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Dude. This is long. Get a fresh cup of coffee first. I’m serious.September 1, 2003

So hiya! I’m back. Brown as a berry, with funny Birk tan lines on my feet, with one cracked tooth and a nosebleed that’s off and on, but I’m back. Happy. Did you expect any less?

It was weird to be cut off from technology for the better part of five days. No computer (although I did bring it, I just couldn’t quite picture myself turning it on), no electricity, no running water, not even cell phone coverage. The best you could do was wait in line for one of the two payphones in the campground – there was never less than a half-hour wait, even with the three-minute limit on conversations. I didn’t wait in line. I was cut OFF.

It was weird, but nice. That tells me (I hope) that while I love the internet, I’m not totally and completely addicted. Good. I was getting worried.

I feel like sharing a bunch of pictures, though, okay?

I made camp. I found it and claimed it and waited HOURS for Mom and Dad to arrive and help me set it up (Christy and Beth came the next day). I made four mice for Wendy’s mouse-a-thon while waiting, whoo hoo! Here’s me making a sock later on, waiting for a show to start – I’m not winking, I just don’t own sunglasses.

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Our closest camping neighbors were Ronna-Lee, who’s about fifty-five and her husband Tim, about thirty years younger. He’s a stoner; she has odd hair and short shorts and a whole lot of money. They bring EVERYTHING with them. They even had a coffee machine. A real, plug-in machine. Don’t know how they ran it. And get this: They had a remote control light for their tent so they could find it while walking back in the dark. Good thing, too – they were usually so loaded it must have been difficult.

I found old friends, too, who are festival friends, the kind you make and love and mean to keep in touch with and never do and do it all over again the next year. Here’s my mother with RuthAnn Rose, three-month old daughter of my friend Alpha (of dead-frog lore).

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Yep, I met up with Alpha and her husband Wayne during a concert – they were seated at the back and the baby started fussing. I valiantly said I’d walk her. I cradled her in my arms and walked to the side of great meadow, dancing and jiggling her until she smiled and danced with me. We had a grand time. I thought we were pals. Then she fussed again, and night was dropping fast, so I walked back over to the part of the crowd I thought her parents were in. Couldn’t find them.

Made another pass. RuthAnn was now crying her lungs out. In the middle of the concert.

Made another walk through the heavily blanketed and chaired grassy area. No parents. Almost dark now. I am now the owner of a small damp screaming infant and I don’t even know her last name.

This is what nightmares are made of.

Finally Alpha saw ME, and shone her flashlight on her face. I scrambled over various people and coolers, dumped the baby, and ran for the beer tent. It was just too much.

We had a great campsite. Bethany slept in her truck, Dad in the SUV they rented (he hit a dumpster in the very parking lot of Enterprise, though, so it was an expensive rental), Mom and Christy in the mammoth tent, and me in my little blue one with the zipper that’s been broken for years. Huh. That zipper had never bothered me before. That’s probably because it had never RAINED before. It only rained for about an hour, but it was enough to send rivers through my tent. But this was how tired I was – I shoved my (oh so) dirty clothes into the puddles and turned my pillow when it got too soggy. Kept on sleeping.

I hung the PACE flag.

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At least ten people wandered into camp asking about it, saying they had been in Italy and had wanted one, or they’d seen them other places, what did it mean? (It’s the European symbol for peace, in Italian [pah-chay], and I LOVE that it’s rainbow striped. Of course.)

Alison Kraus was heartbreakingly, showstoppingly good. You know I’m prone to hyperbole, and I sure as hell did say all weekend, “No, really, THAT was the best show yet!” but she really was too good to be true. Her voice is unnaturally pure. And hey: she was backed by not only Union Station (love Dan Tyminsky), but Jerry Douglas on dobro. Jerry Douglas! I hadn’t seen him in years, maybe since he was still playing with Russ Barenberg and Edgar Meyer, and he’s still as brilliant as he was then. I mean, damn. (Yeah, Rachael, that’s an illustrative comment.)

Trying again: We’re sitting in this huge (and I mean enormous) meadow in Yosemite, surrounded by mountains and forests of pine (and the occasional bear, we’re told). It’s dark, the new moon is sinking to the left, Mars rising behind us. The heat’s finally off and the mountain air turns cold. The Milky Way sure is milky (for an Oakland girl, this is a miracle). Alison Kraus’ voice is soaring, Tyminski and Block are holding her up, and Jerry’s sliding along, matching her rise and drop. The drunks who’ve been partying all day don’t yell, the babies don’t cry, and no one folds up their chair with those annoying clunks. No one leaves. Standing ovation. A couple of them. It’s wonderful.

