It’s been a crazy summer. From Germany and Canada to the west and east coast of the United States, my family all converged on the farm in Ohio for several weeks. Sometimes all at once, sometimes in succession. A wedding, a family reunion, and a camping trip involving the 47 members of my immediate family were followed just a mere few hours after we packed up the camping gear by the birth of the 48th member, whose mother managed to make it to the hospital in time for the baby’s arrival.
My family completed our month-long homage to the cycle of life by holding a memorial service for my uncle out by the pond at the farm in Ohio, the pond built by my grandpa and recreated, in a way, by my uncle, who put a pond on his own property all the way across the country in Oregon.
A few days after the memorial service, and on the last night most of us were together, the third annual micro Madden Road Music Festival took place at the old brick building at the crossroads of Mutual, Ohio. My mom has an antiques shop on the ground floor of the building, and a few years ago some of the family came together and cleared out the top floor for use as an occasional music hall. With its cracked plaster and old beadboard walls, the music hall resembles a depression-era honky-tonk or small town opera house. Which it probably was — both of those things — over the years. The floor still bears faded painted lines outlining the boundaries of an undersized basketball court from its stint as a sports center for budding young farmers.
For this year’s festival, both floors were put into use. We pushed the old bureaus and benches and side tables to the edge of the antiques shop and placed the tables and chairs in the center, creating a place for the festival potluck.
Hemisphere Coffee Roasters, a local coffee roasting business run by a family who source all their beans directly, came to the festival and transformed my mom’s shop counter into a coffee shop. Right next to the counter we created a bakery using an antique glass display case, which held goods baked by my nieces, who made everything from brownies to snickerdoodles to chocolate chip cookies. To the shock of everyone who knows her well, my mom spent the day of the festival baking bread to add to the bakery’s inventory. The bread was delicious, which belies the whole idea that only highly-trained experts who spend their youth sweating over commercial ovens as apprentices are capable of baking bread. The motivation for my mom’s baking spree came from the fact that proceeds from bakery sales all went toward efforts to help the friend of yet another sister who lived in Mumbai, a friend who is saving up with her husband so that he can buy his own rickshaw. I know this sounds over-the-top but it’s true. We raised money to purchase a rickshaw in India at our tiny music festival in the middle of nowhere, Ohio. We live in global times, people.
The potluck featured lots of stuff from the garden: corn and cantaloupe and squash. Someone brought a huge tray of macaroni & cheese, which was quickly consumed. And someone else brought a trencher of homemade popcorn. It turns out that popcorn tastes especially awesome when eaten from an antique trencher. And while I don’t know exactly what a trencher is (the people who brought the popcorn told me the name of the thing), I know that I want one for my next potluck.
Five bands took both stages, alternating between the Antiques Store Stage and the Music Hall Stage, and each one was mesmerizing. Which also sounds over-the-top, but it’s just as true as the rickshaw story. Something about seeing musicians make music in front of you seems both familiar and completely strange these days. Familiar in the sense that making and experiencing live music in real time has been around since human beings themselves. But strange in the sense that most of us take our music in electronic doses, perfected and altered and manipulated before we consume it at random, usually isolated moments. Listening to real music being made by actual people in a roomful of family, friends and strangers, eating popcorn and cantaloupe and drinking coffee seemed almost bizarre. But really comforting too. A personal highlight for me was the music of Bob Lucas, who performed along with his daughter and son-in-law. These three are steeped in old-time music across several genres and decades. And Bob is a composer as well as an actor, director, producer in theater. Just one of those run-of-the-mill geniuses you often encounter playing above a random antiques store in Ohio. (Never underestimate the Midwest. It is full of surprises).
The morning after the festival we gathered outside my parents’ farmhouse to see our nephew David off to college in Chicago, and the summer was complete. It held everything: endings, beginnings and middles, all of it carried out to a sort of soundtrack of music-making at every point, from singing around the campfire to my brother playing his banjo at his newborn daughter’s side at the hospital to singing (and we do sing choral arrangements as a family, some of us more skillfully than others) The Lord Bless You and Keep You as a benediction, moments before David climbed into the van with his family, heading west — just as the sun climbed higher and higher in the east.