Tales from the Road – Caldera Fest 2016
About a year ago I got a PM on Facebook from the podcaster David Banach who runs the Magick Jukebox podcast. He’d had an idea. To bring together as many of the Pagan musicians he features on his podcast to play at a music festival in the USA. Would I be interested? No brainer for me. I agreed straight away and marked off his proposed weekend immediately. As a musician you get a good number of these offers from people with good intentions, but for whatever reason they never come to fruition. Not so with David. He got it sorted.
Caldera Fest Pagan Music Festival happened the weekend before last in LaFayette, Georgia, USA. There are two reasons it’s taken me just over a week to write about it – jet lag, and going straight into the final organisation of the OBOD Summer Gathering in Glastonbury that happened this weekend. OBOD weekend done, time to write about Caldera Fest.
29 Pagan bands over the course of three days. Workshops, vendors, great Southern cooking, and wonderful company. But first, the journey to Heathrow airport. All three lanes of the M25 were closed due to an accident at junction 9 and my poor SATNAV went into overdrive trying to look for quicker routes, avoiding the jam. Unfortunately so was everyone else’s. When we turned off the M23 towards Croydon we stopped again. Stationary cars as far as I could see. The thought of missing the plane became a distinct reality. I didn’t want to imagine the trouble this would cause but needed to let David know so dropped him a line from the jam saying there was a possibility we wouldn’t make the flight. His response was cool and funny. “Flap your wings,” he said, with a smiley face. Well, the SATNAV prevailed and we made it to Heathrow 40 minutes before take off, which for an international flight is cutting it fine. Thank you TOMTOM!
We were due to land with 2 hours grace before our connecting flight to Chattanooga. No problem thinks I. What about the TSA border line?? We were in the queue for 90 minutes. At times there were only two guards checking passports. The chap behind me had half an hour less to catch his flight than us and was pretty concerned so he went to talk to a guard.
“Isn’t there more people to check us through? We’re going to miss our flight.”
“Well, looks like you’re going to miss your flight,” came the reply.
Well once more we were just about ok, and arrived at the gate just as the flight was boarding. A little while later were we at the hotel and diving into bed to battle the jet lag. I was due to play the very next night at 7pm, which would be midnight at home so needed to get some rest.
Next morning I opened the curtains and saw SJ Tucker, Celia, members of Tuatha Dea and many more of the bands all smiling and hugging each other. I love these people so me and Cerri joined in the love fest.
We were picked up from the hotel by Harley and Shawna and arrived at the VIP area. What a venue. It was on a massive scale and David and his team must have worked themselves ragged to get the infrastructure up and ready. The VIP area had power, a huge marquee with food and drink laid out, showers, everything you’d need. We grabbed a coffee and hopped on a golf cart to be taken to the stage area. And what a stage! A full on sound stage with lights and everything. It seemed that no expense had been spared and the weekend was looking amazing.
Now I’m not going to go through every performance and moment of the event. There are simply too many and all of them were amazing. The buzz around the festival billed it as the Pagan Woodstock, and I really get that. It was a moment in time. There were some gaps – Spiral Dance from Australia and Kellianna were the obvious internationally-known musicians missing – but pretty much everyone else was there who could be there. If you can take the temperature of a movement by the art and music it creates, we are in damn good shape right now. One act after another took the stage and offered their art to an enthusiastic audience. Not only that but there were multiple guest appearances in each others sets.
The highlights for me?
I didn’t spend any time at the VIP space. I saw and heard pretty much every performance, and was hypnotised by the talent there. But for me it was the performances from The Green Album that stole the show. The Green Album was put together by the huge energy of the band Tuatha Dea. 14 songs from artists on the theme of the environment, 25% of the profits going to the Rainforest Trust, with 12 of the bands present at Caldera Fest. So for about an hour each band played their song, pretty much in track order of the album itself. The set was opened by Ginger Doss. She has a new huge fan in me. I hadn’t heard her music before but it’s current, powerful and I’m pretty sure hers was the only set of the weekend that included a rap track. Having 12 bands on, one after the other, could have been a wreck of a show, but it wasn’t. Change overs were smooth, and each song took the audience on a journey, some low, some high, but always moving. I hadn’t played my song, How can we believe that we own it all? live before so I was pretty nervous how it would be received. But I needn’t have worried. I think the audience knew they were witnessing something very special during this hour and they were with all of us. At the end of the hour Tuatha Dea come on stage and all of the 12 acts joined them for their song Green. It was a Pagan We are the World moment that I will never, ever, forget.
My set? Man I loved it. I was supposed to be on stage at 7pm but ended up walking on to the stage at about 8.30 which was 1.20am on my clock but it mattered not. I played the opening bar of Song of Awen and heard the crowd singing straight away. When that happens you just know it’s going to be a great night. It creates a loop of energy – I hear the crowd so I play better, they respond, I respond, and off we go together to wherever that energy takes us. Talking of Awen, it was a little girl called Awen’s 10th birthday, so invited her to climb up on stage and the entire festival sang her happy birthday. Then during my song Time Machine I asked the audience to turn on their phone torches to send out light to the world when I said the word “illuminate”. I’ve done this a few times and you never know how many lights will go on. The response took my breath away. I literally couldn’t sing as I looked out at the hundreds of lights shining at me. Little Awen was in tears at the side of the stage – it was so beautiful. A moment to treasure.
Pagan musicians are a special bunch. On the whole there is no competition between us. We love each other’s work, and support each other like family. That’s something very special in any community. David Banach, his team, and his vision, brought us all together for one weekend. Will there be another? David believe’s there will and seeing the passion he has for music I believe him. But there will never be another first time. The first one is always special. I will remember Caldrea Fest 2016 with such fond and magical memories. I told David – if there was an award like a Pagan Knighthood, he should get it. He isn’t a professional festival organiser. He’s a Pagan who loves music. He had a dream and a vision, and he had the guts and determination to see it through. Hats off to you David, and your family, and crew. You did us all proud. And love to all of my musician friends around the world. Music is magic, and we all created a lot of magic that weekend.