13 May 2018

Brandywine Festival: the Clash of ’83

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Now that festival season is approaching, we are looking forward to Mt. Airy Fiddler’s Convention,  I found this composition I wrote, 35 years ago. Names have been left out to protect the innocent. (LOL.)


 I don’t want to forget any marvelous times that I can remember when I was at the Brandywine Mountain Music Festival of 1983.  A particularly powerful image continues to stir me, shimmering through the veil of past years and the haze of chemistry (drugs and hormones) from that long-ago time; some questions are still unanswered.

It was very humid that July weekend in 1983 and the temperature stayed near 100 the whole three days. My husband Jon and I got there about 5 PM on Friday after a six-hour drive, and lugged all our stuff from our car all the way down the hill, across the stream and up into the pine grove to set our tent next to “Mother’s” site.  “Mother” was Carol Desjardins, who cooked and fed everybody and provided a portable private potty (“I don’t want to use those slut-huts,” she always said, referring to the portable toilets provided by the festival organizers) chairs, and a sofa.  She always offered something wonderful to eat or drink: Szechwan tofu with shrimp, quiche, gazpacho, fruit, coffee, jugs of cool water, Mimosas, and her special chocolate-honey-sesame-seed-raisin-nut-pot-butter treats, “Mother’s Magic Balls”.  People of all congenial and talented sorts ambled over and lingered together at Mother’s.  The set-up of food, drink, sofa, table, benches and chairs under the pines provided an irresistible oasis of cool comfort and a place for a peaceful and private chat or thought.

Another image drifts by on the river of my memories and even today as I write, jolts me with sensations of warmth and desire rushing up from my core. I am at “Mother’s” restaurant campsite, on the shady side of the creek. Without shade, the July sun is like being in a blast furnace, too intense to walk in for long. I am so stoned, totally open, without fear. My face is turned up and my throat is stretched out long as I am fiercely kissing and being kissed by a tall, lanky man with a drooping handlebar mustache who is pulling me up into him as we blend into each other. I am ready to melt on to the ground at his feet, spread, and get married. The scene around us is patchy with shade and with a yellow and white sky full of blazing sun flashing through the trees. There is the constant hub-bub of the festival in the background, people laughing and talking, children shrilling like day-time crickets, banjos tinkling in the distance. The concert is half a mile away and a steady stream of people flow by. All that is extraneous, mere walk-ons in the full-length technicolor feature film of this kiss, in which we are the stars, the epitome of desire, and I am resonating with him as his energy fills all of me.

How did the kiss get started? I can’t recall. I knew who he was. I’d seen him before. He was a famous musician in one of the most prominent string bands in the country, and to me, a perfect stranger.  What happened afterwards? I wish I remembered.

During a lunchtime gathering at Mother’s, a party of people strolled by; a very buxom young lady with glasses and very brief hot pants was offering sips of “Grampa’s dandelion wine” to everybody. It was excellent.  The fat guy with her was very friendly, told a few jokes, then picked up someone’s banjo and let loose with several very good old songs.  Lots more wine was handed around, and with a parting “I jus’ love Grampa” the party moved away.

Part of being totally lost in the continual buzz was expressed in the phrase “Get down”. Just saying “get down” in a group of friends that weekend was enough to start a laugh riot. I’ll never forget Ira standing on his head playing his maraca along with two fiddlers, also standing on their heads (or trying to), in an attempt to get down as far as possible.

There was a long stream of consciousness and hilariousness session as several ladies debated the merits of “bananie pads” for camp-time period use.  I love that kind of laughter where I have to double up as the laughs erupt out of me.  We concluded that the dehydrated banana chip would make a great morning-after pad.

People came to the festival from all over the country, many of whom I had not seen since the year before at this same festival. There was always something to talk about, new relationships made, old ones broken, new jobs, houses, children.  While walking to the stage area, I passed by a friend, a dancer in the most popular clogging team, mounted bareback on an old white horse that someone was leading along the stream.  She was wearing only a sarong, with no underwear.  Everyone waved and cheered to her and she gave the royal wave back to us, as the horse plodded along.

