As with all good memories it is about the experience and the greetings upon returning home that develop from the days, months and years in between. As the carload of myself, Dr. Gore, Sean Wheeler & Zander Schloss navigated the final miles between Cookeville, TN and the now infamous Junebug Ranch the tension in the air and anticipation were palpable. With each click of the odometer there was an uneasiness met with tempered calm that we knew we were returning to a place of safe harbor and journey that seemed immune to the passage of time and welcomed each warm friendship embrace within. The twisting roads into the festival site overgrown with reach greenery and scarred North and South / East and West with bisecting roads of the rural locale seemed to reach out and welcome us all back to our roots; our Muddy Roots. Climbing up the final hill as if somehow magically transitioning through time we emerge through the break in the trees Christened by the dappled shade and rich golden light surrounding us – we’re home. Negotiating the entrance to the Junebug Ranch is a narrow trail littered with abandoned skeletal remnants of old classic cars, beer cans, bar furnishings and lastly the odd reminder to bring you back to the grandest stage of them all the nature which houses it all. Through it all the emerges the Muddy Roots / Junebug Ranch headquarters high atop the hills of green and nested between the entranced sign posts manned by Alex Covert. Alex ambles toward me to instruct me and my ridemates of the site protocol when he recognizes my face and his rather stern no bullshit allowed face gives way to a warm smile and welcoming eyes that remind me once again – we are among our friends. With open arms he embraces me and welcomes me to the site, we all head to the check – in desk and receive our wristbands for the coming event.
Dr. Gore or rather Viking as we’ve come to know him on our journey together steps from our vehicle, with a mighty inhalation of the rich air he lets out a yell and says “I will catch up with you later mate!”; into the disappearing twilight forges the good Dr. his Viking personae leading his quest forward into the darkening abyss. As Sean and Zander gather their sundries from the vehicle, I secure the golf cart from the check in desk and we decide it’s time to make our way down the iron rich red carpet of earth that forms the runway to the hallowed grounds. We board the cart, Zander riding shotgun – Bazooki in hand, my camera bag in it’s entirety between his feet, Sean perched in a rather Peacock – esque balletic contortion on the rear of the vehicle as he rambles incoherently – a sure sign he is happy as anyone knows who has spent time with Sean. As we start to arrive fully, like a wave to shore you can feel the warmth of the friendships of years gone by as we pass by friends; them raising their hands hello !! – I tell you it doesn’t get any better than this. There is nothing better in anyone’s life than being desired, than missed, than being expected and then arrived – its the feeling of anticipation giving way to realization and then the satisfaction of completion and resolution. As we found our way to the Midway alley, it became clear again and again that we were away too long. Many people among our friends, some I never met were shaking hands – giving hugs, holding each other close.
There were a few moments that particularly stood out to me this event that really personified what it is to be a small or large part of this extended family. My first friends I hugged that misty warm night in the Tennessee field were Wee D Williams and Dylan Dorrell. These two have been there since the start with me and have always welcomed me with open arms and no judgments. With Wee’s twinkling brown eyes and her beautiful newly grown hair she embodied the spirit of a ghostly Tennessee song maiden you would find on a lonely road; tucked away from the bright lights of Lower Broadway – honing her lyrics and notes against the dim twilight of a porch lantern. In Dylan, I found genuine comfort and solstice and a deep brotherly love that just doesn’t fade. I remember the first time meeting Dylan and he had lost a good friend and I remember seeing the profound impact of it on him. As the months and years have passed we have shared these experiences within the musical extended family and beyond; some together and some independent – nevertheless always with each other at our side for support and for that I am eternally grateful.
Some of the first musical family I encountered were Joey Henry, Kody Oh and Brook Blanche of the Calamity Cubes. These men and their music have consistently broken down many walls in my life, they’ve helped and aided me navigate my way through many troubled waters by way of song and lyric. Out of the black Tennessee night came the welcoming eyes of first Joey, his warm eyes and personality, his big bushy red beard and his gentleness reached out to give me a huge hug. This wasn’t the first hug but rather one of several to come in the many hours ahead. There is something about a hug from someone who really cares; when it feels like it’s time to “pull back” and let it end – you should just give way and let it happen. This is a Joey Henry hug and it will break even the strongest man or woman at their core. When I hugged Joey I felt a tremendous sense of relief and felt much of the year’s pain and suffering and uncertainty melt away in his arms.