AND: Natalie MacMaster, cute as heck fiddling and kicking her way across stage; Tim O’Brien, who jumped into the lake, clothes and all, after he closed the revival Sunday morning; Open Road, seen here at the same revival:

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Dave Alvin singing Mississippi John Hurt songs; and Patty Griffin whom I can’t even bring myself to begin to write about. I’d never seen her in concert before. That, folks, is talent. Some of us can learn and can be pretty good at things. Other things are a gift, and she’s got it. Brought me to tears twice.

It wasn't the wine, I swear. All in all, we were a temperate bunch. Surprisingly. (Disappointingly?) After I broke my tooth eating crunchy sourdough (I started to yell at Beth about the rock in her bread and then realized what it was and FREAKED out – I have very strong teeth), the sisters tried to get me drunk. I wussed out and let them down. Something about the altitude and the heat made me a lazy drinker. Didn't slow anyone else down, though; Mom found a man sleeping in the middle of the road last night. We did have a half-assed laugh at ourselves – before the show started last night, we sat in our row: Christy all hopped up on ibuprofen she’d taken for a headache, I was knitting a sock, and Mom, Beth and I split a Tecate. And after the show, there was still a little left.

Weak, I tell you. Pathetic.

No dead frogs this year – not many live ones, either, come to think of it. I did a bunch of swimming in the lake and took two yoga classes under the trees. I got Mom to join me for one, and she impressed me no end. I’ve got a bendy little Mama.

We sang and slept and broke camp this morning (here’s Christy doing just that, my old convertible in the background).

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And now Beth is really, truly heading out. Here she is reading her map.

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She’s off on an adventure that she hopes will last about a year – she’s living in her pickup truck and crossing the country, taking only backroads and sleeping where she can. She’ll pick up work when she runs out of money and photograph religious shrines and funny signs on the road-sides (like this one).

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We left camp, and Christy and I caravanned with her to a teeny-tiny town called Copperopolis, where we had lunch at a saloon that boasted on a hand-lettered sign that it sold not only lunch, but dinner, too. We sat at the bar since there wasn’t a choice. The proud owner (who pointed out his own brand carved into the top of the walnut bar) said that the cook was out, but he knew how to make a french dip. So we had three french dips with Coke and put Bethy in her truck and watched her drive away alone.

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Happy Trails, Bethany.

We cried. And then drank some more cold Coke and booked it home – it was almost a hundred degrees out there and I was dying of heat.....

Christy and I took the back route home – it adds a little time, but the drive looks like this:

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And not this (which is what we would have been stuck in, had we taken the normal freeway route):

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I’m glad to be home. Just one more picture, and I love this one.

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This is us leaving this morning. I’m shooting the picture from the driver’s seat, that’s the back end of my car, Beth’s truck behind me, Christy’s green Volvo behind that (we boxed her safely in until after we separated an hour later). The wee person in the green shirt waving goodbye is our little Mama. I love that!

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Comments

Yay, you're back! LOVED reading about your fantastic long weekend, and loved all the pictures you put up! I've never been to a festival like this but you make me want to head out to the very next one. I like the sign in one of the pictures that says "TIE DIE JERKY HERE."

What a great weekend! Thanks for sharing it with us and showing the pictures! :)

Sounds like an amazing time, but I'm glad you're back. We missed you!

we missed you indeed! Glad you are back! Love the pictures and the stories :)

Welcome home! Your pictures make me miss the land of trees even more... sob

I keep hoping that I will find a real tree here in Texas, but they just seem to get wide here, not taller. Hmmmm... kind of like me!

Glad you're back. Neat pictures and it sounds like you had a wonderful time.

Wow..sounds like you had an absolutely wonderful time!! I love the pictures, and I know what it's like to have a small damp infant and be in search of her parents..LOL. I'd need a few beers too. ;)

Welcome back! Can't wait to start the waves knit-along. (I'm trying to finish Charlotte's in the next week so I can be ready!)

"I mean, damn." What an excellent entry. Love the photos. Love having you back! Tell Bethy she should stop by Austin, okay? Tons of funny signs here.

Rach, welcome back! I'm so envious -- would love to attend that fesat some year. I've seen A.K. live (Jerry with her then) and her voice is the purest ever. Caught Patty Griffin in a C'ville club a couple years ago too -- but everybody in the same place, outdoor amazingland -- wow.

YEAH for the long post & the pictures! Sounds like a great time! So glad you are back! :^)

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Rachael loves it when book clubs read her work! She's happy to attend book clubs that read her books either in person or via Skype. Contact her at rachael@rachaelherron.com to make arrangements.

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