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Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


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   Grey Fox, 2008
Friday, July 18 2008
Today Gretchen and I spent the day at the annual Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, our third time there. This year it had moved to our side of the Hudson, from Columbia County near Connecticut and Massachusetts to the northern fringe of the Catskills in Greene County, about thirty miles northwest of Saugerties. We drove through East Durham, a town that is far more Irish than anything you'd experience in Ireland. It's been many decades since this part of New York experienced an economic boom. The towns and countryside are full of grand sagging houses in desperate need of paint and gutter work, but whose rusted steel roofing seems to be holding up well.
We bought beer and tampons at a Citgo near the festival, parked in the overflow day parking, and walked in. There were hayride-style shuttles, but everything was close enough together for this service to seem unnecessary. I still had the model from Bonnaroo in my head, and by contrast Grey Fox was like a rural block party. We found our way to the seating area of the main stage and took a seat in two of the many folding chairs brought by attendees (the Grey Fox policy is that any chair is available for anyone so long as its owner isn't there). There was a dirty wallet in one of the main aisles, but it was scurrying along, pulled by a length of monofilament line. A young woman with a small fishing tackle was using it as a lure to catch unsuspecting passersby. It was funny for a little while, but it was too much of a distracting drama for Gretchen, so we had to move.
We had no umbrellas to shield us from the oppressive July sun, and soon my navel filled with an emulsion of sunblock and sweat. Eventually we relocated to a shady area on the edge of some woods a couple hundred feet away. The stage was less visible, but we could hear the music okay.
I'd been carrying my GE digital camera around in one of the lower pockets of my long-cut cargo shorts (originally given to me by Ray after a weight change rendered him too large to wear them). When I went to fetch the camera, though, I saw that it looked like it had been sandblasted. Evidently there was some sand in that pocket from one of my Fording Place soil harvests. When I went to turn on the camera, its tiny motor seemed to labor as it pushed out the lens. And then the little shutters over it didn't retract fully. A message on the now sandblasted screen read simply "Lens error." I sucked sand out of the lens with my mouth (washing the grains down my throat with beer), but it didn't seem like the camera was going to be fixed so easily. It was looking like I was in the process of losing a second camera to a music festival.
Grey Fox had been forced to relocate after thirty years near Ancramdale after the land had been sold out from under them. This festival had somehow been cobbled together at the last minute, and it didn't have the full glory of earlier Grey Fox festivals. Food and retail choices on the "midway" weren't great, though prices were reasonable. Because we'd thought ahead and brought beer, we avoided what would have been the main expense.
I spent much of the afternoon in the shade reading articles in the New Yorker, the issue from a week ago and also the most recent one with the controversial satirical cover of the Obamas as militant terrorists (a cover that Gretchen and I get, but one that escapes the less-ironic sensibilities of our older liberal friends). My favorite article was a book review of Turf War, which provided some much-needed background for the absurd American obsession with the well-manicured lawn. As I was reading this, Tim O'Brien was on the main stage telling a joke that still makes no sense to me. "Qustion: How are a banjo and a heat seeking missile the same? Answer: By the time you hear either, it's too late!"
After dinner there was a performance by the Dry Branch Fire Squad, whose intra-song banter pushed the limits of loopy, all done with a hayseed drawl that did nothing but reinforce entrenched American regional stereotypes. But as fucked up as they seemed when they talked, they sure could play!
The last act we watched was Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet. The Sparrow Quartet featuring Béla Fleck, the world's most accomplished living banjo player, and it featured other instrumental virtuosos who all seemed classically trained. Their music was an melting pot of classical, bluegrass, old time, and various world musics. Abigail herself sang a number of her songs in Mandarin, part of an extended warmup for a performance the band will be giving at the Summer Olympics in Bejing. The music seemed a little too precious and insubstantial to me, but it was a relief to get away from the bluegrass/old time orthodoxy that pervades Grey Fox. I can enjoy bluegrass in moderation, but I start losing it after the 100,000th mandolin pluck.

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