River Roots: Day Two

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Day two of River Roots is the long haul day.  The day where you truly earn your festival-going chops and you have to be in top festival shape to survive.  If you’ve been offered moonshine in the women’s restroom on day one, you’re probably not going to be in top festival shape for day two.  This is where the tent and a comfy blanket in the shade come in handy–for babies and people recovering from moonshine.

It was another beautiful day on Saturday, though a little bit warmer.  It’s always fun to see the tent-less multitudes clustering their chairs around the shade.  For the past two years we have been blessed with what we like to refer to as the Bicentennial Bathroom, as it was built during (and perhaps in honor of?) the year of our bicentennial (2009).  This means you can pee somewhere besides a port-a-pottty, genuinely wash your hands, and there’s a water fountain, which means free water available to the hot and the thirsty.  The most creative heat-alleviating strategy I saw yesterday: one enterprising tent brought in an inflatable kiddie pool which they filled with buckets of water they hauled up the hill.  Those kids were having fun.

There are lots of great activities at River Roots for kids (making a tie dye shirt, making your own necklace, drawing, dressing up in period clothes and getting your picture taken), but my stepdaughter and her crew are most interested in running around like maniacs and rolling down a grassy hill repeatedly.  Of course this led to great itching, and then great complaining about the itching, and then promising she would complain no more if she could just roll down the hill one more time.

Hill rolling

One of the very nice additions to this year’s River Roots festival is the plein air painting.  This group, who also meet every Tuesday night at the West St. art center, set up their easels and draw or paint people, the festival…whatever.  Folks can just sit down in a chair and for the cost of being still (and maybe having to sit in the sun too long), someone draws a picture of them.  It’s lovely to be able to walk by and see what folks are drawing or painting.

There was, of course, also music.  I liked Roosevelt Dime, and particularly watching one of the band members play a stick attached to a bucket as an upright bass–a bucket bass.  Sitting back at our tent with my not-so-great vision, I couldn’t figure out what the guy was doing at first.  He appeared to be holding a stick and strumming the air, rather vigorously.  The bucket was hidden behind a speaker.  Finally, I figured out he was playing a bucket bass.  There’s a cheaper alternative to a bass fiddle, which usually start at $1200.

Speaking of instruments, let me tell you a little story about my new guitar.  This year my husband and I became River Roots members.  As you can tell, we’re big fans of the festival and for only $100, you can become an individual level member.  For an extra $25, you can sign up for the raffle that happens at the festival.  I’ve watched this raffle every year, and wondered vaguely how you get signed up.  They always give away an O.C. Bear guitar.  The first year I heard this, I just thought, “What’s an O.C. Bear guitar?”  And then I started hearing more about these guitars and this local Madison luthier.  And then I saw the one and only banjo he’s ever made for a friend, which was an absolute thing of beauty.  And then, of course, I started playing guitar myself, and there’s something about holding a guitar against your body and hearing the sound it makes that changes your whole perspective on the instrument.  So this year for the first time, I wanted to win that guitar.

Plein Air painting

I suppose my intention was pure, because we did.  And perhaps the guitar wanted me.  Instruments, in the end, want to be played, and I’d always wondered, what happens if someone who doesn’t play wins the guitar?  I imagine this happens, but how sad.  Mr. Bear was so happy to have someone who plays win his guitar.  And I was so happy to have won!  Also, while we were waiting behind the stage to get the guitar case and talking to Mr. Bear, Hayes Carll walked by!  Being in festival mode, my first thought was, “Hey, I think I know that guy, but I don’t remember how,” and so I did what all good Madisonians did–I waved.  And then I realized, “Oh, I don’t know that guy.  That’s Hayes Carll.”  Later, Mr. Bear told us that the guitar I won is modeled after the one Hayes Carll plays, a Gibson J-45.  I can tell you that it sounds something like hot chocolate and bourbon.

As you can tell, it was probably the best River Roots day EVER!  Because after winning a beautiful, hand-made guitar, and waving at Hayes Carll, I got to see Hayes Carll perform.  Here’s the best thing Hayes Carll said, which I know he probably says in every podunk town he plays in, but is unique in that it’s actually true about Madison–“We could see you guys all waving from a mile outside of town.”

O.C. Bear guitar

Today is Day Three, and there’s still a lot of good music left.  Appalatin, a band that fuses Latin and old-time music, is at 12:30.  I’m looking forward to both the Whiskey Bent Valley Boys at 3:00 and The Black Lillies at 4:30.  Sunday’s are sometimes the very best days of the festival…chilled out and laid back, kind of like laying on the couch and watching football after the chaos of opening the presents on Christmas morning.  It’s too late to win a guitar, but not too late to enjoy the last day at River Roots.

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