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Summer 2011 Mt Airey Fiddeler’s Convention & Smilefest

June 14, 2011

So I embarked on my little festival run for the summer about a week and a half ago. My plan was Smilefest and Bonnaroo with whatever in between. I drove up from Charleston to pick up my roommate who had opened the previous night for Steel Pulse and upon my arrival in Charlotte I found out we had one last stop before Smilefest, a fiddler’s convention outside of mt airy. Now I’ve been to several music festivals but I have never been to a fiddlers convention so I was quite excited to see what was going on up in the boonies of northern north Carolina. Our plan was to show up, pick up the girls, and head out yet upon our arrival we found out they were about to pay, not knowing what to expect we ran in and found the set up very similar to a tiny music festival; a main stage, vendors, and campsites. I did not realize that there were over a hundred bluegrass and old time bands that wait in line to play one song, get judged by a panel of judges and then repeat the next day. I must have seen twenty bands in the hour we were posted up at the stage. I also was very uninformed as to the differences between old time and bluegrass music as from the untrained ear its pretty similar but after a quick overview one can see that they are quite different in their own respective ways as the manner in which the fiddle, banjo, and the overall song structures allow for two seemingly identical genres to stand out on their own. Now I really fell in love with the fiddler’s convention as I was walking through the campgrounds. With under one thousand people and around 115 bands each consisting of 2-4 people on average at least a quarter to a third of the people camping on site are players of either the banjo, acoustic guitar, fiddle, upright bass, or the washboard. There were people jamming at almost every campsite, there was a good bit of moonshine, and a whole lot of beer, which came together as the largest collection of ongoing jams I have ever seen in my entire life, I was in heaven. We ended up leaving the girls and heading to Smilefest where another of my roommates bands was playing allowing for me to take advantage of the free beer and food for bands as well as met up with several of my friends from north Carolina that I had not seen in a long while. Highlights of the festival include; no security allowing for me to walk around with a handle of tequila the entire time, Karl denson absolutely killed it on the saxophone with his Saturday set, the Melvin Seals and the JGB was as awesome as they ever have been, everyone walking round in all smiles and waking up from a quick nap in a field covered in smiley face stickers, the late night stage being acoustic and without power so everyone has to cram in to hear members from all of the weekends bands come together, and lastly the overall kindness and kindredness that comes about from a small music festival, it had been almost a year since I left all good and I have been long overdue for a music festival.

Bluegrass and Old Time are amazing so I highly recommend anything related to either


April 18, 2011

Today was a long one. I fell asleep last night at 11 only to be awoken at 2 am due to issues arising from our lack of AC. Now I have no issue sleeping in heat, none whatsoever, its when you have to open every window in your house to create a draft thus inviting in every single mosquito within range so that you wake up in the midst of a feast with yourself being the main course. Waking up after three hours worked out for the best as I had to wake up at 330 anyways, allowing me to get some reading done for my final paper and giving me more time for a shower and coffee. Walking the streets of Havana at 430am was nice as it’s the first time I’ve seen the streets completely empty. We met up at the bus stop, waited for thirty minutes and a brightly lit party bus scooped us up and took us to the site of the march.  As the fiftieth anniversary of the Bay of Pigs is kind of Cuba’s big F U to America (as I would assume it deserves after all of these years of the embargo coming as a much larger F U from America) there were a lot of people ready to walk up the hill to Revolutionary square. We waited from 5 until 930 until we actually began the march giving us ample time to explore the area and talk with fellow marchers. It was interesting reading everyone’s’ signs pro Cuba and anti the United States. I really wish I had brought down a big American flag to wave around. Regardless of being unable to represent my country with a huge flag the march was quite fun, I feed off of energy and there was quite a lot within the mass of people marching up the hill with huge banners and signs. For the first time I saw signs of Cuban military with a brief fly over including helicopters and fighter jets. I hear they rarely get to use them, as the fuel is quite expensive. A highlight for me was being able to march in front of Raul Castro, pretty much for the novelty of the experience. It was a short march as we were back on the bus headed home around noon. I passed out for a couple hours and then sought out for supplies for our North American party. For almost nine weeks Cubans have been showing us nearly every aspect of their lives so we decided it was time to show our Cuban friends an average Saturday night in the States for College kids. A Cuban form of Jungle Juice was created with nearly five liters of rum, twenty or so packets of koolaid, and a couple Cuban energy drinks thrown into the mix to cut down on the amount of booze. Besides the Jungle Juice the thirteen of us also went through 60-70 beers. What’s best was for the first time we were able to make the playlist which consisted of two parts, contemporary American rap music and then straight American jams ranging through Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, CCR, Michael Jackson, Otis Redding, Chuck Berry, the Allman Brothers, and much more. We then went down to the pool, made fools of ourselves, and called it a night roughly around 4 am, a typical night for some American college kids. As it was our, last weekend night in Havana we felt it a proper way to thank our Cuban friends for their gracious hospitality

