I just returned home from a wonderful weekend away from home. The Hermit, kids and I packed up our new 1968 camping trailer and the Suburban (yeah I know, gas guzzler but it is really the ultimate family truckster) and headed about a hundred miles southwest to a beautiful campground on the shores of a central Minnesota lake. This campground was the site of the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old Time Music Association's annual Homegrown Kickoff Festival. (Kickoff meaning, the beginning of summer and the music festival season around here) This festival features all local acts representing the best in bluegrass and old time music in the region.
I was in a band that performed at this same festival, different location, eleven years ago. It seems almost unreal to say this. To think I was actually in a bluegrass band, singing lead vocals on a couple of songs that I taught to the band. But then we moved to another state, the couple that formed the heart of the band broke up, and that was that.
Enough about the past. I'm writing to tell about how I had an absolutely wonderful time in the almost 48 hours we were at the festival. It was not nearly long enough. We arrived Friday afternoon, after much packing and all the worry that accompanies a family camping trip, when you have not done anything like it in years. But we got the trailer in place, set up camp, cooked dinner, and gradually relaxed. I started having a musical itch, and walked around for a while after dark looking for a music jam I could fit in with. But being inexperienced and rather shy at this kind of thing, I returned to our family campsite with unfulfilled musical urges. It had been way too long since I had done this festival thing, walking up to a bunch of strangers playing music and jumping in.
It turns out I was just walking around the wrong part of the campground, and the best music was within earshot of our camp site. The next morning, as I was returning from the bath/shower house located near our site, I ran into an old friend of mine, Dick Kimmel, a very accomplished bluegrass musician who happened to be camped out less than a hundred yards away from us. His RV was parked next to Lloyd LaPlant's RV; Lloyd built my mandolin, and he is about as nice of a person as there is. I walked over there with my mandolin that morning, into a music jam already in full swing. I was welcomed, and I overcame whatever nerves I had and joined in.
It was the best thing ever, musically, for me. At the start I had a hard time even moving my fingers to find the right chords, but about an hour later I was amazing myself that I could actually play solos! All I needed was to get together with other people.
The kids had a blast. There were several families camped nearby with kids, and they played wiffleball and soccer together. It rained Saturday into the mid afternoon, so Calvin discovered the fun of playing X box video games on the 19" flat screen TV in the camper. (The Hermit is fully responsible for this, not me!!!) And the kids made numerous trips to the beach.
Saturday evening, after 24 hours of being there, I was overcome with a feeling of absolute happiness. All the nervousness about making this trip had disappeared, I had reconnected with some old friends and played music, just as I had hoped I would, the family was having a good time, the camper trailer was working out okay, and I was reclining in my new super lounge chair with a cold beer. I was even seeing some good birds: catbirds, phoebes and pileated woodpeckers around the camp site, and the pair of loons on the lake had two babies.
Sunday before we left, I played music again with my friend and a few other good musicians. As I was leaving the jam, Lloyd came up to me and said "You're sounding great on that mandolin!" Coming from him, that is a compliment I will cherish. And I believe it. I sounded better than ever, and it was just the effect of playing with other people. I am more ready and willing now to seek out every opportunity to play music. Aside from my family, music is what I live for.
But this isn't all about me. This is about my family, finally going out and doing fun things and living life in the moment! It's about letting go and living. And we had not done nearly enough of that for the last few years. Now I know we will.