Thoughts on Terrastock — and Louisville!

So now that Terrastock is over and I’m happily settled in the next step of my vacation in Charleston — about which I’ll have my own thoughts later on tomorrow if not today, but as you can guess I’m quite happy just to relax and not do too much in the way of work, however described! — a few retrospective thoughts on both the festival and the community seem appropriate.

At the gate

Terrastock is always, it seems to me, a triumph of organization and improvisation in equal measure. I have not attended every Terrastock though I have attended most of them, and it’s always been evident to me that everyone handling the behind-the-scenes aspects of the performances, even if they are sometimes right out in public, never get all the credit they deserve even when they’re getting thanks right, left and center. That’s simply because there are not enough thanks to give — it’s a massive investment of time and money on everyone’s part, even just to attend, but even more so if you are performing or being the facilitators of the performances, as one of the on-site staff members, the security, the ticket checkers and so forth. The work of Erica Rucker and Rob Codey, along with founding father Phil McMullen, at getting it all together can’t be honored enough and by extension so too with everyone else who helped to hand.

Hi I'm Phil!

As with all Terrastocks, though, there’s always something that won’t quite work for everyone, and this isn’t to complain, simply to note. Unavoidable problems are the nature of any large-get-together, or rather, the potential for those problems to arise, and some things were beyond the control of anyone, such as a thunderstorm forcing Simply Saucer to stop their set (thankfully they were able to retake the stage later and the schedule was otherwise uninterrupted). Other things I heard about were almost to be expected — the sound wasn’t always the best, the food on site was sometimes mixed, etc. — and yet others were the risks run (if you took the campsite option, it’s understandable, but I salute your patience in sticking with it through all the heat, storms and more!).

Rain clouds...again!

Perhaps the most understandable concern — that there should have been more people attending, if only because the space was clearly there for them at many points (more immediately evident for the outdoor stage rather than the indoor ones), and because that would have meant a little more cash in everyone’s coffers — is just simply the nature of any festival at any time, that it might not work. And in a time of high energy costs, uncertain economies and more, I think it’s very much something to keep in mind — certainly I was watching my pennies carefully, and bought nowhere near the amount of discs that I’ve done in the past.

A view of the Mellwood

But for those complaints to have some real force would mean that the festival was a washout, and this was not the case. For many people the height of the Terrastocks remains the second one, in part because the lineup was so very wide-ranging under the umbrella of the general Terrastock rubric, and because what seemed like a last-minute crisis turned out to be a heaven-sent opportunity, with the warehouse/rehearsal space setup proving perfectly accomodating for both bands and audience. Opinions may differ and should but I’d rank this one very near the second in terms of excellence — and the reasons were not simply the musical ones. Certainly many of the astonishing performances would have been worthy of note on their own, but having so many career highlights in one place at one time was breathtaking. And while there is now a certain expectation of who will attend and what will be performed at a Terrastock that wasn’t fully in place in the second one, there’s still enough new variety within that scope to show that there’s room to make more discoveries, and for musicians to test more boundaries (it may sound strange but I was glad to see laptops in evidence for a couple of the sets — I think it’s long been the case that the use of small computers on the stage like is not something new or strange or ‘non’-Terrastock, or simply non-musical, but simply another tool in a formidable arsenal, as valid as an antique fiddle or a decades-old effects pedal).

Watching Motorpsycho

But as I said to others throughout the weekend, Terrastock is not only about the music, but the social aspect, the people and the relationships and the friendships and more besides. I’ve made many friends at past Terrastocks and the pattern continued at this one, while the amount of new friends and acquaintances almost can’t be counted. And this is how it should be; without romanticizing gatherings to an extreme degree, it is still the case that a commonality of interests generated by an overall theme will lead to expectations of bonding on other levels, and that was the case here. If anything, the fact that Terrastock is not a huge monster of a festival, not thousands upon thousands of people all roaring at a stage but everyone in the mix in small amounts roaming from stage to merch booth to restaurant to motel and back again, scattered but unified, is one of the handiest things about it, and one of the most welcoming. It was by no means the first such small-scale festival of its kind here or elsewhere in the world, but Terrastock’s long-range impact on a number of similar festivals in the US has been notable, and to have such a thing be a welcome if irregular event on everyone’s social calendar can’t but be something lovely.

Earplug day!