I feel like a fool for forgetting how much I love Gorillaz “Demon Days”

April 15, 2011

Waking up without ac was rough on such a hot and humid morning yet I’m fine with lessening my carbon impact on any given day. After our class on Cuban economics during the nineties we hailed a cab and headed to the Cuban Museum of Fine Arts. One of my favorite things about Cuba is the natural lighting that the country receives and my opinion was reflected throughout the museum as numerous Cuban painters proved my thoughts correct as the use of light is a min theme behind many Cuban painters of the past hundred years. My favorite artists of the museum, Esteban Chartrand, captured this lighting with the beautiful landscapes of Cuba. I found his scenic choices quite similar to many of the landscape pictures I have taken so far and with both of us sharing the name Esteban (also having never met another Esteban in my entire life) I was even more so enthralled with his work. Besides Chartrand, Raul Martinez and Rene Portocabrero were the artists to catch my eye and will have me searching for information upon my return to the College of Charleston library and the Internet. Afterwards we wandered into several art galleries trying to make sense about all that we had just learned regarding Cuban art. Since then we made our rounds through the open book market and now are back working on our final papers in hopes of finishing everything in time to enjoy our last week in Cuba with unsurpassed freedom.

“Theme From Hollywood” off of Megapuss’s album Surfing is aweeeeesome.

April 15, 2011

Had a meeting today with the Federation of Cuban teachers and learned a few interesting thing about Cuba’s educational system. They apparently have a fast track system for becoming a teacher where all one has to do is finish the ninth grade, take four more years of schooling, and then can qualify to teach special education, kindergarten, and first grade. There is also a very interesting dichotomy issue with Havana and Matanzas provinces with a lack of teachers and the rest of the countries provinces having a quality issue with teachers. They were vague in answering how to fix these issues but they were confident in the meeting of the National Congress meeting this week. Afterwards we grabbed dinner at our favorite local restaurant, Comida Criolla Parilida, and found out with great pleasure that a new cook had been added making the good food even better while maintaining the relatively cheap price of around two to three dollars including a beer or two. After a great meal we caught a bus over to the Casa de Musica for my favorite Cuban live act, the funk band Cuba Libre. As usual they killed it, made some new Cuban friends, and left looking forward to the following Wednesday. Today was also a special day as a member of our group’s mother came down with an art dealer and met up with us at the concert. She’s incredibly sweet and even brought us mini Reese’s cups! My favorite candy in the entire world. After more than eight weeks without mini Reese’s cups I have finally been brought back to the golden days of my childhood. At the end of the night I ended up asleep on the roof, my new favorite spot in our apartment, went downstairs, found out all of the air conditioning units weren’t functioning, and passed out.

Been listening to the mixtape “Illinoize” a lot today. Who would have thought hip hop would go so well with choice beats from Sufjan Steven’s “Welcome to Illinoise” ? My personal favorite is “The Tallest Man / I Like It (ft. Grand Puba) “

April 15, 2011

Woke up this morning, went to class, got out of class and swam laps for an hour, ate lunch, and then planned a little adventure into old Havana. In the meantime thanks to the luck of our having ESPN international I was able to catch part of the Boca Juniors game. I must say that the ability to watch international soccer (futbol) in the United States is quite ridiculous. Every time I travel people are blown away that I actually care about international soccer, as apparently most Americans don’t. I’ve cared about international soccer for years, I have an online fantasy British Premier League team and have spilt the $5 per month extra cost of the channels for accessing the international soccer games ever since I’ve been in college. I find it a huge pain in the ass that we even have to pay extra when even in Cuba, a country that truly loves baseball over futbol and also doesn’t really even have international television channels; they can watch the Barcelona v. Real Madrid game in nearly every bar. Is it too much to ask for American media companies to grant us access to something the rest of the world has had for years? Also prior to this when I got out of class I had the pleasure of watching the second half of the movie Hardball, a movie I have not seen in at least five years and used to love. Also good news came with information that I may be able to march with the University of Havana students in the upcoming rally for the fiftieth anniversary of the Bay of Pigs anniversary. Later on I we caught a locals cab to old Havana. It was nice walking around Old Havana today as our group of three represented three different continents. Our neighbor and newfound friend from Bolivia, our visitor turned newfound friend from Australia, and myself from the United States, quite cultured we were as we walked the streets acting as tourists searching for gifts for our friends and family back at our respected homes. Counted the amount of people offering me black market cigars, today’s total was thirteen.

