We all thought the promoters were crazy to hold a music festival in early April, but they said it was the only weekend the headliner had open, so they had no choice.
I was a nobody. Just a young singer-songwriter trying to find her way into the big time and accepting little-to-no pay and crappy dates. The rain didn't intimidate me. It was 1970 after all and the weather hadn’t done any harm to Woodstock, had it? This festival was much smaller, though, with smaller names, a smaller stage, and in all ways a smaller vision. It was a gig nonetheless and I needed all the gigs I could get.
The bus ride to Idyllwild—a Greyhound stuffed with musicians, roadies, groupies, dealers and the usual hangers on—was a party in and of itself, a party that might have become legendary except for the fact that the headliner was comfortably ensconced in his limo drinking champagne and cutting lines of coke that none of us could possibly afford. We didn’t mind. Being on a road trip with musicians in those days was like being in a cool, happening circus. There were, as the saying goes, no bad seats. In fact, looking back, I think we had the better time. Full of high spirits, herb, and Red Mountain wine, we arrived at the concert site, pouring out of the bus like a tribe of raggle-taggle gypsies with only one thing on our minds: music!
That night, after the crew set up the stage, speaker stacks, and backstage tents, we gathered around a large campfire to jam and pass around pipes and clips and wine jugs before retiring. In a lot of ways I enjoyed this time the most. There was no pressure and no audience, just a bunch of hippy musicians doing what we loved best. We shared songs and stories, learned each others’ fingerings and chords, and didn’t worry about wiping the mouth of the wine jug when it was passed to us. We were a clan, a cosmic chorus of innocents trusting the karma of love and music. The weather was nice that night; it had cleared up and the moon passing behind the tall trees in the misty night air promised a grey day for the concert.
I awoke in the arms of an angel with long, curly blond hair, cozy and warm in his tent with interior walls hung with Indian tapestries, posters of Krishna and Ganesha, and a huge assortment of handmade bamboo flutes. He was a magical creature, more elf than human with pale, delicate skin, expressive, fluid gestures, and bells and paisley braid adorning his clothing. As the rain fell outside, he made me a breakfast of dandelion tea, fried bananas, and pumpkin bread drizzled with raw honey. He bathed me in the stream with lavender and rose soap. He washed my hair with lotus blossom shampoo and he braided feathers and beads in it, fitted turquoise and silver rings onto my fingers and sent me off to the staging area with his blessing, a kiss that told me we’d never meet again.
“Don’t worry,” he whispered. “I won’t let the grey devour you.”
I humored him with a smile, touched his cheek one last time and joined my band of musical gypsies in the rain. It wasn’t the drenching kind, but the slowly dripping kind, enough to make playing onstage miserable and singing into a microphone dangerous.
As people arrived, laying Indian bedspreads and Native America blankets on the ground, we all wondered just how many would stick it out and how many had decided not to come at all. Our audience were stout souls as it turned out; they came and they stayed, huddling beneath umbrellas and wrapped in coats and ponchos as their banners and their balloons struggled against lashing gusts of wind.
Jesse opened the concert as the rain gathered glistening in his Grecian beard and dripped from the curls that embraced his face. He performed like a warrior whose battle was against the drizzle, rendering it invisible with his music. He was followed by a vocal trio who cut their set to just three songs. So the afternoon went until it was at last my turn to perform, the rain coming down even harder.
I walked to the set up of two microphones—one for my guitar and one for my voice—and as I fine-tuned my top strings, my eyes caught the sight of my golden angel, a lone figure standing in the audience. He smiled at me, his eyes kissing mine, and lifted his hands into the air, palms up, as if lifting the grey sky. And as he did so, the rain stopped. Everyone looked up to see the sun peaking out from over silver clouds, backed by the cobalt blue sky of early evening. I too looked up, laughing with joy, and when I turned my eyes back into the audience, my angel was gone.
I never saw him again, but now that I am old, my face lined and my heart weary, I sometimes feel him braiding feathers and beads in my hair and, with silvery, gentle hands, lifting the grey.
Copyright © 2014 SK Waller