My friend Bruce invited me to go camping at the Pemi (short for Pemigewasset) Valley Bluegrass Festival. Having been born and raised a city boy, I've never enjoyed a true camping experience so I jumped at the chance. The closest I ever got to camping was sleeping out in a tent in the backyard with the neighborhood kids. Originally, I thought it was for 'the weekend' which I define as Friday afternoon until Sunday, so when I called to check he said it was from 'Thursday' until Sunday. Ok, fine.
On Tuesday, I called him to see if we were going to be staying in Braintree, (his house) and going up Thursday and he left me a voice mail saying that he and I would be going up to NH on Wednesday night, but he'd have to come back to Braintree to pick up 'stock'. Stock? As in bonds or cattle? Turns out that Bruce neglected to mention that this was his first year as a 'vendor' of official PVBGF merchandise. Ok, fine. Brucie is full of surprises. He thought he told me that.
I arrived in Braintree at about 2:30 PM carry my bag of stuff which included an airbed, as there was supposed to more people than who actually came up. So, the first order of business was to pack all the 'stuff' into Bruce's Toyota Wagon. Bruce is a master packer and I found out that it best to stand back and watch, hand him stuff and otherwise get out of the way. He had that thing packed to the rafters, and he put my 'stuff' in the roof container as well as having to tie down a few things. Its useful if you are going camping to make a list, such as tents, rope, coolers, food, marshmallows, firewood as well as his 'stock' of folding chairs, mugs, pins, cloth bags and 'all-in-one' mats as well as two mailboxes with seascapes on them. If I would have had Bruce with me when I left Vegas, he could have stuffed my entire house, including furniture into his car.
Then, when all is done, he backed out of the driveway and hooked up the camper, which at this pojnt, was a flatbed on wheels. We left for Campton at about 4:40 and of course, we hit Boston's rush hour traffic, which effectively adds an hour to the commute.
We stopped at a Wendy's for something quick to eat and we arrived at the campground at about 7PM. There, he unhooked the trailer, cranked it up and voila
instant home for a few days. But that was only the beginning. He hung a hammock between two trees (ladders are another good item to bring), hung red, white and blue lights so the site would be easy to identify, although the campground was pretty vacant at this point. We enjoyed the starry skies of which there were numerous, and although astronomy was always one of my favorite subjects, don't ask me to identify any of them other than the Big Dipper. I just don't get it - I see no Archers, Scorpions or Orion's belt. To me, they are just 'a thousand points of light' to coin a phrase. Because the campsite was pretty vacant, they were showing a movie on the side of the camp office/store. After the movie, we lit a fire, toasted marshmallows, told ghost stories and called it a night.
We got up on Thursday morning and Bruce pitched a tent, and we put together the screen house covering for the picnic table. Although the individual poles were numbered, it was nevertheless akin to putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
Bruce gave me the option of returning to Braintree with him or staying at the campsite. As nice as it was up there, of course I would go back to Braintree to pick up more stock. But before we could leave, we had to take out all the stuff that was in Bruce's wagon and move them into the camper where we could look the stuff in for security. We left at about noon. On the way out, Bruce (the Moose, aka Mr. Moose) and I stopped at one of his favorite eateries nearby - the Michevious Moose. I had a tuna salad on white toast and he had a pastomi sandich.
When we arrived in Braintree, I took a quick shower at Bruce's since it was another hot and humid day. Bruce's philosophy toward camping is to take nothing but pictures, including showers. We packed more stuff into the now empty wagon, picked up the girls, his daughter Brandi and her friend Jesse and by the time we were ready to go, Rozz, his wife came home from work and we loaded her car up with stuff, too. We left for NH about 3:15, me, Bruce, the girls and his little dog, too, Sapphire, a Papillion, which I affectionly refer to as a PAP-ILON. Rozz followed in her car.
Despite the earlier departure, we still got caught in Boston traffic as there was a few accidents on the highway. We would encounter quite a few accidents throughout the weekend. We stopped at Wendy's again and then at BJ's for food. How all the crap fit in the wehicles was beyond me, but I assume Rozz's car had space available. We arrived at Campton, again, at about 7PM.
