Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Brandon Folk, Music & Art Festival/Big Bog State Recreation Area

Sometime ago I learned that Richard Thompson was going to be playing at the Brandon Folk, Music & Art Festival. I briefly toyed with the idea of attending as I have always wanted to see Richard perform live, looked at how far away Brandon was and shelved the idea. But I kept going back to their website. Greg Brown was also headlining. It has been years since I had seen him play live. But a 9 hour drive, one way?! The idea got shelved again. And then a few weeks ago, after looking at the website again and mentioning it to a friend (again), who had been pushing me to go despite the long drive, I made the decision to see if I could get the time off of work. And I could! Well then, it was off to Brandon, Manitoba for me!

I left Thursday afternoon and drove north towards Baudette, MN. Stopping at the Big Bog State Recreation Area to venture out onto the boardwalk and see what was blooming. Surprisingly the bugs were not bad out in the bog. Near the parking area and pond they weren't much fun though. Made for a quick walk and much flapping and flailing of arms!

Bog Rosemary seedpods

Bog Rosemary seedpods

As you can see I was quite enamored with the Pitcher Plants! I highly recommend making the drive to this state recreation area and walking the full length of the boardwalk. It is well worth your time.

From there I headed a bit further north to camp at Zippel Bay State Park. I had checked online prior to my trip and almost all of the campsites were open so I didn't bother making a reservation. Unfortunately I arrived after the park office was closed. The new park policy is that ALL campsites need to be reserved, either ahead of time or same-day. There was a sign on the building stating if the office was closed you could call to make a reservation or reserve online (*no cell phone coverage at this park, though there was free wifi if you stood in just the right spot next to the building). The sign indicated the reservation office was open to 11:00 pm (more limited hours in the off season). It was 8:30 pm when I arrived and when I called the reservation line I got a message indicating the office was closed. Sigh. I pulled out my iPhone and set to work trying to access the wifi and make an online reservation. Despite multiple tries the server would time out before I could make a reservation. I was able to at least determine which sites were open, so I put my reservation fee in an envelope; wrote a note explaining why I did not make a reservation as directed and went to set up camp.

This is a very lightly used state park and, for the most part, was quiet. I quickly set up camp; had a light dinner and headed to bed. Sometime around 2:00 am I woke up to a thunder storm, but quickly fell back asleep. A good thing as the birds had me awake again within a couple of hours. I did notice that due to not closing the outside vestibule flap on my tent there was some water inside. I opted to pack the tent up wet and hit the road as I still had a 5+ hour drive ahead of me to reach Brandon. I was gambling that the weather would be sunny and I could dry the tent out before setting up camp at the festival grounds.

Zippel Bay

The border crossing went well - once I figured out where the actual crossing was (the set-up is a little confusing as you encounter the US Port of Entry before the Canadian one and there is no clear signage directing you to proceed further down the road to the Canadian entry).

This part of Manitoba is agricultural. And I spent part of the drive trying to identify what the predominate crops were (canola, flax, beets?, soybeans?). Most of the towns are off the main roads and there aren't really any wayside rest areas though I did manage to find a few parks with restrooms.

I arrived in Brandon in the early afternoon; checked in with the festival organizers and got my wristbands for the weekend. Then it was off to set up camp on the "quiet" side of the festival grounds before taking a look around. The festival is held at the Keystone Centre which is located right in the middle of Brandon. The camping area was located in a grassy and tree-lined section off in one corner, with the festival just a short walk away.

Once camp was set-up I headed to the stage area to check out seating locations and set-up my tarp for that evenings shows. Greg Brown was the headliner at 10:00 pm with a variety of musicians preceding him. I was not familiar with anyone else playing at the festival but was in for a treat!

Sadly, a strong storm was heading towards Brandon, including tornado warnings. Greg Brown was able to get through 3-4 songs before the storm hit (including lightning and strong winds) and the show was canceled for the evening. There was talk of moving campers indoors to the Keystone Centre as I headed back to my campsite, but I never learned if that happened or not. There were quite heavy rains and winds, but I slept through it all, waking in the middle of the night to hear folks jamming over in the "noisy" campground once the storm broke.

Saturday dawned a bit overcast and cloudy, but the forecast was for clearing skies, strong winds and cool temps. I had a quick breakfast and coffee cooked up on my camp stove and then headed to the Brandon Hills Wildlife Management Area for a 2 hr run. I had heard that there were mountain bike trails here as well as the ski trails but the only maps were for the ski trails so I chose to start my run on those. After the initial short loop that was mowed the rest of the trails were pretty brushy. At points I was wading through waist deep grasses and shrubbery. In addition, there was poison ivy! I did my best to avoid it, and washed off after my run with soap and water, but alas, two days later I developed a rash.

I returned to the festival and spent the rest of the day listening to music, browsing the market area (great artists) and checking out the food trucks. The headliner Saturday night started at 11:00 pm! It was a great band, but after a couple of songs I headed back to my tent to sleep. This worked out as I could clearly hear the music, so didn't miss any of the concert until I fell asleep.

From L-R: Richard Thompson; Bobby Dove; Kayla Luky and Carly Dow (with stage crew in front)
"Stories' " Workshop
Sunday was a clear day, and predicted to get quite warm. I headed back to Brandon Hills WMA for my run early to try to beat the heat. This time sticking strictly to the mountain bike trails (which I had found, with the help of some bikers, the day before). They were clear of overhanging grasses, and while I noted poison ivy in the bush, was able to avoid it. But just in case I washed off with soap and water as soon as I got back to my car. I had it stuck in my head that the run was to be an hour in length; it wasn't until I got back to Brandon that I realized my run was supposed to be 1.5 hrs long. Oh well, too late to do much about it, and with a 50 miler in less then a week I wasn't worried about making up the time.

The workshops (day time concerts) were once again wonderful and I spent an enjoyable time listening to music and knitting, with occasional strolls about the festival grounds to get food, buy a CD and stretch my legs.

"Band Mashup" - Micah Erenberg Band/Sebastian Owl

Richard Thompson was the headliner at 8:00 pm. And he did not disappoint! He is as good, or better, live then in recordings and a very entertaining performer. He played a solo, all acoustic set with songs spanning his whole career, including one song from the Fairport Convention days (it's their 50th Anniversary this year). Sadly I was too shy to yell out my requests (and didn't think to send a note back with them) but was not disappointed as he played many of them. Notably he timed his performance of "Dimming of the Day" just as the sun was setting behind him and finished up with an encore performance of "Beeswing".

Richard Thompson
Monday morning I packed up and made the long drive back to Duluth, successfully navigating the border crossing this time and once again stopping at Big Bog State Recreation Area, though not at the boardwalk site. I headed to the headquarters and used the restroom and checked out the educational displays before heading for home.