Obama loves bees.
In June of 2014, the United States government established a Pollinator Health Task Force as a response to the rapidly declining numbers in honey bees and other pollinators. As an immediate threat to the agricultural economy, sustainability of food production and environmental health, each state was required to establish a plan, however complying with Obama’s executive memorandum remains voluntary. With the Kentucky economy heavily reliant on agriculture and hence, their benign buzzing friends, two-hundred thousand plus acres of state-owned right-of-way was transformed into protection habitat zones for pollinators.
The native grass grows high south of the I-65. A diamond sign with butterfly and bumble bee characters pokes its head above the blossoms looking like it was transplanted from a Disney themed park. A grassland refuge taking me towards the Daniel Boone National Forest.
Usually my desire for attending festivals as a music lover is outweighed by my lack of desire for public debauchery and camping. This leans more towards the superstar headlining stages and cover band beer gardens – I have a feeling that Kickin’ It On The Creek, my festival destination in Irvine, KY, won’t be that. A small town turn-off Shell station displays an IGA Express Station sign – a quick grocery fix for the night so I’m not reliant on a nine dollar hotdog supper. The burning sweetness of stale cigarettes greet me upon entering, immediately taking me back to my grandparents abode across from the high-school back at home. I’ve only once in my life inhaled a drag, accidentally at that. Del would hollow out the beginnings of a smoke and I’d replace it with my own tobacco of choice, aggressive with the hauls my spliff went from smooth to igneous on my virgin lungs. The lack of cigarettes in my youth, first hand, was filled with the much more pleasurable Red Man loose leaf chewing tobacco. Spitz sunflower seeds being the gateway drug. A high school party habit that was once again used for its male bonding capabilities when moving to Medicine Hat. Sitting in the ball diamond dug-outs at 2 am complete with cigars, Pilsner beer and Clamato Juice. I haven’t bought the stuff in years. And so I do. The straight-edge life no more. It is more in inability to pass on the price, four U.S. dollars versus the thirty Canadian at home.
Red Man, two granny smith apples and a two dollar bag of Baken-ets $2 Only Hot n’ Spicy Chicharrones – my fifth of the trip. My pork rind fixation passed down to me by my mother. This meal not being a healthy alternative to a hot dog – but to be much more enjoyed.
I’m slightly intimidated by the heavy accent and for the first time, mask my own. Weak attempt at that. An offensive, “Aaumph” replacing a “Thank You”. The inside of the door headed out bearing a “No Smoking” policy. I peel the strategically placed sticker off a Granny Smith as I’m down the road, to reveal a rotting hole – I bit the other side to taste the rotten contents. I’m diverted from my path as I pitch the apple by a sign giving direction to a Bluegrass Music Hall. I have no schedule and follow its coaxing. The well kept yards surround an unkempt mansion – eerie and deserted. A yard resembling a newly instated pollinator habitat zone. Past it a sign for the Meadowgreen Park Bluegrass Music Hall, I’m met by a disclaimer to enter at my own risk. A combination of my instincts and time of day have me turned around in acknowledgement of the warned risk, ignoring the abandoned mansion and making my way back to the highway to Irvine running parallel the the Kentucky River. Where the bluegrass kisses the Smoky Mountains.
The overcast is darkening. The overload of the last four days has been an adventure in its own and I begin to toy with the idea of checking in to this festival, catching an act or two and making it back to Nashville. It’ll be late but the Quest has thrived on late night driving and this means filling up the fuel tank at my next stop. I pull into the Go-Time station that sits on the edge of Irvine and top up the tank with twenty.
“Excuse me miss, where will I find the festival in town today?” I ask the attendant.
“The Mushroom Mountain Festival, son you’ve missed that by five months – I don’t know of any other festival in Irvine.”
“Hm. Kickin’ It On The Creek? Apparently it’s just outside of Irvine.”
“Oh thaaaaaat one? Hun, that’s way out there in the hills. You be careful if you aren’t from here.”
Slightly discouraged, I think what I hear is a gun shot. With the second, undoubtedly. As if the hillbilly stereotype couldn’t have come on stronger. And another shot. Three separate pumps ringing through the air. Jesus Christ, you’ve got to be kidding me. Another. Knowing this will be a story for my return I rush to grab my phone and in the process the perpetrator unleashes, firing shot after shot into what I assume is the sky. If I hadn’t made my decision to go immediately back to Nashville with the well wishes from the gas attendant, I most certainly was headed back now. I hit record on my iPhone and catch another two shots for proof. Loud and clear.
I’m an alien. This terrain is menacing. The hills are the unknown and the locals are warning me of my safety. The coincidence of me entering the Appalachians with impetuous gunshots is almost too much for me to believe. It’s beginning to rain and I’m feeling like I’m at the base of Mordor. Hollywood has succeeded in shaping my expectations. I let this judgement run wild and start seeing the locals at the pumps with physical differences than me. The Kentucky accent is strong and I’m actually feeling fright setting in. I pull away from the pump and hang in limbo at the exit back onto the road – head left across the bridge or right back to Nashville. A four hour trip and the comfort of my own air mattress serves multiple desires – I can enjoy my Lovers and Leavers download that came with the Hayes Carll vinyl and process meeting Sturgill and my time in Ashland over a nice cheek-full of Red Man. I’ve come accustomed to the long driving days, today’s two hour jaunt makes me wanting more. I can get a head start on my preparation for a couple weeks in Music City. I won’t be rushed for the Opry with Craig on Sunday. All arrows point right.
But all signs point left. W.B. suggesting its attendance, using his relationship with Byron to get me in. Shawna at The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame & Museum having Irvine as a hometown. “Mountain Music” by Alabama on Outlaw Country. Fortuity to most but serendipitous to me. Adventure. I’m almost sixteen hundred miles from home with a public declaration of attaining the Spirit of Real Country Music. It would be a gut-wrenching shame to return having chickened-out on the possible grasping of the Holy Grail. Gun shots and warnings be damned.
I’m on the verge of completely losing signal, again having been informed about by the attendant, but my phone chugs through the ether to bring up information on the festival. A single page website offers directions and a contact number. I ask for Byron. There’s no way of reaching him but I’m passed off to his wife Kelli. The idea that a Canadian musician heard of their festival randomly and is looking to “write a piece” on it is beyond her with the initial description. I admit knowing the festival is sold out and use the fact that I’m sixteen hundred miles from home as leverage. I drop W.B.’s name.
“You know W.B.? Well parking is slim we might have to put you down by the barn, there are green dots posted the whole way, there’s absolutely no cell service, its about thirty miles into the hills. Please be careful.”
And with that my decision is made. I make a last phone call to my love that awaits my return and head off into the hills.