Roots on the River: News & FAQ
News & FAQ
Fred Eaglesmith interview
by Joyce Peters
I recently spoke with Fred Eaglesmith by phone from the road, following a respite at his home in Ontario. He’s back on the road and shared his perspective on liberation, rock & roll, and hockey.
Joyce Peters: So you were just home in Ontario. How’d you spend your time at home?
Fred J Eaglesmith: Playing local shows. We booked a lot of local Ontario shows. We did 20 shows within 6 hours of home.
JP: Does it feel like “home sweet home” the moment you walk in the door?
FJE: Not really. It takes a while. This time it took weeks. In fact, I never really got home until just before I left.
JP: Where do you get that “at home” feeling or a sense of belonging?
FJE: I live on the road. I sleep in the bus a lot now. I set up my place at night, put my bed up. I’m warm, I’m happy.
JP: Did you get to paint when you were home?
FJE: I haven’t painted for a couple of years. I’m just so busy. I have to put that aside. I’m supposed to write a book but I can’t get that done. I can’t get anything else done except tours. It’s sort of surprising that things have gotten this good at this time in my life. It’s a little shocking. I’m just gonna stay with it.
JP: So why are things so good now?
FJE: Two or three years ago, I saw the writing on the wall. I had met the Ginn Sisters and we started to tour more. They had a sensibility that we latched on to and vice versa. We started to go into the show biz a little bit. And then a bit more into rock & roll. Then I realized that rock & roll was where I wanted to be anyway. I thought about it for a long time. What is this and what is it I’ve been doing? I decided not to be a part of it. People have no business being in the music business. Then the band started to gel and we got louder. Some of our old fans objected. But with our new fans…it felt like being discovered again.
JP: At a recent show, you jokingly talked about making a jazz record. I think you were joking! But why not make a jazz record?
FJE: I am on my way. It’s three or four records away. What we’re doing is alive. I wrote a whole bunch of jazz songs. I have to brush up on my chops. We’re working on some R&B now. I can do the jazz when I’m older.
JP: Last time we talked, you emphasized your desire to stay relevant. Are you still feeling relevant? Or are you ready to change gears?
FJE: My daughter is coming out of makeup school in the fall. We’re trying to put together a circus tent. We’re expanding the rock & roll show into a vaudeville sort of show. Going back to the 20s, travelling from little town to little town. Rock & roll was better when it was a circus…when it was crazy like Woodstock. It was just a mish mash. That’s where I’m trying to go to with the travelling show.
JP: With your Zen studies, you’re likely better equipped than most to fully experience the present moment and not look back. How will the last Roots on the River show feel like for you? Will you feel any sadness or sense of loss?
FJE: I’m not that way. I have a sense of liberation. I felt that Bellows Falls had run its course. As long as Fred Eaglesmith was the focal point, it couldn’t grow. I used to see fans only once a year. They don’t understand the change. I really got this sense that Bellows Falls and I were holding each other back. It started with Charlie Hunter and a motorcycle bar. It was changing every year anyway. I want to do something else. I’m really happy. This was a perfect time to stop it. Neither of us overstayed our welcome.
JP: Like Jay Leno?
FJE: [laughs] Yeah. There will be something new to come along.
JP: Let’s end with some tales from Bellows Falls. Tell us about some of your fond memories of the festival and BF.
FJE: The hockey games were really good! We loved that little Sunday afternoon ritual. That was one of my favorite things. We met a lot of friends there. Staying at the Walpole Inn was fun. There were big parties and I got to see my old pals. That was always fun. Bellows Falls was good to me…respectful to me. They understood the festival contributed to their economy. People were real nice. Once in a while I’d get a free coffee [laughs]. It wasn’t over the top. I could walk downtown and they wouldn’t give me too much trouble.
JP: Is there anything you want to add before we end the interview?
FJE: I know this [Roots on the River] is something people are really attached to. The message is that you have to move on; you have to go forward. It’s like religion. Festivals demand it to be the same old way. When you stop thinking like that, you get liberated.
Joyce Peters is a freelance music journalist and photographer, and friend of Roots on the River.
Fred's Last Stand
In Eaglesmith’s own words:
“I have always believed that festivals have a shelf life. That they run their course. When this happens they should either fold or change. I think to keep ROTR alive and vibrant it needs to change. It needs to wrap itself around a new and younger approach. It needs new and younger artists. It needs to maintain its audience while bringing in fresh faces. I believe in impermanence and accept change as a way of life. I feel that my greatest contribution to ROTR is to step aside and to let change happen.
