Several times this weekend during the Thirsty Ear Festival I found myself sinking into the music, only to have my sweet mood rudely interrupted by hideous visions from the Gulf Coast -- bodies in the streets, people stranded on rooftops, people wading waste-high through sewage-tainted water.
No, Katrina didn't ruin the festival for me. Far from it. I'm pretty well convinced that this was the best Thirsty Ear ever. Still, those pangs of guilt and horror and anger put a hard perspective on the affair.
It was indeed fortunate that the climax of the festival Sunday night was a Louisiana band. Beausoleil didn't preach or mourn or rage. They did what they do best, play the music of their land and their people, play the vibrant, celebratory, sometimes mournful but mainly joyful music that for centuries has brought joy, comfort and pride to the Cajun people. Leader Michael Doucet spoke openly about the disaster. His underlying message was of hope and optimism, a faith that the people of Louisiana, to borrow a little Faulkner, would not only endure but prevail.
Earlier in the day, the professorly Doucet did a "workshop" in the Hotel on the history of Cajun music. He took questions from the audience, often playing fiddle and singing to illustrate his answers.
A few other thoughts on the festival:
* The Tarbox Ramblers: This trio was Sunday's big surprise. These are a bunch of old (well, not that old) bald guys from Boston who play a crunching, stomping stripped-down blues.
I'd never heard of these guys and wasn't expecting much from them. So I was pleasantly surprised, in fact amazed at how much fun they were.
Thirsty Ear had a questionnaire asking, among other things whether the festival should get bigger-name acts (which would mean a hike in ticket prices). I voted no. One of the things I love about Thirsty Ear is the opportunity to discover acts like The Tarbox Ramblers.
* Nels Andrews & The El Paso Eyepatch Undoubtedly the worst slot at Thirsty Ear is the opening act on Sunday morning. Even though it starts at 1:30 p.m., a good number of festival-goers haven't quite shaken off Saturday night. There's just a slow trickle of people and most of them seek refuge in the shade of the buildings of the old-west film set instead of in front of the stage, where performers like them to be.
That being said, Albuquerque songwriter Andrews got a good strong response with his poignant, often mournful tunes. My favorite songs from his album Sunday Shoes -- "Central Avenue Romance," "Lilli Marlene" -- sound even better live. Plus they do a rocking version of Gordon Lightfoot's "Sundown."
*Alvin Youngblood Hart: The big old growling bear played a strong set on the main stage. Not quite as awe inspiring as his previous Thirsty Ear gig. Of course this year, the late Ralph Moore wasn't around to share his homemade brownies with me. Old Ralph was a hell of a baker.
Every time Alvin's played this festival he's performed Doug Sahm's "Lawd I'm Just a Country Boy in This Great Big Freaky City." This time was no exception. And now it's finally on an Alvin album, the new Motivational Speaker.
* Joe West This weekend started with Joe West, at his Human Cannonball CD release party at Tiny's Thursday. (Seems like months ago ...) So it was only appropriate to end it with Joe at his "Americana stomp" in the Eaves Ranch saloon.
Actually, I meant to hop back and forth between Joe's gig and the Alvin Youngblood Hart blues jam across the street, but either Joe's music was too captivating or I was too exhausted to move. So I stayed and I'm happy I did. Joe's way too young to be named a Santa Fe Living Treasure. But I know that's what he is.
All in all, it was a wonderful festival this year. KBAC's Luther Watts, who served as emcee, kept reminding people that Thirsty Ear didn't happen last year -- and people were afraid it wouldn't come back. I'm glad those fears were for naught and hope Thirsty Ear remains a Labor Day weekend tradition here.
My friend Dana and me at Thirsty Ear 2005
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