Thursday, October 7, 2010

Terrapin Hill Harvest Festival: Friday

Words & Photos By Rex Thomson

While this article is ostensibly about the Terrapin Hill Harvest Festival, in reality it’s a celebration of that love that unites us all. There are few truly noble professions in the world. Careers in medicine and care giving, education and last, but by no means least is farming fit the bill. The act of feeding the tribe through the bounty of the soil, the raising of livestock and providing for the tribe is as old as the earliest ascension of humanity itself. Becoming capable of being assured a steady supply of foodstuffs enabled us to live in one place for long enough to give us a chance to look to the stars with wonder, not with worry and hunger. In that moment we began to think beyond survival to weightier matters and we collectively took a step forward as a people. And, in the finest of these traditions stands Pete and Brenda Cashell, owners and proprietors of the Terrapin Hill Farm.

Purchasing the land that would become the Terrapin Hill farm in 1985, the couple wanted to do more than just feed their community, they wanted to teach their neighbors the skills needed to feed themselves. Besides the regular, rigorous duties of maintaining a farm, they have a teaching component to their operation, and facilities where lectures can be held and have even won an “Agri-education” award for their efforts. Pete goes so far as to set up community and school gardens, happily plowing plots and giving of his time for the betterment of all. To help fund these endeavors, the Cashels threw open their farm a few times a year for concerts and ‘ole fashioned hoedowns, chief among them the Terrapin Hill Harvest Festival!

My short drive from Louisville to Harrodsburg wasn’t the fastest of the year, but it was the most bucolic. The greenery and lush hills were full of splendor, and as I often do, I found myself full of pride at my good old Kentucky home. Arriving at the festival, I pulled into the space saved for me for some of the finest people the world has seen fit to send my way, Burk and Shellie Fuqua. The story of how we met the previous year is too farfetched and lengthy to be repeated here, but trust me when I say that since that fateful moment when I returned his kind loan of a mallet and we realized our bizarre connection, we have been true blue friends! Joining us in our camp were the ravishing pair of Kat and Erin, old friend and new, ready to partake of the Terrapin Hill love fest. Finally united, we went in to the concert area for our first act of the day, Arnette Hollow.

Playing on the smaller of the two stages, dubbed the Chapel stage, Arnette Hollow brought their fiery brand of Bluegrass to the festival, delighting all within earshot with their pyrotechnics. Crisp and angular in their playing, they tore thru a set of tunes that showcased a songwriting skill that would be the envy of any band. Following them on the Chapel stage was the first of many links to the band that is most responsible for the festival season being in the healthy shape it’s in, The Grateful Dead. Featuring Tom Constanten, former keyboardist for the Dead, along with sonic aide to the boys Bob Bralove, along with three fifths of headliners Cornmeal and others, Terrapin Flyers play a mix of covers and originals, and take many a psychedelic jaunt in the process. The dueling keyboards, percussionists and guitarists made me feel sorry for Dave Burlingham, the lone bassist! He didn’t have anyone to play with! Ah well, he was more than up to the task of laying down his Banjo and picking up a Bass and thumping away. He’s a gamer!

It was finally time for the first set of the festival on the main stage, Vince Herman’s band, Great American Taxi. For those familiar with his previous band, Leftover Salmon, I am certain you have heard of his newest project. For those few not in the know, the last five years has seen Herman build his new act into a Festival regular, their dirty, bayou influenced take on Blues and Bluegrass is a heady blend of what is best in Americana music. Singing with the good natured charm of everybody’s favorite fireside storyteller, he led his troops through a parade of past classics and band originals. Pausing to wish a gentleman in the crowd a Happy Birthday, he raised his Mandolin in toast, reciprocated by the gentleman with his beer. A promise of Kentucky Bourbon was made, and a smile was shared by most of the crowd as they sipped their brown beverages. Taking request and keeping the show as freewheeling as possible, Herman made the set disappear in a blink, and though he left with a hearty good night, he did not go far. He knew, as the crowd did and I as well, that the evenings headliner was coming up next, and that it was time for the festival to get serious about partying down! It was time for Cornmeal.

Years back, a performer had a problem. He could not make the festival he wanted to play at, so he suggested a band to cover the spot, a psychedelic Bluegrass outfit called Cornmeal. In the years since their sets have grown into things of legend, enduring monsoons flood and all manner of face destruction resulting from the uninitiated hearing the band for the first time. The bond the band has formed with the land is deep and obvious, as is the love they have for the farm’s owners. It’s a mutual thing, shared as well by the crowd of regulars who make up the fests nucleus. Pete takes great pride in telling that story each and everytime he introduces the band in their traditional headlining slot, and the band takes special delight in leaving nothing in the tank, blowing themselves out musically. The waves of psychedelic madness unleashed, the straight up moments of hoedownery and fiery fiddle work set the air electric, which was in fact kinda dangerous when you think about it, since it was raining. I love this festival, attend it yearly, but without any malice I will say... Bring rain gear. Just do. And maybe, just maybe a raft. Just sayin’.

The rain was sporadic at best and did nothing to dampen our spirits in anyway. In fact, as those things often do, a quicl shower seemed to enliven the crowd, and the band as one. Their nigh definitve version of “Hasten Jason” featured easy 90% of the crowd in full rage mode, and their shouts of...

“Boot Stomp!!!”

to the crowd met with bottom of the soul heartfelt cheers from the crowd and howls from myself. As the long searing jam sessions seemed to bring out even the tamest of souls to full on crazy, the band blazed on. Even the quiet moments of their Talking Heads cover “This must be the Place (Naïve Melody)” with it’s mournful lines being played on the violin of Allie Kral degenerated in a freefor all as John Nowak seemed to build to a mad crescendo every second, with brother Kris standing a sharp, backward angle in front of him, leaning into each note as a left hand bottleneck slide was bent across the fretboard. Dave Burlingham set down the bass from earlier in the day, choosing to furiously finger pick a fantastic high flying run, while Bassist Chris Gangi showed as usual what preparation can do, thumping away confident in his knowledge that they were doing what they band was built to do, blow minds. After the show, I had the opportunity to speak with Chris and the rest of the band about the show, and the madness from earlier in the night. Chris asked me my opinion on the length of the growing Jam breaks, and whether they were two much of a good thing. It was a serious question, and as I am one of their more regular followers a valid one. And also, given my nigh constant urging for them to go crazier, a completely ridiculous one. As a giant grin on my face formed instantly, you could see in his eyes the silliness of asking me if they were getting “Too Spacey”! We shared a laugh and I went to sit on the hill at the Chapel stage delighting at the intricacy of the evenings closer, the 23 string band. As the sandman was closing in for the kill, I roused myself and made it to the confines of the tent I was sharing with my two friends Kat and Erin. The new disco light I had made it a party, and we dreamt of more creamy musical goodness to come!


1 comment:

  1. Rex - great read...

    You musta missed Goldenrod on Saturday Night - they were AMAZING! Be well, funkbrother.