After what seemed like 40 days and 40 nights of rain, Mother Nature smiled upon us and gave us beautiful weather for this year's Clearwater Festival. This was the first time that WDFH has attended and we had a great time meeting loyal listeners and letting everyone else know about their own local public radio station. Thanks to everyone who stopped by to say hello and we hope you continue to tune in.
Shortly after arriving on Saturday I rushed over to the Rainbow stage to catch Tinariwen from the Saharan region of Northern Mali. They played a great set of what can best be described as African Rhythm and Blues which they call Assouf. Dressed in traditional Taureg-Berber attire they seemed prepared for the bright sun early Saturday afternoon.
Next up was the progressive(?!) alternative(!?) bluegrass band The Punch Brothers featuring ex Nickel Creek member Chris Thile on vocals and mandolin. Their eclectic set featured both original songs and covers by such disparate sources as Radiohead, Swedish folk band Vasen and a poignant version of The Band's 'Ophelia' done as a tribute to the recently passed local resident Levon Helm. Standing just offstage was banjo great Bela Fleck observing the relative youngsters as they continued in preaching the bluegrass tradition.
A little later in the afternoon Bela took the stage for his solo spot featuring, 'an hour of esoteric banjo music.' He wasn't kidding either as he opened with a rag from the early 1900s followed by part of a banjo concerto penned by Fleck himself. As if that weren't esoteric enough, he added a few tunes from his wonderful Throw Down Your Heart record that he recorded while traveling in Africa as he traced the roots of the banjo. After thanking us for putting up with his odd choices he played a few more traditional pieces including some of his own and several by Earl Scruggs. He pointed out that Earl Scruggs was the launchpad for many a banjo player, most of whom heard him playing the theme from the Beverly Hillbillies on TV.
Bela also told a great story about his own entry to the banjo which had a local connection. He grew up in New York City and often took the Metro North Hudson line to visit his Grandfather in Peekskill on the weekend. One fateful day when he was 15 his Grandfather presented him with a banjo that Bela had no idea how to play. On the train ride home he took it out to look it over and a fellow passenger showed him how to tune it and begin to play it. The rest as they say is history.
Sunday morning started out on the Hudson stage with two more ex Nickel Creek members with Sara Watkins (fiddle and boot stomping) and her brother Sean on everything else. Sara has two solo records out and played songs off both of them along with covers from Willie Nelson and The Rolling Stones.
One of the most exciting bands I saw this year was Balkan Beat Box, an American/Israeli by way of Brooklyn fusion of rock, dance and traditional music. They had the crowd whipped into a frenzy and caused a commotion when the dancing spilled out of the designated 'Dancing' area and into the seat and blanket area. The band suggested that the Dancing area and seated area swap positions. Even 93 year old Pete Seeger couldn't help himself from tapping his foot to the beat and raising his fist to the enthusiastic crowd.
Located right behind the WDFH table was the Dance Tent which featured suitable dancing music on both days. Two of the best were Texan alt polka band Brave Combo and NYC's own Klezmatics. Brave Combo played souped up traditional polkas along with Greek dance music and the most energetic version of the Hokey Pokey you've ever heard. If you ever get a chance to see them live I highly recommend it, even if you think you don't like polka.
There was so much great music to be heard at the festival, there was no way to hear it all. Vinny managed to catch friends of WDFH Spuyten Duyvil on the Sloop Stage and Melinda made sure she didn't miss Ani DiFranco.
After all of the music was over they held a beautiful closing ceremony with music from Pete Seeger, David Amram and Richard Nestler that spoke to the significance of the Hudson river and everything that the Clearwater Foundation stands for. WDFH would like to thank everyone who had a hand in putting together such a successful event. We look forward to coming back next year.