Where dusk would be an hour away outside the holler, the sun drops for a shadow cast. It’s remnants falling behind the mountain top give the festival vibe no transitional period. Where Angela Perley and The Howlin’ Moons would be a band at dusk in any other geography, here, they are the first act of the night. Fittingly so, the coincidence of her band’s namesake is shared by Luna’s full glow appearing opposite Sol’s decent, her white light arguing the satellite is luminescent in itself. A rain that teased the day away has committed. Pop-up canopies have neighbours squeezing underneath escaping the chills. Stay dry and stay high, icy pelts are sobering through clothes. I saved my outfit change in anticipation of the temperature drop, enhanced by the precipitation. I wait it out, uncovered, while Byron rouses his congregation. ‘Love God’ and ‘Kentucky Proud Y’all’. He continues his appreciation, again, honouring veterans in attendance.
The brim of Perley’s hat flops in waves and long brown hair hangs below. Ankle length dress. An acoustic guitar would assume folk, it’s a Joni Mitchell meets Stevie Nicks vibe given, but her orange Fender Thinline says heavy. Chris Connor plays a red 335 directly in-front of himself, outwards, arms stretched like one would place an instrument in that of a zombie form. Trucker hat covered face. His guitar returns to a more rhythmic and comfortable positioning, low. Ed Davis is the metronome, a Sun Studios t-shirt. William Zehnal dunks, his p-bass is beat and his stance is wide. If The Horse Traders, The Strange Constellations and The Jenkins Twins had their influences, individually, Perley has all styles honed in collectively. She’s a Loretta Lynn fronting a David Gilmour side project, a Janis Joplin that chose Robby Krieger over Jim Morrison, a spun-out Stevie Nicks wrangled by The Dirt Band – She brought the moon to the party, its craters more prevalent, begging for a ritual. The conservative front rowers have ditched their lawn chairs, dripping wet, in crucifixion pose allowing Perley psych to pass through them to me at the back of the site.
The downpour has ceased and I swap out clothes, boots and hat. My liberties of walking in and out of the backstage entrance are honoured and I choose side-stage to remain for the duration of the Howlin’ Moons set. An extended jam is successfully decreasing volume and increasing intensity, delays saturate Connor’s tone and he’s manipulating his pedalboard while Perley opts for an instrument change. She crouches with the wooden handle of a saw locked between her kneecaps, holding the tip and forcing the blade into an ‘S’ – bow in her left hand. Pulling the horse-hair across the edge opposite teeth, she swoons pitches to float around a melody. It’s ethereal. Theremin-esque. Her vibrato matches the strobe of the laser show that kicked in on the tree-line minutes ago. Sacred geometry spinning, adding to the psychedelic tone of Perley’s ritual. I’m reacquainted with Patrick Stanley, as wide-eyed as myself in the witnessing of mastery. Under Perley’s guise, her band simply plays well together. Each lost in their execution with the onlookers. A true performance. I reassure Stanley that we can share my first Childers performance as The Howlin’ Moons bring themselves to a close. Their lunar counterpart beams brighter.
Wook Lives Matter. Insensitive at the very least given today’s political climate, but homemade merchandise for upcoming bluegrass entities, The Wooks, fill the crowd. Signs: Wook Country, Wookie, Wookie, Wookie, In Wooks We Trust. A cheer is bleeding over from the desire for Angela Perley to continue playing and The Wooks first appearance to set-up their stage. A local stature gives celebrity status around these parts – where usually the opposite is the effect. There’s a purgatory that an artist can sit in within his community where their successes outside a home region doesn’t translate over to local attendance, never a star in your own backyard mentality. The welling, grand from afar and then everybody at home ‘knew them when’. I have a feeling The Wooks annihilated this concept and were propelled to their Billboard charting status as a result of their local support. A rally song begins their set’s stomp – ‘…all you Wookies’. The crowd knows their vocal role.
Call it presumptuous to a stereotype but The Wooks combination of flat-picking, fiddle-sawing, mando-chunking and bass-slapping has me reaching for an unopened pack of Red Man I jammed into my hind pocket when changing into my jeans. I’ve been substance free for three months and that’s about to come to an abrupt end. A vice to assist with continuing to pass the mason jars and jugs of Kentucky Wine by me every time they circle through. Nathan Thomas takes a pull of a brown jug labeled ‘Apple Pie’ and releases it on its journey among the twenty-odd side-stagers. Never once a mouth piece wiped clean as it’s undoubtedly sterilized by the white lightning. I replace the smell of cinnamon in the air with that of raisins, tearing the foil and dipping into a cheekful of tobacco. A repulsive alternative to a high both for reasons of hygiene and cultural appropriation. But like memories of the catholic church, purest at its lowest rung of the ladder. I’m ambushed with memories as my tongue goes slightly numb and I orally fumble my way through finding a comfort zone, a stream of juice down my throat. Goddamn, odious and appeasing. A rush like I rubbed a leaf into my mind’s eye – directly in the center of my forehead. My first spit and the roof of my head tingles as if my crown is opening, my second is combined with the attempt to expectorate. Throat’s cleared and the familiar wooziness cascades like an uncomfortable body high. My focus shifted between remembering hauling round bales with my brother, sitting in baseball dugouts, rodeo cabarets and beholding one of the coolest fucking bluegrass bands I’ve ever seen. I’m two songs in and my ignorance to the genre is confronted. I’ve been turned off by its bastardization, I share this confession with Stanley along with the option of a dip. He blames my past dislike on what he calls ‘newgrass’ and declines a pinch. A mason jar comes his way and he indulges. An understatement.
Since my departure, there’s been a desire to define country music. I gave the recognition of it a relative stance saying that I’ll know it when I see it, which, for the most part, is its truest ally but considering the longevity of its core proponents, a key factor is evolution. The genre will undoubtedly transform through its conduits, artists with tools so sharp that their talent is a tool in itself to the Spirit. This evolution and sharpened craft is a priority of The Wooks.