We were within 60 miles of the festival and Tim was driving when he noticed that Cecelia (our veggie-oil-powered Ford Diesel van) was running rough. The pressure gauge on the clean tank was too high and he stopped so we could change the clean tank filter.
This is after 10 hours of numb-headed driving. This is Day Four of Randy’s non-stop fever (including Wednesday when our friend Griffin had to play drums in his place for the show in Marquette, MI) and he had been sweating on my lap the whole time with a red Rothbury handkerchief full of ice on his forehead.
With the new clean filter and the heat of the humid lingering night the oil pumped faster than normal and soon I noticed a heat and smell that was strange and strong. I looked into the back of the van and sure enough, the tank had overflowed, splattering our instrument cases with vegetable oil.
We pulled over on the side of the road and began pulling everything out, mopping it all off with paper towels and sopping the leak up with yesterday’s newspaper. Just then it started to rain. We raced to get the stuff back in the can and jumped back in to drive the rest of the way to 10,000 Lakes Music Festival. We were completely spent before we even arrived.
We pulled into the fest around 1:30 am and the gatekeeper couldn’t find our credentials so we just set up tents and put ourselves to bed for a few hours before waking to face the hot busy day.
The Everyone Orchestra
Friday morning we scraped together some sense of decency, combed our greasy hair into place, medicated with caffeine and pain relievers, checked Randy’s temp (which was finally back to normal!) and headed to the Field Stage. There we met Matt Butler (our conductor) from Hot Buttered Rum, Steve Kimmock and his son, Reese and Trevor from Tea Leaf Green, Dominick from Big Gigantic, and Ryan from Fat Maw Rooney. This was the Everyone Orchestra and it began without sound check or explanation, just a drum beat and a cue card which said, “Legato Marching Tempo”.
Throughout the hour and a half performance, Matt continued to hold up signs, jump, point, wave his arms wildly and lead the crowd in chants, sing-alongs and rhythms. Signs said things like “Chaos for 8 bars”, “Up a 1/2 Step!”, ‘HOOK” (which means create a melody everyone can join in on), “Blow Heads Off!”, “Trade Solos”, “f@%^ IT UP!”, and my favorite: “Chunk” (whatever that means!)
About mid-way through the set, during one of my frantic “Disco in A” solos, Matt held up a sign that that said “Follow Erin Wherever She Goes! Sure enough, on the count of four, everyone dropped out. I kept my bow moving like I was steering a boat around an iceberg, and led them (however awkwardly) into a 2-step in G. The drummer had let me know clearly before the show how much he hates two-steps, ad I didn’t really mean to go there, but it was my natural instinct in a moment of near panic.
The experience overall was exactly like my first skiing experience. My boyfriend took me on the big hill after only one tumbly run down the bunnyhill. Somehow, without the skills to stop or even turn very well, I made it to the bottom. I couldn’t say that it wasn’t fun – exhilarating even! – and I was quite proud of myself just for doing it. But this is the stuff of nightmares to be truthful. Unstoppable momentum that I can’t control or predict; new skills that I have to master in public with everyone around watching and depending on me – the speed! the terror!
Really, I can’t wait to do it again! I smiled and danced and didn’t hit a tree and I made it to the bottom with a big “Ta-Dah!!” and the audience cheered. But as soon as I could break away I hid in the van and cried. There was no escaping the heat or the depth of my fatigue after four nights of nursing my poor hubby with very little sleep and there was only a few hours before I had to be bright and shiny again for The Ragbirds performance on the Saloon Stage.
The Ragbirds show was easy. I t was on my own terms – my own songs – and the crowd was thick and enthusiastic. It was over so fast and after the mad rush at the merch table I stumbled back to the van – our home-sweet-home. I crashed hard and fast once I got the van windows lined with blankets and a little nest of a bed made up on the seats.
