It is mid-summer and I am on the road from Norfolk, Virginia to Annapolis, Maryland thinking of the upcoming festivals I will be playing later this summer and fall. They are all quite different. The best ones create a fest-family of artists that then grows to include the audience. As a veteran of performing at festivals, and producing a music festival, I chuckle to myself at memories of past festivals that have combined musical highs and tropical lows (literally hurricanes), and cannot wait to see how this year will turn out.
One of the best:
MerleFest, always counts as one of the best! A beautiful setting/venue, well-organized, you are treated great as an artist, the fans are loving, and the level of music is through the roof. If you have never been, treat yourself to an amazing experience.
One of the strangest:
Then there was this Roots festival in Texas a few years back. It was such a strange experience I don’t even recall the name. It actually never happened. A blue-norther literally blew it apart the night before it started. We drove in, in our little bus, to find the main stages, light trusses, and sound towers blown throughout the field in twisted wreckage. The few vendors who were still there had their displays in tatters and wore a shell-shocked look. The organizers were nowhere to be found. The remaining campers were in a brush-hogged field and the temperature on the backside of the cold front was 28 degrees. We camped for the night and drove out the next morning. We never did hear from the organizers again. What a mess for everyone!
One of the wettest:
Hurricanes? Why, yes. The Aiken and Friends Fest started in coastal Virginia, in the quaint town of Smithfield, and always took place in late September. The weather is either perfect, or a hurricane, without much in between. One year we had the stage trailers brought in on the Wednesday before, for use on that Saturday. On Thursday, a hurricane brushed by and it rained 16 inches in 24 hours. The tongue end of the trailers sank into the ground 14inches. We had to shim the drum riser and amps as everything wanted to roll off the stage. But all angles aside, Mr. Ray Wylie Hubbard and band put on an amazing of a show Saturday night!
Upcoming: This year welcomes some new destinations.
France: A little different addition this year. In August I will be playing the Festival des Granges in Bar Le Duc, France. This will be the first time performing there and I’m not sure what I will find. I love playing in France and have eight shows in 10 days, and am definitely looking forward to it. A foreign festival can be interesting, though. Amy and I are booked as a duo but the festival listed us as a trio…so, who knows what other surprises await? Probably a story in the making.
Nashville: The Americana Music Association’s Festival is scattered in several venues across Nashville. Amazing organization, loads of artists and fans running around town, so always a great time. This is a city fest with a Music City vibe. I will be playing a special event Saturday, September 14 at the historic Station Inn, put on by my management, Bonfire Management and Bonfire Music Group. This will have a completely different feel than a rural, outdoor fest. And, as is typical in Nashville, the talent will be second to none!
New Jersey: Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg, New Jersey is home to the 14th Annual Aiken & Friends Fest – North Branch. This takes place September 26-28 on the RVCC, Branchburg campus. Amy and I have been producing this songwriters festival from the beginning. The folks we work with are truly dedicated and very talented. It is absolutely a labor of love, with workshops, outdoor stages, pickers tent and a beautiful theater. All proceeds go to music education and scholarships for the Music Department. This is a different part of our year as we wear a few more hats. In addition to performing and giving educational workshops, we work closely with the college to plan and run the events. Being so close to NYC and Philly makes this an easy Fall festival to attend. Check out this year’s amazing lineup at AikenAndFriendsFest.com, then come to Branchburg!
Flora-Bama: We wrap our festival season after a month of running through Mississippi, Texas, Missouri and Kansas to the Florida-Alabama border and the Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival. One of the most inspiring, fun and appreciative festivals I have ever been invited to play. Based out of the infamous Flora-Bama Lounge, 20 miles of venues on the beach, all hosting writers rounds, for 10 days! I have met some of my songwriting heroes and heard new ones throughout the festival. And did I mention inspiring? Songs start being written on the beach, in the hotel rooms, by the pool…everywhere. And the Frank Brown folks treat you like you are family favorites.
Yes folks, being a wayward troubadour, road dog, and sailor on the sea; that is what keeps me excited and going. Hope to see you out there!