Through ten years of marriage, our family has been on countless road trips. From camping in the Everglades to cruising around Portugal we’ve spent hours sitting in a car going from point A to point B. Driver has dibs on what we listen to, and since it is always Joe, we hear whatever he is in the mood for. Good thing I am flexible and can listen to almost anything for some of the time. Though he likes your standard Led, Stones, and Beatles, he is, above all, a die-hard Bob Dylan fan.
I like Bob, and have gotten my fair share of “bobducation” on all things Dylan. Ask Dreamer who his favorite musician is and I guarantee he’ll answer Bob Dylan with no hesitation. Though I am not a folksy person, there are times when the car is quiet, a folk song comes on, and I relax into my seat looking out the window watching both the landscape and my thoughts go by. Between the subtle rumble of the motor and the stringing guitar there is calmness and inspiration. There is no need to talk. All four of us are lost in our own thoughts just taking the music in.
Therefore, I didn’t object when Joe said he wanted to go to the South Florida Folk Festival this past weekend. It was a beautiful winter day, the festival was outside, and I had already gotten my long run in. We took chairs and blankets and I laid there, under the sun, relaxing the way I do when we drive.
At one point, I kind-of-sort-of heard a song about a hurricane, and at the end the singer spoke to someone in the audience. She said “I know … I don’t have any tissues today … but it took me weeks to be able to sing that song without bursting out in tears.” Some woman in the audience was crying.
“Que exagerada!” I thought. This expression in Spanish literally means “how exaggerated” and I use it in the most condescending of ways: rolling up my eyes, shaking my head, and judging without regret.
I looked around at the crowd and could safely say I stood out. I was the only one with children, and with few exceptions, everyone appeared to be in their mid 50s and 60s. They wore lose long clothing, they spoke in soft voices, and hugged each other frequently. I could imagine who they were in their twenties: unsophisticated hippies singing protest songs around campfires somewhere in alligator country.
Dreamer, who is learning to play the guitar, wanted to see the artists up close so Joe took him to some empty seats front and center. After a while, I went with Fearless and the four of us sat there, next to each other watching.
But instead of my mind doing its usual wanderings, I paid attention to the stage. I saw the strumming fingers, closed eyes, and faces full of expression while powerful voices came through to my soul. I paid attention to the lyrics and realized each song was a story, told in lush detail with the fewest amount of words possible. I would look forward to the next song, and what kind of story it brought. I began to analyze the craft of the folk song and became fascinated. Not only did the story need to be compelling, but the words had to flow together, the melody had to make sense, and the harmony needed to add a final touch. I was listening to tales about the deep south, plantations, banjos, and moonshine. I was transported.
One of the acts, Lis and Lon Williamson, was a husband/wife duo who have been “musical sweethearts” for over 40 years. She had long grey hair, and wore a black poncho. He had long straight hair on a pony tail, a beard, and played an upright bass. She had a beautifully powerful voice, and as a great bass player, he helped it shine. They sang their original songs describing their lives: how they played music after a long day’s work in the field, how they were hermits and she wanted to go out to town, how she swam in lakes and rivers. This was pure Americana music and though not normally a fan, I suddenly felt my throat close and my eyes water. I was holding back tears, and I couldn’t believe it.
Really? I was going to cry? I had Dreamer on my lap and we were cuddled because it was cold. I squeezed him tight, swaying from side to side while singing the harmony as we had been instructed to do by the couple on stage. My voice cracked. I wasn’t crying because of a sad song, in fact, I had no idea how I got to that sentimental place. Song after song, story after story, I became enchanted.
I didn’t let my tears roll. I didn’t allow myself to be swept away by the voices. I held back and tried to think of other things. I would not be moved by this; not in the middle of this festival; not like the lady I so harshly judged. I am not the lovey, dovey, touchy, feely, type that likes to be hugged by perfect strangers. Yet it felt like I was trying so hard to stay stiff and strong.
I am not sure why I felt compelled to compose myself but I did, and soon we had to leave. I felt like the violin note that hangs suspended in the air. The one who leaves you wanting it to come back quickly so you can once again breathe.