So by not being there I am making it better by giving it room to grow in a different direction. I have so many great memories of ROTR - I'd like to leave with those memories intact.”
We have had fourteen fabulous, fun-filled festivals with Fred, including some memorable years, such as the time the power went out under the Big Tent and the artists kept right on playing, unplugged and all acoustic, to the frenzied delight of the faithful Fredheads. Or 2005 when Chris Whitley returned home and played his last live performance before succumbing to lung cancer at age 45 shortly after. Or the Friday night in 2007 when Fred called Willie P. Bennett from the stage while Willie was at home recovering from his first heart attack and Willie suggested we all go f**k ourselves. Or the year Fred, after griping that we celebrated other musicians' birthdays, finally got his "F in cake"!
A highlight of this year's festival will be the oft-repeated paring of Eaglesmith with Mary Gauthier on Sunday at the Rockingham Meeting House. When Mary was told that Fred was ending his festival connection, she graciously accepted the invitation to come back in her “off” year. These two artists have co-written songs together and their duets in the old venue are always deeply moving. If you have ever seen Fred and Mary perform in the Meeting House, you know how special it is. If you have not, this performance will be one to remember for a lifetime. Don’t miss out; we are limiting the seating for this one.
Here’s a list of common questions we get, as well as some guidelines for what to bring and what to leave at home. We want you to have a great festival experience, so please don’t hesitate to call on our staff and amazing volunteers if there is anything you need while on site.
Yes, there are some rules at our festival experience. We try to keep them reasonable, and they are generally designed to promote consideration and respect for your fellow festival-goers, maintenance of a safe and comfortable environment, and adherence to local laws, not just because we like making rules and bossing you around. For the better part of 4 days, we become a little community of music-lovers, and it helps if we all try to live by the basic principles of human decency: Be nice, have fun, share your crayons and don’t bite your neighbors.
To what does my ticket entitle me? It depends. There are different types of tickets sold for the festival, with different levels of benefits associated with each. Make sure to read the fine print before you purchase, so you know if your ticket includes premium tent seating, and any other benefits.
Can I sit in the brown folding chairs under the tent? If you bought a Deluxe ticket that includes a wristband, yes. If you bought any other type of ticket, you may bring a folding chair of your own (regularly sized, no chaises and no extendable footrests) and set it up on the grass under the tent, space allowing. Ushers will help you set up so that everyone can see, hear, and have an enjoyable tent experience.
What if I only want to come for one or two of the acts? Festival tickets are festival tickets. You buy your ticket for the day, a few individual days, or the whole weekend. We are not able to offer discounts for people who arrive late or only want to see one or two of the acts. While the Box Office has heard some amazing pitches for why someone ought to be able to pay for only the number of minutes of music they have consumed, they are not known for budging on this issue.
Can I volunteer in exchange for free admission? We love our volunteers and could not put on the festival without them. Volunteering is a significant commitment and requires you to read, understand, and sign our Volunteer Agreement (info coming early March) before receiving a volunteer assignment. The degree of discount of free admission to the festival is in direct proportion to the amount of hours volunteers put in. We can't accommodate people who show up at the gate on Saturday wanting to volunteer in exchange for a free ticket.
What if it rains? Suck it up. Not much choice but to let it, unless you're a weather deity (please let us know in advance if this is true - there's a free weekend pass in it for you & a friend). While there is quite a bit of room under the tent, it can get crowded and we can’t guarantee covered seating for those who have not purchased wristband tickets. We will do our best to make sure everyone is comfortable, but the only way to guarantee yourself a seat under the tent is by purchasing a deluxe package that includes a wristband for tent seating. The festival happens rain or shine.
Can I enter and exit the festival grounds at will, once I’ve had my ticket ripped? Yes, as long as you have a wristband, ticket stub, or hand stamp to show the gate folks.
If I buy a wristband ticket, do I have to wear it all weekend long? Yep – that’s why we make them in such attractive colors and out of such comfortable materials.
Can I meet the musicians? Most of the artists will appear at the merchandise table after their performance to sell & sign CDs and perhaps have a photo taken with a fan. Be cool & don't hog anyone's time - a lot of other people want to talk with them as well. There's a good chance that you'll run into some of the artists during the festival - they're fans as well as performers.
Can I bring my own liquor into the festival? Not unless you own a brewery/winery/distillery, and you're bringing enough for everyone. To do so jeopardizes the festival’s liquor license and may be cause for the festival to be shut down – and do you really want to be THAT person? There is beer and wine for sale inside the gate. Alcohol purchased on site must be consumed on site and cannot be taken outside the fence. A handy beer parking station is provided at the gate, and our gate attendants will be happy to beer-sit for you while you make a run to your vehicle.
