News Column

Turn on, Tune in, Camp Out

May 9, 2013


May 09--I think Timothy Leary was onto something when he recommended that people "turn on, tune in, drop out." If drugs aren't your thing, I think the only ingredient necessary to achieve bliss is the last one. There is something spiritually fulfilling about leaving the everyday behind.

That thought occurred to me this weekend when I participated in the re-enactment of the Battle of Chancellorsville.

It was the first time I'd seen a Civil War reenactment, but as the sun went down over the Federal camp, things became familiar. Sure, the beer was in period-correct pewter mugs and the campfires were as much for cooking dinner as they were for ambience, but the overall scene would be familiar to anyone who has attended a music festival. It was more bluegrass festival than Bonnaroo, but it was fairly easy to see the common threads connecting them all.

And then the drums started. I halfway expected to see Ken Crampton pop out of a tent with a djembe in his hand.

It was more proof that where there are people and a campfire, there will be music. But it was also proof of the joy that comes with removing ourselves from our workaday lives, cutting the various cords that plug us in and relaxing into the natural world. More often than not, that transformation comes with a shift from simply consuming music to actively making music.

Drums are one of the most elemental ways to make music, so they are a natural choice for groups of weekend warriors who find themselves under the stars.

While a Civil War re-enactment will never be confused with a hippie music festival, if I squinted my ears hard enough, the similarity was there. It wasn't in the content, but the intent of the thing. There is freedom in creation and, apparently, creation in freedom. Give people time and space, and they fill it with music.

The drums I heard last weekend were martial in sound and intent fife and drum corps that would ultimately accompany the infantry onto the battlefield. In practical use during wartime, they raised spirits and kept marching time. In recreational use last weekend, they provided an enchanting background for revelry while underscoring the historical accuracy of the moment.

These are the moments that many of us, using various excuses, seek out in life. The beauty of a Civil War re-enactment isn't the faux battle, it's the very real camaraderie that thrives in the elements of camp. For many people, it's not the bluegrass on stage that draws them to the festival, it's the friendship around the fire pit.

People are drawn to those moments for various individual reasons, but the similar settings of events like Civil War re-enactments and jam band festivals reveal a common desire to not only spend time out of doors and get a little dirty, but to toss away the oppressive yoke of modernity. We long to drop out. It turns out that the things we think we need are not that necessary after all.

Maybe that sort of fun can only be had with the knowledge that a TV and a hot shower are waiting at the end. Regardless, there is real happiness in those moments of dropping out.

And that's where the music is in the spectacular moments when you realize freedom and creativity are all you need.

JONAS' IN-TOWN PICK: Love Canon at The Kenmore Inn. If you love bluegrass and/or '80s music, you cannot miss this concert. Saturday at 8 p.m.

OUT-OF-TOWN PICK: Donna The Buffalo at The State Theater in Falls Church. Still one of the best country-roots-rock bands. Sunday at 7 p.m.

LISTENING TO: "If It Ain't Love" by Mark Newton & Steve Thomas. From the new album "Reborn," an exciting change of pace from our local bluegrass man.

Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036 --


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