Awakening Awareness

Brita Belli
The Clearwater Festival Is the Perfect Merging of Music and Environmental Awareness, Particularly for Kids
I had plans to sit and enjoy several bands at Sunday’s Clearwater Festival, but my going-on-6-year-old had other ideas. Instead, we began at one of several playgrounds on site, enjoying the sounds of Balkan Beat Box rising over the hill as our infant daughter napped and our older girl tested her strength on the monkey bars. Though I didn’t get to see them, the group’s songs provided the perfect backdrop for the day—lots of percussion mixed with horns, samples and strains of global sounds from reggae to Middle Eastern. Very danceable and joyous and indicative of the way Clearwater embraces musical styles well beyond traditional folk.

Just past the Mister Softee ice cream truck we were happily distracted by a juggler. It was Nate the Great, an enthusiastic young man in a black suit and bowler hat, who could balance spinning plates on his chin and juggle clubs simultaneously, keep a huge number of balls in the air (12 I think? I didn’t actually count them), and in general wow his mesmerized kid-and-parent audience. Just beyond Nate was a juggling area set up for attendees to take a turn—the winking blue Hudson River stretched out behind—where my husband, my daughter and I would all learn a few tricks about keeping balls—and devil sticks—aloft. (The secret to the devil sticks is to start off vertically and lift them gradually. I can confidently say I am no longer terrible.)

Brita Belli
We were led next to the storytelling circle where Dave Conover regaled us with stories of whales that got away, and how crabs got their eyes, and sang sea shanties. All was threaded through with an environmental message—although really the day itself was one long environmental message. Our daughter found and held a long spiky caterpillar wandering across someone’s blanket. And there were two tents set up by Clearwater—the Discovery and Tideline tents—where she spent lots of time pulling various fly larvae, crayfish and water worms (all Hudson River natives, of course) from little trays to examine them under microscopes. She played in a sand box filled with things that had washed up on the banks of the Hudson River (a turtle skull, a rubber duck), pet an eel and a flat fish called a hog choker and saw a tadpole, a pollywog and a water boatman (a little insect that looks like it’s rowing) in action.

The trash cans bore signs reading “zero waste” overhead, and volunteers actually manned each trash station to help visitors separate their trash into the right bins. I was able to refill my water bottle from available spigots, support efforts and sign petitions to shut down nuclear power and prevent fracking in New York and then listen to a rollicking version of “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” in the Circle of Song Tent. Throughout, the blue of the Hudson River and majestic sailboats beyond reminded us what it was all about—protecting this great body of water so that the kids have something to celebrate and explore and get excited about 30, 50, 100 years from now.

Omega Institute awarded Hudson River Sloop Clearwater $10,000 during this year’s festival—its first Leadership in Sustainable Environmental Education award. Having been to many a music festival I can say that I’ve never experienced such a perfect merging of music with environmental awareness, or such an emphasis, in a festival setting, on getting kids excited about the natural world and taking the time to teach them, encourage their questions and ignite their sense of stewardship.

I didn’t get to see a lot of music that day (though I heard it always from every corner), but I was glad at the end to be perched under some trees on a hill overlooking the Rainbow Stage as Ani DiFranco sang “Splinter,” with a message designed for the day: “Sweat in the summer / shiver in the winter / Just enough to know that we’re alive / Watch out for that TV, it’s full of splinters / and remember you can always go outside / really really really far outside.”