A Classical Music Festival’s Sights and Smells

October 8, 2021

We weren’t looking for a certain band. We were, however, enormous admirers of Bob Marley, and it just so happened that his old band, the Wailers, would be performing. They’d have a dreadlock-swinging stand-in for Bob, according to the rumor. So, yes, it would be fantastic. Garth Hudson, one of The Band’s original members, would be there with his band of friends and family. Don’t forget about Phil Lesh, the Grateful Dead’s bassist. He’d be there as well.

And it was said that at some point during the night, there would be a massive Anyone can join in and play in a drum circle one of the many bongo drums. Please include me in your plans.

A get-together in the Poconos

My friends and I, who were all in college at the time (the early 2000s), used the yearly Poconos music festival as an excuse to get out of our dorms/apartments for the weekend and go on a little road trip. The Poconos Mountains in Pennsylvania are the destination. We weren’t quite hippies, but we loved music, particularly classic rock, and this festival promised to showcase “backing band” survivors from the 1970s rock scene. That’s sufficient for me. Some of the best musical events were believed to be held in the Poconos region.

Oh my, tie-dye, hemp, and pipes!

The festival had more than three stages, each with a different folk artist or jam band. The String Cheese Incident was performing that year, and their concert was the most well-attended of the evening. Dashes of forests and dramatic elevation changes nicely separated the three concert sites. And they were getting from one stage to the next included passing through small, congested villages of tie-dyed tents, where boney, bearded entrepreneurs sold everything from tie-dyed apparel to hemp necklaces to various bongs and pipes. The only item these small towns didn’t appear to have in supply was deodorant sticks.

Getting inside the drum circle

The distant sound of the drums had us enthralled. It’s a recipe for disaster when you add in all of the unnamed (but excellent) $5 beers. Colonel Kurtz appeared to be leading a group of countless people in a random bongo-drum prayer on the other side of those woods. “Oh, we have to go there, like, right now,” one of us mumbled, and off we ran, cutting through the tie-dyed village-like focused velociraptors on the hunt once more.

Drum circles, it turns out, are as dull as they sound. You either wait there bored as fifty people drum in relatively perfect time, or you awkwardly worm your way into the circle, find an empty bongo drum, and discover the hard way that you have no rhythm at all. “It’s harder than it appears,” I recall saying, blushing. It was all in good humor.

Garth Hudson and his band were, without a doubt, a highlight of the evening. Many of the people in my immediate vicinity had no idea who he was until he began playing classics by The Band, such as “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The Weight.” Everything was fine with a beer in hand and buddies nearby. It was growing dark at that point, and there was far less light pollution near the mountains to muddle up the night sky. The stars were shining brightly.