Saturday’s Best Laid Plans
Randy and I had planned to sit in with Mark Murphy (of WookieFoot) for his acoustic set on the campground stage in the afternoon and then gather everyone and drive part way home. It’s a fourteen hour drive from Detroit Lakes, MN to home and we wanted to break it up into two manageable chunks. The show with Mark was improvisational with just a three minute talk through, but it was so much easier for me than the Everyone Orchestra was because the tunes were familiar and there was so much love on and around that stage. Plus it helped that I had gotten at least a little sleep. In some ways this felt redemptive.
After the show we picked up our merchandise, said goodbye to our friends and headed off towards home. Less than ten miles from the fest, we were going about 65 MPH on Hwy 10 when a deer ran out from the tall grass on the roadside, colliding with the van head on. The airbag went off in a cloud of smoke, bruising Randy’s arm, but still he guided Cecelia to the shoulder where we stepped out into a nightmare of bugs, knee high grass and a smashed mess of metal, glass, blood and guts (just the deer’s! – we were all ok!) I was overcome with emotion and I fell into the ditch crying hysterically. It was too much for me! (even though I knew, even then, that there is no such thing.) I was being eaten alive by bugs. They were stuck to the tears on my face. None of us could think clearly.
The police and tow truck arrived immediately and we were rushed into a series of difficult decisions. It was pretty clear that we were lucky to be alive. With the tow truck driver watching, saying “tick-tock”, I chose the things I would carry with me to survive for the next unknown amount of time, knowing that at least for the night, we would be camping.
We called all of our friends back at the festival and one by one their voicemails lined up to take our message, until finally a cheerful real live voice answered “Jo Jo Ho and a bottle of Rum!” – It was Jo Jo from WookieFoot and he immediately got help on the wires and activated the crew to pick us up.
Mark Murphy called when he got our message and said “Well, there must be some reason God wants you to stay!” From that moment on I began looking for the reason.
Searching for The Reason
When Rick came to pick us up in his big clean van I realized that in my haste I had only changed one of my shoes and was wearing a mismatched pair. We packed our gear and suitcases into the van and chatted while we were taxied back to the festival grounds. I gave Rick a copy of our CD and he put it right in and started right into raving about how much he liked it.
We pulled up at the fest and were unloading our gear on the side of the road when JO JO pulled up in his flower-and-prayer-flag decorated golf cart with big hugs and free beer for us. He took Randy and I on his ride to “Gramma’s” trailer (Gramma is a tall skinny blond man named James who runs WookeFoot’s merch and is a major player on their team.) Once inside he pulled out this beautiful mysterious earthen jar, intricately carved with lions and symbols, corked with a thick wooden lid. He explained how he and Mark had made this Moonshine five years ago and buried it in the ground at Harmony Park, and how they unearthed it this year in ritualistic fashion. “This is serious family stuff right here” he said as he uncorked it and passed it first to me. It was rich with ginger and herbs – a delicious burn that felt like magic. (Maybe this is why we are here – I thought.)
After a second sip we got back into the golf cart and Jo Jo drove us wildly through the crowds of people to the stage where Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings were playing. Along the way he told us that Rick, our van/taxi driver, is a valuable contract and programming director for Clear Channel. (Again I thought – Maybe this is why we are here – just to pass our CD along to someone who just might happened to be “the right hands”)
We pulled closer to the mad funky sound of the Dap Kings and Sharon Jones put me under her spell. The beer and moonshine were flowing in me and I began to dance, thinking ‘maybe this is why we are here’ – to loosen up – to relax, to have fun and just dance!
Randy held me close and told me how much he loves me and misses having time to just hang out with me. We walked hand in hand together to get some food, smooching and being sweet and all the while I was thinking “maybe this is why we are here” – just to reconnect and have time together. The weather was perfect and we shared some Chinese food together on a picnic bench laughing about the day and telling stories, trying not to think about poor Cecelia.
