Tales from the Road – Pagan Spirit Gathering part 2
…we met my guitar and Jason at Paducah the next afternoon just fine. So all was well. Jason ended up being my flat mate for the week. I’d met him very briefly at the Michigan Pagan Gathering quite a few years back when we were on a panel together and I remember thinking that this was a grounded, straight speaking bloke I could get along with. Well we did indeed get along. It was a delight sharing space with Jason, and also sharing cider, margaritas, and good conversation.
We were given what turned out to be the best accommodation I’d had yet at any PSG. It was a large tipi, constructed of wood, and corrugated iron. There was a kitchen with a fridge, air conditioning, and a flushing loo! It was also right opposite my trading stall in Music Camp, and right down in the thick of the action with the main stage just across the path. There was a competition during the week to name the structure. Various names were put forward including the Witches Hat, and the Witches Tit, but we chose to call it the Cone of Power.
My stall space was right next to my friends Arthur and Kathryn Hinds and it turned out to be a lovely place for many visitors to just hang out. My friend from Texas, Shawna, had brought along some of the other camping essentials that you can’t easily bring on a plane, so I was extremely well looked after and set to go.
Let’s talk community.
Let’s make a statement of fact here. Paganism on the internet is not a true or healthy reflection of how Pagans communicate with each other when they meet up face to face, in a field, and do stuff together. Real stuff. Magical, life-changing stuff. Facebook, Twitter and the like have created a space where, let’s be honest, some people act like arseholes. Even the blogosphere, wonderful as it is, is not a true reflection of how things are in the flesh. It really is a mistake to take the health of a movement by how people are communicating on Facebook groups. The real magic happens when people actually meet up, and PSG is such a space, like a vast magic cauldron, and each person is an ingredient in the spell that is cast. Being immersed in that cauldron for 7 days, with wonderful people, deep ritual, fantastic music, life-changing moments and discussions, that’s how we can truly judge how Paganism is right now, and let me tell you my friends, it’s doing just fine.
The stage was great, and each night the sun set, just beyond the pine trees behind the stage, lighting up the sky with a myriad of oranges, yellows, reds, and golds. I walked just across the path to my stall. There were Arthur and Kathryn Hinds, and there was much rejoicing.
So much happened during the week it would take another few posts to go into any real depth, and I’ve already taken much of your time, so let’s just pick a few of the highlights.
I was at PSG to do three gigs, and give two workshops. My first gig was on the Monday evening, the first evening concert of the week. There’s something very special about playing open air festival gigs. Opening the show with Song of Awen and looking out at the people gathered, the blue of the sky, the Turkey Vultures flying overhead, I thought once again what an incredibly lucky human being I am. One of the very few who get to earn a living from their art. Asking for guitar lessons at 8 years old, then telling my teachers all through school not to worry about me, it was all ok, I was going to be a musician so didn’t need to study. Well, it took a little longer than I thought, but there I was, playing my songs in the USA, with the audience singing the lyrics with me on a beautiful evening, as the sun set behind me.
I started the gig at 7.30 so I guess the stage manager didn’t think we would need the lights set up. But when the sun set it literally went out, so I ended up playing The Cauldron Born in darkness. Arthur Hinds had joined me on stage on the Djembe, so we had some good rhythm going, and people were up and dancing. I probably could have played for longer if I could have seen the dots on my guitar, but after two hours we had to give in to the darkness.
I played an evening acoustic set in the food court area. I actually think that was my favourite set of the week. Starting at 10.30pm. Very intimate, and I got to play Rhiannon, one of the songs from my forthcoming album for the first time. Then later in the week I played a lunchtime slot, once more in the food court area, where I finally unleashed the Sons and Daughters (of Robin Hood). All morning and the previous night the camp had experienced the tail end of Hurricane Cindy. Man I haven’t seen rain like it since I went to Africa back in the late 80s. So it just seemed right to open the set with You are my Sunshine, I Can See Clearly Now the Rain has Gone and John Denver’s Sunshine on my Shoulders. It did the trick, and the Sun came out.
My two talks were on Meeting the Gods of the Mabinogion, and Annwn, The Otherworld. Both went well and were well attended. I’m out of my comfort zone giving talks. I enjoy them, don’t get me wrong, but it feels very exposed. Each workshop lasted about 90 minutes.
So that was my offerings for the week. Other highlights for me?
