It's clear the maximum number of consecutive weekends we can stay in any town is two, no matter how cute or interesting that town may be. So it's a good thing we had tickets for the World of Music Arts and Dance (WOMAD) an annual event in England for over 30 years now and one of the worlds largest international music festivals. We knew about this festival because for 3 years Marymoore Park, near Seattle, had the US show. I'd have to say the artists we love the most we discovered at WOMAD. Afro Celt Sound System, Blind Boys of Alabama, Keb Mo, Boubacar Traore, Natacha Atlas. And there was the year Peter Gabriel, one of WOMADs original founders, performed to an ecstatic crowd. Then 9/11 happened and WOMAD ceased to play the USA because visas were too hard for the performers to come by.
We got our camping set-up from a funny startup called "Wicked Campers" and were the only people at the event who had a rooftop tent. They're everywhere in Australia and South Africa but they are apparently pretty rare in England and I can't imagine they will catch on in England's soggy climate. Several people dropped by to have a chat about the tent set up and also check out the bizarre mural splattered across the sides of the vehicle. And what in the world does it mean here to say, let alone paint, "The last thing I want to do is hurt you but it's still on my list" on the back of a van?
If you're looking for a family friendly event, this one rocks. What we didn't expect, and what made all the difference to Z's weekend, was Carter's Steam Fair, a vintage traveling carnival with all the rides we loved as kids: The Octopus, Rock N Roll Dodge-Ems (AKA bumper cars), High Flying Swing Boats, The Chair-O-Plane and The Wall of Death. There was the politically incorrect African Jungle Cork Shooter and The Famous Penny Arcade with perhaps the largest collection of vintage slot machines anywhere. And can you guess what Candy Floss is if I told you it's bright pink and looks like a bouffant? I couldn't tolerate most of the rides which are designed to mess with your vestibular system because mine is getting old and dried out so I start to get nauseated the moment I even sit in a swing. After Z's second ride in the Octopus he declared the festival Awesome! and kept insisting I was missing out by refusing rides.
I can't say there were any performers I would rush out to add to our collection this year, probably because its harder to give them the attention they deserve while sharing a standing room patch of grass with a 4 year old. There's an enormous difference in the experience of a festival with and without a child. Nowadays, I spend so much time looking to gauge his experience, trying to imagine what all this must be like for him seeing/hearing/tasting for the first time. And, yes, an awful lot of time trying to keep myself calm and loving when there's a stream of complaints leaking out through the holes in his nose. But Friday evening Z got down and funky with the rest of the kids at the back of the tent clamoring over the giant WOMAD letters. The fact that the beat was enough to get him moving meant to me it was the best band ever. Check him out here.
I thought a lot about Tribes during the weekend. WOMAD represents dozens of tribes from many different countries brought to common ground through music. But WOMAD is also one big tribe, the kind you can find at other festivals like Folk Life and the Oregon Country Fair. There's even a small element of Burning Man at WOMAD, though the only people running around naked were under 5. I'd describe the atmosphere as Celebrate Who You Are, Live and Let Live, Be Nice, and Don't Vote Conservative. It felt nice to move among this tribe in England like I'd done in the US. In fact I often did a double take, thinking, Haven't I seen you before? Dreadlocks, pierced nipple, purple-dyed goatee? Probably not, but it made me realize that a festival like WOMAD, no matter where it exists, brings together my kind of people. Z may not have been old enough to pick up on this vibe as he gnawed through his Nutella crepe. But I felt right at home.