The last couple of months have been pretty intense when it comes to travelling. Only a week and half after we got back from Australia we were heading off to the Pagan Spirit Gathering in Illinois. I went to the PSG in 2010 when it was in Missouri and, apart from the intense heat and humidity, I had the most wonderful time with this community, so I was really looking forward to this event. I left the UK in full rain-weather gear, to be met in Chicago by 30 degree heat and sunshine. Lovely! We were picked up at the airport by Shaun, who had just picked up Crystal, one of the other presenters – while they were waiting for us to come out they said they were looking for a Pagan-looking musician – obviously they had no trouble finding us and soon we were on our way to the site.
This year’s PSG was being held at Stonehouse Park, a wonderful space with a swimming pond, showers, static trailer caravans, a shop, a great stage area, and SUNSHINE! A few people were complaining about the heat but after what we’d just been through in the UK I loved every minute of it and soaked it up. On the first night we watched Arthur Hinds (from the Pagan/Celtic band Emerald Rose) play a great unplugged set. Then it was up in the morning for the Town Meeting to play my first song to the community. This camp really does try to create a cohesive community and the morning Town Meetings are a good part of why this works. It brings everyone together, and prepares them for the day ahead. I was due to play my first gig that night so had been asked to play a song at the meeting. I have to say I was pretty nervous. But I stepped out and played Green and Grey. This song, probably of all of my songs, seems to be one that really speaks to the heart of Pagan people. By the second chorus the crowd were singing along – a great start to the day.
Evening came and I went to the stage area an hour before I was due to play for set up and sound check, but there was no sound engineer there. He was coming and 7.30, half and hour before I was due on stage. Okay, I thought, it’s only me and a guitar, that should be fine. But I had also asked Arthur Hinds to join me on drums for a couple of songs… Anyway, at 7.30 the sound engineer arrived. Got the guitar working, but no vocal, then got the vocal working, and lost the guitar, then got Arthur’s Bodhran working, but with a half second delay coming through the speakers, oh, and then neither my vocal mic, nor my guitar worked. We carried on like this for 25 minutes and people were arriving. I hate sound checking in front of an audience, but I had no choice. Arthur decided that it was far more important to get my vocal and guitar right, so left the stage – sadly we weren’t going to be playing together tonight. At 5 to 8 both my vocal and guitar were coming out front of house speakers, but no foldback, so I couldn’t hear what I was playing. But by then it was too late, so I had to start. In the end the gig was amazing. The people were amazing. Since my last visit to PSG in 2010 something must have happened as lots of people knew the words to the songs and we had a great night together, with everyone joining in at the end to Wild Mountain Thyme – I had to take a photo from the stage.
I did have help from another musician on stage that night… while I was in Australia I was given a little cuddly duck called D. D. Rock, complete with a travel diary. The idea was that D. D. would travel with me to the USA, appear on stage with me, I would fill in the travel diary, and then I would pass him onto Celia who would do likewise and pass him onto another Pagan musician. D. D. would travel through a lot of hands, with each musician/band filling in the diary. When he makes it back to Australia he’ll be auctioned off and the proceeds will go to Doctors without Borders. A great idea and a great cause. So he jammed with me onstage, and later I passed him over to Celia. From there he went to Arthur Hinds, then to Beltana Spellsinger, and from there, who knows.
Over the week I played an unplugged night set, and another set at noon on the last day. Each one was great fun. For the last two songs of my noon set I was joined on stage by Arthur Hinds, Celia and a band that will be huge in the Pagan community in coming years, Tuatha Dea. It was an amazing jam session with the most awesome energy raised! I think some people caught in on video so hopefully I’ll get the chance to see one of those. I also took part in a men’s ritual (whilst the women of the camp were exploring women’s mysteries). I won’t go into detail here, all I can say is that it was an honour to stand with maybe 200+ men in circle, and take an active part. There seems to be a lot of opportunities for Pagan women to meet up for magic, but not so many for men. I think this is something we should explore more within our communities here in the UK.
Another wonderful event was the Pagans around the World Panel. These panels are very popular at camps and conferences in the USA, and are becoming more so here. For a couple of hours the panel were questioned about the differences and similarities between Paganisms around the world. My music has taken me to many places and many communities and the one thing I’ve realised is that there is a massive area of common ground between Pagans worldwide. When we work from this place of common ground great magic happens. Trouble only seems to occur when we are working from our own personal ‘detail’, trying to get others to think, feel and act in the way we do about our own Gods, practices etc. Open rituals and camps that come from the place of common ground really take our community as a whole forward together. So I was standing on the stage with Selena Fox and Margot Adler – two huge influences on my Paganism in my early days. It was a great honour for me, and these two powerful women continue to be such a huge inspiration.
So much more happened during the week, but I think I’ll keep those as memories. Saying goodbye was hard, but I hope that this wasn’t my last visit to the wonderful PSG. I now have a month in the UK with gigs here, then it’s off to play my first gig in Canada in August.