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Witchvox Chapter: Pagan Event Reviews
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Starwood XXV: Feelin' the Love|
by Peg Aloi
This year marked the 25th Starwood Festival: an event that has been held at various venues near and in Ohio but which has been held at the Brushwood Folklore Center in Sherman, New York for the last decade. In that time Starwood has grown to be a moderately-sized festival that features an enormous bonfire. It is the largest free-standing bonfire (as opposed to a fire built on frames or scaffolding, which is very dangerous, as witnessed with the Texas A & M tragedy some years ago) in the world and has apparently been visible from space! But famous though the bonfire is world-famous free-standing bonfire.
But in addition to the excitement and spectacle of the bonfire, which is always accompanied by an opening fire-lighting ceremony, Starwood has always been known for its musical performances and workshops given by well-known and diverse performers and presenters. In years past I have attended workshops on crop circles, wooden flute improvisation, Celtic knotwork design, the history of American Druidry, bodhran playing, polyamoury, midwifery, and a variety of esoteric subjects. I've seen performances by some amazing musicians, too. This year, the Silver Anniversary I guess you could call it, was no different and what's more, the weather was idyllic (hardly any rain and just when it got too hot and humid a cooling breeze would arrive) and the energy was very mellow. In fact this was the most laid-back Starwood I can ever remember. Which is weird, considering one would think that for the 25th festival, you might assume things might get a bit weird, or feisty, or laden with all sorts of "drama" (as many at Brushwood have come to call the many unusual and challenging occurrences which tend to punctuate any festival). But there were no medical emergencies (except when one of the A.C.E. staff unfortunately slipped and injured his shoulder but he is on the mend), and no real problems. An exceedingly well-run and pleasurable week, so congratulations to A.C.E. and Brushwood for making this an exceptional year!
This year's program offered performances and presentations from many luminaries who have appeared at Starwood in the past (like Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, Isaac Bonewits, Selena Fox, Phyllis Curott, Ivan Stang, Ian Corrigan, Michael and Pearl Breitbach (and their magical, musical offspring!), Gavin and Yvonne Frost, Anodea Judith, Jeff Rosenbaum, Chas Smith, Billy Woods and many others, some of whom were presenting for the first time, like authors LaSara Firefox and Christopher Penczak.
Of course, it is impossible to attend every workshop and concert, and I tend to spend my time at Starwood connecting with friends old and new as much as I can. But there were some definite high points I can mention that I was there for!
First off I want to say the musical performances this year were amazing. Tuesday night kicked off with probably the best-ever concert by The Bardo Brothers (longtime festival performers and frequent Starwood performers). The Bardos are cool because they do not really claim to be a band! And their personnel are always changing depending on which Bardos can make it to which festival, so each performance is slightly different. Check out their many incarnations on their colorful website . This year, Billy, Barking Blue, Bearfooted Bob, Barleycorn, and Battling Babraham gave a most musical and enjoyable performance, culminating as it usually does in the famous Fire Rap, and including some great arrangements of traditional songs and powerful originals written by Barking Blue (aka Steve Strauss, found here ) and Bearfooted Bob (whose songs "Conversations with Pan" and a new offering dedicated to the now-dormant but hopefully not forever defunct band, Green Crown, were high points of this year's concert), and of course the band's illustrious leader Doktor Billy. Many of the Bardos are dear friends of mine and I always enjoy their music and company. And yes, being a groupie and like-minded ne'er-do-well I have a Bardo name, too! Guess what it is and win a prize.
Other performers this year included The Gregory Morris Group, who I first saw heard play at WinterStar this past winter. They played in the Puffer Dome, always a fascinating place to hear a band because of the unusual acoustics. The band's songs are catchy, intense and often humorous, and Greg's lyrics have a way of capturing the universal heartbreak of love in words that make us think he must have been there when it happened to us. I definitely want to keep an eye on these guys. Check them out atthe band's website .
I also enjoyed daytime shows by the Celtic duo Changeling (who also gave workshops on Celtic tune arrangement and songs or war), and The One Hat Band, which has grown into a very lively outfit, mostly comprised of the Breitbach family with help from David Estefan and other guests. The Breitbachs are the real deal, travelling and performing their own unique vision of Appalachian-tinged hippie music. The first time I saw them play at a Starwood bardic night, River (now a strapping teenager) was about four years old and could barely play his tiny fiddle. Now young Chiron (all of 6 years old) is the youngest member of the band, and he can jam with the best of them. Check out their music and philosophy of life at this great website .
Mainstream Irish band The Prodigals fir right into the Starwood groove, like Gaelic Storm did two years ago. The crowd definitely loved their energetic sound, and when they weren't playing the hell out of some traditional jig, they were stunning everyone with amazing a cappella harmony singing. Great band that I hope to see play more festivals of this kind.
Incus hails from my very own neighborhood of Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, where "The Temple in the Hood" is well-known as a magical and marvelous place for parties and performances with some very laid-back pagans. Their sound is hard to describe ( "Music for Fire Worshippers" band leader Jason Cohen calls it) but it includes plenty of percussion, accordion, flute, guitar and amazing vocals, and features some gorgeous belly dancing, too. In addition to their mainstage show, Incus also brought their intention and intensity to an alchemical fire circle that went on all night and which, from all accounts, was a very transforming experience for all. Check out Incus' tribal, trancy, fiery sound for yourself at www.incus.net. They are in the studio working on a new album and will be appearing at Forest Dance in August in western Mass.
As often happens with Starwood, one day melds into the next as friendships are forged, connections strengthened, and ecstatic experiences enjoyed. You can always feel the excitement building towards bonfire night, but the journey to that high point is really the main thing. I shared many wonderful times with friends old and new, I just want to offer shout out to all my loved ones for sharing their beauteous selves with me this year: Everyone at DaltonStadt, where the Roving pirate Party began! Thanks to everyone across the whole campsite who made Pirate night a success, especially Babylon whose enthusiastic pirateering was a marvel to behold. Get ready for an even more pervasive pirate theme night next year–Yarrrr!
To the Ritual Art Sanctuary where the groovy vibe never stopped: thanks for the magic and early morning mayhem! To Tiki Bonsai, site of the best parties and campsite music bar none! Long may you flourish in your changing incarnations. To Jason, Tommy, Animal, Matt, Chuck, Strider, Traci, Ed, and the other hard-working Fire Tribe (affectionately known as our beloved "Wood Busters") for their dedication and energy making the roundhouse fires and the bonfire such an amazing part of our week. Likewise to the drummers and dancers who kept that energy going night after night. Thanks for some wonderful "third shifts."
To Pete, Brian, Mike, Toucan and the rest of the Java Junction guys for serving up coffee and breakfast and lunch with a smile! To Oberon, Ian, Sue, Jeff and the others who were there for a wonderful post-Starwood night of music around the Dalton campfire: thanks for the sweet bardic memories and laughter. To all at A.C.E. (Including Joe and Regis whose sound and technical wizardy make everything run smoothly) and the Chameleons for organizing a great program and festival. And to the staff of Brushwood, for continuing to allow us to build this community on their beautiful land, and for their tireless efforts to improve everyone's experience there.
Oh, and to Don and Daniella: The Cool Thing You Really Would Have Liked this Week Was....
Every Single Freakin' Moment. You better be there next year!
Top: Carol, Zimra and Lilith, the Pirate Babes! Yarrrr!
Bottom: Gypsy the Blacksmith resting...
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Location: Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
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Article ID: 10028
Posted: August 14th. 2005
Days Up: 3,917
Times Viewed: 16897