Author: Fox, Jon

Same Place, Different Festival
The 11th annual KVMR Celtic Festival, a three-day music festival meets renaissance faire, took place September 28-30 at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley. This is a great festival for those who love Irish music (and its relatives) and the event’s organizers, Brian and Amy Terhorst of Empire Productions, do a fine job of making their festival interesting, fun and varied—and treat the performers like royalty.

This festival is held at the same location as the CBA Father’s Day Festival, so it’s instructive to compare how the two festivals use the same space. I think the CBA might do well to emulate the KVMR Celtic Festival—a benefit, by the way, for KVMR-FM, the much-loved community radio station in Nevada City—in at least two regards. The first is the more substantial change, and I know the CBA Board is already working on this idea, while the second—if we could figure out how to do it right—would just make the event more fun and therefore, more memorable.

At any given moment at the Celtic festival, there are five or six officially sanctioned and scheduled events going on, from musical performances and storytelling sessions to demonstrations of falconry and longbow archery to swordfights. Lots of swordfights. The lion’s share of the musical performances take place on three stages, an approach I think could benefit the CBA festival.

The main stage is still the main stage, where the biggest acts play to the biggest audiences. Though sited a bit differently from the FDF, the main stage is in roughly the same area and is the same kind of set-up. Next to this stage, to the right as viewed from the audience, is the main side stage. This stage is smaller and lower than the main stage and at a bit of an angle facing the main-stage audience. Because the two stages occupy two different visual planes, activity on one stage doesn’t really interfere with what’s happening on the other, from the audience’s perspective.

This allows the sound and tech crews to set up one stage while an act is performing on the other stage. Not only does this present a more seamless show to the audience with less down time between acts, it also allows the festival to present more acts to the largest possible audience. This stage was used both for full-length sets by many of the main-stage acts and for shorter “tweeners” that could be ideal for the FDF. Perhaps the bands that play for free at Vern’s could be “rewarded” with a set on this stage. Or perhaps each of the California showcase bands could do an additional set here.

The third stage was the Pine Tree Stage, designated an “interactive area,” which made it home to several workshops. There’s a permanent stage there (woeful backstage area, however) and enough benches in the audience area to seat a couple hundred people. There are also trees there, which means shade, which means this could be a good venue for late-afternoon shows.

Using this three-stage set-up could allow the CBA to present more bands, provide a couple different listening environments, host better workshops and try some new ideas at a minimal cost. It’s a bit more expensive, with sound equipment needed for the two extra stages, but the potential benefits are intriguing.

The second aspect of the Celtic Festival that makes it so interesting is the number of people in costumes. Not performers, but audience members—men, women, teenagers, children. And not kilts, either. Kilts are so prevalent at this festival that they don’t even qualify as costuming. Now, I have been to both Ireland and San Francisco, but I’ve never seen so many men wearing skirts as I did at this festival. Kilts, they will firmly correct you, not skirts but kilts. I’m fine with it either way, but face facts, lads. If it looks like a skirt, acts like a skirt, and so on.

Before moving on to the real costumes, it’s worth noting that there were two types of kilts on display. The first are the traditional tartan plaid kilts, worn at this event primarily by older men who appear to take kilt-wearing pretty seriously. The second are the up-to-the-minute Utili-Kilts, which have a heavy Carhart coveralls vibe to them, and are worn with black high-top Doc Marten work boots that look to weigh about twenty pounds each. These go nicely with tattooed legs and dreadlocks—and they don’t come in plaid. Leather, tuxedo and “survival” styles are available, though.

The costumes make this festival great for people-watching. I saw people dressed as pirates, monks, sprites, wood nymphs (I asked), fairies, serving wenches, swashbuckling musketeers, Robin Hood’s Merry Men and even the Grim Reaper. I could be mistaken about that last costume—it may just have been a very, very pale monk on his way to cut some wheat with his scythe. Serving wench dresses seemed to be the most popular look for girls and women of all ages. The outfit featured a lace-up bodice, long skirt and, in some cases, the most darling little sheath knife worn at the waist. I didn’t get a chance to see if these were real knives or some sort of sewn-on prop, but it reminded me once gain that medieval women really knew how to accessorize, something we too often forget.

Even though bands playing traditional Irish music was essentially a 20th-century development, the costuming at this festival represented a much earlier historical epoch, as people tend to favor a cool look over historical accuracy. That could present a problem in translating this concept to the bluegrass milieu. Bluegrass and the Middle Ages just don’t have that kind of connection—Ireland at least existed back then.

My suggested modification, therefore, would be for bluegrass festival attendees to costume theirownselves as bluegrass performers from the past. The possibilities are many; these few spring immediately to mind: Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys in their state trooper phase—riding jodhpurs, knee-high leather boots, white shirts, ties and not-quite-cowboy hats; Sonny and Bobby Osborne in those golden metallic sports jackets; the Boys from Indiana in their matching polyester leisure suits with the “full Cleveland” accessory package of matching white shoes and belt; J.D. Crowe and the New South of the mid-1970s and those hideous wide-collared shiny shirts that looked like something you’d see painted on a van; John Duffey in anything. Same for Jimmy Martin. Minimalists or novices might want to consider a simple Curly Ray Cline vintage clip-on tie.

I can already hear people asking me, “And what will your costume be, Mr. Suggestion Man?” If I did costumes, which I don’t, I think I would try to recreate Melvin Goins’ classic look—a sharp but way-out-there polka-dot suit—from when he played guitar with Ralph Stanley in the late 1960s. But no costumes for me. I’m both shy and inhibited—a Midwesterner in other words. Like Garrison Keillor’s Minnesota Lutherans, we Ohio Methodists try not to call attention to ourselves. Even if we’re in a costume and nobody knows it’s us. We know.

But my not being in costume should in no way hinder anybody else from giving it a try at next year’s Father’s Day Festival. It could be great fun, perhaps even worked up into a costume contest. Start planning your outfit now. I look forward to watching.

Posted:  10/14/2007

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