I knew summer was close upon us when the Lilac Festival kicked off last weekend. That’s the only way I knew. The weather sure gave no clue. I've seen R-rated weather before, but this was obscene. Joan Osborn performed Sunday and, just like when Lot’s wife became a pillar of salt, she became a pillar of ice. I mean, she must have. When guitar strings began superconducting, she swore to herself she would never ever ever come to Rochester again before July. I wasn’t there, so I don’t really know, but if she has any sense, that’s what she did.
And Ricky Lee Jones, the day before, must have been blown back to New York City or wherever she came from. It was gale force winds that day. My son was biking back from Ithaca that day and tells me he had to lean against the wind nearly the whole time. That’s fine until the wind abruptly stops and you must think quick to rebalance. He really should have pulled over. How come I didn't teach him better?
But by Monday, the weather was looking up. Upper 50’s, that is, which isn’t all that great, and with a breeze, no less, but also with full sun. I made plans to get to that festival and, as family head, I ordered Mrs. Sheepandgoats to come with me, but she said ‘forget it.’ Naturally, she cherishes every opportunity to be with me, but it was only 55 stingy degrees, and she has not much use for outdoor festivals until it’s ...say, at least, mid-sixties. Of course, she could wear a parka and tuque. Everybody could, and that would solve the weather problem, but nobody wants to do that. The Lilac Festival is the first "coming out" event of the season - the first real occasion for people watching - and you don’t want to show looking like a weather-grizzled prospector from the backwoods.
See, lilacs are an early blooming plant, right up there with tulips and azaleas - and before rhododendrons, so the festival either must come in early May or shed the name Lilac Festival. Several decades of tradition argues against shedding the name. Just be grateful it's not the Crocus Festival. And Highland Park, it must be said, was truly splendid that day. Brilliant blossoming pinks, deep lilac purples, hues of green, even some yellows springing up everywhere, all splashed against bright blue sky. It's no wonder those ancients went bonkers come every spring. It's glorious to behold. You bring your camera that day, and snap pictures of all you see. Photos are digital, after all, and cheap. If they don’t turn out, you just delete them. Therefore, if you can stand the weather, you come down around suppertime, grab a plate of food from the venders, and munch it down listening to free concerts amidst the beautiful backdrop. Then, you head back home and go about your business. Without ever intending to, I've fallen into a habit of yearly Festival posts. Starting now, therefore, I'm opening a Lilac Festival category.
Monday was cowboy day; all musicians wore cowboy hats. Now, cowboy music would not ordinarily be my first choice, but you have to take what you can get. After all, I’m one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, not some nutcake religious fanatic, and I'm not about to freeze so as to take in the better-known artists of the prior two days. Plenty of Rochestarians are willing to do so, however. We are very serious about our Lilac Festival, and I am told those two frigid days were well-attended. But for me, no. Cowboys it will have to be. A fellow by the name of Jarrod Niemann played at 5:30, putting out a solid show with spontaneity and humor. He didn’t actually wear a cowboy hat (he wore the same hat that he does here) and he doesn't do the twangy country stuff. Strictly a one man show with acoustic (though plugged-in) guitar and no back-up musicians of any sort. It can’t be that easy to hold the stage that way, and chilly weather inhibited audience feedback at first, but he had a strong voice, likeable presence, clever song-writing, and the easy-going confidence to interrupt himself mid-song with obser……are those drug dogs?…..vations appropriate for the…….are those lilacs? Did I tell you I’m allergic to lilacs?…..event. Some honky-tonk and good-time songs, with one or two off-color references which, of course, went right over my head. Not a bad show. If he comes to your town, you might want to see him.
Afterwards, I might have slipped away home, for the sun was thinking about setting, but Jarrod said to stay put for the next cowboy, Jamey Johnson. Of course, I’m used to doing as I’m told, so I hung around, a little reluctantly at first, but in time I was drawn into that second performance, as well. This next fellow had backup. And lots of twang....isn't it steel guitars that do that? Exactly what is a steel guitar, anyway? He planted himself stolidly center stage, immovable (unlike the writhing guitarist to his right) singing anthems with an attitude, as if to say "if you don't like it, leave!" I didn't notice that anyone did. I, too, stayed to the end.
The final two days of the festival returned to the meteorlogical misery of the first two days, so as to achieve symmetry, no doubt. During the next week, the temperature climbed into the mid-80's. ...Sigh....