Friday, March 30, 2012

Suwannee SpringFest 2012 Report

Suwannee SpringFest 2012 was highly anticipated around the Hometown Homestead. The lineup was spectacular, maybe the best in years. We had our tickets purchased before Christmas and kept the fires burning all winter. Finally on Thursday morning, we packed up Gnometown and headed south from western North Carolina to arrive on the banks of the Suwannee Thursday afternoon.

I was particularly excited to see Hot Buttered Rum. It had been perhaps five years since I was last able to catch them in Asheville. This San Francisco area band just hadn't made it out to the East Coast for a while, and Black Betty and I really missed their high energy, positive vibes, jammy, grass groove. We weren't to be disappointed since they played the little Porch Stage on Thursday night and fired us up with their infectious enthusiasm and great songs.

Next, we caught Great American Taxi driven by Vince Herman. It seems that every time I see them they get better and better. They are certainly hard rocking and soulful, everything you want in a live band. They were joined on stage by Drew Emmitt, Sean Foley, and Zebulon Bowles.

Friday morning we slept in as long as possible before riding our bicycles to the crowded beach on the Suwannee for some cool and refreshing bathing and swimming. It was a good time spent relaxing with family and friends before committing to the many hours of music that we had ahead of us in the Friday lineup.

Black Betty, Michael, and Sam

Suwannee kiss from Melanie
Our big Friday shows were: Hot Buttered Rum, Larry Keel and Natural Bridge, The Emmitt Nershi Band, Elephant Revival (1st time for me) Great American Taxi, Jim Lauderdale, and Greensky Bluegrass. We were especially pleased that Greensky Bluegrass had the big Friday night Amphitheater show; they have worked hard, toured hard, and are finally getting the recognition that they deserve. They produced an inspired and ass kicking performance at the crowded midnight amphitheater. I swear I even spotted Billy Nershi dancing in the wings!

Saturday Morning started out with rain and a visit from my sister, niece, and  two great nephews, Dutch and Raleigh. Not only was it Dutch and Raleigh's 1st music Festival, it was the first time that Black Betty, Becky, and I got to meet the little fellows, so it was doubly sweet that this all took place at Springfest. The weather soon cleared and we were off to show the boys how to Festival!

Gnometown Gang

Dutch checking out Greensky Bluegrass

Raleigh diggin' the groove

Meadow stage

Our Saturday shows were Darol Anger and Republic of Strings, Bobby Miller and the Virginia Dare Devils, Larry Keel and Natural Bridge, Randall Bramblett and Geoff Achison, The Joe Craven Trio, Donna The Buffalo, Greensky Bluegrass, and Yonder Mountain String Band. As always, it was give and take, it was hard to miss other groups that we would have like to see but choices had to be made.

Paul Hoffman and Mike Devol, Greensky Bluegrass.

Mike Bont, Greensky Bluegrass.
Yonder Mountain String Band closed it down on Saturday night with a kick ass jam with a virtual Who's Who of Springfest musicians. I know I'll skip a bunch but I remember seeing Larry Keel, Vince Herman, Drew Emmitt, Anders Beck, Paul Hoffman, Zebulon Bowles, Sean Foley, Josh Pinkham, Andy Thorn and Wildman Steve on stage. What can I say? It was a great show, great jam, great Suwannee Springfest Saturday night! We joined the huge Amphitheater crowd in dancing, twirling, stomping, and singing along with Vince Herman to the Leftover Salmon anthem, "we gonna rise up...we gonna wake and bake"!

The Yonder Spring Jam

Sunday was cool and breezy in the morning. We were looking for a relaxing day, because we didn't have to pack up and leave like we have at times in the past. We wandered up to see Guy Clark and Verlon Thompson playing the Amphitheater stage. I still have memories of happy times and happy tunes from Guy back in the 1970's. It's all pretty dark these days and Guy has been battling poor health for a few years now.  If you've seen him in the last few years, you know what I am saying. Many tears were shed during the show.

Verlon Thompson and Guy Clark.
Dread Clampitt rocked the Porch Stage, and then we hit the Meadow for the fabulous Ralph Roddenbery Band. The Infamous Stringdusters were up next with plenty of hot licks and great tunes, followed by The Mosier Brothers. The Mosiers were joined onstage by the insanely talented cello mad-man Rushad Eggleston and young newcomer, Emily Morris.

Ralph Roddenbery.

Jeff Mosier.
Donna the Buffalo closed the show down on Sunday, as is the tradition. They played several of their hits and crowd favorites and then started being joined by friends on stage. Randy Judy, Verlon Thompson, Sean Foley, Rushad Eggleston, Donna Hopkins, Taylor Martin, Bobby Miller, Ralph Roddenbery and Samantha Jones, and then again with Randy Judy for Seminole Wind. Verlon's rocking cover of a Dylan tune with improvised lyrics and Ralph's wonderful sing-a-long of  That's Gonna Leave A Mark were the highlights of the jam. Donna finished it out with one of my favorites, Mystic Waters.


