I’m kind of old school. Last week, somebody called me ‘vintage mellow’, and it’s true, especially when I travel. I like to roll down the windows and take the long and winding roads. The ones that make you think you’re lost. The ones that get the most use out of my Volkswagen Rabbit stick shift.
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to go to the Philadelphia Folk Festival on behalf of WDIY radio. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks. I dedicated my radio show on Tuesday night to the Festival, playing live cuts from the “40th Anniversary” 4-cd box set. There’s just something about hearing artists like Arlo Guthrie, Gamble Rogers, Susan Werner and Mike Cross, in a live festival setting, that makes me listen intently and laugh out loud. I sure was ready to experience it for myself.
Sunday morning, I jiggled the internet for directions and chose what looked like the most delightful route of the three options. And THIS is where I cut ties with technology. I grabbed a black Sharpie marker and transcribed the directions onto a sheet of paper, in very big lettering. I learned a long time ago that doing this leaves a visual imprint on my brain. When I was 19, I drove from my home in New Jersey all the way to a friend’s house in Massachusetts. I had unwittingly left the directions at home, but I found my way there, nonetheless.
Sunday started out as a typical mid-August morning, sunshine and hot temps, with the threat of rain later in the day. I headed south on some of the most beautiful country roads in the region, passing 19th-century stone farmhouses, dotted with whispering pines and weeping willow trees, and dilapidated old barns that display hand-painted, larger-than-life advertisements of icons from long ago like Ceresota Flour, and Bush and Bull department store. You miss this stuff when you travel the turnpikes. You miss the curves, and the creatures, and the communities. I savored all of that on my way to Schwenksville, listening to WDIY’s Sunday Folk program for most of the trip.
It should have been a 50-minute trip, but once I got close to the festival grounds, the roads were blocked, and there was no explanation why. I drove around in circles, or so it seemed, trying to find an alternate way in. Finally, I rolled down the window and asked someone “what’s up?”, and the emergency personnel told me that there was an accident up ahead. “Follow that van,” she said, “and you’ll get to the fest.” She was official-looking, wearing a safety yellow vest and all, and it was an official-looking, white panel van with a placard in the front window that must have read, “official festival van” or something like that. So, I did what she said. After about 15 minutes of follow-the-leader, I gave up, assuming that the people in the van must have gotten a call, like “hurry over to New Jersey” [or someplace very far east of where I thought we were going]. I turned the car around and found the festival on my own. Again, with no technology, just a good, old-fashion sense of direction. I was almost there.
Once I parked my car and got on the shuttle school bus, I was home free. The boisterous driver wore a train conductor’s cap and he and some passengers sang along with Bob Dylan (Bob’s recorded voice, of course), and we bounced along the road to the festival grounds.
I hurried off the bus and patiently waited in line for my press credentials. I was official. I could go just about anywhere now. So I sat down in the dusty field, kicked off my shoes, leaned back on my day-pack, and soaked in the music. And then it started to rain. And as the water ran down my arms inside my sleeves, I realized that my awesome rain jacket was no longer waterproof. And then it started to pour. And I decided that the best part of the day was now a memory, and I had enjoyed every second of it. I would get much wetter before the sun would shine again that day.
I was able to take a couple of photos and record a few of the sets on the Tank Stage and Craft Stages. The highlight of the afternoon was Hurricane Hoss, covering Utah Phillips, with a little help from her backup band, and Bob Beach on harmonica. But all intentions of talking to artists and getting interesting photos of them was gone with the wind that brought that storm. Everyone ducked for cover as soon as they stepped off the stage.
I left the fest much sooner than I had planned and drove home in the rain, still taking the long and winding road home. A different long and winding road, and just as magnificent.
Sometimes the journey becomes the destination.