Kody Oh was the same way for me, he is forever the example of the blessing of a loving brother without judgment. Kody jumped in my golf cart and we went for a little ride together and shared some good quality time as the stars took their stage in the sky. It felt so good to reconnect with these men, in doing so I felt myself growing in my fragility to the situation. I knew Kody had experienced back issues and medical distress earlier in the year and we talked briefly about it. His take on the subject was what I love most about Kody, he said “hey man, I’m doing what I love and I’m with people I love when I’m doing it – what more could I ask for ?” and really through all the judgments – he’s right. Thank you Kody for centering me and showing me the simple path once again and letting me not lose the path for the forest.
Lastly, a large silhouette loomed heavily backlit against the emerging Muddy Roots Merchandise tent. In the shadows, Jason Galaz readied himself and his wares for display; the shadow stepped forward with a well worn familiar cowboy hat and gruff appearance. Out of the darkest hour stood my friend Brook, he gave me an incredible hug and we sat and watched the music play. I was already feeling fragile after seeing Joey and Kody – Brook sensed this and he took his chance. I’ve never beared witness to a man as strong and large and masculine in stature remove himself from his body and expose every vulnerability and frailty to communicate his love for another person. This was a first for me, I’m glad he didn’t hold back in any part of his delivery. I hesitate to share what we talked about as it was an incredibly moving and personal moment; I will tell you this, he said “. . .you’re not just a game changer, you’re a world changer; you’ve literally changed these people’s lives in many ways that they never could have done without you”. Those words among many others have and will always resonate deep in my soul for my remaining years. When he shared that with me I struggled to contain my composure, this was a failed attempt. With tears streaming down my cheeks and my eyes stinging in the nighttime air, I told Brook that this year I lost many people close to me and in their passing it was his music and voice that was the buoy I clung to during stormy waters. Indeed, I’d rather have an empty bottle than no bottle at all – thank you for always sharing your “bottle” with me Brook. Much love my friend.
After many hugs and exchanges and a quiet moment to compose myself I saw my good friend Kara. There were no words as I saw her sitting in the passenger seat of an adjacent golf cart. She simply stood up and I reached within myself as my arms embraced her tiny frame entirely. I held her for what seemed like forever and then held her again, I could feel her not just wanting the hug but needing the touch and tenderness of a true friend. We didn’t speak – it was quite possibly the most poignant and beautiful moment I’ve experienced; I could literally feel her “hurt” inside but knew it was coming to the surface with each passing moment. I guess that’s what these people have taught me; sometimes the greatest opportunities within us are disguised as insurmountable obstacles – I am typically a very shy person and it first took Brook bringing me to my emotional knees and in that moment Kara and I needed each other equally – although perhaps her more than I. As we stood and watched the show Kara reached into her bag and brought out a patch of her beloved Adam. I knew this was a strong moment of closure and moving forward past the inevitable – something about that moment really shook me deep inside, I saw her eyes strained and swollen with held back tears but she kept her strength true and divine, accepting the patch I tucked it in my front pocket but not before placing it strategically on the stage boards sprinkled with the Cookeville iron rich soil; with a click of the shutter I will forever remember that image. I’ve heard that when two people connect and there is a deeper more profound introspective peace between them; its something that intertwines them and excludes the outer world and nurtures the healing bond we find in commonality. I can only hope that within that hug that I offered even a portion of that to her and enabled the healing road to be a less difficult passageway to travel knowing that her friends were there to light the way.
As the night wore its way into the wee hours of morning I was already emotionally exhausted and spent and hungry for more, my appetite for the festival had just begun and I had three more days of instances like these and the memories they would bring. The best part of Muddy Roots Music Festival is the fellowship and knowing that no matter how still the night, nor how dark the horizon; somewhere in the mist is a friend with an outstretched hand and a light to guide your way.