How I spent my summer vacation: Three days of mud and music at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival


Every July I endure viscous mud, soaking rains and steamy outhouses at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, and ask myself, “Why?”

Then I come home, hose down, and start looking forward to next year’s festival.

Somehow, the inconveniences and discomforts make the music more…vivid.

gnomes warm up at falcon ridge
Performers come in all shapes and sizes at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

I mean, anyone can drive to a dry, air-conditioned concert hall and passively listen to songs for a couple of hours.

But at Falcon Ridge, the entertainment is interactive.

You don’t just sing along. You fumble for your poncho, fish out your umbrella, dive under your tarp and occasionally, run for your life–alongside the very musicians you worship.

Unlike rock stars, the big names of the folk circuit are not insulated by huge entourages.

When lightning bolts target the trees, and hail strafes the farm, and giant tents collapse from tornado-like whirlwinds, as occurred two years ago in the Berkshires, the performers are right there with you.

(They are the ones wielding guitar cases as shields.)

Such experiences lend authenticity to folk songs of desolation and destruction, and promote bonding among fans and artists.

Everyone emerges from Falcon Ridge with new material for the next project.

I’m still looking for something that rhymes with “snapping turtle,” the critter that got my dad’s car unstuck from last year’s gloppy pasture.

The snapper served as a wheel chock, an unselfish act of heroism we discovered only after the once-shiny Mazda had churned free from the quicksand. The brave turtle –unharmed and unamused–did not quite see it that way.

This turtle freed a car from the mud at Falcon Ridge last year. But he was not happy about it. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Fortunately, this year’s festival was free from disastrous calamities–unless you count a fractured tooth inflicted by a tofu burrito, or some close calls on the contra-dance floor.

An alert volunteer–the volunteers are the unsung heroes of Falcon Ridge–swooped in at the first sound of spinning rubber and freed my car from the mud before any terrapins were disturbed.

The long weekend’s sharpest pain was heartache, as Carolann Solebello gave her final performance with the trio Red Molly. (More on that later.)

It finally dawned on me, as I stumbled to a flat air mattress in a soggy tent to await the dawn, why Falcon Ridge has me in its talons.

maura kennedy at falcon ridge
The colorful Maura Kennedy of The Kennedys is worth three days of mud and rain at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Wending through the shrouded lanes of a sprawling tent city, long after the evening’s last scheduled act had left the outdoor stage, I heard music.

Guitars were strumming, in and out of tune. Unseen voices sang verses familiar and unknown.  Giddy choruses wafted from a distant hilltop.

All for the sheer pleasure of it.

Several thousand mud-caked people of all ages and descriptions get along at Falcon Ridge every July, no matter what indignities nature heaps upon them, because they share a common religion.

That religion is music, and it’s magic.

I drifted off to a softly plinked mandolin.

And now, hosed down, with a fresh shave and clean socks, I am counting the days until FR 2011.