Back in my rock'n'roller days it wasn't that unusual to watch the sun rise. Play til 2 AM,
load out, drive back from wherever, unload, go to IHOP or the Deli Haus to unwind and stuff our
collective face, stumble home. At least in summer, it was often dawn before my head hit the
These days it only happens one weekend a year. Last weekend, in fact. Early in my folk
career (when I was too green to know better), I accepted an invitation to co-host a late night
campfire/song swap at the Falcon Ridge folk festival, across the border in New York state. The
campfire wouldn't start until midnight, after the mainstage performances were over, and go (at
least officially) until 3 AM. This was the early '90s and I was years away from playing onstage at
the festival. Like about half the audience, I had a guitar stashed back in my tent, so why not?
And if nobody came I could trade songs all night with Jeff Tareila, the other host.
We ducked out of the concert early, and built the fire in a pasture next to the horse pen,
the horses watching us warily from behind the fence. Let's get a crowd, Jeff said, so we built a
pep-rally-sized bonfire, doused it with lighter fluid, and struck a match. We each played our
loudest songs so the music would carry.
As the mainstage concert ended, people heading to the parking lot stopped by and
listened to a song or two, and people camping over started appearing, guitars in hand. We made a
circle and did our best to make sure everyone got a turn to do a song, be it a deep, dark original,
or a sing-along cover (or something in between - Keith Kelly memorably played
America's "Horse with No Name" while singing the lyrics to the Mr. Ed theme). It took us two
hours just to go around the circle once. Three o'clock came and went, and more people stuck
around than left. Jeff finally called it a night, but I said I'd wait to douse the fire. It got down to a
handful of hardcores, mostly NY/NJ songwriters, Jack Hardy, Dave Elder, Joe Giacoio, Gregg
Cagno, with me there to represent Boston, trading song after song, sometimes in direct response
to the last song (hmm, songs about cab drivers for 200, Alex). Dawn came, the fire was down to
embers, the horses started snorting for their breakfast. When morning joggers started going by
we finally called it a night.
The next year we did it both nights of the festival, and had even bigger crowds. Sleep
was out of the question, so I made sure to pitch my tent to catch the morning shade. After the
Saturday fire we decided to go out for breakfast, and ended up at a diner down the road full of early
We kept it going each year, and occasionally had mainstage performers drop by after
their sets - one memorable evening had Catie Curtis, David Massengill and Jack Hardy all
borrow my guitar for a song. I started bringing chocolate chip cookies to pass around to keep up
As the festival matured in the 2000's, people started hosting their own campfires, so we
weren't the only game in town anymore. Jeff T., Dave E. and even Joe "Superman" Giacoio
eventually decided they'd rather sleep.
But last weekend, I was still at it - making the fire (one match, even without lighter
fluid), setting up the circle of chairs (or rather, watching my current co-host Deede Bergeron set
them up), breaking out my axe and seeing what happens. The best part is still the feeling of
community that develops over the course of a few hours, as you learn about people from their
songs, intros and comments, and listen as people who have never met before end up harmonizing
on a song they both love, or watch as the woman who has just sat listening for round after round
suddenly feels comfortable enough to come out of her shell and sing. By the time first light
arrives and the fire's down to charcoal, we feel somewhere between old friends and shipwreck
survivors - dawn! We made it! Land ho!
So if you make it to Falcon Ridge next year, grab your guitar and stop by. We'll be there.