Smilefest Reunion 2011

I made a trip up to North Carolina last month to see some friends and visit with my family. The primary purpose was to go to Smilefest. This year was my fifth or sixth going to that festival, I believe. I’ve been to it in three different locations now, and the latest one, while still not quite my favorite, is definitely great. My favorite was when it was in Union Grove on Van Hoy Farms. Least favorite was at Deerfields outside Asheville. Of course, I love that area, but that park is not conducive to festivals whatsoever. We bitched the entire time about having to hike our stuff in for miles (even though there were flatbeds to ease the walk if you could catch one). It was still ridiculous, and I’m not a fan of sleeping in a tent pitched on a nearly vertical mountainside. This year, for the second year in a row, it’s been held at Jomeokee Campground in Pinnacle, right at the foot of Pilot Mountain. It’s a beautiful site, and they’ve kept the ticket sales semi-private for people who have been before (hence the “reunion” moniker), so you end up with people who know how not to act a fool, and who are experienced festival-goers and are there to enjoy the music (okay, and also have a little fun).

As usual, we heard a lot of really awesome music and drank a lot of beer and camped and got real dirty for a few days. I live for those weekends. Good times with good friends. Met a lot of awesome new people too. Saw folks I only ever see at Smilefest (another reason why it’s like a reunion). Here are some pictures my good friend Jenny took, since I have none of my own to share because I didn’t take any. You can check out the Facebook page of her photography business (Dancing Lemur Design) here. She is really good, and you should “like” her.

Me and my flip flops on my patchwork quilt, enjoying the band, Doby.

Every year, every location, they always have these cool windows and bottles hung in the trees.

Our buddy Kelly with his friend Laura, enjoying some muscadine moonshine.

Me trying to figure out how I’m gonna get a queen-size air mattress into my 2-man tent. Travis totally did it, and it was like my own private bouncy castle. Awesomeness.

Always love the hula-hoopers and wish I still had mine. Unfortunately not everything can make the cut when you move. I would like to investigate the collapsible options, though.

We had a huge campsite set up, with about eight people camping together, complete with four or five easy-up tents. We basically created an open-air house. One tent was just the kitchen area. One was the sitting room. We dubbed it “Cabanapyland.” The Jerry tapestry provided a little shade and privacy. In this picture, I’m standing in the living room. LOL. We had not one, but two solar showers. And, because we are seasoned veterans and smartipantses, we totally camped right beside a pole with a power outlet and a water spigot. SCORE!

Here’s a nice shot of the main stage with Pilot Mountain in the background. So pretty. Great time. Can’t wait til next year!

Musical Monday: Counting Crows

Counting Crows are one of those bands you either love or hate, I think. In my own personal experience, Counting Crows seem easier to love with females than males. Most girls I know like them. My friend Jenny loves them for some of the same reasons I do — because their lyrics are poetry, and we were both literature majors in college and appreciate a well written poem. Most of the guys I’ve known in my life have hated them, usually citing Adam Duritz’s voice as the reason for the hatred. Similar to their hatred of Dave Matthews (also a poetic song-writer). But even as a die hard DMB fan, I can see why some people think his voice is annoying. Same with Adam. They can both come across as whiny, if you are listening purely to HOW it sounds and not focusing at all on WHAT they’re saying. The reason I love both of those bands is because they accompanied me through some very difficult and important times in my life.

The first two Counting Crows albums, August and Everything After and Recovering the Satellites, are still some of my all time favorites and probably always will be. I like the way their music actually reflects the tone of the lyrics. I like the fact that the lyrics pretty much all speak to me (and my personal experience) in some way. That’s probably because they write about really universal topics, but they’re expressed in a way that seems a little bit more authentic to regular people’s actual experiences.

