Saturday, October 1, 2011
I just play to the people I can see. So it's almost like you are playing to the first few rows of the crowd. You can see the faces of the first hundred people, but then it becomes a blur as the crowds disappear over the hill.
Crowds are the most difficult thing for me these days because I have to walk with my head down and my eyes averted. There's still that part of me that wants to hold my head up, make eye contact and smile.
Obviously, this aversion I've had to crowds has had nothing to do with fame. I don't know when I got it in my head I didn't like crowds and so stopped going to festivals or considering going to festivals. I might brave a major league ball game on occasion, but it had been years since I'd been to a concert or a musical festival or even a parade I wasn't in.
So, my brother and sister-in-law invited me to come to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in San Francisco this year. I never even went to the festival when I lived in San Francisco, not even when Elvis Costello played it. However, this year, I thought it would be nice to meet my family there and dance with them and celebrate my 45th birthday a few days late listening to two of my favorite musicians, Steve Earle and Gillian Welch.
Well, my brother and sister-in-law cancelled, so on Friday I sat at home trying to decide if I'd stay in Merced, where I live, or go to San Francisco and go to the festival anyhow. I could get out of being in the crowds if I stayed at home, but by this time, I'd worked myself up to face that fear, to undo that idea about myself that I don't like crowds. What was I thinking, I don't like crowds? I practically grew up at Disneyland! Crowds are just people and you just deal with the people in front of you and it can be kind of fun, making friends with a stranger while you wait in line. And I love live music! I'm a musician! So I packed, arranged to go to the festival with my mother, and drove to San Francisco.
By the way, I hit no traffic coming into San Francisco at 4:30 PM on the Friday of the festival, and my mom and I planned our trip for the next day so we could get a good place on the lawn and a place to park. We wanted to see Hugh Laurie and I wanted to see Earle and Welch and between them we didn't know what we'd end up seeing, though we sketched it out.
So, my mom's husband sets up a blanket near the stage that Earle and Welch will be playing at toward the end of the day, and my mom and I set out to the stage where Hugh Laurie will be playing in a few hours. We stop by the T-shirt stand and while my mom's looking at T-shirts, Laurie walks right by me, close enough to touch. Of course, I don't touch him. I like famous people to have their privacy, but I was happy to see him.
While we're listening to Ricky Skaggs, who plays before Laurie, I text a friend who I was maybe going to see in Merced if I was going to be around on Sunday, to let him know I'm in San Francisco. He writes back asking if I'm at the festival. I say yes. And then a few minutes later, he texts me and says call his friend who's working there, he has backstage passes for me.
So after Laurie's act, my mom and I go meet her husband at the Banjo Stage, and I go wait for this friend of a friend near the backstage entrance of the Banjo Stage and soon am whisked away from the crowds into the grassy area behind the stage and pretty immediately Gillian Welch walks right by me and of course I'm starstruck. Anyhow, it was all awesome, and my friend's friend was very kind and talked to me about his work, the musicians, and I got to watch two of my favorite artists from a very special vantage point and got to eat dinner with the festival crew.
I would've been happy as a clam just being in the crowd, having turned that idea of not being a crowd-person around, and getting the chance to listen to awesome awesome music, but it was a little bonus both facing the crowd, then getting the reprieve from it, and being so close to the inner workings of the music. Thank you!