The Musical Golf Cart Parade
A little while later Jo Jo called to invite us to meet him nearby to be a part of a parade. We rushed over to where the golf carts were lined up and two guys (Josh and Charles) showed up with dununs and two extra djembes (one that was small and light – the perfect size for me!). We donned our drums and hopped into a golf cart, all four of us drummers, with a pink gorilla driving and a dreadlocked glitter fairy in the passenger seat. A bagpiper started the drone and the parade took off. A long line of golf carts full of freaks and hippies began a slow procession through crowds of onlookers. We drummed as we rolled through a long lit tunnel, up and down hills, surrounded by strangers with glow sticks, glowing toys and masks. A unicycle paced us on our right and a dancing sprightly man with a cowbell played along on the right. Every time we stopped, we gathered into a circle around fire spinners and dancers and provided the beat, then jumped back into our carts and the parade rolled on.
At the second stop we gathered in a circle again and Jo Jo hushed the crowd. He said “Everyone! I want you to know that there is a band here called The Ragbirds. . . ” (people cheered) “They crashed into a deer on the way out of here!” (a collective “oh No!”) “. . . and now they’re here leading the drum circle!” (another loud cheer!)
We were having such fun – this colorful, juggling, hugging family picked us up, took care of our needs, eased our minds, entertained us, included us, blessed us, cheered for us and we were overwhelmed with gratitude. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was why we were here.
At the third and final stop we got out and gathered in a tent full of glow-in-the-dark pillows and mushrooms, paintings of trees and flowers, a man playing piano, two glowing aliens and more fire spinners. Mark Murphy led a drunken chorus of Irish drinking songs and the bagpiper (Patrick) let me sip some Wild Turkey. I kept showing people my mismatched shoes for a good laugh here and there. We stayed up most of the night and danced our way into sleep.
The WookieFoot Family
Sunday morning we woke with headaches – desperate for water, sweating in the hot sun, hungry, confused, exhausted. We walked into the festival grounds, but all the vendors had packed up shop. We had no food, no water, no means to get around and no idea what to do. So we called Gramma. He brought us to WookieFoot’s camp where we were showered with gifts. One woman brought peaches and plums and a case of water. Another gave us Vitamin Water and paper towels. A photographer from Ohio named Itamar brought us cherries and let us look at his festival photos in the shade while we waited for Vito to cook a “Dirty Bastard Wootang Pancake Breakfast”. They played Wootang Clan loudly on a nearby car stereo with the doors open and offered us pancakes & agave, Tofurkey sausages and omelets. We ate with our fingers and I fashioned a tin can into a cup for coffee. We met so many kind people in the sunlight of that campsite and our family suddenly seemed that much bigger. (is this why we are here?)
Then Rod Volker rolled up in his golf cart, shouting “Where’s The Ragbirds?!” and he put his arms out to hug us. He’s something like the production manager of 10,000 Lakes – top of the chain – and he was here to help (is this why we are here?)
We packed up camp and ate fruit in the shade of the canopy that our neighbors left behind, sitting on the partly broken chairs that Evan “groundscored” while we waited for Rod to come back in a van and take us to our hotel. He arrived with a friend and we gave them each a copy of our CD as they drove us into town.
Paper Bird and the Kind Mechanic
I picked up a dice game called “Farkel” and some snacks at the gas station next to the hotel and when I came out there was a familiar bus at the gas pump filling up. It was Paper Bird’s funky painted (andveggie-oil converted) schoolbus! I ran over and introduced myself and we exchanged CDs. We learned that they are from Denver and that they travel with 9 people and 3 little dogs in an amazing home on wheels. Their bus had hard wood floors, hanging plants, maps, photos and all kinds of hard-earned road decor. It was so fun to meet them and chat, I couldn’t help but think ‘is this why we are here?’.
We went back to the hotel and zoned out to the t.v., rolling dice till we all fell asleep. The next day the mechanic fixed our functional problems, brought the van over to our hotel and handed us the keys – free of charge! We picked up the trailer from the tow yard and headed home, never the worse for wear.
Cecelia passed the test – the trial by fire – and proved herself road-worthy. She is a little uglier now – half her face demolished and her right eye gauged out – but she brought us back to our doorstep safely. And with a little help from friends and strangers, we discovered the real reason we had to suffer this small catastrophe: to live and be grateful to have survived – and to learn to accept the mercy and blessings of God through the hands of men.