. I barely saw them all weekend. They ran here-and-there, making friends, tossing frisbees, exploring every inch of the place while gnawing on cobs of corn (boiled on site), or hopping onto various stages to dance or sing on a whim.

Blue Skies is the most unique music festival I've ever attended. It also seems to be a pretty well-guarded secret. There is no official web-site (check out this "unofficial" one for more information on Blue Skies), no radio, newspaper or television ads, no corporate sponsorship. Blue Skies is run by volunteers, you have to win the right to camp over the weekend by gaining tickets in a lottery, and the only way you find out about it is by word-of-mouth.

Seems to work; Blue Skies is in its 37th year, and there are never any empty camping spots, only people left wishing they, too, had won tickets this year.

At the end of every Blue Skies weekend, I am completely exhausted, wrung-out. It's a marathon of hard work, lack-of-sleep and discomfort due to the many travails of camping. The week preceding is spent cooking and planning all the necessary meals, packing gear into every square inch of the car, arising at dawn on Friday morning to make the long trek to Clarendon, then setting up camp, a monumental task in the bustle and cramped confusion of the often over-heated fields.

The next three days are all adrenalin as we race from workshop to event to meal-making, to playing our instruments around the campfires, to finally falling almost blindly into our barely-adequate sleeping-bags while stuffing our ears with plugs, hoping vainly for a few hours of rest before beginning the cycle anew the next morning.

By Monday evening, when we pull tiredly into the driveway of our home in Kookytown, it's not hard to believe that there will never be ANYTHING in the world that feels better than the shower and soft mattress that await.

Some years, we've vowed never to return.

But we always do, and it's worth it, as long as it doesn't kill us!

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