I am doing the A-Z challenge, focusing on places or entities that can be found within Mendocino County. I do not intend to imply that the subjects of my writing are the most significant, only that they have personal relevance to me. Today’s letter is K for Kate Wolf Festival.
Smiling All the Same
The Kate Wolf Festival occurs annually at the Black Oak Ranch, five miles north of Laytonville, on the west side of the Highway. This year it begins on June 27th and runs though June 30th. The sign goes up along the 101 sometime in May and lists the main performers who are going to be there. It truly is an amazing sight, if you are traveling through the region, anytime once the event has begun.
One moment you are tooling along through beautiful Northern California countryside, both sides of the highway dotted with oak, madrone, pine and fir trees; the next you are confronted with a vast canopy of vehicles, tents, and people, who gather each summer to enjoy music in an outdoor venue. Sometime back in the nineties, the highway through the area was customized to include a left-turn-only lane, and an additional lane to the right to allow for through traffic. Prior to that, each year, CalTrans did a temporary adjustment, adding yellow striping on the highway itself, so that traffic would not do a major bog-down.
Locals all know what’s up but passers through would face a challenge, of which they had no pre-knowledge. Black Oak Ranch, which sponsors the festival, has always tried to work within the parameters of the system, to help pave the way for an efficient and organized event.
I first got involved in festivals on the Black Oak Ranch when they did the annual Pig-Nic. Similar in concept as the Kate Wolf Festival, the Pig-Nic featured musical artists for a three-day run each summer. Included in the mix, naturally, were many vendors, who signed up months in advance to sell an assortment of food, beverages and goods. In conjunction with a number of people in the Bell Springs area, Annie and I worked in a booth whose main food item was pizza bread. Additionally, we might feature organic green salad, snow cones, coffee and various baked goods.
Our goal was originally to raise money for our little two-room elementary school up on the mountain. Once local politics forced the little school to shut down, we continued doing the booth to raise money for scholarships, bestowed [mostly] upon mountain kids, who needed some financial assistance for academic endeavors. Never being too focused on the monetary success of our booth, the most I can tell you is that one year we raised $5,000.00 over and above the cost of our outlay. That will buy a lot of books, pencils and notebooks.
Of course, I will add that many of the kids were also involved in the booth, in a variety of ways. I enjoyed working for a number of reasons. The Pig-Nic took place while I was still teaching, and the events were always in August or very early in September, just as the new school year was gearing up for take-off. Consequently I got to touch base with many of my upcoming year’s students. They would always be surprised to see me at such a counter-cultural event, and that would set up a pleasant awareness that I was just possibly not your typical middle school teacher.
The booth worked well for me because I very much enjoyed the music, but did not enjoy being in the midst of a large crowd of people, so I could hear and see the performers, but had the security of the booth upon which to fall back. I always worked the counter, partly because I can do figures in my head quickly, and partly because of my years of working at United Auto Stores, which was crowded and fast-paced.
I worked with a number of folks and got along well with everyone, with one exception. There was a man who used to come over from the coast, that many of the mountain people knew from the past. I always thought him rather loud and occasionally vulgar, but I gave him space and the benefit of the doubt. That ended one very hot Sunday, though, when he crossed my comfort zone in an intrusive way. You see, one of the more enterprising of our group used to rig up an emitter system around the periphery of the booth, and when the temperature outside soared into the nineties and above, he would activate the fine water sprayers, so that folks who were of a mind, could stand in the vicinity and cool off.
Well, this is NorCal, and there was certainly an exuberance and free-spirit to be found. On this particular occasion, there was a small group of young women who chose to doff their blouses and walk around topless, making me terribly uncomfortable. I did not wish to have these young ladies in the vicinity of the booth in which I worked, because what school teacher needs any kind of unwanted publicity from concerned parents or even district administration?
Well, this man, whose name shall remain unmentioned, was very vocal about his approval of the whole thing, and when I made it clear that I did not share his approval, he called me on it, implying all sorts of nasty things. I tolerated it for a very brief time before I came down on him like the proverbial ton of bricks, informing him “that some of us worked and lived in this community, and that to take his line of reasoning was not only inappropriate, it was downright disgusting.” There were enough folks in the booth nodding in approval to make him back off, and that was the end of it.
The Kate Wolf Festival has long since replaced the Pig-Nic, and I am no longer involved in any of the booths. I haven’t attended in recent years, but am going to try very hard to get a one-day pass this year to see one of my all-time favorite artists, John Prine. I was first turned on to John Prine, back in 1972, while overseas in South Korea. “Illegal Smile” was the tune that first drew me to Mr. Prine, and I have been a fan ever since.
I no longer indulge in that which produces an illegal smile, but I still enjoy his music, smiling all the same.