I started to share some lyrical excerpts here, until I realized that I can’t just choose excerpts, because lyrically you need the entire song to get the whole point. And I guess that’s one of the main reasons why I love them so much. I can’t even pick one quote or one song. Even the poppiest of Counting Crows songs, which you know (and probably hate) because they were overplayed on the radio 15 years ago, have amazingly poignant lyrics. I have to say it’s kind of amazing to me that so many of their lyrics still touch me so personally after so many years of originally being enamored with them. It is lasting and important.

I saw them live once, in Charlotte. It was pretty awesome. The Wildflowers (Jakob Dylan’s short-lived project) opened. I was there with my friends Jenny, Brooke, and Katherine. We were all disappointed that the Wallflowers sounded exactly like the CD. Why see a band live if that’s the case? But then Counting Crows blew us all away with their reinterpretations of studio tracks. And I personally was FLOORED by the way Adam conveyed the same level of emotion in his songs live (if not more) than I felt listening to the album on repeat, even though he’d performed them hundreds of times. He is always in the moment. Every performance is different.

If you’re already a fan, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you still need convincing, I would suggest always listening to their music with the lyrics in front of you. Remember when lyrics used to automatically come with an album? That first album did. And that’s probably one of the major reasons I came to love them. When lyrics are not included it makes me think the band isn’t that proud of them.

My all-time favorite Counting Crows song is Anna Begins. Start there.

Anna Begins
by Counting Crows

My friend assures me,
“It’s all or nothing.”
I am not worried.
I am not overly concerned.
My friend implores me,
“For one time only, make an exception.”
I am not worried.
Wrap her up in a package of lies,
Send her off to a coconut island.
I am not worried
I am not overly concerned
with the status of my emotions.
“Oh,” she says, “you’re changing.”
We’re always changing.

It does not bother me to say this isn’t love.
Because if you don’t want to talk about it, then it isn’t love.
And I guess I’m gonna have to live with that.
But I’m sure there’s something in a shade of grey,
or something in between.
And I can always change my name
If that’s what you mean.

My friend assures me,
“It’s all or nothing.”
But I am not really worried,
I am not overly concerned.
You try to tell yourself the things you try to tell yourself
To make yourself forget.
To make yourself forget.
I am not worried.
“If it’s love,” she said, “then we’re gonna have to think about the consequences.”
But she can’t stop shaking
and I can’t stop touching her

And this time, when kindness falls like rain
It washes her away
And Anna begins to change her mind.
“These seconds when I’m shaking
leave me shuddering for days,” she says.
And I’m not ready for this sort of thing.

But I’m not gonna break
and I’m not gonna worry about it anymore.
I’m not gonna bend,
and I’m not gonna break.
And I’m not going to worry about it anymore.
It seems like I should say, “As long as this is love…”
But it’s not all that easy,
so maybe I should
Snap her up in a butterfly net
and pin her down on a photograph album.
I am not worried
’cause I’ve done this sort of thing before.
But then I start to think about the consequences,
And I don’t get no sleep in a quiet room

And this time, when kindness falls like rain
It washes me away.
And Anna begins to change my mind.
And every time she sneezes
I believe it’s love,
And Oh lord, I’m not ready for this sort of thing.

She’s talking in her sleep.
It’s keeping me awake.
And Anna begins to toss and turn.
And every word is nonsense
but I understand,
And Oh lord, I’m not ready for this sort of thing.

Her kindness bangs a gong,
It’s moving me along.
And Anna begins to fade away.
It’s chasing me away.
She disappears,
And Oh lord,
I’m not ready for this sort of thing.

Musical Monday: Ben Harper & Relentless 7


Y’all know I love me some Ben Harper. But I have to say I am a little disappointed with his latest musical venture, playing with Relentless 7, a garage band from Austin. The studio album, White Lies for Dark Times, is Ben’s 10th and not terrible, but somehow it falls a little flat. And they’re not that great live. This is so strange, because I used to say the opposite about Ben’s other stuff when he plays with the Innocent Criminals, who are so polished musically. That music is all right on the CD but amazing live. And that one sentence tends to sum up most of the (modern) music I like.