But, before we could relax, we now had to take all the stuff out of the camper and find space for it so we could sleep. Rozz's car came in handy for that, especially after the food and coolers were moved into the table tent. It was dark by the time we finished that, we built a fire. One of my chores was to find kindling to get the fire going and I found some good size sticks at a nearby vacant campsite. By now, we had a few new neighbors and when we went to bed, there were people already beginning to jam in their trailers until the wee hours. Rozz, Bruce and I slept in the camper and the girls in the tent. With the fresh crisp air, I slept like a log every night.
On Friday morning, it was up and atum so Bruce and I drove the wagon down to the Fairgrounds site, loaded with wares. We were given an excellent site (at least I thought so) where we could see the stage and hear the music. You could hear the music all over the campsite, actually. We then set up the tent, which was another jigsaw puzzle activity (same manufacturer). Bruce added lights, red, white and blue, to match the American Flag in the back, a clock and a thermometer so we could know how hot (or cold) it was. We set up the table and loaded it with the mailboxes, with lighthouse and seascape themes, and all the Pemi Valley logo items like mugs, bumper stickers, pins, mats and chairs and not one, but four types of baseball caps. Bruce wore a tan one and I had on the white with blue. I still wear mine.
The Festival got officially underway on Friday at 1PM. The Gillis Brothers, The Bluegrass Brothers, the Foggy Bottom Cloggers and the Cowtippers were some of the performers. Smokey Green started it off. While I have a very eclectic musical tastes, I must admit that country and western and bluegrass music is at the bottom of the list, but I did enjoy good banjo pickin. For a full schedule of events for the Pemi Bluegrass Festival 2005, go here.
So, for the rest of the weekend, and armed with my best Beverly Hillbillies accents, Bruce and I practiced our salesmenship. I'm not a salesman, but I played one at the festival. I didn't do too badly, if I do say so myself. Friday was pretty slow as things were just getting started and people were still arriving, but we pulled off a few sales, mostly the small stuff, like the stickers and pins. Bruce has a little thingie that can create custom made pins and he had a few requests for personal favorites. We had a few good ones in stock, in addition to the logos, such as "Ask me about my dulcimer" (which there weren't any), "Ask me about my banjo", "Acapella is Italian for no banjos" and "Eat, Sleep, Pick". I had a nice dulcimer, handmade in Pennsylvania that I got at an Eisteddfodd festival in college, that I had to put up for sale at my garage sale when I left Vegas.
Most people were lurkers and browsers, but I always tried to engage any passerby in conversation to make a sale. I would ask them if they were having a good time and if they were enthusiastic, I told them that we were peddling memories. We sold something of everything except the two mailboxes which were 'out of theme'.
One frequent visitor was Bob, a deejay for a bluegrass show on WUNH. After I check it out, I'll post the link here. Wonder if they are doing podcasts?
Bluegrass is for people with guts. And many of the people I saw had huge guts, both men and women. Some of the men looked like they had penguins under their bellies. Some guys look right of Deliverance with their long white beards down to their belts with yellowing ponytails. Some were clean, some not. Some looked like thaey haven't washed their beards in years. If they did, they might finally find the TV remote, the car keys or Jimmy Hoffa.
I really tried to sell some of our (Bruce's really, not mine) big ticket items like the chairs. They are collapsible, with a carrying case bag and were available in four separate colors - purple, navy, green and red. I really like the Purple one and Bruce gave me one as a parting gift. I can vouch for their comfortness, as I sat in it for most of the weekend with no backache or buttache. They are made of polyester, and whenever I saw a 'tree hugger' nature type, I told them it was made of '100% natural' polyester and that the polyester sheep were sheared humanely. We did sell 3 chairs, 2 to a woman who on about a half dozen as if it were shoes. She said she had a bad back and butt so she wanted a 'tight' one. Don't we all...
I don't think Rozz had that good of a time, since she had to spend most of the time dog-sitting Sapphire. Dogs are welcome at the campsite, but not at the fairgrounds where we were. I relieved her for awhile on Friday and again on Saturday and she locked the dog in the camper for brief periods. A stiff wind blew in on Friday and dried out the atmosphere, so the weather was nice on Friday afternoon and Saturday.
