02 November 2012

Remember This the Best

Twenty three ago, in the Spring I am certain it must have been, and we were still residents of New York City, we traveled a bit North with friends to the Clearwater Festival at Croton Point in Croton-on-Hudson. According to the Festival’s web site the “Clearwater's Great Hudson River Revival is produced by the nonprofit, member-supported, environmental organization Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. All proceeds go directly to support Clearwater’s environmental research, education and advocacy efforts to help preserve and protect the Hudson River and its tributaries, as well as communities in the river valley.” Then, neither the Festival nor the organization that it helped support had websites; then, there was no internet.
Pete Seeger helped found the Festival to support the preservation of the Hudson River, and the proceeds from the Festival helped build the Clearwater, a boat that sailed the River promoting environmental care of the Hudson. The Clearwater became a floating classroom. And the festival became an annual Spring Gathering of environmental activists, crafts men and women, and folk music artists.
We attended on a perfect Spring day, and we walked the grounds studying the educational displays, looking at the crafts for purchase, and listening to music wherever we went. At one point I stood next to Pete Seeger when he joined another visitor to the Festival who happened to have his guitar strapped to his back and he joined Pete on his banjo in a rousing rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.” This man sang that song so well that Seeger demanded he join him again, and again, and again, until finally the man’s voice just plum gave out.
We stood at the main stage and listened to John McCutcheon and Guy Carroway perform on the hammered dulcimer. I was not familiar with either artist but I enjoyed the music and fell in love with the sound of the instrument. I stood listening for some time. The child in the carriage was asleep anyway.
Then I applied for the position here in semi-rural Wisconsin at the University. When I interviewed here I was taken to The Creamery, an upscale (indeed, the only upscale) restaurant in the near vicinity. At dinner that evening (well, really it was supper, dinner often considered the afternoon meal!) I felt almost as if I were dining in a fashionable New York restaurants (I am not overly fussy) and I thought, Hell, if this restaurant is here, then perhaps I could live here. Reader, I took the job!
And when we moved here in late August of that year and toured the town, a featured site was the Mabel Tainter Theater, a small venue built in the late 19th century in memory of the daughter of Andrew Tainter who died at the age of nineteen. Andrew Tainter was one of the lumber barons who helped cut down much of the forest of Wisconsin. I don’t think he would have been welcome at the Clearwater Festival.
The Tainter was (and remains) a beautiful theater that seats about three hundred people. And the poster on the front door on the day we toured the town announced the performance two weeks hence of John McCutcheon. I purchased the tickets. It was a wonderful evening, indeed, a warm welcome to this small town, and a sense of being home. And for the past twenty three years I have listened to McCutcheon’s music, purchased his CDs, received his emails and read his website.
And now, twenty three years later, tonight John McCutcheon will perform again at the Mabel Tainter. In his memoir, Speak, Memory, Nabokov recounts two related stories separated by fifteen years and says “The following of such designs through one’s life should be  . . . the true purpose of autobiography.” McCutcheon’s performance this evening gives my life some roundness, some sense of consistency and purpose, even some direction, false as each might ultimately turn out to be. But for now I feel like I’m coming home.


Anonymous Barbara said...

I am forever grateful you took that job here years ago...and I will have to check out McCutcheon's music.

03 November, 2012 14:48  

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