As the Great Blue Heron Music Festival comes to a close each year, there are three things people start looking forward to: a shower, a good night’s sleep, and … next year’s Great Blue Heron Music Festival! The 2018 GBH was the inspiration for the Music Fest Fans site … in fact, our overview of the Heron was one of our first articles. That was our sixth Blue Heron, and when it ended we made sure to schedule our next trip to western New York around the 2019 GBH Fest.
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Great Blue Heron Forecast: Looks Like Rain
Lisa and I have been incredibly lucky in that all six GBH festivals we’ve attended in the past have had near-perfect weather. But your luck’s gotta run out some time, and for us, it looked like 2019 would be a wet weekend. The forecast called for rain and thunderstorms on Friday and Saturday, so we geared up with umbrellas, raincoats, and extra clothes and headed to Sherman, NY prepared for a sloppy couple of days.
We arrived on Friday morning and found a campsite in the woods. Van-camping saves us the trouble of setting up a tent, so we had time to chill, meet our neighbors, and settle in.
At that point, it was really hot but it hadn’t rained yet, so we took a walk around the festival grounds and took a few pictures.
We Interrupt This Rainstorm to Bring You a Music Festival
At 3:00 PM, the Tiger Maple String Band opened the festival and a few minutes later, the rain joined the show. About ten minutes into the performance, everyone’s phone buzzed and we heard a warning siren. It turned out to be a flash flood warning for the region, but the festival grounds are away from streams and rivers, so we didn’t need to worry. We did, however, get soaked, as the wind helped the rain evade our umbrellas. We thought we were well-prepared until we saw these folks:
Luckily the rain only lasted an hour, so by the time the next act – Slyboots Circus – came on stage, we’d set the umbrellas aside and started taking videos. Here are a few highlights of Friday’s entertainment:
The Sun King Warriors are fronted by Jim Donovan, a founding member of Rusted Root, who played at the first ever Great Blue Heron back in 1992. Jim brought his daughters on stage for some background vocals; his daughter Tupelo sang lead on the Rusted Root classic, Send Me on My Way.
The set ended with a guest appearance by Jon-Marc Johnson, lead singer of Smackdab, which made its last-ever performance at the Great Blue Heron in 2018. I know this video is bouncy, but hey … good luck trying to hold a camera still while listening to this:
We learned about the Great Blue Heron festival from our friend Mark, who’s attended every GBH since it started. We always meet up with him for the festival, and sometimes other friends from college will make the trek too. But the Heron vibe means that everyone is your friend, even if it’s just for the weekend and you never learn their last names. After attending a few, you start to recognize some familiar faces. As we were enjoying the tunes, Lisa pointed to a group and said, “I think we’ve seen them here before.” A couple of Herons ago, we met a family that consisted of three generations: a couple, their two daughters, and their grandchildren. Originally from western NY State, some of the kids moved to Ohio, but they come back almost every year for the Heron. It’s great to see families enjoying the GBH together.
Thinking about taking your kids to a music festival? Read some tips from those of use who’ve been there and done that!
… And Some Unfamiliar Bands
The Heron has turned us on to a lot of regional and up-and-coming bands, many of whose albums now reside in our CD collection. Every year I look at the band list and I’m a little bummed that this band or that band that we saw in the past isn’t on the schedule. But then we’re introduced to another band whose music is equally good and I realize that music is just as transient as it is persistent. (As Neil Peart wrote, “Changes aren’t permanent, but change is.”) The first couple of acts we saw on Saturday helped me realize that missing the great band that played last year is really an opportunity to catch another excellent band this year. As long as the music is great, who cares who’s playing it, right?
Besides the friendly vibe, something else we love about small music festivals is the emphasis on local bands; this is what builds the next generation of musicians. The big-name acts that you see at festivals like Summer Camp started out as local bands at small festivals. Someday, some of those bands will hit the big time and you’ll be able to say, “We saw them before they were big.”
Saturday morning I checked the weather forecast and radar map and man did it look like a bad day for outdoor music: thunderstorms all afternoon and temperatures approaching 90F. Of the three venues at the Great Blue Heron, one of them – the Dance Tent – is undercover, so we made plans to spend the whole afternoon there. As we walked from the campsite to the stage, we got a few sprinkles of rain. Right after we got under the tent, the downpour began. Luckily for us, we staked out some interior territory and were treated to a couple of excellent bands.
The Little Mountain Band looked like they were going to start late when, just before they were scheduled to go on, a guy carrying a guitar case showed up and unpacked his Gibson Flying V. They immediately hit the stage, right on schedule, and delivered a great performance. One member pointed out that the aforementioned guitarist was a last-minute fill-in, as their regular lead guitarist had a family emergency to attend to. He fit right in and the band sounded fantastic!
In the close-up shots, you might notice the torrential rainfall occurring right outside the tent. It didn’t seem to faze the band or the audience, though. It takes more than buckets of rain to extinguish the Heron Vibe!
The rain continued, so we stayed put for blues guitarist/singer Alex Kates. We were well rewarded for that, as you can hear from this:
As Kates wrapped it up, the skies appeared to be clearing. I checked the radar map and saw that the storm system had moved south over Pennsylvania. Even better, the cold front that pushed the rain away also brought some mercifully cool temperatures, allowing us to enjoy the rest of the festival in comfort. At that point, we mostly stayed at the Main S
While watching Cats on Holiday, I wondered how they amplify a washboard with no visible wires and without standing in front of a microphone. (I’m an engineer, okay? We’re intrigued by how stuff works, even when we’re chilling at a music fest.) I guessed a small clip-on mic with a transmitter, but when I looked it up later I found that some people rig up a piezoelectric acoustic guitar sound hole pickup attached to a wireless transmitter. Apparently, you can’t just go to Guitar Center and buy a wireless washboard pickup. Go figure.
The Wailers started out as Bob Marley’s backup band. In Marley’s dying days, he asked bassist Aston “Familyman” Barrett to keep the band and the vibe together. Barrett and original Wailers lead guitarist Donald Kinsey
In addition to a slew of Marley classics, the band played a cool reggae version of Johnny B. Goode, including a wailing guitar solo by Kinsey.
It’s not the Great Blue Heron without Donna the Buffalo, who headlined the Saturday festivities and introduced a couple of songs from their latest album.
To see all of Music Fest Fans’ videos from GBH 2019, check out our playlist.
Normally we stay for the Sunday acts, but this year we had a family event on Sunday afternoon, so we got up early (well, 7:30 AM, which is early by music fest standards), had some coffee, said goodbye to our friends Mark and Alice (and whatever neighbors were awake), and hoped that our camper van wouldn’t get stuck in the mud. The festival organizers promised to use their tractors to pull cars out if necessary, but fortunately, my parking job and the van’s traction control made it a moot point for us. (Score one for automotive engineering!)
Now that we’ve had showers and a good night’s sleep, we’re looking forward to Great Blue Heron 2020! We hope to see you there!
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