I had been looking for a folk festival to go to with my oldest boy. He had been needing some serious dad/son time for most of the summer. He'd been bored and lonely as most of his friends are gone during the day. So I did a search and found a couple of festivals toward the end of summer. I had been wanting him to see what his old man does for fun so the combination of a folk festival and a songwriter's contest was just too good. He could see some good music and see his dad perform.
nainian and I left all dark and early at about 3am Saturday morning to head to Mahtowa MN. I had wanted to go up the night before but work etc. had prevented that. So cryndalae said why don't you go after I get home from being out Friday night (that being her night to Karoake). So I loaded up the van before she left for the evening and managed (amazingly) to get the kids settled in for the night. All except nainian who was too excited to sleep and went back out to the living room to watch TV. cryndalae got home and I got nainian up and into the van and on the road. He slept for much of the first part of the trip. Driving that time of the night is really nice. I had a good selection of music and radio shows to listen to and a couple of bottles of water (caffeine came later when needed). Sometime shortly after dawn Ian woke up and moved up front with me. We chattered for the rest of the trip.
I frequently forget how insightful my oldest boy can be because he spends so much time acting like such a goof but I think that the conversations with my son were the high point of the trip for me. A lot of it was about card games and various 'mons (digi and poke). We did have a fairly lengthy talk about war. He, like so many folks, worry about the idea of a war and had a lot of questions. I hope that I answered them in a way that was both truthful and soothing.
As you get north of Minneapolis the landscape changes fairly abruptly. It goes from the serenely settled look of Iowa and southern Minnesota to a much wilder look. J had told us that we should stay out of the forest (the boy has watched Harry Potter about a 100 times now) and I think he would have had a very bad time if he had gone. I found myself watching this thick bank of trees as I drove by. There are occasional openings for rivers and roads but mostly the trees filled the line of sight completely.
We got there about 20 minutes before I was supposed to go onstage for my 2 songs of fame. Mahtowa is a small town about half an hour south of Duluth right on Highway 61. It reminds me of so many small towns but for some reason the entire area made me think of a flattened out West Virginia. It has some of the same sort of wildness to it.
The folks running the show (Jim and a fellow who's name I can't think of at the moment) were testing out the sound system and finishing setting up. I'm first up. I do one funny song and one serious and get a good response from the few folks who are there. One of the judges laughs out loud during the first song and the other two look a little grim. nainian is back under one of the tents and looks a little amazed at his dad performing.
We hang around for awhile and watch some of the other songwriters and it becomes apparent that folks around here take their songwriting VERY seriously. The high point for me are two songs by this guy named Kurt. His songs are quiet, still and very lovely. They are much more than the usual 3 chord stuff that you usually hear. I really want a tape of his songs. The low point is a fellow who is apparently a local hero of sorts who just shamelessly rips off John Prine. He just grafts on new words to Prine's chords, melody and phrasing. The odd thing is that I had listened to that very song on the way up.
The day goes along and I see folks of all levels of performing skill. But the one thing is they are ALL good songwriters. It's amazing to see that many folks and not one of them are really at all bad (cept the one ripoff guy and his other song was real good).
nainian and I go off in search of a campsite and find that everything for miles around is full. So we go back to see the end of the contest and take up one of the organizers on his offer to set up in his back yard (his house is full). Jim says that since I came a long ways and went on before there was much of an audience I can go do a short set after everyone gets a turn. I go up and do Caution and Bang My Bald Spot from the CD and get a lot of laughs and a lot of applause. Still the best part was when nainian came up and said "you were GOOD dad". Wow ... can it get better?
So the winners are two folks I hadn't seen, one basic country/pop singer and the grand prize went to a fellow who wrote this wonderfully eerie song about a local UFO legend.
nainian and I hang out till early evening when we go off to set up the tent and get a bite to eat. Setting up the tent is a little tricky since it's raining. We hang our tarp from the van and do it underneath (along with much laughing since we are doing it very badly) and head off to get some food.
We end up in some burger joint and continue our babbling. nainian is such a curious boy and we talk about just about everything. We perform in typical Coleman style for the waitress, double talking and just generally being silly. She just looks at us like we're odd. Some folks just don't get us Colemans.
We go back to the show and watch for a bit but we are both fading quickly. About 8:30 we climb into our tent and lay down. But we're not done and we play a card game for awhile till we realize that we could keep playing the same game for hours and we're just too tired.
Sometime a couple hours later I hear folks come in to unload the equipment from the show but I am too groggy to get out and help. A few hours after that nainian wakes up about half way and starts reaching for something (which isn't there). All he really does is keep hitting me in the face till I get him to stop. He wakes up again later and wants to get out of the tent for some reason. I never really quite figure out why except that it seems to have something to do with fish. He laughs a lot the next morning when I tell him all this. I get him to settle down and we get to sleep. I think that next time I go camping I need to get a sleeping pad, Ian however thinks that it is the best night of sleep he has had in ages even with his bout of sleepwalking.
Sometime very early I wake up and rouse nainian and start packing up. Everyone in the house is still asleep except for one person who has to leave early so I leave a note thanking folks and we head back south.
The drive home is even nicer than the drive up since nainian is awake for the entire thing. We chatter even more as we go home and have a great time. My son continues to amaze me.
All in all one of the best weekends I have had in years. We get home exhausted but smiling. nainian goes out to play and I go crash on the couch. cryndalae has had a rough weekend with J and R so she goes off to nap and I watch the kids play. Later she gets up and I head off to bed.