I thought I’d really dig the new stuff because it is a lot more rocking and amped, and I tend to like that to a certain extent. I will usually take gut-wrenching, wailing guitars and power chords over plaintive, high-voiced whining. But it’s gotta have a groove to it, and that’s what is missing from the Relentless 7 music. Maybe I’m judging too soon. Maybe I should watch this new DVD Swamp made me some more so I can absorb his hotness…I mean, give the music another listen. Now, if I could get a DVD of Ben Harper and Jack Johnson, or better yet tickets to a show they’re both playing…I’d be pretty happy. My birthday is October 4th. Peace!

Thoughtful Thursday: Tiger in a Trance


Currently reading. Enjoying the descriptive prowess and the authentic dialogue.

From the New York Books Review: “What a surprise, then, to see such a hard-edged, unsentimental book emerge from the tie-dye vat. Tiger in a Trance, Max Ludington’s oddly-named first novel (the phrase is from the Grateful Dead’s “Saint of Circumstance”), with its blotter-acid jacket, is actually a work of clear-eyed realism in psychedelic disguise.”

Update: After reading this post, Jenny said, “Um, but what’s it about?” It’s about a guy who’s following the Dead around the country and the experiences he has with other people on tour and the “scene.” It’s just a perspective from which you don’t often see novels written. Plus, y’all know the hippie in me had to love it. 🙂

Musical Monday: Andrew Bird

Yesterday I played violin in public for the first time in at least a couple of years. I took lessons beginning at age 4 and continued playing pretty actively up until I was about 18 or 19. Since then I’ve just picked it up every now and then to play in various weddings. When people ask me why I stopped playing, I always say, “I did it for so many years, I think I just got really burned out.” When people asked me why I wasn’t majoring in music in college, I said, “I don’t want to end up resenting it because I have to do it. I want it to always be a choice.” And I think that philosophy has served me well. When I played yesterday, I chose to do it. I could have said no. And for the first time in a long time, I actually enjoyed it.

I was trained classically, but my parents are very into Celtic music, so I can fiddle a little bit, too. There are many classical violinists I have admired, but I’m always really fascinated by people who use their violin in totally innovative ways musically. For example, Boyd Tinsley, the violinist for Dave Matthews Band, is amazing. And there will always be a special place in my heart for Nigel Kennedy — the British punk-rock classical violinist who plays the best Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto I’ve ever heard and looks like a rock star (mohawk, earrings, etc.) in the process. He brings rock and roll passion to the symphony.


Happily, I’ve just discovered Andrew Bird. His primary instrument is violin, but he is also “musically proficient in guitar, mandolin, whistling, and glockenspiel.” Can you imagine having that on your resume? Awesome. Anyway, he has a degree in violin performance and is also classically trained. He played with the Squirrel Nut Zippers back in the 1990’s (if anyone outside North Carolina even remembers them). He had another band called Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire, and now he is a solo artist. He does some really interesting things with his violin. Rolling Stone describes his sound as “emotive indie-rock with chamber music experimentalism, with lyrics that refer to arcane subjects like mitosis and Cypriots,” and “jazz-quintet doing a Radiohead impression.” Hmm, I wonder what Radiohead would sound like if they had a violin.

Musical Monday: Pixies


The first concert I ever attended was U2 (Zooropa Tour) at the Charlotte Coliseum in 1989. I was in 7th grade. I went with my parents and the oldest son of my parents’ best friends. We were all huge U2 fans, and it was an awesome show. My mom was maybe the biggest fan of us all — she loved Bono and listened to U2 records almost every night while she made dinner and I wrote my spelling words over and over. The concert was even on a school night, and I got to leave school early so we could make the 90 minute drive to Charlotte. I have the coolest parents ever. Can you believe I wasn’t even embarrassed to be there with them? In 7th grade? 

