Family Affair

Chance meetings at music and camping festivals are sometimes more fun than the music itself

by Lee Abraham

Festivals are great... arenít they? I didnít say -perfect-, I said -great-. When things go well, a weekend of music and camping can conjure magic... extended quality time with so many like minded folks, all brought together to enjoy live music, is powerful medicine. From making new friends and crossing paths with old ones, to getting groovy with a slew of bands from all over the place, most festivals are at a minimum, Ďfun.í Occasionally theyíre a whole lot more.

Sure, not -everybody- has a good time -every- time. Some fools get too drunk or wasted. The courteous abusers pass out quietly, spinning somewhere on their own. That may or may not be fun, but at least itís a private and quiet activity. Then thereís the rowdies... people who -think- theyíre having fun, but in fact are really making life miserable for everybody else.

I recall one festival when a loud and stupid gaggle of flat-linerís obnoxious behavior kept me from catching the night train to sleepy town... relentless, nonstop, wee hours blather. Lots of folks asked Ďem nicely to hold it down, but that only fueled their antisocial revelry. I guess thereís inconsiderate assholes in every crowd. Truth be told - there havenít been too many low lifes at the festivals Iíve been to. A few, but not many.

Then thereís the unfortunate few that get busted. Either through their own indiscretion or small minded persecution from overzealous local copper-tops, it happens. And it sucks, but it happens. People get arrested at festivals. Not always, but far too often. Some festivals are worse than others. Regardless, if youíre the one being carted off nothing else matters... the festival sucked. In fact, forget about the festival. At that point, -life- sucks...

OK, letís see, who else? Thereís always a few couples breaking up, and thatís usually not fun. Calling it quits is usually a relief, but rarely -fun-. On the other hand though, it seems that many more new pairs of lovebirds do their first mating dance during a typical festival weekend.

Sometimes people get poison ivy or burn a foot dancing too close to a campfire. Thatís not fun. Once in a while the food vending scene leaves something to be desired. Hunger has never been fun. Never will be. Nobody I know likes to use those damn porta-potties. Fun? Are you kidding? And while where on the subject, have you ever been down wind of the Manhattan chowder/vegetable soup aroma wafting off a beyond-funky-non-bather that just so happens to be dancing and sweating profusely right next to you? Itís no fun.

One time I saw a taper scream in anguish midway into the set of the band he had traveled over a hundred miles to record, after realizing that there was no tape in his machine. He clearly wasnít having fun. Oh yeah, canít forget the vendors who donít sell enough stuff to cover their expenses or the little kids that get lost for a few hours...

I guess the bottom line is that anytime so many people get together, somebodyís bound to have a bad day. Thatís life. But for the rest of us, the Ďlucky majority,í if you will, festivals are usually a blast. That leads me to this monthís column - the story of two wildly coincidental points on the line during the Autumn Equinox festival last month in Brandywine, Maryland.

Hereís what happened: I was invited to take an apx. 60 foot ride upwards over the crowd on a large Ďcherry pickerí situated at the rear of the floor area directly in front of the stage. The idea was to take photos of the crowd and stage from the birdís-eye vantage point. Cool enough. Not only was riding the herky jerky, Ďoutdoor elevatorí a lot like surfing in the sky, the view up there right around sunset was grand. Really neat. Can you say -majestic-?

But thatís not the point. The cherry picker could only go up or down -between- songs. Some kind of safety regulation. Turns out that we were up there for the portion of Deep Banana Blackoutís set that featured John Scofield sitting in. After taking enough shots to document the experience, the several of us up there had a some time to socialize.

I already knew two of the people: Stu from ĎShare the Groove,í radio program in Ithaca, New York; and Phil, one of the producers from Gaspotchio Entertainment, the film makers of "The Road to Equinox," featured in last monthís column. Also sky high with a camera in hand - a red headed young lady whom I had never met. After exchanging first names, we chatted about this and that. Then she dropped the bombshell.

"Iím here to see my Dad," she said. "Cool," I replied, not knowing at that moment just how accurate the automatic response was. "Whatís he do?" "Oh heís a guitar player. Thatís him up there now with Deep Banana." "Really?" was all I could muster. "Must be pretty intense having John Scofield for a Dad."

"Yeah, heís cool."

I asked her about the days when her Dad played with Miles Davis. Although too young to really remember much, she spoke about Davisí deep influence on her Dad. She also talked about how proud she is that her Dad has achieved so much success, and how happy he seems these days. Not to mention that his music just keeps getting better and better. "Any filters between what he -wants- to play and -what- he plays are long gone, to Ďthink ití for him is to Ďplay it...í" she said with admiration.

We also spoke about how her Dad is carrying on a tradition established many years ago by his mentor. As much a bandleader as a trumpet player and composer, Miles Davis gave scores of talented up and coming musicians a stamp of approval and paperless musical diploma by asking them to perform with him. Same with Scofield. From Medeski, Martin and Wood to Deep Banana, playing with Scofield is a certification of musical legitimacy. A nod from the master that says, "Yeah, youíre worthy." Stuff like that means a lot in the music biz.

"Itís a tough racket," young Miss Scofield told me. "You donít realize how to tough it is to make it. A lot of really talented people never do." After the song ended, the cherry picker did its spastic vertical dance and returned us to terra firma. Cordial farewells were made, and everyone went their way.

My path pointed backstage in search of cold water. Maybe a nice apple or doughnut too if I was lucky. Who could tell? I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I might find in the courtesy tent, but in fact I had no idea of what I was in for. After successfully appropriating the previously mentioned refreshment, I found myself face to face with John Scofield. Just sorta turned around and there he was. Wow!

Far from bashful, I introduced myself and we chatted briefly. I brought up the point about carrying on Miles Davis tradition of working with young artists and the subsequent aura of artistic integrity they enjoyed forever after. He said, "Yeah, it's true, but I really donít think about it. Itís just a natural progression and alot of fun."

As we talked, I reflected on my conversation with his daughter... her admiration, respect and unique perspective on this legendary fret monster made me look at him in a different light. Rather than seeing him primarily as a musician, as would be the case had I not just talked with his daughter, I saw him as a -person-, a fellow human and the dad of a beautiful young lady.

In a few moments, Scofield was gone. Off to do his thing before performing again later that afternoon. I sat down in a chair and thought about what had just transpired. Although connecting with Scofield would be cool under any conditions, meeting him literally five minutes after a wonderful conversation -about- him with his daughter, was one of those really neat, weird things that happen from time to time. Especially at a festival. Festivals are great arenít they?