Many of us have something, perhaps just one thing, that we do every year, without fail.
In my case, it’s attending the Millpond Music Festival just north of the town of Bishop, on the eastern side of California’s Sierra mountain range.
For me, Millpond is more than a music festival. It’s a reunion of dear friends and, in recent years, a treasured family gathering as well.
It started out as a “buddy weekend” with much wine consumed. But a few of the “women folk” figured we were having too much fun, so wives and significant others were added in subsequent years.
For the past three years, my darling daughter and also-darling granddaughter have been my “dates.” Considering the festival usually takes place on or very close to my daughter’s birthday, we like to make her think that the whole thing is held in her honor.
My buddies and I attended our first Millpond Music Festival just a few months after going to a concert at an old church in Pasadena, California. I had always been a rock-n-roller, which meant listening to “country music” was forbidden. But on that magical evening in Pasadena, my music world changed forever.
First to come on stage (or into the pulpit) was Tom Russell, a singer with a voice reminiscent of Johnny Cash and song lyrics that alternated between pure poetry and downright chilling. One song in particular—“The Sky Above, the Mud Below”—made me an instant fan.
Russell was followed by Dave Alvin, another singer I’d never heard of but should have; after all, he was in the rock-n-roll group The Blasters. His voice was even deeper than Russell’s, if that even was imaginable, and he sort of sang/talked many of his songs. I immediately recognized that he was, like Russell, a brilliant lyricist.
What a night. It was my introduction to a wide-ranging genre of music called “Americana,” which definitely includes some “country” elements. That night, I grew up musically. Thanks, Bill and Larry…and Tom and Dave.
The next day, I began filling in the holes in my music collection. Today, I’m pretty sure I have everything that Tom Russell and Dave Alvin have ever recorded.
Of course, being a “wine guy,” my ears always perk up when I hear a lyric that mentions wine in some way, shape or form. And that, by the way, is my rather liberal definition of a “wine song.”
Here are a few lines from “Guadalupe,” a “wine song” that is part of Tom Russell’s “Blood and Candle Smoke” CD:
When the mountains glow like mission wine
And turn grey like a Spanish roan
Ten thousand eyes will stop to worship
Then turn away and head for home
And here are a few lines from “Black Haired Girl,” a “wine song” that is part of Dave Alvin’s “Ashgrove” CD:
Well that black-haired girl
Looks like a woman I used to know
Back in some other world, several lifetimes ago
Yeah, we’d lay in her bed
Drinkin’ wine and makin’ love
And lettin’ time move slow
Well we lost touch somehow
But that’s just the way things go
What brought on all of this Tom Russell and Dave Alvin reminiscing? Well, this weekend, both will be performing at my favorite music festival. Russell is scheduled to take the Millpond stage Saturday at 5 p.m., and Alvin is scheduled to close out the festival on Sunday beginning at 5:45 p.m.
Prior to each set, I will fill my travel mug with something a bit more complex than “mission wine,” then settle into my beach chair on the gently sloping lawn in front of the Millpond stage… surrounded by my good friends and “my girls.”
I can’t imagine life ever being better than at those moments.
And I have a feeling that no matter what wine I choose, it will taste very good.