Going to Strawberry this Fall
September 9, 2015
Going to Strawberry this Fall unleashed, for me, a potpourri of different emotions, some of them at odds with each other and others not--a mixed-up ball of excitement, curiosity, expectation, apprehension and uncertainty that competed alternately for my attention leading up to the point at which we entered the festival gates and continued thereafter until my immersion in the festival reached a point where the experiential overtook the analytical and I was able to get into the groove of the surrounding zeitgeist. This coincided not too roughly with the point at which I became enveloped, once again, in that amorphous whatever-it-is that is collectively known as the "Strawberry Spirit."
This "spirit" isn't something you can see or touch or detect by any other known physical sensory apparatus, but it is something one can align with at certain times of the year when the moon is full and you cock your head a certain way, or, by throwing your lot in with a bunch of other Festivarians and participating in a long-standing tradition of inclusion and acceptance into a fraternity of like-minded people for whom the location of the venue is secondary to the opportunity to share in the Strawberry Spirit one more time.
Being one of those so addicted, or afflicted, depending on your point of view, I would attend Strawberry no matter where it was held. There's no denying the fact that the Strawberry faithful, myself included, were blessed with a singularly fantastic location for decades--more than three of them--at Camp Mather and yet, sadly, there's also no denying the fact that nothing remains the same forever. Nothing!
So, for those of us who secretly yearn for a day in which the festival could return to Camp Mather, one approach is to be thankful for all the good times we had there while remaining mindful that what makes the magic of Strawberry happen isn't the site or the venue--it's the people! Both the people who used to camp next to you at Mather and the folks you just met at Westside who were your neighbors there because of the uprooting of the traditional camps and gathering-places that accompanied the Strawberry diaspora.
In the process of relocating from the meadows of Mather to the playa of Westside, folks are meeting new neighbors, forming new bonds and associations and expanding the circle of friendship in ways that would likely have never taken place had we been allowed to maintain stasis at Mather.
To make comparisons between Mather and Westside (or Grass Valley, for that matter) is pointless and counterproductive, in addition to being akin to hitting yourself in the head with a hammer to see how much it hurts. Yes, it hurts, so why go there in the first place? I've found that, by merely noting the differences, emphasizing the parts I like while downplaying the parts that don't compare well, this allows me the openness and the freedom to enter into new experiences in an embracing manner, thus allowing much more opportunity to discover positive aspects to my surroundings, to stretch and meet new people and to have a more positive experience overall.
Having had some familiarity with the Westside site because of having grown up in Tuolumne County, I was intrigued initially to see how the property would be utilized for the festival. The large open spaces were a source of concern, as was the lack of shade. The proximity to the road and potential for road noise was noted. The possibility of high temperatures was not out of mind. Dust seemed likely. It turned out that the lack of shade in the large open spaces informed my decisions concerning when to go where, as shaded areas held much more appeal on most occasions. Road noise, though present, was not excessive, at least where we were located, which was on the parking playa fairly close to the stage area. The moderate temperatures, milder than reason would have indicated, given the date, provided a much-welcomed breeze that coursed through our campsite each afternoon. As for the dust, the water trucks' frequent deliveries throughout the weekend held most of the dust at bay on the parking playa. I did not have the opportunity to gauge the dust situation in the outlying areas but I suspect, given the large amount of grading that had immediately preceded the opening of the gates, that dust may have been more of an issue in those areas.
Overall, however, the Westside site proved itself capable of hosting a large event even though all the particulars were not ironed out beforehand. Based on the feedback I received from attendees on site, the majority of them were inclined toward acceptance of the new site, albeit with hopes for improvements of various kinds going forward.
But, for me, it doesn't really matter in the end where the festival takes place because it isn't about the location--it's about an idea, borne on the wings of music, that took flight and soared so far it acquired a life of its own. Such an idea, properly nourished, can literally become whatever its proponents desire it to be. And remember, ideas are only bound by the limitations we place upon them. This festival has endured for 34 years because of the dedication of the people involved--fans and staff alike--and their determination and willingness to brave whatever hardships or obstacles they encountered along the way in order to maintain the spirit, support the magic and preserve the Idea that is Strawberry for future generations to enjoy.
Despite the festival's history and longevity, holding this event at a new location for the first time invests it with a newness and a singular uniqueness that makes all who participate in this fellowship pioneers, or pathfinders, in a grand new adventure.
Twenty years ago this coming December, Bill Watterson of Calvin & Hobbes fame inked his final panel for that strip, portraying a landscape transformed by freshly fallen snow in which the characters note that "everything familiar has disappeared" leaving behind what Hobbes likens to "having a big white sheet of paper to draw on" and prompting Calvin to say "It's a magical world, Hobbes, ol' buddy . . . let's go exploring."
In that sense, we're all explorers here, and we have all been blessed with a lot of new ground, both literally and figuratively, to explore.
Thank you, Strawberry, for reminding me once again what distinguishes the mundane from the extraordinary.
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