Saturday, October 11, 2014

Honest, You Do

So it rained a bit. No one's going to melt.

Rarely do I miss opening night at the Folk Fest and my plans to go alone got a shot in the arm when one of my favorite couples agreed to let me and my umbella tag along.

We parked on Franklin Street, right in front of the Main Library and hoofed it down Second Street to the new amphitheater space.

My friends had yet to experience the fabulous new Brown's Island Way, also know as the connector road, and the view behind the Virginia War Memorial. I like it because standing at the top of it affords a panoramic view of the river grander and wider than any other.

It is steep, though. Because the route down Second Street leads to Belle Isle, it's a terrain I know well since it's one of my regular walks. My friends were less impressed with having to walk down it on a wet evening, something about a near 90-degree angle and wet sidewalks.

That was solved by stopping midway down and taking up roost on a gravel path that allowed a view of Mariachis los Camperos de Nato Cani that was matched only by the four year old in front of us, choreographing a dance to match the Mariachis' music and slyly glancing up to make sure someone was watching him every step of the way.

I obliged and smiled at his spontaneous performance. The kid had some serious moves for a toddler.

Dressed in regional costume, they did music for dancing (and a costumed couple came out and showed us how it was done) and music for romancing (with dramatic vocals guaranteed to win a woman), one after the other.

When they finished, we continued heading lower toward the food and merch tents until we found Sherry's crabcakes out of Charlottesville, done the way I like them: thick and sauteed golden brown. None of this deep-fried crab cake business for me. For god's sake, I grew up in Maryland.

When we each ordered one, the man behind the counter inquired if we all wanted sauce on them. No thanks, I told him, I prefer to taste just the crab. My friends were aghast that I'd go sauce-less, but I got back-up from behind the counter.

"Everybody should get what they want," he said with a smile to me and a raised eyebrow in their direction. So there.

P.S. My crabcake sandwich was delicious just as I ordered it. It was interesting, although there were eight large tables set up along these food tents, we were the only ones who sat down at one, facing a row of empty and wet white tables glowing under the lights.

As I was finishing up my sandwich, I could the hear the distinct sounds of soul music and immediately called it to the attention of my friends. We're going to need to go find that, I said.

When they finished eating, we took the stairs to reach the Community stage and hear William Bell, Stax Studio pioneer. I stood on the wall behind the Lincoln statue and had a terrific view of Bell and his crack band, but my friends decided to sit down inside the tent and I followed.

Immediately sorry I had missed even a moment of his show, I nonetheless was thrilled when the first thing he did was his mega-hit "I Forgot to Be Your Lover."

"Fellas," he said, "I'm doing something for you. Ladies, I want you to listen to me" and then began singing, "Never stop loving me."

Women swooned. To take it over the top, he segued into "You Send Me" and now everybody knew every word. Next came "New Lease on Life," the horn section killing it.

I'm going to start my life all over again
I got a new lease on life, I got a lover and a friend

Before long, a couple standing just outside the tent began slow-dancing under the ropes. It was very sweet.

Pulling out the first song he'd ever recorded at age 17, he let the crowd sing along with him to "You Don't Miss Your Water." During a dramatic pause during the song, he called out, "Somebody play a solo for me!" and the keyboard player obliged.

Introducing his song, "Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday When My Baby Comes Home," he said, "And by come home, I mean to William Bell's house."

Smooth move.

Saying that they'd sold a million and a half of the next song, they played "Tryin' To Love Two" about how that just wouldn't do (no sh*t, Sherlock) and then went seamlessly into "Stand By Me" and "Cupid, Draw Back Your Bow."

That was it, he thanked the crowd "because without you, there would be no me" and left the stage. Happily, the band stayed put and he soon returned for the slow burn of "Everybody Loves a Winner."

It felt like we had just seen a legend and we had. A serious soul legend who'd been making music since 1961 and still had what it takes. Damn impressive.

From there, we wandered back to the Altria stage, running into a sassy and smiling bartender friend, a telephone collector and far too many people with enormous baby strollers trying to navigate wet surfaces.

Once back on that most sloped of hills, we found Boban and Marko Markovic Orkestar, a large Balkan brass band dressed in matching red shirts except for the two soloists out front.

They got to wear faded and holey jeans, clearly a status symbol for a brass player.

You could hear so much in the music - gypsy, tavern, my friend even heard King Crimson - and the crowd went crazy when they recognized the music to "Hava Nagila."

Twice, fans from the audience climbed onstage to dance and show their appreciation for the band while out on the wet grass, the crowd clapped, danced and hollered with as much enthusiasm as the band was putting out.

And when they finished, we weren't left with that sense of loss like at a regular show. The festival will be back for the next two days, so I've got plenty more chances to hear amazing music, with or without friends.

 Sure, it rained lightly a few times and umbrellas came out, but never hard and never long. The air temperature cooperated, hovering in the mid-60s, sweater or light jacket weather. The little white lights crisscrossing the riverfront gave the look of shiny necklaces strung across the Tredegar grounds.

The way I see it, it's just one weekend a year of endless folk music, so neither snow nor rain nor heat, much less gloom of night, is going to keep me from taking in everything I can.

And tonight that was whatever my friends wanted to see. They've got great taste.

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