I write about memorable experiences that were touched by a song that made it special. This entry is about my ride from Jacksonville, FL to the Will McLean Folk Festival in Brooksville, FL in March 2014, and references Paul Garfinkel’s, “Sand Lake Moon” (with his blessing) from the album, “Songs From Sand Lake.”
As you read through the story, you will come to a music player. Please click play to listen to the song, “Sand Lake Moon,” while you read the rest of the story. I hope it will give you a feel of how it touched me during my ride to my favorite festival of all. Enjoy.
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Thursday, March 6, 2014. I couldn’t believe it – the Will McLean Festival weekend was finally here and I was raring to go! There had been a lot of preparation to get all the moving parts in sync to make the weekend work. It was one of my rare work-free, kid-free, dog-free, home-free, worry free weekends of the year, and I was ready to escape and make it count. After I packed my car to the brim with camping equipment, instruments, and a box of my brand new 4 song EP’s hot off the press, I finally escaped into the great wide and rainy open. It took over an hour on the road before I could feel Jacksonville releasing me out of her invisible clutches, and I could begin to think about the weekend ahead.
As I drove on, the rain was making the roads more treacherous than before, and it was taking a lot longer than expected. In a way I was glad for the extra time as I needed it to think. I had been worrying about how things were going to go at the festival, and the closer it got to the Will McLean weekend the worse it became. It was supposed to be a very happy time for me, but I didn’t feel very happy at all.
I didn’t get it. What wasn’t there to be happy about? My participation at the Will McLean festival was supposed to be my crowning moment, the pinnacle of my musical aspirations to date. The phenomenal support from friends and family was more than anyone could ask for, and all the practicing I had done, song contests I had participated in, hard knocks, hits and heartaches I had endured, ropes I learned, festivals, gigs and open mics (ranging from “nailed it!” to “gig from Hell”) played over the last year and a half had been preparing me for this be all/end all weekend. How lucky and prepared could an aspiring artist gal be? It didn’t matter. Those butterflies in my stomach had been duking it out for hours, and were getting ready for round 87.
Self doubt was a large part of it. I had been worried if I could perform well among my peers without choking onstage; otherwise I would be playing alone for the rest of my life. Would I be good enough to play alongside artists who had been making a name for themselves in Florida Folk Music for longer than I had been alive? Could I measure up alongside everyone there who was already established? Believe in yourself Cindy… That wasn’t the only thing though. It was also the first time I was going to a music festival alone.
I was actually okay with that, and I’m usually a pretty happy and upbeat person, alone or not, but music festivals are so much more fun when you have a festival buddy. My original plans with my girlfriend had fallen through, my teenage son can’t stand Folk music or folk festivals, there was no boyfriend or companion on the horizon, and the dating well had run dry. It was time to make my own happiness and my own magic. I could do that. Pancakes baby, pancakes… Let me explain.
My awesome friend John Shilby, a top notch harp (harmonica) player who played on my cd (and absolutely loves pancakes), preaches something I call his “pancake analogy.” It is very similar to the “a house needs to have a solid foundation to build on” analogy. He likens it to playing solo. When you have pancakes, it is nice to have butter, syrup, bacon, fruit, etc. with them, but the pancakes need to stand alone. You have to have a fantastic recipe that makes people want to eat your pancakes by themselves, or the rest of the fluff just makes it palatable, but not that enjoyable. I love playing and singing music with other people, and they always make the music sweeter, but I had to sound good on my own first. Guess it was symbolic that I’d remembered the pancake mix, but forgot the syrup! I believe my recipe is good, but I am always striving to improve it. I was hoping it was good enough for all those pancake loving people at Will McLean. All I could do was my best, and it had to be good enough.
Another thing on my mind was the last time I had been to the festival as it had been totally different. God it seemed like a lifetime ago, and in a way it really was. The events that had transpired afterwards would later lead to the first song I had written in 25 years, “Please Don’t Let the Music End. It had been a time of awakening for me, so I was eternally grateful for my experience there. The man in the song and I are also great friends now because of it, and life has moved on since then so for that I was also truly grateful. Everything that had happened since then had changed me, and life was so much better. I had finally reached a point in my life where I was very comfortable with being myself, and being by myself. So what was the problem?
Part of it was when I was there last year, it was the last time I had been truly happy, I mean deep down happy and content. I was fine with moving forward full speed ahead and making new memories now, but needed a symbolic ritual of turning the page and starting a new chapter of my life to help me get started. That and play music. Lots and lots of it! Music is healing therapy, and music festivals are just giant, wonderful, fun, healing therapy sessions of music with your friends. I couldn’t wait to start all over again on my own, but could I handle being alone?