By Friday night, the 'free' area of the campsite was filled with campers, trailers and tents of all kinds and I spent took some pictures of some of the various makes and models. I really like the 'Montana'. There was also two Mountain Aire chrome round ones that look like a 1950s diner. I don't think they make those anymore. Ironically, someone suggested that I buy a mobile home some years back so I could easily travel to where I need to be, since I've had somewhat of a nomadic lifestyle of late. Looking back now, hindsight being what it is, that might not have been a ad idea. After I sold my house (reluctantly) in the beautiful Northwest part of the Las Vegas Valley, I could have bought a decent trailer, paid for in cash, had no mortgage and be done with it and could have parked in Wat,art's parkinglot across the country. Who knows, the Scorched Pig could be written in Montana instead of here in muggyland. But I found a house to rent in my neighborhood, which I loved and I was most concerned about finding a safe comfortable home for my late basenji, Tecopa, whose ashes I still talk to.
On Saturday, the vendor next door to us 'Frenchie' told us we might be asked to move because he wanted our space. Bruce said hell no, he had a RIGHT to be there and he PAID for the spot. There was no other discussion on the topic and we stayed put. I don't know why Frenchie put up such a fuss, I only saw him make one sale all weekend and I could see the customers browsing and not buying. (Mental note: Next year, bring shotgun.)
During lag times (of which there were many) I read the previous Sunday's Globe
and my old college book Political Science Fiction. Its a good thing Bruce's campsite had electricity, which let me charge up my Ipod, which I listened to when I relieved Rozz of PAP-ILON sitting.
Bruce would give me a wad of cashb to make change with whenever he needed to step away, but on Sunday, after I made my first sale, I kept my first buck and decided to grow my own wad. I started with nothing and by the end of the day when we shut down, I handed over about $120. One of my first customers actually accused me a being a... a... salesman! Encyclopedias, anyone?
One tourist from Quebec bought some mugs for souvenirs on Saturday, and she came back on Sunday looking for a cap for herself. We had tan, white with blue, blue and yellow and black. Yellow and black? One guy actually thought about it awhile, came back, saying "I know exactly what I want." and he bought a yellow cap. The woman from Quebec came back on Sunday and asked to check it out in the car's rear view mirron. I told her women need color, so while she was trying on a white/blue and blue caps, I persuaded her to try on a yellow one. She took the yellow. They weren't really bad looking, its just, well, who wears yellow? She said she was enjoying herself and said she would remember me next year.
We sold at least one of everything. We had mats to lie on in the grass, which I absolutely ahd no use for, but they were colorful: Red, Blue, Green, Lemon Yellow and Orange Orange. I tried to get pwople to buy them as shower rugs, diaper changers and put them under back wheels when shoveliing snow. I even tried to get them to buy them as Labor Day gifts...
I didn't see many vendors doing any kind of brisk business, except for the food vendors. One guy was selling fried shrimp and scallop plates for $6 and $8 respectively, and they were delicious. I never got to try out his fried clams. We had plenty of food, but the heat and humidity were appetite killers. One vendor who was doing a brisk business was 'Bill and Luella' who where selling shave ice for $2.50. Now that's the way to make money - take frozen water, crush it and add syrup. Low overhead. I had a shave ice on Saturday, when the weather was moderately dry and the thing chilled me to the bone. Don't know if it was that, the fact that the temperature dropped sown to the 50s at night or my thermostat is still stuck in Vegas mode, but I could have used a shawl or sweater, I was that chilled.
The retired sisters who were vendors on the other side of us gave me a tour of their camper, a Coachman, old, a 36 foot, no wait, a 34- foot, no wait, a 26 foot camper vehicle. I could live in one, although a tad small, would like something a tad bigger. Their sales were down noticeably from last year, they said and they blamed it on the high price of gas. Not quite sure if that's the reason, since the director of the festival told me that they had to lock the gate on Saturday due to a full house, although he said the number of visitors from Chicago and Florida were down this year.