Toad in the Hole

October 06, 2005

Nature and Culture

Prize for this year’s Best Birding at a Music fest goes to the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and Unofficial Dog Show on Sunday in Golden Gate Park.

The three ravens hanging out over the crowd, soaring and surfing and just generally strolling around in the air, and the red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks were cool enough, during Hazel Dickens and the Austin Lounge Lizards and Ricky Skaggs and all. We even had some sun, and then enough of high cirrus clouds to prevent bad sunburns.

We have a policy of seeing the old farts first, because lately we have a heightened sense that they won’t be around forever. So we prioritized Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys even over Jimmie Dale Gilmore, over whom I personally swoon. We ended up standing right behind the sound booth, so I spent an inordinate amount of time on tiptoe and paid dearly for it the next day. The set was reward enough. They even did "Angel Band," long one of my favorites. (I didn’t know till recently that the Stanley Brothers wrote that.) And Dr. Ralph looked pretty hale for an 80-ish guy who’d had a triple bypass three months ago. Sang and played well too. And his grandson has obviously had both a growth spurt and some good mandolin lessons since last January.

The crowd was noisy, as free outdoor festival crowds usually are. It gets more annoying every time – who comes out to see someone like the Lounge Lizards, known for their hilariously clever intricate lyrics, and then yammers through the whole set? Feh. And there’s someone in every little picnic-blanket group with a high piercing voice, or a sonorous nasal baritone, or a buzzsaw whine, who never shuts up. Ever. And why the hell am I hearing, instead of the lyrics to "Old Blevins," some bint saying, "Everyone’s feeeelings got aired"? Why are the loudest people always the most boring?

But that’s another rant.

One break in the crowd noise: when Dr. Ralph a-capella’d "O Death," everyone shut up. Everyone. Even the squalling darling sirens. Even the dogs. You could have heard that pin drop on the turf. Incredible. And of course the performance deserved it.

And I happened to look up and over to the east-southeast, where the cypresses and eucs hedged the sky, at the ravens flying easy, sociable circles ‘round each other. One raven looked odd.


It circled over to the space above us, close enough to see it was a subadult, maybe one of the trio fledged this year downtown. And it circled again, lazily, and glided off to the west.

Posted at October 6, 2005 06:46 AM


Sounds like fun, except for some of the audience. Makes you wish for a transporter to wisk away all the loudmouths.

Posted by: Rurality at October 6, 2005 02:04 PM

Oh peregrine! Wow.

I feel the same way about people who yammer all the way through a baseball game. (Yes, the most boring people are always the loudest.) And don't even get me started on cellphone users at these events...

Posted by: Pica at October 6, 2005 02:35 PM

Oh, don't get me started on the yapping cubicle-puppy who tried to impress a couple of young women with his big-deal big deals -- all through the Blind Boys of Alabama concert at the Fillmore. "...and then I told the manager..." -- yeuch, arrgh, ptui.

And and and. Pity you can't take videocams to events like that; I'd love to turn around and make movies of these self-involved smegwipes and put them up on a site for public ridicule.

Posted by: Ron at October 6, 2005 03:20 PM

Hey Ron,
Annie and Tim worked that show and I was so bummed that I didn't get to go. Damn, the stomach flu!

Posted by: Janis at October 6, 2005 06:02 PM

Damn, Janis, now that's just no fair. I hope all those bangles and baubles and chicken soup and Tincture of Time have fixed it all up by now.

Posted by: Ron at October 7, 2005 02:16 AM