My stomach began twisting in knots the closer I got to Brooksville, and the music I had been playing on the trip was not helping much at all. Led Zeppelin and Heart are great, but certainly not the tunes to get you in a Folk Festival mindset. Time to refocus. I readjusted my position in my seat, loosened my death grip on the steering wheel, and tried to concentrate on driving in the rain. Only one more hour to go….
About 25 miles before my exit on I-75, I tried another cd with music my friend Jordan and I were working on for the upcoming Barberville Folk Festival, and it was helping a little, but not much. Sorry Jordan, but I just wasn’t feeling it right then. Sigh. I took the cd out and drove on in silence for a few minutes, but my thoughts were at a full roar like an arena at a rock concert.
Please click the play button below to listen to Sand Lake Moon while reading the rest of the story.
I decided to reach over to my passenger seat and blindly grab a cd from my box, praying for a message, a sign…. (anything!) that would help me. When I started it, I immediately recognized it as Paul Garfinkel’s” Songs From Sand Lake.” It had been a while since I heard it, so it was like hearing it for the first time. I finally began to relax a little and enjoy the ride.
The cd is full of great songs, but when “Choices You Make” came on, I was puzzled. Was this the message I had been hoping for? When the next song, “Home For The Healing” came on, it was like God had planned this all along. He had my full attention by then. My heart began to beat faster as the sky and clouds began to open up, and the rain finally began to stop. Things were looking up. “Classic Ride” began and I began to smile while listening to the story. What a great song. Just then the full moon broke through the clouds and shone brightly, and I could see the beautiful countryside alongside the highway. Almost there….
As I got off the exit, the rain stopped just as “Classic Ride” ended, and “Sand Lake Moon” began. All of a sudden a gentle guitar and beautiful fiddle began to carry me on the road to Brooksville, and it was as if I were meant to hear that song at that exact moment, that exact second. Perfect timing God. Sing to me Paul….
Incredulous, I could feel the song speaking to my heart as it played on down the winding country roads. I don’t know why, but I was compelled to roll down the windows as the song played on. “Out where the oranges grow, seems so long ago was the first time.” Suddenly the sweet, intoxicating smell of orange blossoms from a nearby grove wafted in and greeted me, transforming my storm of anxiety and disbelief into a calm serenity.
“Turned another page, stood there on the stage and sang a southern song.” Memories of singing Wildwood Flower on stage for the first time at Will McLean began to come back to me)…
“When I turned around, my world was upside down, and I was spinning…” The last year had been so hard, and it had been difficult to return to my center and regain my balance.
As I turned the corner and stopped by the lit Will Mclean Festival sign, I looked down the hill and took it all in.
Tears came to my eyes as the line in the song, “Let’s give this one more try, the notes and rhymes they surround me. Here’s a chord or two, these words will have to do if can make a little room.” The wheels were turning…
“Add some campfire light on this warm, spring night and remember what it felt like here…” What a great lyric! It wasn’t warm at all though, in fact, it was very cold, but I could see the campfires in the distance and it was comforting. I could almost feel their warmth in the frigid air. It was then I saw the RV belonging to my dear friends, Suz and Tom, and felt like I was coming home.
“We can still be near beneath the Sand Lake Moon.” God I missed my friends and the magic of Will McLean. Could I make my own magic this time? By myself? I started to smile. Of course I could.
I took a deep breath, put the car in gear and drove down the hill slowly, still taking it all in, and as I parked behind the RV, the song came to an end. As I turned the car off, a gentle breeze came through my window and I heard music on the wind. I closed my eyes and could hear Suz singing beautifully with Katie Waller’s sweet fiddle calling to me, beckoning me. I looked over to the right and saw them in a song circle not too far from me, and knew then I was right back, again, where I belonged. I was ready for my therapy session, my symbolic ritual of starting a new chapter, and pancakes too. Lots of ’em.
As I got out of the car and began to walk towards them, they turned towards me and smiled as they waved an enthusiastic hello. With a big grin on my face, I waved back and made my way over to them where I was welcomed back with lots of hugs to our family reunion. As we began catching up with each other, I paused and turned around to look back up the hill, the last line of the song distant in my mind.
“Can I start again?”
At that moment, I finally knew I could.
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If you like my story, perhaps you will like my music. This story and others are all part of who I am and how my music comes to be. Please feel free to check out my website www.cindybearmusic.com I wish you peace, love, joy and music. Take care, 🙂 Cindy Bear