festivus for the restivus

2009-JUL17-FestivusThe experience has been described as Vermont’s own Burning Man…like, in its early days when the concept was simple, the construct was modest, and the richest thing about it was its inspiration.

National Geographic Music included it in this year’s list of the summer’s best North American music festivals, describing the festival as “punching above its weight” for being able to attract performers like Mali’s Oumou Sangaré, “the Wassoulou Queen”.

But what is the Sol Harvest Festivus for the Restivus, really?

At its core, it is three days of non-stop music played by some of the best musicians in the world. It’s also bonfires, on-site camping that creates a real community for a few days, singing and dancing until all hours of the night, and a positive vibe that’s as tangible and saturating as the rain that fell on the event’s opening last night.

Part of that comes from the ‘family’ feel to the whole thing. Festivus, now in its seventh year, is the inspiration of  Toubab Krewe bassist David Pransky, and the event is held on the 93-acre Pransky family land in Cabot. To get there you turn off of state highway 215 onto Pransky Road, follow the signs and the cars, pass the house, and shortly arrive at the wide-open fields that host the festival.

7/17/09 - Festivus opening night

7/17/09 - Festivus opening night

Driving in last night around 9:30pm on the dark and winding muddy road, the comparison to Field of Dreams was inescapable with its portentous echoes of “If you build it, they will come…”

Parked in a grassy field, and then followed the music and the light streaming through the trees on the  short walk up to the grounds. Had to watch it with the mud! More than one person – and a wayward car, and a golf cart – struggled for traction on the rain-slippery path. Can’t say we weren’t warned, the gatekeeper cautioned, “it’s been that kind of summer.”

Later in the evening David Pransky shared a few thoughts on Festivus, “we’ve come full circle”, he said, noting the poetry in the evening’s lineup with the fact that while the St. Croix-based reggae group Midnite had closed last year’s festival, they opened this one. And they are so good, singing with conviction and spirituality that set just the right tone for the night and the rest of the weekend. I wish I had gotten there in time to hear the whole set from the beginning, but the four or five songs I caught were excellent.

When the Midnite set ended the music immediately continued in the adjacent tent with Burlington’s energetic Jeh Kulu Dance and Drum Theatre. It’s occasionally occurred to me as being interesting that Jeh Kulu are West African drummers and dancers of the highest skill, working in one of the Northernmost, whitest population states in the country (98% white). It’s a fact, but only that.

Festivus in the rain

Festivus in the rain

Another fact is that Vermont is also home to the most artists and artisans per capita of any state in the US.

These are among the myriad of complexities and seeming contraditions (that aren’t) that contribute to this being the most artistically and creatively stimulating place I’ve ever lived. I have to believe these things also contribute to the vision and support that enables a top-notch world music festival like Festivus to take place in rural dairy farmland like Cabot.

Stay tuned, coming in the next posts: the fun continues with a rainy bonfire, Oumou Sangaré, and Toubab Krewe closing down opening night.

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