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Fun on and off the mountain

by Kenny Lindsay

About 14 years ago my older sister Christine and her husband moved from our hometown, Brockport, NY, to the Triad and afterwards, every summer brought the excitement of visiting her and heading to the mountains or the beach to go camping. One year she arranged to take me and a couple of my friends to an event called the Black Mountain Folk Festival. The words folk festival sounded like it might be something a little boring for an 18-year-old punk whose hobby was playing in heavy metal bands back in New York. On the other hand, I trusted my big sister. Every time we would hang out I thought I was the coolest thing on the block and she’s always been a pro at entertaining her guests.

When we arrived at the four-day festival I was in shock. Never in my life had I seen such a fiasco of tents, music, art, food, games and good-spirited people that add a relaxing, and almost magical aura to the air; the only requirement to fitting in is to have a smile on your face. All the everyday stresses of life go straight out the window, including any bits of low self-esteem that you might carry with you out there in the world. And if all that doesn’t sound like a good time, add in a magnificent landscape of a glittering lake surrounded by waves of mountains and clean, crisp air with the occasional scent of campfire – all the more impressive to a teenage street kid.

It didn’t take long for me to realize this would be far from the last time I came to a festival of such caliber. That was even before we discovered the drum circle up the mountain through trails lit by little candles in glowing white paper bags lined along the side of the trail that you really don’t want to wander off (I’ll explain why.) As the faint clicks and rhythmic pops of djembes, bongos, tambourines, rattles and all sorts of other percussion instruments from around the world slowly get louder, we came to a clearing of about a hundred or more people surrounding a raging bonfire that sent sparks high into the night sky and illuminated the surrounding trees. The inner circle on the outskirts of the fire was about 50-plus drums being beaten by half-naked men. People who didn’t have a drum danced wildly around the outside of the circle. It was almost like a paganistic ritual and the throbbing rhythm was as hypnotizing as it was loud. I found myself getting closer to the fire and someone eventually handed me a drum.

That’s all it took. From then on, every year a group of us try and make a point of heading west to attend the festival, which is now called the Lake Eden Arts Festival – LEAF – that’s held twice a year. Through the years it seems to get a little more difficult to get everyone together and make it happen, but in the long run it’s well worth it.

Now, back to that trail leading up to the drum circle. It was the spring festival of 2006 and about 11:30 p.m. when my sister and I decided to make the trek up to the drum circle. Not only was I tired but I was also a tad inebriated (that might actually be an understatement). We were about 15 minutes into our journey and I started to noticed that some of the candles along the trail had been stepped on and put out by other partiers who already made there way up to the tribalistic festivity. My sister was a couple feet in front of me with the flashlight and in her usually haste was making distance between us. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before I took that tragic step that sent me on a wild ride back down the mountain. I’ll admit I’m no stranger to drunken injuries, but honestly, this was the first time it actually scared the shit out of me. It wasn’t the fall that scared me, it was the fact that my body was picking up momentum as I went ass over tea kettle down what felt like a water slide made of dead leaves and obviously lacking a smooth surface.

Time slowed down and my only thought was, When might this hellish trip actually stop and how busted up Will I be when it does come to a halt? It was me and gravity, one on one and in a battle that I realized I would not be the victor.

Finally things did come to a stop and when I opened my eyes I was completely upside down with my feet sticking straight up. My first view was a breathtaking silhouette of a cabin with a flickering yellow light illuminating a dirty window, upside down of coarse. For a moment I was struck by such a pretty image I briefly forgot about what just happened.

I heard the light sound of my sister’s voice call my name out from above. Then the pain shot up my right leg as if someone came over my knee with a sledgehammer. “Man down!” I yelled back. “Are you all right?” she replied. “Send a medic!” I called out. At this point I was actually relieved that I wasn’t dead and in some masochistic way, could actually see the humor in the situation. “Where are you?” she said. I sharply replied, “Right back where we damn started!”

She called out again, “Are you okay?” My answer “No!” didn’t take much thought. My leg was pretty messed up and a man was hovering over me, helping me to my feet. “Thank you.” I said.

Christine found her way down and we obviously went back to camp. The next morning my usually knobby knee looked more like a softball and we wrapped it in an Ace bandage.

Well that particular festival I considered to be quite memorable and aside from learning the quickest way to get off a mountain, I still had fun. I don’t want to turn anyone off from going to LEAF. Just keep in mind: If you’re drinking, be careful.

This year I ended up going solo and noticed how much more kid friendly it has become. There’s a zip slide and water slide that come off a hill into the lake and most recently they’ve added a trapeze contraption with a safety harness for kids to swing on; all the time being coached by a professional acrobat. There are a number of stages, musical and artistic workshops, break dancers, fire dancers and musicians of all sorts of cultures from all over the world. There’s never a dull moment at LEAF.

To comment on this story, e-mail Kenny Lindsay at kenny@yesweekly.com.

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