The opening band that night was the Pixies. At that age, I couldn’t really appreciate what I was hearing. I was looking at Frank Black screaming on stage and thinking, “This is noise.” I mean, at the time I was listening primarily to early Beatles records, so I just wasn’t there yet. Since then I’ve realized how amazingly innovative they were/are. Mainly due to repeated exposure by an ex-boyfriend who considered them The Best Band Ever. They grew on me slowly, but now I love them. I love the fact that you can’t really compare them to any other band. They have a sound and style that is completely unique. Definitely one of the most influential and important bands of the last 20 years. And I don’t care if you disagree. Even Kurt Cobain said Nirvana would never have existed without the Pixies. This DVD of the 2004 reunion tour is freakin’ awesome. Been thinking about it a lot lately and wanting to watch it again. If you haven’t seen it, you need to.

World Travel Wednesday: Red Rocks


Hands down, the coolest venue at which I’ve ever attended a concert. I saw String Cheese Incident there in July 2002. Highlights included the enormous sandstone formations everywhere, the steepness which provides a good view from every seat, and the view of the Denver skyline behind the stage. Very good memories.

Musical Monday: Built to Spill


As I’ve mentioned before, my friend grantmasterflash gave me a ton of new music to absorb last fall. I mean, so much that I still haven’t gotten through it all yet. More often than not, I have my iPod set to shuffle, and I try not to look at the display. I really like experiencing new music with no information about the band’s name or genre or reputation. Usually if something I don’t recognize starts to play, and I don’t like it, I’ll just skip it without looking. But if I really like it, I look. (This makes it easier for me to remember the names of the bands I like as opposed to the ones I skipped past. I am dangerously close to needing the 80GB iPod.) Every time I’ve looked down recently to see what was playing because I loved it, it has been something by Built to Spill. This band was included on grantmasterflash’s Loads ‘O Tunes disc.

One of the best descriptions I’ve read of their music says they’re great at “mixing classic rock-influenced guitar solos and quaint folk sounds with psychedelic effects and high-pitched melodies.” You can’t quite figure out what that would sound like, right? That’s why it’s so impressive to hear them pull it off.

YouTube has a bunch of concert footage here. If you’re interested, my favorite album so far is You in Reverse. Listen to the whole thing for free online here. And then buy it if you like it.

Good stuff!

Musical Monday: Bon Jovi


Are you laughing yet? I’m really not a Bon Jovi fan. When I was in the 5th grade (1988), I had the flu, and my dad wanted to buy me a present to make me feel better. I asked for the cassette tape of Bon Jovi’s album, “New Jersey.” I don’t remember why I liked it at the time. It was the first cassette tape (of popular music, anyway) that I ever owned. I heard “Lay Your Hands on Me” driving home from work today and thought, “Why did I like this when I was 10?” I still have no clue what about it appealed to me. But any time I hear a song from that album (“Bad medicine is what I need, whoa-a-oh!”), I will always remember being sick and in 5th grade and getting my first tape. And everyone thought I was really cool when I got better and went back to school, too. We passed my Walkman around on the playground while twisting our swings tighter and tighter, like a telephone cord. Then we’d cling to one of the front poles on the swing set, and let go on the count of three, spiralling and zig-zagging backwards, kicking up wood chips, enjoying the sporadic and unpredictable movement in the middle of a militarily structured day.

Musical Monday: Acoustic Syndicate


Went to Charleston, SC this weekend to see Acoustic Syndicate at the Pour House. Awesome show, awesome venue. Since Ziggy’s is no longer in existence (sadly), this has to be my new favorite place to see live music. Just the right size, good acoustics, good beer, places to sit, comfortable outdoor area. Two stages, two bars. My only complaint is that it is relatively hard to maneuver yourself from the bar to the floor to the restroom and so forth if it’s very crowded. I think every hippie in South Carolina (and a few from North Carolina, like us) turned out for this show — it was their first since returning from playing in Jamaica, and we were all suffering from withdrawal!

If you want a copy of the recording, leave a comment! Taper Nerd recorded sound, and Jen videotaped!

Stay tuned for more details on the rest of the trip on Travel Wednesday!

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