From the Kate Wolf Music Festival: the scene


Kate Wolf was a northern California folk singer who gained a national following as part of the folk revival of the 70’s. She died prematurely of leukemia in 1986. We have been big fans of her music for a long time, so when a friend told us there was an annual Kate Wolf Music Festival in Mendocino County, we decided to go.

We were a little late discovering the festival, seeing as how this was the 19th iteration. It offered more than 30 acts on four stages, with camping included in the price, at Black Oak Ranch, on land owned by the Hog Farm commune.

We camped the night before in Willits, about 35 miles from the festival venue, so we could arrive reasonably early and get a good campsite. We arrived about 20 minutes after the gates opened to find lots of folks already camped and a long line of people waiting to pick up their will-call tickets and get the wrist bands that are required to get into the event.

After an hour in line, we scored our wrist bands and headed off to find a campsite. We got one in the “quiet camp,” which is what we wanted, as opposed to the “up all night” section. I’m sure this does not surprise you. (There’s a river with two beaches — “clothing optional” and “clothing required.” You can probably guess which one we would have chosen, but we never made it down there.)

We set up camp, had an early lunch, and then took our chairs and headed down the dusty path to the “music meadow.” By the time we got there, all the areas close to the main stage were taken, so we placed our chairs pretty far back and off to one side. That turned out to be a good move.

The Music Meadow housed not only the four stages but also a dozen food vendors and about 50 craft booths. This led to a certain amount of shopping. Wherever we go, one of us buys T-shirts for the grandchildren so the poor things won’t be dressed in rags. We bought festival T-shirts, which were nice, but from a distance the type on the back appeared to say “Hate Wolf” (at right). When I mentioned this, the young kid behind the counter said, “We know,” before his mother shushed him. It just goes to show the importance of paying close attention to typography.

When we finally settled in to listen to the music, we discovered that we had brought the wrong kind of chairs. The festival asked for “low back chairs,” and we had our camp chairs, which indeed have low backs. It turns out that what they meant was low seat chairs, like the kind you use at the beach. In fact, some of the “low back” chairs had backs that were higher than ours. We pariahs with the wrong chairs were asked to sit toward the back and the sides, which is where we were, but that didn’t prevent one lady from coming up and complaining to us. There’s always one volunteer cop in every group. Over all, though, it was a mellow crowd.

I expected the crowd to include a lot of old hippies, and it did. But a wide range of ages and styles was represented. We quickly discovered that the festival-goers offered almost as much entertainment as the musicians on stage. We saw a pretty wide array of get-ups. Here are a couple:







We also liked this bus, which looked like it might have had the ghost of Ken Kesey lurking inside:


But this being the 21st century, even the bus has a Web site.

Okay, you say, but what about the music? I’ll cover that in my next post.


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