Sitting in the shade of my stall looking out over the field and watching Spiral Rhythm do their lunchtime performance; spending time with the friends I only see in the USA; watching S J Tucker’s evening show – I love her energy and she is an incredible songwriter and beautiful person, as is her fella Ryan: the Summer Solstice ritual on the ritual island – I kid you not, you walked over a bridge onto a circular island out in the lake. Greeting the Sun on his longest day with the PSG community is always a delight; seeing the Circle folk again – PSG is organised by Circle Sanctuary, a community that was started by Selena Fox. Selena, Dennis, Moonfeather, all of the crew have the most incredible amount of goodwill and energy; ALL of the musicians – Arthur Hinds, Spiral Rhythm, S J tucker, Sentinal Grove, just brilliant, all of them; spending time with Jason Mankey – I knew I’d love him, but have come away from PSG with another good friend; the food! – look, I know Biscuits and Gravy and Chicken Fried Steak in a bun aren’t exactly healthy, but I feel like I’ve fully arrived in the USA when I’m tucking into a bowl of B & G for breakfast. I also tried liquid cheese for the first time. When I asked how much cheese was in it, I was advised not to ask, and that it was a ‘cheese derivative product’… Liquid cheese; the candle Labyrinth – the first time I experienced this was at PSG 2010, so in 2012 it was like a pilgrimage back there again. this time was no different. I’ve been through lots of fire labyrinths, but silent ones created by candles are something else entirely; an incredible BBQ Ribeye steak – yes, I know I’ve already spoken about the food, but this deserves a mention all to itself; sharing margaritas with Arthur, Kathryn, Shawna, Laura Tempest Zakroff, and a few other people who appeared as mist, but I’m sure they were there…
I will have forgotten stuff.
PSG is a wonderful thing. A huge achievement in itself, but add to that the goodwill of the community and you have an unforgettable experience. I can’t wait to go back again, and hopefully before 5 years this time.
But before I go I need to write about one more event.
It was called the Bardapalooza.
In 2015 the musicians at PSG had a problem. CD sales are the musicians’ bread and butter. Each musician had travelled a long way but due to the floods and subsequent cancellation of the event none had had the opportunity to perform, so CD sales were going to be tough. So on the last night, just before everyone had to leave the site, all of the musicians got together and played a concert. Performances were done as a round robin, with each musician getting the chance to perform two songs, but the magic that happened outgrew that simple plan. Everyone was on stage, so as the person or band played, all of the other people onstage played along with them. The evening then culminated in a mass performance of Prince’s Purple Rain. It was such a great night that the Bardapalooza became a staple part of the PSG experience.
So late afternoon on the final day all of us met on the stage to set up. I haven’t played in a band since the early 90s so I wondered how it would go. I planned to play two songs, The Wicker Man and a cover of Heathen’s All’s Child of the Universe. The Wicker Man is an odd song. It feels like it should be a 4/4 rhythm, but it’s not, so I just wanted to check things with the drummers on stage. So I started the song, facing out into the open field, with about 20 other musicians behind me. I felt the drums start. The song felt like it was being held in the gentlest of hands, nurtured, brought to life, then the chorus started. Oh. My. Gods. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck. It was so powerful hearing all of those other voices. I stopped just into the third verse, and turned to look at my fellow musos.
“Damh’s been Bardapaloozad!” Came the voices. Lots of these people had experienced this before, but this was my first time. What an amazing group of people Pagan musicians are. In some circles there is competition. Here there is nothing but love and support. I love you Tribe!!
The next day people started to leave quite early. I was quite emotional to be honest. Who knows when I’ll see many of them again. The tents were taken down, the vendors drove away, the food trucks left, and it wasn’t long before the land seemed to notice that hundreds of humans had left, and it began to reclaim the space once more. As the sun set on that last night me, Selena and Dennis travelled to the ritual circle, and watched the sky turn from blue, to orange, to red, then to dusk. The tree frogs were calling, and the fish were jumping in the lake.
I opened the door to the Cone of Power and it was almost empty. The lights outside that had lit the inside of the tipi were gone, and everything was dark and silent. I went to bed at 10.30 as I had to get to the airport for a flight at 6.10am. But when we got to Paducah airport it was closed. I’d never seen a closed airport before, but there it was.
It opened at 5am and I’m happy to report that the flight home was much more relaxing.