Can I consume alcohol in the parking lot? Be aware that Vermont has an open container law, and that local and state police do patrol the area for violations. While Ray may be a lawyer, he doesn’t want to be YOUR lawyer. At least not during the festival. Not for any amount of money. (Maybe for a certain amount of money - enough to fund RotR XV completely. YMMV. No guarantees. Consult with your spouse before attempting this.)
Can I bring my own food into the festival? No. We’ve contracted with a great selection of local food vendors offering a wide array of yummy treats, and hope you will enjoy them as much as we do. There will be everything from barbecue to fried dough as well as vegetarian and healthful options. You are welcome to keep a cooler of snacks in your vehicle and have a parking lot picnic whenever you wish.
Can I bring my dog? We love dogs and are always happy to welcome well-behaved, friendly dogs as long as they are leashed at all times, and their owners clean up any messes (bring your own poop bags please!). The festival grounds can get hot, crowded and overwhelming for some dogs and there is very limited shade, so please make an alternative plan for your dog if the day is forecast to be hot – leaving your dog in your vehicle in the parking lot, even with windows open is very unsafe, and if parking attendants have concerns about dogs in cars, you will be asked to relocate your dog to a safer, more comfortable place. Please bring plenty of water, a water dish, food and anything else your dog may need for a comfortable festival. Ask Sarah at the Box Office for recommendations for local swimming holes and walking trails.
Can I bring my kids? Please do - real music's good for 'em! We have a whole kids activity area set up for them. Kids are welcome to join us under the tent to listen to the music, but we ask that you be considerate of others and step out for a breather if any caterwauling begins (yours or theirs). There is plenty of grassy space where you can run around and get yer ya-yas out while still hearing the music.
Can I smoke? The festival grounds are smoke free, and there is a designated smoking area out past the main gate. Standing immediately outside the gate and blowing your smoke into the box office is uncool and makes the volunteers cranky. They may be armed with squirt guns; if you're smoking too close to them, you're fair game.
Is there handicapped parking? Yes, for vehicles with handicapped plates or placards; ask any of the parking attendants to direct you to the handicapped parking spaces right outside the main gate. Once there, if you need assistance getting into the festival grounds, one of our gate attendants will be happy to escort you inside.
What can I bring inside the festival grounds with me?
- Your fine self and a sunny disposition
- A regular sized lawn chair or blanket (please no chaises or chairs with extendable foot rests or shade canopies)
- Non-glass water bottles (of course, water is for sale inside the gates)
- A reasonably-sized bag for personal items
- Your leashed, reasonably well-behaved dog and/or children (you don’t have to leash the children, but it would amuse us if you did)
(Best to bring both - it's Vermont in early June, after all. Remember 2004?)
- Alcohol of any kind, as mentioned above. If this becomes a problem, we will start checking bags, and we'd hate to have to do that.
- Coolers. You’re welcome to have coolers in your car and enjoy parking lot picnics whenever you’d like.
- Glass. If it breaks, particularly after dark, it becomes a safety hazard.
- Tents, shade canopies, or any sort of structure that blocks the views of others or consumes an unreasonable amount of ground space.
Helpful hints for the Sunday Meeting House show:
- Bring a bum pillow. Those seats aren't exactly cushy.
- If bringing water to the site, please label your bottle – no food or drink is allowed inside, so we set up a water bottle garage outside.
- Be aware that white clothing, sweaty backs, and really old wood stain are not a good combination.
- Early birds get premium parking up on top of the hill. Later arrivals should prepare for a bit of a hike down the road and up the hill. Wear sensible shoes.
- Seating inside is not reserved. Deluxe ticket holders will be admitted ahead of the
teeming massesgeneral crowd.
- There is little cell phone signal up on the hill, so if you have important calls to make Sunday morning, make ‘em before you come. If by some chance you do happen to get a signal, and your phone rings during the show, you'll be embarrassed, and quite possibly called out on it by your fellow festival goers or even the performer up front. PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF FRED, TURN OFF YOUR PHONE BEFORE THE SHOW BEGINS. Better yet, lock it in your car.
Where can I park in BF?
While you're attending shows at the Farmers' Market, in The Square, 33 Bridge St, or if you're exploring the wonders of downtown BF, you'll find plenty of public parking.
Right-click on map to open a larger version.