“I want to live in a music festival forever”. I attended Black Mountain Music Festival as a college student in 1993 with my then boyfriend, Rusty and our tribe of Deadheads from Spartanburg, SC, where I was a senior in college. It was my introduction to the music festival experience, so foreign and wondrous for this sheltered, girl’s prep school, then women’s college, conservatively raised, Memphis girl. We were at the festival to attend the wedding of our friends, getting married there that weekend. We camped, saw great live music, and hiked to the mountaintop for a true hippy wedding, priestess, flower head wreath, and all. For me the festival was a revelation. It would influence me in so many ways, altering my future choices and rituals in ways I only now realize, 25 yrs later. The festival morphed from hippy free for all, Black Mountain Music Festival, to non-profit, Woodstock for families, Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF) in 1995. After returning from 2yrs, teaching in Dallas, in Spring of 1996, I attended LEAF with dear friend and fellow Spartanburg Day School teacher, Daingerfield Ashton, his daughter, Rachel, and teacher friend, Chuck Kayser. After having been away for a couple of years then returning, it felt like coming home. I was elated to be there and share it with my people. I was hooked! I have now attended both spring and fall LEAF, missing only a few here and there for over two and a half decades. My children, Ashe and Miles, now 18 and 20, have grown up at LEAF. They have festival friends, that they have made over the years, that they see twice a year at the festival and pick right up, as though they have never been apart. Miles is spending his 18th birthday Nov. 17th at a show at the Orange Peel with his lifelong LEAF friend, Cooper. Despite Ashe and Miles’ fairly traditional upbringing in conservative Greenville, SC, they have been exposed to the open minded, multi-cultural, arts rich world of LEAF since they were born. I am so grateful to have been able to give them this education and for them to be a part of this fabulous community, that is LEAF.
Sharing LEAF with Wiley has been such a joy. I knew I had a keeper, when I took Wiley for the first time and he bought right in, loving it instantly, as I do. We have now been attending together for 10 years. We donate and are LEAF members, so are able to arrive a day before the regular festival goers. We try to get as much time there as possible. It is our Happy Place. This fall we had several friends in attendance, which is always fun. We turned our Greenville friend, David onto LEAF several years ago. He has even recently built a trailer camper for the event. David’s partner, Caroline came and brought her parents, visiting from Chicago, for the day Saturday. Our mountain friend, longtime LEAFer, Holly, her children, her sister, sister’s partner and her son were all there. We gave Holly’s children a ride back to the mountains to meet their dad on Sunday, so Holly did not have to miss the final act, Railroad Earth, late afternoon on Sunday. Our Greenville friends Melissa and her daughter, Madi, 21, joined us for the first time in years. Melissa had been with me three times in the past when we were both married to our first husbands. They had not been since fall of 2004. Arriving early has it’s benefits. After we got settled in Meadow Green RV camping area, Wiley and I set up a tent for Madi and Melissa overlooking the pond, near our van. They would not be arriving until Friday, but got a primo spot, thanks to us.
Thursday we were there when the gates opened, which meant we got a dreamy pond view RV spot, right next to the Big Blue Bus, we’d seen there before. Turns out, that belongs to David Wiley, yes, Wiley, who upon meeting us invited us to an ice cream party he throws behind his bus, Saturday afternoon, every LEAF, as he has done for years. Our neighbors on the other side were in a pop up that they had never used and required Wiley’s assistance to get it set up and taken down on Sunday. They had a fire pit and tons of wood. They invited us to come hangout by the fire later that evening. Acquainted with our new neighbors and having received hospitable invitations, we set out to get our festival on. Thursday is always a nice way to ease in to the festival. It is quiet with hardly anyone there. The vendors are getting set up and the festival staff is putting the finishing touches on everything. Wiley bought me a fabulous piece of whimsical art called “Magic Potion” by Manami Art. I absolutely love it! We walked around checking out this year’s configuration, caught a couple of cool acts in the dining hall, ate some dinner, then headed back to the campsite to sit by the fire with the neighbors. Talked with them for an hour or so then turned in.
