In the passing of time from the 2014 festival there has been much in the way of change. We’ve lost family and friends along the way, suffered personal hardships, battled seemingly insurmountable setbacks and through it all we have collectively as a group persevered and overcome the challenges placed before us with the resiliency of our spirit and the true compass of roots music as our guide.
Within us all is a biological clock that rhythmically, yet quietly and rather unknowingly ticks its circadian beat away into distant memory and summons us from the four corners of the world as the month of August dissolves into the winds. The call we feel reaches us in many ways and so too again in 2015, this call was heard among the many Muddy Roots Alumni and new soon to be first timers; for each of us, the call is different. For some the communication heard is a way to “reset” and focus ourselves once again for the coming year ahead; for others its a time to “purify” and re-establish and cleanse our musical spirits. Still for others – there is no easy explanation of their presence and attendance other than to say it was due in part to sometimes a higher power or greater calling beyond our everyday understanding. Muddy Roots after all is many things to many people – music being the unifying thread that binds us together as one. With this years journey for me, it was a journey that grew from recovery and in a sense of rediscovery. In May I underwent back surgery, which left me significantly reduced in my normal photography duties. To say I was disappointed or rather depressed was an understatement.
As I awoke from my surgery, I knew I was better in many ways – I knew my progressive pain in my back and numbness in my legs was virtually gone; but what was I willing to give up? Soon it became clear that the Farmageddon Records Farmfest 2015 would be the first casualty of my recovery. This was one of the worst parts of my recovery – knowing that I needed to be with my extended musical family, but couldn’t in order to be healthy and recover. This was very difficult to accept. I looked forward to the prospect of better days ahead and settled that perhaps Muddy Roots Music Festival 2015 would be within my reach once I had recovered. As my recovery progressed, I began to realize that Muddy Roots may meet the same fate. I was progressing nicely with my recovery but unfortunately it wasn’t fast enough for me. I wanted to shoot again, I wanted to feel the sweat on my brow, the speakers ringing against my earplugs, I wanted to share in the thunderous applause and feel it all. I was beginning to settle into to the understanding that perhaps it wasn’t going to happen. About that time some very special folks stepped into the situation and offered a GoFundMe account to help offset my expenses for travel. I won’t dwell on the obvious here, but this touched me deeply that people with whom we share a few days each year would extend this gesture to me to make it happen – I was speechless and grateful beyond words. With some hesitancy I booked my tickets and arranged my accommodations and it was all just a formality now. With the weight of uncertainty off my shoulders, my back began to actually hurt less as I continually worked at strengthening it before the festival.
As the weeks ahead wound down to days and then mere minutes, I remember packing my gear as I always do. . .”do I need this ?” I can’t tell you how many times I ask myself that each time. With my gear in tow I head south to the Calgary International Airport, at 4am I moved through US Customs, and then sat quietly and comfortably in a nice chair thinking about what was to come and who I would see, who would I hug – it’s all so surreal at this point. Soon I was seated on the large airbus 767 and en route to Denver, CO. I was thinking about Jason Galaz and what he means to the festival. My memory always conjures up a very quiet consummate professional in Jason, stoic in his abilities; honest in his ethics and truest to his word on all accounts. Why is it we are all blessed to have such people – such talented people in our midst. Look beyond the organizers of the festival, look beyond the stages, look beyond each other and elevate yourselves for a moment above the field of green at Junebug Ranch. Look at how many highly skilled and talented people are working seamlessly to provide something so honest and true that connects so deeply. We all have a connection to each other in that field and the vision is that of Jason Galaz. Humble before words, I saw Jason many times with his right hand man Chris Cahill; quietly moving throughout the crowds – ensuring it all was moving smoothly and delivering the goods to the fans. We are very fortunate for these men in our lives and a host of others who work tirelessly around the clock each year to bring us a sensational spiritual journey for 3 days.
With touch down in Denver, I could feel the “itch” of my trigger finger; I could sense the music in the field and hungrily I boarded the final leg of my journey into Nashville, TN. As I arrived in Nashville it felt oddly like home, like I was returning to where I belonged – I felt the energy of my friends here, I felt the loving warm embrace of extended family, I felt a sense of belonging. After settling into my accommodations I made my way to the Exit / In for the Pre Pre Party. This night was not a night for pictures but a night for memories and reconnections – it was a night that was the result of a journey that began Sept 3, 2014. As I arrived at the venue, I was told by an unassuming bouncer about the door cover charge; as I reached into my wallet I was suddenly greeted by a good friend who said “do you know who this is ? – this is Dave the Demon Photographer!” – he held the door as I entered. To say I was warmly received by my extended family was an understatement, the night began with the incomparable Dana Sipos from Canada, then progressed to the revival sermons of the Slim Cessna’s Auto Club and finally hit the crescendo with the Legenday Shack Shakers.
Watching Dana Sipos is a beautiful melancholy prelude of folk roots in eerie precursor to the coming days of Muddy Roots. In a darkened dimly lit corner of the Exit / In the songbird qualities of the North country echo and wash over the crowd with dancing notes of a steadfast mandolin and other stringed and percussive adornments of the stage. It was my first time listening to Dana on stage and I was most pleasantly surprised and should always know that the Muddy Roots name is not associated with any form of mediocrity and this was certainly the case here. Her vocal range and storytelling ability was a comfortable hybrid between John Prine and dare I say it Janis Joplin. She held the room in the palm of her hand for the entire set, leaving them thirsting for more – salvation would only come at the hands of Slim Cessna’s Auto Club.
Truest to their odd naming convention, the SCAC delivers on all points bulletin full frontal assault in the scale brought somewhere between the peculiar and religious. With stage complexities aside, the SCAC engulfs the audience in a realtime battle between good and evil, black vs white; the hero and the foil. Slim Cessna, the tall lanky horn rimmed glasses front man adorned in a high collar black buttoned shirt, black wrangler utility pants and a well manicured red beard is the ever present hero. Munly, the foil of epic proportions is visited upon with his gaunt appearance and lifeless eyes, clammy and cold and slightly damp appearance; with long red unkempt hair pulled back he is the persistent adversary of Cessna. The stage their battleground. To engage your senses in a SCAC show is to bear witness to a distorted Pentecost revival of the musical sort; complete with ample opportunity for audience interaction and many occasions participation it is nothing short of wildly perverse and highly entertaining.
As the Legendary Shack Shakers took to the stage one could argue that they might hold back since this would be the technical “pre pre party” to Muddy Roots; if this was your assessment you couldn’t have been more incorrect. As with any show, the Legendary foursome thundered through their set with the unabashed delicate nature of a cemetery burial spade to the face. Greeted on stage by an elderly Col. JD Wilkes for the first song, he ambled out in a vaudevillian step to the microphone, the rest was a blur! Through intermittent battles with invisible demons, throwing his body to the hungry hands of the waiting audience, standing and literally surfing and walking on his crowd – Wilkes brought his A Game with a fair warning of “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
Among it all, I knew I was home – I knew the journey was complete and now the only thing left to do was tell the story through painted image and written word. . .