Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Observations from the Welsh Invasion of Washington DC - Part 1

Last week I spent four days at the Cyrmu Smithsonian Wales Folklife Festival on the Washington Mall. That's right! Wales stormed the castle of Washington DC, and planted itself between the capitol building and the Washington monument.

I will post some short stories of my experience, and my observations about the people. As a native Californian who has been transplanted into Salem, Massachusetts I am already an outsider in the world in which I live, and I deeply love the city which is now my home. I have this same appreciation for the nation of Wales. Despite the fact that I have never lived in Wales I experience hiraeth - that deep longing for home - specifically Wales. For me hiraeth is the discovery of a place that is more like home than home itself, and that describes Wales to me.

So these will be the observations and funny stories which come from the place more like home than home itself as it planted itself on the Washington Mall this summer.

As of the time of this writing the event is still going from July 1st to the 5th, and then they will pack up and go home.

I had five reasons for going to the event:

1) I would not have missed it for the world. For my wife yes. For the the world, no.
2) I am starting a company called CeltiConnect and our first goal is business and trade development between the US and Wales.
3) Because of point 2 I was visiting the festival to meet with people from 80 Welsh companies who were in the US on a trade mission.
4) Because of point 2 I was attending "Convergence on Zero," a free conference on sustainable energy put on by the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, Powys, Mid-Wales.
5) Because of point 2 I was going to network with the musicians and entertainers from Wales.

These will be my stories from the above attempts to make friends with Welsh artisans, musicians, poets, and businessmen. Hopefully it will give you a picture of the people, and the absolute friendliness, and fun of being with the Welsh. Now I wish I had pictures of everyone I will talk about, but I am just not that prolific a photographer - okay, I am not a photographer at all - I just take some pictures.

Day 1 at the Cymru Smithsonian Wales:

I arrived at my home away from home at 6:30am after driving 9.5 hours through the night. I arrived, said hello, and then crashed for a couple hours, before I headed off to the Washington Mall.

I was staying an hour away at the home of Jeremy, Sarah and Alex Dudek. Jeremy and Sarah are the in-laws to my son Elijah, and were very gracious hosts. I had to take the Orange line Metro into DC from the furthest point west at the Vienna stop. Fortunately for me the Smithsonian stop is on the Orange line, and it comes up on the Washington Mall. As I emerged from the subterranean world of commuters and tourists I found myself between two of the three worlds of the Folklife Festival. To my left was Las Americas with its latin beats - somewhere between oom pah pah, and a habanero. To my right was the larger world of Wales

I smiled like a kid in a candy shop and immediately walked into Wales without looking around Las Americas first.

Later this day I would meet Aled Llion Jones. Like myself, he came down from the Boston area. Unlike myself, he was a native of North Wales, and speaks Welsh as his first language. I speak it as a clumsy attempt to overcome my sad monolingual American existence.

On this first day I would meet a few musicians and artisans, and get caught on the front row of an all Welsh language TV show praying that I would not get picked to answer questions, but those tales will come later. This is the simple story of my first musician contact.

I am not a stalker - really I am not. I don't typically hang around the stage areas to talk with musicians. Despite the fact that I am one, and that I book musicians for events in Salem, MA, when it comes to concerts, and shows I do not hang around trying to impose myself into the lives of the players, but here I was needing to do so.

My first contact felt more like stalker activity than anything during my four days.

I had already written a few of the musicians: Gareth Bonello, Silhd, and Gwyneth Glyn were few of the musicians I had contacted, and now it was time to meet them. The first musician I found performing from this list was Gwyneth Glyn.

Somehow rushing to the side of the stage while Gywneth was getting ready to set up, and saying, "Hi Gwyneth, my name is Phil. I wrote to you about coming to Boston, and blah, blah, blah... I'd like to get a chance to talk with you afterwards" seemed a bit like stalking. The pretty young musician being hounded by the gray haired midlife crisis looking Jerry Garcia impersonator that I am was definitely outside my comfort zone.

She was gracious and said, "Oh, of course, I didn't recognize you."

"uhm, oh, well we've never met before, I wouldn't expect you to."

She then said she would be glad to talk.

She played a short set. I sat in the front at a table in the middle feeling like a groupie/stalker. The guy at the table with me was about ten years younger than myself, but appeared to be another groupie/stalker type guy. He was running up to the stage and taking pictures of Gwyneth while she played. Now I had the inside scoop that Gwyneth is going back to Wales and getting married shortly, but I kept that to myself, since it appeared that it might break his little groupie/stalker heart. Stalkers have hearts too you know.

When she was finished, she sat on the far side of the tent in a space that the musicians would seem to congregate for the next few days. I popped up, and like a professional stalker made my way across the small circus tent to impose myself once again - leaving the groupie dude behind. He probably was heartbroken that he did not make a stalker/groupie move first. But as for me, I just felt like an old man who should have been arrested for stalking.

Again she was gracious, but it turned out that she was going to be going back up on stage to play a few songs with Gai Toms. Knowing the dynamics of preparing to play, I simply made a few small talk comments to her, and then it was her turn to go back up as I remained behind wondering if the DC police had been called to deal with a stalker in the music tent.

During her second performance Aled Llion Jones arrived, and plunked down next to me. Gai Toms and Gwyneth sounded good together until they played a Meic Stevens song - Dim Brawd Houdini, and then somehow were not quite in tune with one another, and they laughed about it like I would have done. Been there done that actually, and it is painful while it happens, but most of the people don't recognize it anyway, and it is funny as heck later.

After she had completed her sets Aled and I talked with Gywneth about coming to Boston - potentially in October for our Ysbrydnos event this October. I felt less like a stalker/groupie with Aled there. Aled is from a North Wales town not far from Gwyneth's home, and they babbled in Welsh at a pace that sounded like one long word with no breath stops to me. Then again I always feel like Aled goes at that pace.

Gwyneth seems to like the idea of coming to our Ysbrydnos, but we'll see how things go. Here's to hoping that it will work out.

I guess I wasn't really a creepy stalker/groupie guy after all - but I still don't like hanging around the stage to meet people, and wouldn't feel any better about through the next few days - except that many of the others would be ugly guys and not pretty girls. I was actually going to be quite thankful for that - no, no, not because I like ugly guys better, but because my wife likes it better when I talk to the uggly guys.

1 comment:

Gwybedyn said...

un o'r de 'dw i! :)

[recte: i'm not from the north!]