De Kwakel, January 2018

I didn’t know exactly how to start this blog, so I guess I can go back to the beginning of 2018, because my year has become a bit of a rollercoaster – in a good sense – ever since. (I ended up buying a planner and all, I haven’t needed a planner since 2011.)

In January this year I was invited to my first Bluegrass jam. The invitation came from a friend I had known for just a few months, and it included bringing some food and drinks along, bringing my guitar, and camping for two days.

Now, I was very excited about one, making new friends, and two, being included in anything that had to do with music. None of my friends at the time had any hobbies related to music, so I was a bit on my own in my lousy attempt at making it. What I wasn’t so excited about was camping; the last time I had camped I was 18, I slept with three other friends in a far too small a tent, and I hardly slept at night with the noise coming from some youth who decided to drunk-sing the night away – I too was a youth at the time, but I guess my soul was never too youth-y. Plus, I loved my sleep, even back then.

I was still up for the whole thing, even aware that my friend, the only person I knew at the jam – which may include more than twenty people, he said – would be leaving to record part of his upcoming album most of Saturday afternoon. Meaning I’d be left to my own devices with strange people for a few hours. Sounds good, I said. I packed my Kindle, in case it all came to worst, there’s very little that books can’t solve.

I took a ride with my friend and we left Dessel – the small Belgian town where I live – late Friday afternoon; in the end, there would be no need for me to camp. There was an extra bed available in the house, all I needed was bedcovers and I’d be good to go.

On our way to Amsterdam, we made a small detour to Schipol Airport to pick up yet another jammer. Picking someone up at this particular airport can be a challenge. Luckily Schiphol has all these graphic signs to guide you and, eventually, we did find him. My friend owns a van, so the trip back was quite funny. Us two up front and our friend in the back of the van, sitting on top of a dog’s bed, crammed in between camping gear, musical instruments, and beer. He did the best of this uncomfortable trip by opening up a can of beer and drinking it.

When we got to De Kwakel I felt a bit overwhelmed, but not in a bad way. So many people who knew each other, and I didn’t know anyone. Everyone was incredibly welcoming, and there were hugs all around, even for me, the stranger. The jamming place consisted of a few greenhouses, connected to each other: the bar, – wonderfully decorated to resemble an Irish pub – the BBQ area, and the camping site. We ate together; more or less ten people had arrived that evening, we all gathered in a circle around the fireplace, and we sang the night away. Rather, until three in the morning.

Saturday started with me waking up slightly lost: my friend left to record the rest of his album, and suddenly I was on my own, but I was easily made to blend in into the whole thing by the people I had met the night before. It was easier, and so much more relaxed than anything I had imagined. The actual jam was to take place that evening, and decorations were needed. A beautiful banner signing the camping area was painted, pretty lights were hung all over the ceiling, and across the bar counter.

While it was all still a bit quiet in the early afternoon, with just a few people jamming here and there, hour after hour more and more people arrived carrying their instruments, and the house became full of people and music alike. Across the greenhouses, groups of jammers were formed, and changed over and over again, spontaneously, as people jammed with this one and that one. The BBQ was set up: everyone had brought something to share, and we took breaks to eat and chat. I found out that what I called a violin was named a fiddle, and that a guitar played on your lap is a dobro. I proclaimed my love for the banjo to a few, unaware that I was going to be bashed for it; eventually, I understood that banjos, for being loud, and due to their time-consuming tuning, are always the butt of the joke. It’s okay to like them, just keep that to yourself and pretend to loathe them instead.

The piano at the corner of the bar became some sort of noise-machine halfway through the night: at some point, as a drunk/stoned group slouched around it, it couldn’t really be called playing the piano anymore, it was more drumming it. I heard one song almost all the way to its end before realising, as it reached the peak of its composition, that the melody being lacerated to bits by the whole crowd was Bohemian Rapsody, by Queen. It was insanity on a keyboard.

Throughout the whole night, everyone played and sang in unison, and it was such a wonderful thing to be part of it all.

For me the jam lasted until six in the morning. I was knackered and, while I didn’t want to lose any of it, as the party died down and people went back to their tents, slightly inebriated and deeply content with it all, it was also time for me to finally, and reluctantly, give in to sleep.

It was probably the most amazing gathering I’d seen to date. I was fascinated by it all, and from moment one there was something I was sure of: I wanted in.

I got home on Sunday, late afternoon, tired and satisfied, feeling like a child who waited awake all night for a Christmas gift, and then got something even better than they had hoped for. I should have fallen asleep immediately, but the vivid weekend memories made me so restless, that I just grabbed my guitar and I wrote a song about it all.

I guess this blog is meant to become a journal of everything that has been happening since then: the jams, the festivals, the concerts I’ve been attending, and everything else that has become part of my life this year.

Stick around, I’ve got plenty to tell.

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At the Bluegrass Festival in Voorthuizen, May 2018

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