Friday morning, we ate Sugar Shack, which is a festival breakfast tradition. Had our coffee and tea on the Eden Hall deck in the adirondack chairs overlooking the lake and mountains for a while. Later, we visited with David and got a tour of his new travel trailer. He’s still in the process of building and completing it himself. This was it’s maiden voyage. We were blown away, so impressed by his DIY camper. Melissa and Madi arrived midday. They were overjoyed with their tent and scenic site. So thrilled they came! I walked them around the festival so they to get the lay of the land, then they went to eat in the dining hall with their LEAF Culinary Passport. I hooked back up with Wiley, so the two of us could go up to the barn area to eat Indian food at Asheville’s own, Mela. We caught up with Holly’s crew at the barn top camping area, then we ate. Afterward, we rendezvoused with Madi and Melissa at the main Lakeside stage and got our boogey on to Dustbowl Revival. We enjoyed that for a while, then wandered over to the dining hall music, watched some contra in the gym, ate at Mojos, finishing the night at the Barn listening to deep lyrics and the rockin’ bluesy sound of Digging Roots, a native Anishinaabe family band out of Canada.
Saturday, when we woke, we realized that Madi and Melissa had packed up and left. Heard from them later that some girls had kept them up most of the night, slept a few hours, then were back up early, making lots of noise right outside their tent. Annoyed and tired, they decided to head back to Greenville. I was disappointed and told them how lame they were, they had lost their festival edge, and were too high maintenance these days. Couldn’t believe they had left. After what was to come later that night, I was glad they had gone, but we’ll get to that. We mostly wandered from stage to stage Saturday. I liked Kaia Kater in the Barn. We ate Okie Dokie’s BBQ Sunday for lunch, a LEAF must! We ate dinner with David, Caroline, and her parents at Mela again, because David said we had to be at the Barn early to get a seat for what he said was the “must see” Toy Box Wham Bam! Puppetry Slam. By the time we got in the Barn, there were no seats for the adult content puppet show, so we sat on the floor front and center. Little did we know it was an audience participation show…It was interesting to say the least. There was some real comedic, artistic, and performing talent, but then there were just some plain bizarre acts. I was a big fan of Liz Howls. A Frenchman, came to us before his segment to ask if the two of us along with David and Caroline would participate. I declined and said the couple on the other side of David and Caroline, looked like joiners. They took him up on his request, but then he circled back around and insisted Wiley participate, so he did. The Frenchman had a homemade catapult and a stuffed cat puppet. His show was launching the cat across the stage. Wiley was the cat catcher. That was the extent of it, oh, except I forgot to mention the individual boxed red wine, he wanted Wiley to drink on stage in preparation for the catching of the cat. Sufficiently, puppeted, we met up with Holly and Co. at Lakeside, front row for Jupiter & Okwess, Congolese Freedom Music. The crowd was bouncing and the music was jammin’!
Later Saturday evening, while we were wandering around, the wind picked up and started to get really scary intense. As we rushed from the Lakeside stage to Eden Hall, we heard a big crack behind us. Not knowing what it was, thinking the worse, and the wind gusting severely, we made our way into the dining hall and stayed put for a while. By the time we headed back along the lake towards Happy to turn in, we were shocked and saddened by what we found. A tree had come down on one vendor’s large tent. The snap we heard had been that tree. Some vendors were in shock. Others were sitting on the ground crying, being consoled, people running to and fro trying to help, securing things, and picking up. Many of the vendor tents were mangled by the wind, their wares destroyed and strewn around. It was heartbreaking. It looked like a war zone that night and the next morning. All around festival goers and vendors pitched in to clean up and help those affected. It was heartwarming to see this special community come together to pick up our brothers and sisters, who had fallen. There was even a GoFundMe set up to assist the vendors, who, many of whom, this is their only livelihood. Two people were rushed to the hospital as a result of the weather event that night. Last I heard, they were going to be ok. The Jam Tavern tent had come down during a performance while filled with people. The giant Lakeside Tent threatened to come down, but the crew reinforced it and were able to keep it up. I was glad, after all, that Melissa and Madi were not there in their tent Saturday night. We were even fearful inside our van. It was a long scary night.
Sunday, was still a bit windy. Vendors were setting up with what goods they had salvaged, without tents, just tables. It was pitiful, but I admired their resilience. We enjoyed the Golden Trumpets gospel music in Eden in the morning. We chilled on Eden deck, ate some Homegrown, then were ready to head back to Sapphire by afternoon. Holly brought the children to the van, we said our goodbyes, then hit the road. We met the kid’s dad at the Dollar General at the top of our road, handed the kids off, then got ourselves home. Another LEAF in the books. Communing with our people for the weekend on a mountain by a lake in Black Mountain, NC is a real gift. It is a magical place, full of treasured memories. Grateful for LEAF in my life.