Beyond Words
(from July 2011 issue of Nashville Arts Magazine)
By Marshall Chapman

Last week I played my first hippie music festival—Hippie Jack’s Sixth Annual Memorial Day Festival, which takes place on Hippie Jack’s farm about a hundred miles east of Nashville. The festival has become sort of the Bonnaroo of Americana and roots music. This year’s lineup included Jim Lauderdale, David Olney, Malcolm Holcombe, and Darrell Scott.

As my husband and I headed east along I-40, we were excited to be going somewhere we’d never been before. And as soon as we exited the interstate at Monterey, we knew we were in for a treat. Monterey’s main drag looked like a movie set or the backdrop for an episode of The Twilight Zone. Driving north out Highway 84, we didn’t pass a car.

“Everybody must be where they were going for Memorial Day,” I said to no one in particular.

Whenever we travel, Chris drives, and I do commentary. “Oh, look, there’s Brushy Mountain! Isn’t that where the State Penitentiary is?” When we pass a wagon being drawn by two mules, I notice the driver wearing a pointed hat. “Those must be Amish,” I continue.

To say we were in a remote area of Tennessee would be an understatement. Hippie Jack’s farm is listed in Crawford, Tennessee, but I defy you to find Crawford on a map. “It’s about halfway between nowhere and far out,” says Hippie Jack, whose real name is Jack Stoddart.

I was weary from fighting a sore throat and weary from the road. In forty years of touring, I have never missed a show. And I had no intention of missing this one. But deep inside, I’m thinking, God, how on earth will I make it this time?

At the festival site, we are warmly greeted by Munch, Hippie Jack’s wife, who, when asked what brought them to Tennessee originally, launches into a story about their cat, Crunch, who’d twice been run over by their car when they lived in Florida. The heat and humidity have me feeling faint.

“Is there a creek nearby?” I ask Munch.

It turns out there is. I stumble down a shady dirt road to a shallow creek where a couple of boys are throwing rocks into the clear, bubbling water.

“Don’t y’all be clouding up my bath water,” I say, as I duck behind a tree. I shed my hot clothes and wade out into the creek, then sit down on a bed of smooth rocks. As the cold water rushes by at my waist, I’m thinking, This is either gonna cure me … or kill me. Then I lie back and completely submerge myself in the cold water.

Later, as I take the stage, some guy in a tie-dyed T-shirt with long gray hair and a long gray beard offers me a tall glass of a warm apple substance that seems to do wonders for my sore throat.

The show goes on as scheduled.