News Column

The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va., Jonas Beals column

June 6, 2013

YellowBrix

June 06--Music tends to be a polarizing entertainment. People listen to music they love and either actively shun or blissfully ignore music they do not love. Naturally, our consumption pattern in this love hate relationship leans almost exclusively to the "love" side. Why spend time and money on music you hate?

But most music actually lives in a bland middle-ground of relative inoffensiveness. Usually, that just means it ends up in the same bin with the refuse that's actively hated. Shame, that.

Of course, hate can be just as passionate a response as love, and songs you dislike can consume just as much time and mental effort as songs you enjoy. All the rest fades into the background. But there are moments when fading into the background is a welcome escape. The music you normally meet with indifference can take you there.

My wife, daughter and I braved our first music festival together last weekend. We had expected to be at the Graves Mountain bluegrass festival, but a family medical emergency found us in another state, where we happened to be minutes from the Appel Farm Arts & Music Festival in Elmer, N.J.

I was familiar with most of the artists on the bill. While none of them rated my "love" designation, none of them fell into the "hate" category, either. We decided to buy tickets to a quaint, daylong concert of inoffensive folk-style music that was convenient to attend. We were excited at the prospect of a diversion, but this was hardly a passionate quest of Deadhead-ian proportions.

But it turned out to be a beautiful, even emotional, experience. The music was lovely, but it was only one figure on a natural tableau that comforted us, letting us forget about the family issues that brought us to New Jersey in the first place.

We spread a blanket under an apple tree, squeezing in between other festival-goers seeking shelter from the scorching sun. We moved the blanket as the sun arced from east to west. We misted each other with spray bottles full of water.

My 2-year-old daughter made friends with the people around us, charming them with her rosy cheeks and willingness to share snacks. She took a nap under the apple tree.

All the while, there was music. Good music. We heard Aoife O'Donovan, John Gorka and Iris DeMent. When my daughter wanted to see the guitars, we got closer to the stage. When she wanted to see the sheep-shearing demonstration, we visited the sheep.

"Baa, ram, ewe," she said to a denuded ewe.

We ate water ice, the twice-named staple of Philadelphia summers. I had falafel. We colored pictures in the kids' tent.

Music was playing the whole time. We didn't feel it was necessary to sit and listen intently if we didn't want to, but when we did, we were rewarded with some quality tunes.

Gorka played "I'm From New Jersey," and I shared in my wife's pride for her home state. I also shared Gorka's bittersweet ambivalence toward his home state.

We had a nice time, and in this case, a nice time was incredible. It would not have happened without music, and would not have happened without the sort of music that allows for indifference. Not only is that a good way to unwind, it's also a good way to be pleasantly surprised.

This is not a case of simply setting low expectations. The music matched our mood, set us on a minor vacation and provided the perfect environment to relax in the shade. The music was an essential part of the experience, but it wasn't the whole experience. That was a nice way to spend the day.

JONAS' IN-TOWN PICK: ilyAIMY at Market Square downtown. A Baltimore folk collective that likes to explore other genres. Friday at 7 p.m.

OUT-OF-TOWN PICK: Mary J. Blige and Anthony Hamilton at the Richmond Coliseum. You want great soul vocals? Here ya go. Thursday at 8 p.m.

LISTENING TO: "Drop It Like It's Hot" by Snoop Dogg featuring Pharrell. Hard to believe this minimalist track was Snoop's first number-one hit.

Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036 -- jbeals@freelancestar.com

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(c)2013 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.)

Visit The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.) at www.fredericksburg.com/flshome

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