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Some folks love Clifftop for the contests. This was new to me, never having been to a contest before. I did think of entering, but never got it together. I was probably off jamming, or drinking coffee, or checking e-mail, or eating alligator, or sleeping when I should have been registering for the contest. Well, and yeah, I was probably a little shy. But, anyhow, it is great fun to see folks step up to the mic and do their best. I, for one, appreciated the moment of lefty politics injected into the non-tradition competition. Actually, I sensed that many in the audience were as tickled as I was at Mando Mafia's parody of the Kink's 'Sunny Afternoon' based on the thunderous applause. "The taxman's taken all my dough and spent in on this crazy war."
Jamming. It's all about the jamming for me. You can walk and walk and pass by sessions of so many flavors. Sometimes I just sat and listened. A lighter chair is on my list for the future. I joined in some jams with folks I've known from the northeast festivals, and some with strangers that are now not strangers that I'll look for at other festivals.
Around the sessions, I heard a hefty collection of new-to-me tunes, as well as the tried-and-true traditional pieces that most people would recognize. In an attempt to stay simple and travel light, I was sometimes without my recorder. Dang. Note to self: ALWAYS carry the recorder, even when on the way to the porta-potties. (Well-maintained porta-potties, I must say.) You never know when you're going to hear a tune that you'll want to remember. I did however take some notes and will try to find these tunes again down the road:
Flat Foot in the Ashes (Old Swift)
Not Whiteface (Like Sally Ann) in C
Moon Beam on the Hill
Tight Old Sally Gal
Pat Him on the Back
Sally Will You Marry Me
Danny Ate the Sparrow Egg
Kate's Got a Wooden Leg
Drat - shouldn't have used a pencil for my note taking. There's some smudges where the key was written down. Another lesson learned: take notes in waterproof pen. Pencil just doesn't last well. I did catch some tunes on the recorder, though. Magnolia One Step has been on my to-do list for awhile, so it's nice to have it to listen to. And, Trader Boatman, I learned from said festival neighbor and will even remember that I learned it because I have a recording.
Which reminds me to mention the benefits of smiling and saying hello. Do not hesitate to go it alone. You'll certainly see groups of friends tightly clustered, seemingly ignoring you. But, there is currency in meeting people. How many times have I mentioned my festival neighbor already? She taught me a tune, coaxed me to the Gerry Milnes program, and scheduled a fiddle lesson. The more folks you meet, the more jamming opportunities will crop up and the more you'll learn. Part of the festival experience is music. The bigger part, seems to me, is the people.
I might not have the chance to get back to Clifftop, being far away and taking such a big chunk of time to get there and enjoy it. Frankly, I'm glad that there are smaller festivals that I can get to in the northeast. For my money, there's more jamming and less walking at a smaller northeast festivals like Lake Genero, the Harry Smith Frolic, or Black Creek Fiddlers' Reunion. Then there is the Cygnet folk festival near Hobart, Tasmania, where I'll be again for the next year. But, all said and done, if you have the chance to go at least once, Clifftop is not to be missed.
About the Author
I've been spending my time between the U.S. and Australia in Tasmania for the past few years, going to festivals and jamming. I do workshops and websites because I'm also a trainer and geek
There are more resources and musings, particularly for new adult fiddlers, on my blog http://fiddlejammer.blogspot.com.