This must be the place: When the sun goes down at night, gonna let you know that everything’s alright
Tapping my smart phone, it lights up and indicates that it’s now 2:34 a.m. Saturday. Sitting on my tailgate in the depths of the FloydFest camping woods, I’m sharing the vehicular platform with my new friend, June. It’s dark, with the only light coming from an illuminated dirt road on the other side of the tree line and the red glow at the end of the joint June just sparked up.
FloydFest. Atop a mountain just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in rural Southwest Virginia. Five days, 100 bands across nine stages. Four hours away from my humble abode in Waynesville. A lack of sleep over the last couple of days has already set, so has sporadic hunger from endless treks throughout the massive festival grounds instead of tracking down nourishment in a timely fashion.
No matter, the old Coleman cooler is stocked with icy domestic beer and premade sandwiches bought at Publix last minute before I merged onto the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway and headed northeast for the musical gathering. Underneath the camper shell on the back of the Tacoma is my late grandfather’s huge old sleeping bag, a blanket and two musty pillows. Primitive creature comforts at its finest.
June is from Philadelphia, but has called the panhandle of West Virginia home for a few years now. She’s a musician trying to navigate her way through the unknown and sometimes rough waters of the music industry. She came to the festival with her friend, who also lives in the panhandle.
The duo camped near my friends and I, pleasantries and names exchanged during campsite setups and the cracking of the first of many beers during the festival. I ended up crossing paths with the two of them while on a solo journey from one stage to another.
The three of us combined forces in search of adventure and shenanigans, ultimately ending up side stage for a few late-night performances. Meander through crowds milling about in the front row, head for the backstage area with our all-access passes and scope out what’s left for beverages in the artist coolers.
By the early hours of Saturday morning, June’s comrade disappeared back to her sleeping quarters with a newly-made musician friend. June and I left on the tailgate to chat and absorb each other’s stories, our respective paths to the here and now. It’s quiet in the designated camping area.
Our friends are either fast asleep or raging out at some late-late-night party in some camping spot on the other side of the festival grounds. At some point past 3 a.m. it’s decided to hit the hay. June finishes her joint, bids me goodnight and heads back to her tent.
Plans are made to rendezvous when I’m passing through the West Virginia panhandle in late August en route back to my native Upstate New York. She’s got some gigs up there with her band at that time, and I’m looking forward to seeing the sincere talent I watched on the YouTube clips of recent performances she showed me on the tailgate.
I’m now left alone on the tailgate. Though tired from all the wandering and pondering, the interactions and reactions felt and immersed in at the music festival, I’m still somewhat awake, left in deep thought with a few sips of the now lukewarm domestic beer remaining.
Take a pull from the aluminum can and gaze out onto the camping area. The sounds of crickets within reach, of joyous laughter by someone somewhere in the late-night tree line, and of a lone anonymous concertgoer snoring in their tent a few rows over.
The sun will be up in a few hours, which means I’ll be having to pack up my gear, crank over the truck engine and make the four-hour trek back to Haywood County. Heck, the words in this here newspaper aren’t going to write themselves and I’ve got deadlines to meet before Monday.
It suddenly dawns on me that August is just a day or so away. Most of the summer has flown by in what feels like an instant. So many assignments and deadlines. Not enough camping and bonfires. Not enough plunging into local swimming holes on hot days. Not enough driving down the backroads of Southern Appalachia, windows rolled down with a Willis Alan Ramsey melody (ideally, “Painted Lady”) blasting from the stereo.
Finish the beer and toss the can into the trash bag hung on the side of the truck. Slide back on the tailgate and lay out on the massive antique sleeping bag (the label calls it a “sleeping robe”). My Uncle Brian gave me the “robe” the last time I was in the North Country. He had no use for it anymore and wanted to make sure it found a good home.
My late grandfather bought it in the 1960s. Thick as hell. Lined with warm flannel and lamb’s wool. Rated to -50 degrees. Uncle Brian said one time in the 1970s he hauled it up Mount Marcy (highest point in New York State) on a camping trip, only to get caught in a freak snowstorm that left two feet of snow on the Adirondacks. “If I didn’t have that sleeping bag, I’d have frozen to death up there,” Uncle Brian said.
I wonder what outdoor adventures my grandfather took this sleeping bag on way up in the depths of the North Country back in the day. I wonder what he’d think of this old “robe” being used by his grandson at a music festival in rural Virginia in 2022. I also wonder what other adventures are still yet to reveal themselves to me with the remaining summer and impending fall, sleeping “robe” in tow.
Onward to the Adirondacks at the end of this month for a wedding, then up to Canada for some mischief, over to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and northern Minnesota, across to the Rocky Mountains and all those familiar faces in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado. But first, the panhandle of West Virginia it seems.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
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Thank you so much for glimpses of your blessings!
I just spent weekend with 56 of our family for Cherokee Trout Derby. Cousins mostly as older generation passed on now. I was fortunate enough to have both sets of grandparents till I was 50. I was 20 when last of my four greats passed on. My son and grandson both had five generation pics taken. I’m down to one grandma left . She’s 98 1/2 her hubby was 100 4 mos 4 days A WWII vet who two weeks before dying was riding his stationary Schwinne bike signing One of Frank Sinatra’s favs about an ant and the Rubber Tree Plant.
I feel for those generations who didn’t have big families like mine passing on good work ethic. We always worked hard and played hard!
Our family treasures items passed down like your “Robe”.
Bless you on your trails and keep on keeping on!