Well, it happened again. Our annual Boats and Bluegrass Bliss Bubble was amazing as usual. It was blissful, there were bubbles, the grass was blue, and the boats were free. Every year there are more families, more new friends, and more unexpected adventures. This year, I want to note a few more favorite aspects of what we usually just call “Boats.”
1. Badass Women
One of my favorite things about this festival that stood out again is how many excellent women musicians are included in the line up and featured on the main stage. Regardless of where they play, these women are talented artists in their own right and they’re everywhere at Boats and Bluegrass Festival. Shook Twins, Sarah Vos (Dead Horses), Rachel Hanson, Kendl Winter (The Lowest Pair), Emily Frantz (Mandolin Orange), Lyndsay Pruett (John Stickley Trio), and the list goes on. These aren’t “girl bands,” they’re badass rock stars who happen to be women.
Particularly at bluegrass festivals, it can become awfully routine to see one group of guys after another stand on stage playing some combination of the same instruments and singing some of the same classic bluegrass covers. “Who’s playing next?” “Oh, I don’t know, could it possibly be another 3 to 5 men with a banjo, guitar, bass, or mandolin?” Excuse me for saying so, but… Sausage. Fest. I don’t care how incredibly talented they are, I typically prefer a band with at least one woman in the mix. It just adds a different energy to the sound even if she’s only playing a back up instrument. And, maybe there’s a little less of what I like to call “wanking off” in the jams too, but really, I don’t know what it is:) It just is.
Case in point, Mandolin Orange. They were one of my favorite performances, and not just because they’re from my hometown of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Front man Andrew Marlin’s voice is so good it makes me want to cry. Add Emily Frantz’ sweet soulful harmonies to the mix and I feel it in my bones.
Of course, there are also plenty of exceptions to this rule. I LOVE Trampled by Turtles, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades are a bunch of sweethearts, and Pert Near Sandstone are so fun. Still though, I sure do like it when they have a woman sit in on a song or two:)
Every year, without fail, Boats and Bluegrass achieves an eclectic and inclusive mix of bluegrass music that attracts a similarly cool kind of crowd. And ultimately, it’s the unique combination of people who really make Boats and Bluegrass Festival great.
In last year’s post, I noted that “If only for a long weekend, we are fully immersed in the Boats and Bluegrass Bliss Bubble and we become a village of high-functioning community chaos and camaraderie.”
This year I heard artists and attendees refer to the sense of family and fun that permeates the festival and campground. We all feel it. Camaraderie means “mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time together.” Indeed. Except it’s not a lot of time. It’s one short weekend once a year. Yet it is truly a family affair. We come every year with our big group of friends and family, and so does everyone else. And over time, even just one short weekend once a year, we love each other more.
Throughout the course of the weekend I had the opportunity to chat with lots of people while doing Henna tattoos at the Happy Jangles booth. Which, by the way, was so much fun! But alas, I’ll save that story for another day so I can get back to my point. One of the questions I asked everyone was whether it was their first time at Boats and Bluegrass. In three days, only one person answered yes. Everyone else came for the first time years ago and have returned ever since. Kids have grown up here. Even the security and nursing staff return every year for sheer love of the festival (and Tom and Julie, of course).
Some of the sweetest moments come outside the festival grounds during time spent at camp. Jams by the fire, communal kitchen meals of amazingness, kids running wild and free. This year, the boys created a tarptopia to top all others and the kids put on a magic show that was so awesome it probably needs to become a new annual tradition. We took walks, visited other camps, and swam in the river at least once a day.
3. The Mississippi River
Boats and Bluegrass takes place along the banks of the Mississippi River at Prairie Island Campground in Winona, Minnesota. It’s usually too cold in late September for many to brave a swim, but every year, boats are available for free to paddle or ride if you can get there in time to sign up.
The Mississippi is always an important part of shaping the mood and energy of the Festival. It flows, and floods, and this year, it was our savior. Given the ridiculous heat wave with highs in the 90s every day, we all spent lots of time swimming and cooling off in the river. For this southern summer-loving girl, it was nothing short of delightful. For mid-westerners, it was an unheard of abomination they never could have survived without the sweet relief of the river.
Music takes place with the river as the backdrop for the main stage, on the river on little pontoons and houseboats, and in quiet little island nooks you have to paddle to reach. “Boats” are in the name, but what are boats without water? Water is special and there are few rivers more special than this one. Sitting on the shores of the great Mississippi, watching eagles soar and hunt, hearing kids laugh and play, and artists sing and sway, it’s hard not to feel that all is right with the world, if only for this moment.
So, the time has come to wrap up the reflection and move on rejuvenated until next year. See you there!