For me to talk further about everything that happened on that front veers into the realm of private conversations and get-togethers, as well as stories told by folks who would not want them to be shared further! So on a general note I’ll say it was a particular treat to hang around again with Chris B., a friend and fellow Terrastock vet of longstanding who I’ve known for fifteen years; it had been far too long since we’d had a chance to talk over a lot of things and we made up for lost time very quickly. Joe Turner, organizer of Terrastock 5, was in the same hotel as us, along with his Abunai bandmate Brendan Quinn and their mutual friend Scott, and the five of us got up to a variety of things during and outside the festival as well. Among the performers, spending time once again with Windy and Carl was a treasure — they’re simply great people and all of our chats are among the most thoughtful and most humorous! — while Jesse Poe of Tanakh proves himself once more to be at once incredibly intense and very warm and personable at the same time — very much a compliment! Then there were past acquaintances and people met once again like Paik, Kawabata, Jack Rose, Jeffrey and Miriam from Black Forest/Black Sea, Tara Jane O’Neil, Chris from Kinski and many others. Among the attendees, seeing Nari from Texas again was a delight, as was meeting her guy Bill, while catching up with Lee Jackson, Travis, Mats G., Joel, Mike Tamburo and of course, if too briefly, Phil himself were all treats. As for new friends made or brief but memorable conversations had, where to begin! Rob Schnieder, his wife and relatives/bandmates, the Linus Pauling Quartet, R. Keenan Lawlor, the United Bible Studies crew, Sharron Kraus, the Plastic Crimewave crew, Elephant Micah, Natalie, sleeve from ILM, Nashville Dave, Joey from New Haven and his wife (whose name I forget, alas!), Tess, Brendan’s dad, Captain Groovy…and I’m forgetting many, many others or not remembering names, so if you’re not on here, my apologies! It was simply that much of a splendid time.

The Kaden Tower being itself

And I’ve not really spoken of Louisville all that much yet! But I should — it’s a fine city, in my experience of it, and reminded me very much of Portland. There’s a similar sense of it being a place to live more than a place one immediately puts on the list as a must-visit location — this isn’t to denigrate it in the slightest, merely that, let’s face it, it’s just simply not as much of an immediate tourist destination in the mind. But these places are often the most enjoyable to go to for that reason, and as with Portland, one gets the clear sense of being able to afford to live here well enough while being able to make one’s own space in town — the fact that so many memorable musicians and performers have come from Louisville now makes much more sense since I’ve gone, though to be sure many things that I saw, like the Mellwood Arts and Entertainment Center itself, the venue for the festival, were comparably recent and the sense of a community having developed over time rather than having always been there as an outlet.

Lynn's Paradise Cafe

I must make a special mention of the food, since I honestly do think this was hands-down the best Terrastock for me foodwise of them all. Most of the Terrastocks have had moments where despite at least a couple of good meals here and there — for a while there every new Terrastock meant trying a new tapas place! — there were always fairly anonymous meals grabbed on the fly as a simple means of avoiding hunger. But thanks to a combination of suggestions from local friends — big ups to Joel here in particular! — plus fine individual food websites like Consuming Louisville and Louisville Lunch, not to mention the handy help of an iPhone (it really proved its paces throughout the weekend — VERY glad I bought mine back in March, and not just for the ability to liveblog!), we were able to hit up one great spot after another, and pretty much scored a bulls-eye each time. Four great breakfast spots in a row — the North End Cafe, Lynn’s Paradise Cafe, Wild Eggs and, on site, PattiCakes and their excellent buffet (finally got to try a hot brown while I was there) — would have been worthy enough, but add to that Genny’s Diner and their frickles, Clifton’s Pizza, the Kentucky BBQ Company and the solid onsite spot that sold bison burgers and hot dogs, as well as Derby City Espresso, and I was living the life of Riley — and probably paying for it in pounds gained! Need to walk around a bit more when I can here.

Rain over Bowman Field

And overall, Louisville was just a nice change of pace for a Terrastock — sure, its more humid weather meant that folks like Chris and I, used to desert heat patterns and a dryness in the air, felt like we were stifling at points, but that’s a small complaint (and the AC at the venue and the hotel both worked like a charm, so hey!). But its pleasures were all the more unexpected for finding them, and it didn’t just become another place to say I’ve visited, but something else for the mental landscape where I know where I could come back, spend time, have a blast and enjoy life if I wanted to, like Portland, like London, like Dunedin. I missed the official afterparty on Saturday night — apparently there’s video of Chris, Joe, Brendan and Jesse all jamming acoustically on Velvets and Can covers — but the final get-together after things closed up on Sunday at the Brownsboro Inn, with a bunch of us all in the central gazebo having some drinks and chat, music playing, Sharron and Michael breaking out their violin and fiddles for an impromptu duet, stories swapped and final good wishes exchanged, that’s one of those great moments to have been a part of, and I’m glad for it.

The Louisville car!

Who knows when I’ll ever visit Louisville again, but here’s to the next Terrastock, whenever it might be, and with whoever it is in attendance. It’ll be a treat and a half, for sure.

And now I’m in Charleston and life is good. More on that tomorrow perhaps — hope your day is going well!

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