Suwannee Chicks

Gnometown Gang, Phil, MDiddy, BB, Becky, Nate

Lilly, Chris, Black Betty, and M Diddy enjoying the Yonder show

Festivarians, Becky, Rex Thompson, Black Betty, Marie

       Final Thoughts:
  • Once again this festival was a wonderful way to start off the season for our family and friends.
  • I hate that we had friends who couldn't be there. We missed you!
  • These musicians are among the best in the business. I'm sorry that I didn't get to catch many of the wonderful bands that played. You just can never see them all. Maybe next year.
  • The crowd is always friendly, accepting, and appreciative. Anyone would have a difficult time not fitting in.
  • The organization of the festival was as smooth as ever, no surprises, no hassles.
  • The grounds are always a great place to camp, the river a sweet place to swim. The weather, perfect.
  • Did I mention Sweet Revenge's apple crisp and ice cream?
  • Boogie Cat was in attendance, but seemed pretty mellow. It looked like there were several lone dance-masters ready to step in and take his place if he's lost his boogie.

Happy Festival!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Grand Canyon Hike

Hometown and Floyd on the Tonto Trail. Photo by Sloth.

I flew out to Arizona last week and hiked into the Grand Canyon with two AT hiking buddies, Boy Floyd and Dances With Sloth. Floyd, who would act as our trip leader and canyon guide, obtained the permit earlier this winter, which would allow us to explore the west side of the canyon.

Onto the Hermit Trail

We got a late start on Saturday: after buying pizzas to pack out, parking the car, and riding the Red Bus out to Hermit's Rest, it was 4:30 before we started hiking. We descended into the canyon on the steep and rocky Hermit Trail. The sun was down by 6:30 and it was dark by 7:00. Not too long after strapping the head lamps on, mine quit working.  I had carefully duct-taped it together before leaving home after discovering that it was broken. I guess I should have bought a new one. Luckily for me, Floyd was carrying a spare. We continued down the trail, past the Cathedral Stairs and caught up with Sloth at the junction with the Tonto Trail. There we sat down and devoured several pieces of pizza in the darkness while we marveled at the beautiful star-lit sky.

Trip Leader Floyd

We continued east on the Tonto Trail and arrived at our camping site at Monument Creek around 11:00. We set up our tents and told a few stories, but before long, we were snoozing in our sleeping bags.

Dances With Sloth

Waking up the next morning in the bright sunlight provided me with a special treat as I climbed out of my tent and saw the profound beauty of our camp site for the first time. I just couldn't get over the fact that I was fortunate enough to be able to spend time in a place of such beauty. During my Appalachian Trail hike, I slept at a number of  sweet spots, but nothing to compare with this. Even better, we were "zeroing" at this spot, so we would get to spend another night there. Wow!

The Monument

We lazily spent the remainder of the day resting our tired legs, eating, and telling trail stories. As soon as the sun reached into the canyon, it was hot. We retreated into the shade of a cool rock overhang to get relief. We walked down to the pristine creek to fill our water bottles and hiked down to the massive monument which lends its name to the creek.

Floyd on the Monument Creek privy

The next morning we took a short hike down to the mighty Colorado River at Granite Rapids. We spent a couple of hours soaking our legs, chilling out, and sightseeing on the river before heading back up to Monument and breaking camp down.

Hometown in the Colorado River
Granite Rapids

Floyd on the beach
According to our trip leader, we had a dry camp ahead of us, and then an additional 9 1/2
miles of hiking before we would have water, so we had to load up with plenty of H2O before leaving Monument Creek. We climbed up the steep Tonto Plateau with water heavy packs but only had a short 1.3 miles ahead of us. I did have the good fortune of meeting a sweet little Grand Canyon rattlesnake during this jaunt. He was sunning himself in the middle of the trail and Sloth, who was a few minutes ahead of us, must have stepped right over him. I snapped a few pics of this little guy (around 12" long) and he lunged at me as I stepped around him. I noticed that Floyd decided to give him a wider berth.  We made camp at a remote and absolutely gorgeous spot near Cedar Springs.


Tonto Trail

Cedar Springs Camp

Leaving out from camp in the morning, I carried 3 liters of water. We continued east on the Tonto trail, around the red rock cliffs, and wound our way into Salt Canyon. This was hot but fairly easy hiking on pretty decent trail with moderate ups and downs, plenty of switchbacks, and great views. We passed just a handful of other hikers during this time. Floyd and I stopped and had a snack alongside Dana Butte with a great view of the inner gorge and the Colorado River. Next, we hiked into Horn Canyon where the creek apparently runs out of an old uranium mine, so drinking it is discouraged unless it's a matter of life and death. I had water so decided to pass.

Floyd on the Tonto

Your Hometown Hiker

Mandatory rest stop

Nice hiking on the Tonto

Finally, we reached the junction with the Bright Angel Trail. We followed this up to the carnival-like atmosphere at Indian Garden with its large groups of day hikers, shady cottonwood trees, and water from a spigot. We rested our sore legs, ate lunch, and enjoyed the scene before starting the 4.6 mile climb to the rim. This last section involved three 1.5 mile sections according to trip leader Floyd. Indeed, there are rest areas at each interval. By that time, we were so tired and sore that we were resting at the end of each switchback and, later, halfway through each switchback. We fueled up on Floyd's massive one pound bag of almonds and continued to trudge onward and upward while teenage day hikers flew past us.We encountered slick and icy trail conditions in the last 1.5 miles of trail. I was glad that I had brought my YakTrax.

Icy Trail

Looking back down at the climb out on the Bright Angel

Bright Angel Trail

Finally, after an 11 hour day of hiking, we arrived on the rim, thoroughly exhausted and hungry. We immediately went to Bright Angel Lodge for the post-hike meal.

Hometown on the top

Although Sloth and I amused ourselves all weekend giving Floyd a hard time about his abilities as a hike leader, he did a mighty fine job. It was an outstanding four days in the canyon and I can't wait to go back.