Winter Hoot Reflection by Ruthy

Strangely, both grief & beauty took center stage on Friday evening at The Winter Hoot this year. We paid tribute to our Hoot friend and Jeff Bradley’s recent passing by screening Beehive Productions’ “Ear to the Ground” piece (Jeff was a Beehive videographer who worked on both 2015 Hoots) and then we screened the moving documentary “The Wisdom to Survive: Climate Change, Capitalism & Community.” In the Q & A that followed, performer Bill Harley commented on a deep sadness that we all feel for our planet right now.

It’s human instinct to turn away from sadness. If we hope to make a difference we can’t turn away, but how can we hold ourselves to the task without losing heart or falling apart emotionally?

The answer presented itself both in both films. And it became more and more clear as the weekend went on: it’s music.

Several of the scientists and activists in “The Wisdom to Survive” played a musical instrument to unwind, to help re-connect with something positive. One of the most resonant quotes from the film was “beauty will save the Earth.” In the jam session that followed the discussion, I sensed a palpable connection forming between people. Jay & Molly led folks in old-time tunes and familiar folk songs and the dining hall was filled with song. I actually listened to most of the jam from the next room where three of us discussed the deep sorrow of suicide, planetary destruction… and the pulsing chords from next door somehow made it a little easier. And then I joined the jam and sang a 100 year old song with a 21 year old fiddler.

The next morning as I was mentally preparing for our set and thinking about which songs to sing, it really hit me. If someone walked into a crowded room and said, “Hey everybody, my life is hard, this world is full of woe, and I don’t know what I’m gonna do!” it would be pretty awkward… but if you SING it… that might be somebody’s favorite song! Music is magic! It lets the singer and the audience hover in an emotional place for what would otherwise be an awkwardly long time. We can feel our sadness, frustration, and everything. We can sit with it. Dance to it. Cry. Maybe even process it a bit.

Think of your favorite songwriter – do they say the things that you feel but somehow can’t say?

Or what about music without words at all? “Ashokan Farewell” came to my Dad when he was feeling low. And now it’s an instrumental tune that has served as soundtrack to so many moving moments for so many people: weddings, funerals, Civil War events, and of course Ashokan events. He and Molly once played the tune for a native family in the Yucatan when I was 12 and I’ll never forget the tears in their eyes. No words. Just feelings.

I’m so grateful for what I learn at each Hoot. Saturday was an unforgettably happy, warm and joyful day. So many people of all ages joined together to party in one place. That’s always been my dream for the festival – like my hazy early memories of the first Fiddle & Dance camps when I was the same age my kids are now. All of the performers were epically great, in particular the heart-rending harmonies of Ana Egge’s acoustic trio and Jeff Lewis’ brilliant and unforgiving lyrical tirades. It’s the best feeling to watch an audience as they become stunned into blissful silence, loud applause, or tears of hysterical laughter. Kristin Andreassen, our dance caller, had broken down in Pennsylvania, but her quick wits and a rental car made sure she arrived just in time to call a late-night square dance that was packed to the gills! A late night set by Micah Middaugh (Breathe Owl Breathe) was complete with zither and sleeping bag, and a late-night crowd of revelers reclining on the floor.

The emotional high continued into Sunday morning when Elizabeth Mitchell led singers tall and small in some of the simplest and most beautiful songs of our time. What a sing sing sing SING!
Yes, it really felt a lot like “Who-ville” at the end of The Grinch. I think my heart has been through a lot over the course of this Winter Hoot… but it definitely ended up at least two sizes larger in the end.

Thank you Hootsters!!!!

May Beauty Save The Earth,


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