Saturday, September 18, 2004
Pine Creek Folk Festival

by Deon Lackey, Chronicle Staff Writer

The sun was fading last weekend, shadowing Luccock Park Campground. The Absaroka mountains are close at hand, and, at the far side of the campground, there is a large meeting hall with high windows on either side, taking in views of the mountains on one side and Paradise Valley on the other.

It was here, for the second year, that the Methodist church camp, with the tidy cabins and large central green and volleyball net, hosted a different kind of gathering: the Pine Creek Folk Festival.

Organizer Sean Devine, a lover of folk music since childhood, said that the passion for the story-telling folk style is sweeping the area.

“It seems to be something of a groundswell. It’s becoming an epidemic,” he said, pointing to similar festivals in Big Timber and Gardiner, “our folk festival is just a part of that.”

Devine believes there are two things that set this music festival apart: the camp setting and the emphasis on story rather than musical style. The camp “contributes to a coziness,” a nostalgia for the innocence of childhood, “that feeling of being away, that makes it easier to get transported by a song, by a story,” Devine said.

Saturday night, a small cluster of people, lightly strumming their guitars and chatting created background noise for the night’s concert. One young man played the country song “Jolene” and casually sang the love song; others picked up and dropped the melody.

“The reason I went was not for the (performance). It was for this kind of staying in the campground and playing until 3 a.m.; that’s what I came for,” said Paradise Valley resident Arlene Hoag, a budding guitarist and songwriter. She drove to a folk festival in northern California to find that camaraderie. “The idea of having one in our own backyard is amazing.

“It’s so fun to be able to be creative. To actually be a part of (contributing) to come together and have a common language – that’s what music is.”

For the headliner last Saturday, Rosalie Sorrels, music was a hobby that became a refuge, and money-earner, when she took her five children and left an abusive marriage. There’s a world-weary earthiness and pensiveness to her that carries over into her performances that well reflects folk-story music.

“I think of myself as a storyteller that (uses) music,” Sorrels said. “I don’t necessarily see a difference between the two things.” On Saturday, she picked lightly at her guitar as she reminisced about the people and friends she’d known in her life, touching on songs as they fit her memory.

In direct contrast to her opening act, Bozeman English professor Greg Keeler, who used his re-worked covers of Willie Nelson and Jim Morrison songs to comment on social and political life. For him, the music was the vehicle.

But both told their stories.

That, according to Devine, is what separates story-centered folk from more stylized and technique-driven genre like bluegrass.

“(Folk music) is the gateway to your imagination,” Devine mused absently Saturday night, as he adjusted the sound system aided by a flashlight in the dimming evening. He reminisced passingly about going to Pine Creek School, the times after recess when his teacher would read stories.

“There something about being told a story, that sense of losing yourself. That experience I’ve never felt so strongly as in the presence of live music,” he mused. “Those were times I spent completely lost in my imagination. That’s an experience I seek out for myself as a grown up.”