|The Lake Eden Arts Festival waterfront.|
Does your routine, conventional daily life ever get you down? Do bumper stickers like “What if the hokey pokey is what it is all about?” or “Normal people worry me” amuse you? Have you worn enough khaki for now? Want to reach into the back of your closet for that tie dye or colorful Guatemalan shirt, maybe even splash on some glitter? Make reservations now to go to the October Lake Eden Arts Festival.
We and our friends started going to the festival thirty years ago and have attended dozens of times. Held on the site of a boy’s summer camp in Black Mt. North Carolina, the festival includes several stages, dancing, a poetry slam contest plus vendors and healing arts areas. A huge children’s area has stages, craft-making and activities like climbing walls and trapezes. Most people tent camp, which is free with a weekend pass. Or you can rent a rustic 9-12 bunk bed cabin. Sitting on the cabin’s shady porch sipping coffee and listening to the music begin is a great way to start the day.
But it’s the acts you never heard of that are the most exciting: African rock, world music, electrifying Appalachian, roots of the Blues... During a particularly energetic samba band, my friend Terese and I were trying to emulate the curvaceous Latina dancers, even though we have neither the bodies nor steps. Suddenly a tall muscular woman bounded towards us and pushed Terese out of the way. “Let me show you!” she demanded taking me forcefully into her arms. With her compelling lead, I started to get the idea. As the music ended she tightly encircled my waist and lifted me high into the air. “That was great!” she said before vanishing into the crowd. A real LEAF moment.
Watching the contra dancing, which resembles square dancing, is almost as much fun as doing it. Almost. You can dance about ten hours a day. Some people do. A huge roomful of twirling, entwining, swirling dancers follow calls like “gypsy”, “allemande left” and “doesy-do” accompanied by stellar bands. Lines and squares separate and rejoin in intricate patterns that the caller repeats until a kaleidoscopic order magically forms. Then the calling stops and the dancers continue by memory. Once a loud thunderclap suddenly shut off the electricity and the room went dark. Only vague unamplified music was left. Without missing a beat the dancers continued, driven by their own claps and foot stomps. So exhilarating. It reminds me of my father swinging me around by our hands when I was a little girl, up into the air, around and around. Whee!
There’s nothing like a drum circle to get your ya-yas out. At the top of the mountain, around a bonfire, people of all ages and cultures beat on djembes, congas, tambourines or even buckets. The leaderless mélange of extemporaneous music stops and starts with its own logic. No bystanders here. Dancers gyrate around the fire. No one seems sleepy or remotely self conscious. For a young boy like our son, it was mesmerizing. Many nights we’d see Philip’s bed empty and find him enthralled at the drum circle.
For our group of friends and the children we raised, the LEAF Festival has been one of our most formative family experiences. Our kids sang and played music for us, got tossed by acrobats, danced with us, splashed into the lake on zip lines, made crafts to sell and reveled in freedom and safety. After spending pocket money with vendors, they’d return looking like Jerry Garcia’s children with beanie hats, hacky sacks and tie dye shirts.
LEAF is more than an arts festival. It’s wholesome, entertaining and enlightening. It’s a place where everyone can unabashedly let their hair down, take a break from normal and join the conga line.
Originally published in the Island Eye News
Want to go?
LEAF Festival is each Oct. and May. Tickets are ONLY sold in advance and almost always sell out. See www.theleaf.com for more information.