|Joan Baez and Kate Wolf FestivalThis weekend I attended the annual Kate Wolf festival in Laytonville, CA. Kate Wolf was a folk singer song- writer who unfortunately passed away from Leukemia. Her family started the festival in 1996 in her honor to carry on the tradition of Kate’s passion and life’s work.
The interesting thing about this festival is the true communal sense of family at the event. I use the words communal and family because these are genuinely the most appropriate words to use. I don’t mean communal in a Burning Man way either. I mean OG communal, like most of the attendees have probably lived on a commune. The real hippies are alive and well and they were at Kate Wolf this weekend.
Family is the other word because the festival made you feel like you were at a big family party or picnic. The spectrum of ages ranges from stroller to walker. The very nature of the festival felt as if you were surrounded by a big extended family with the key elders at the helm. Over there is Aunt Joan Baez playing her guitar and there goes uncle Wavy Gravy telling stories about days gone by. There was such a vintage to this event that it makes events like Coachella and Lightening in a Bottle seem so infantile. I don’t mean that negatively but rather events like these at the Black Oak Ranch have shaped and created space for their younger offspring. This place embodies the generation of elders who led the charge for our peace loving eco generation. The preciousness of this event felt like the first awareness I had that my grandparents would not be around forever and I wanted to absorb every moment completely.
One big surprise of the evening was the band Playing For Change who rocked so hard, even Auntie Joan was on side stage dancing her butt off. Like I said, it was a family party and the whole family was partying! The band is comprised of street performers and musicians from all over the world and they are as talented as they are globally diverse. There energy was so infectious and the crowd begged incessantly for more that the stage managers finally conceded to two more encore songs. It made the whole night run over on time but every one knew it was worth it!
The other surprise of the night was how emotionally charged the closing set was from Ms. Baez. http://www.joanbaez.com There was so much history and nostalgia in every song. The consciousness shift they had at the time these songs were conceived was palpable and you felt the gravity of what these poets and activists were working towards way back when. Images of Joan and Bob, acoustic guitars in hand, on black and white film ran across all of our minds. Tapped into her audience, Joan at one point did her best Dylan impression and sang several lines in a nasally growl that evoked an explosion of laughter and applause from the audience.
Always the story teller, Joan recanted a time when Martin Luther King Jr. was so exhausted that he over slept and was late to a sermon. His group of staff and advisors were afraid to wake him and they asked Joan to try to rouse the exhausted preacher. She sat next to his bedside and sang Swing Low Sweet Chariot to her sleeping friend.
She recalled without opening his eyes he said in his low southern drawl, “Am I dreaming or do I hear an angel? Please God let’s have another.” Images of Joan and Martin Luther King marching in protest together flooded my memory banks. This young petite girl marching next to MLK. Her stoicism was gripping and unwavering. The collective consciousness shift over the last 30 years was revealing itself song by song. Even though I was not even alive during this time, I was moved to tears on several occasions for no other reason than just literally feeling the nostalgia in these wonderful poems.
The last two songs Joan was joined by the incredibly talented duo the Indigo Girls to close the night out and it was a story book ending to a perfect evening. I have been so blessed to have had so made so many wonderful musical memories and yesterday evening goes down in the history books as one of the sweetest yet.
If you are not familiar with Joan Baez there is a wonderful biography on her on Netflix called How Sweet the Sound.
Furthermore, here is some amazing stock footage of the Civil Rights March in Washington in 1963 where you will see Joan and Martin Luther King Jr. together.
….and another of Joan and Bob performing at that same march in Washington.
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