Sunday afternoon was the formal dress cocktail party at Joe Fallon’s car. Gin and tonic was mixed in 5-gallon galvanized tin buckets with chunks of lime and ice floating on top, stirred by the mixer’s hands.  Everyone could have as much as they wanted. A woman I had not seen since her wedding a few years ago, beckoned me to come over and meet her friend, a robust, handsome, banjo carrying Italian, who was obviously chasing her, although he did take a sip of my drink. He sang as loudly as anyone, whether he knew the words or not. I don’t remember much more (too many of Mother’s Magic Balls) save for images of hordes of boisterous and costumed friends playing, singing and dancing to great 50’s and 60’s hits like “Louie, Louie”.  (Joe’s car needed repair after having ten or fifteen people clogging on its roof.)

Such great music.  One of old-time music’s old masters, Tommy Jarrell was there, full of energy.  I missed when he danced.  (But missing things didn’t matter because where I was was where it was at.)  However, I did get to be there while he sat behind the chicken grilling area and played 10 or 12 tunes. He was being totally pampered and waited on by the young people. They all scurried to be attentive and all were watchful, anticipating his every need.  He took care of himself.  He had a bottle in his left hip pocket, which he took out and pulled from every so often.

Late Sunday night, my friend Gordy and I heard music coming from the top of the hill.  We followed the sound to find a Mr. Tom Sawyer, who told us that he had sat in his low beach chair all day Sunday and listened to tapes played on the sound system of his 1100 cc leather upholstered, fully equipped luxury motorcycle.  We wondered if he had even heard those wild jams going on down the hill.  Did he even care?  He was glad for our company and offered us things to drink, including real French champagne. The next selection played by his motorcycle was “Orange Blossom Special” at which Gordy and I started to laugh and whirl around like dandelion seeds blown in the wind in the step known as the “hippy hop”.  That man never knew why we were laughing so hard.

Cherie joined up with Gordy and me, and we laughed together all night as we roamed the festival grounds, moving from cluster to cluster of people playing music. We were also drinking, snorting, and smoking: bourbon, cigarettes, cold beer, warm beer, wine, water, whiskey, coffee, marijuana, and a little cocaine.  A fourth person had joined our group.  He was attracted by our fun and good times even though he couldn’t fit in.  Whether he had come too late or he just wasn’t the type didn’t matter; at least he didn’t bring us down.  We three were laughing so hard.  I remember walking across a field, all of us being a bit loose, when someone (maybe even me) said, “We can sit down now” and all of us instantly collapsed flat on our backs as though our strings had been cut.

Sunday night I forgot to go to bed.  I didn’t want to leave the good time.  I was so sad when the sun came up and Gordy passed out on his back with the lower half of his body sticking out from his tent. My laugh muscles were sore, my white slacks were grass stained, my feet were swollen and had blisters. It hurt to walk. I felt great. When I came back to our campsite, about 7:30 Monday morning, my husband, Jon had already been up, broken down the campsite, loaded the car, and gotten angry at me for having left him to do all the work. I refused to be deflated by his anger, and burbled away in great spirits for the entire trip home.

About six months after that Brandywine, when I was between husbands, the man of the kiss and I encountered each other for the second time in our lives at a New Year’s Eve party. We kissed again, and he asked me “Why don’t you leave that Italian and go away with me?” I was rattled. That festival kiss still had enough power to knock me off my new foundation. I was tempted to check it out. What potential for eternal happiness lurked in that memory?  I then thought about just having overset my life and left Jon for the Italian. I was getting a new relationship going and here I was considering yet another offer to get involved? It didn’t make enough sense, so I turned the offer down, and walked away savoring the gift that the exchange had given me.

At the final, 20th Brandywine, over ten years later, I saw the man of the kiss again. He was there because his band was instrumental in the old-time music revival and was essential to the celebration of the 20th festival. I asked him about that kiss. He remembered it well. I was enormously pleased that he remembered. As the festival continued, we ran into each other a few times, and talked a little more each time. He still plays music. He is still with the woman he was with from long ago, even as I am still married to the Italian. He is not especially attractive to me now, even though he is physically unchanged by the passage of time and obviously, a nice guy. The power of that memory made us intriguing to each other; we still had little questions about what might have happened and why, since we chose not to explore that attraction, did it linger? And what happened before the kiss? What were we doing? How did we find ourselves in that intimacy?  And what happened afterwards, at that festival long ago?


originally written 7/19/83

revised 1/29/94

revised again 11/26/97

and again 5/12/18




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