As many of my friends already know, “Shooter” off of Lil Wayne’s Carter II is one of my favorite songs and I love watching my new Cuban friends eat it up.

April 15, 2011

So my new favorite juice is tamarind juice. The tamarind tree produces a seedpod, which you then extract the pulp and seeds from (you can also just suck on the seeds) and let soak in water. We then let it sit for a day in water, remove the seeds and blend the mixture together with water and sugar. The result is a juice slightly similar to apple juice yet with a much stronger flavor that is more bitter and sour. I also found pancake mix today. I love pancakes so this was quite a find for Cuba where American goods are few and far between. I’ve also come to understand how people become addicted to coffee. I’ve been a minor coffee drinker for the past three years, drinking it after a hard night of drinking, during exam week, and always an espresso when I arrive to work as it is free and too good to pass up yet I can go weeks without a cup and would not claim to be an addict of the caffeinated beverage. However since landing in Cuba I have averaged between two and three cups a day following almost every meal. Now that we are working on our final papers and finishing up our loose ends regarding school work the French press has been on the stove nearly all day for the past week and will more than likely remain there for the following week and I am starting to rather enjoy drinking black Cuban coffee all day. In my youth I would ask my parents how and why they were addicted to coffee and they’d always respond that they’d pick it up in college and until today I never truly understood, I think I may be hooked . . . Also our Australian friends I trying to each me to speak Cockney (She just spent ten months in England) and I’m completely bewildered. Keep your mince pies on the frog n’ toad!

Now that I’m back in exam/final paper mode I’ve been listening to Emancipator and Explosions in the Sky non-stop.

April 15, 2011

When a good friend in my group told me this morning that he had fallen asleep outside on the front porch (it’s fenced off from the ‘rough’ neighborhood) I immediately laughed finding the thought of him and a beautiful girl passed out for all walking by to see to be hysterical, my laughter ceased when he further explained how he was awoken. Apparently a guy had been watching them and as soon as they were out cold, he cut a hole n the fence, snuck up on them, and stole my good friends clothes. At first my imagination took two different routes, the first being pretty funny that some guy stole his clothes so he was left on the front porch with just his boxers, and the second of how creepy it would be for some random stranger in a different country to come up on you while you are sleeping, in your boxers, standing above you with the ability to do whatever he desires, and then running off with all of your present belongings. Now in reality the situation is quite bad as the man made off with his wallet containing both his identification card and his debit card. Now almost anywhere else in the world he could just look up the banks phone number, make an email or a phone call, and have his debit card theft be a small misfortune and inconvenience as he would just have to wait for another card to be mailed to him on his return but in Cuba it’s a little more complex than that. For starters the Bank of America website chooses not to work in Cuba, they refuse to recognize your account information, your social security number, or even the fact that you exist, let alone have an account with them, so its nearly impossible to find a means of solving your problem. They won’t even let you access their customer support page. Now this is not the Cuban government censoring the Bank of America page, Bank of America refuses to allow people in Cuba access to their website. Now we’re paying $8 an hour so my friends was not too happy when he realized that his bank was unwilling to help him out just because he was in Cuba. He then had to make a phone call to the States, (something I have done once and ended up leaving a 2 minutes $10 voicemail) and ended up with pretty much no closure on the situation just hopes that his mother may get his message soon enough that she can contact his bank and cancel his card (if she’s even allowed to do that. Now my time in Cuba has been nothing short of amazing. I’ve made great friends, learned a whole lot about myself and the “Cuban” reality and have had a damn good time but this whole not having access to the internet thing is a huge pain in the ass and I feel for anybody visiting here from the rest of the globalized world that may have a problem at home. I love being off the grid, it’s reaaaaaaaally awesome feeling like a ghost and I’ve always looked forward to my chances of getting off of the radar but I’ve sadly had to come to the realization that for my current situation (getting a summer job, signing up for classes, finding somewhere to live, making sure nobody has tampered with my bank account, buying a plane ticket, and communicating with my family) I do deep down need the internet or a phone, very sadly and unwillingly it tis true.

Found out today I’ll be able to catch Minus the Bear in Charleston right before I head to Arkansas and se them at Wakarusa, I’ve loved them for years and have only had the opportunity to see them once, two years ago, and am soo excited to se them not once but twice in one week! Menos El Oso is still my favorite album by them and though it doesn’t sound as good on my computer when compared to the vinyl version, It’s still getting me amped for the oncoming summer.