Closing Circle: Best of Chautauqua

What’s worse than waking up for a 7:30 a.m. high school biology test — worse than waking up from a week-long bender in Tijuana — worse than waking up after being cryogenically frozen for 7,000 years and finding out that B.P. is now in charge of ruling the world? Waking up to find that you’ve reached the last day of the New Old Time Chautauqua! [Cue horror movie scream.]

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad. But only because Oregon Country Fair was still on the horizon. And our sadness about parting ways only speaks to how much more real it feels to be in community with nothing but like-minded performers and activists for weeks on end than it does to be “out in the real world.” (Wait, is reality supposed to be full of creativity, sharing, inspiration and music? That’s crazy!)

After packing up camp and a flurry of exchanged business cards and hugs, we drove our caravan out to a peaceful spot in the woods. Amiel was our master of ceremonies for the closing circle, and he began with a tentative list of activities — that kind of naturally wove itself into folks passing around a stick and talking for a brief time. In other words, we skipped a group “Best of Chautauqua” session in favor of solo sharing about one thing that stood out from the tour.

2010 Tour Closing Circle in the redwoods

I can only speak for myself here. (And apologies because I’ve tried not to have this blog be about me; just making a point.) On the bus ride to Camp Winnarainbow, I got a voicemail telling me that my friend Julie, from back home in Detroit, had very unexpectedly died. It’s difficult to meld “I’m on a bus full of people singing!” with “I want to cry on someone’s shoulder!” So I just sat there, staring at my phone, with tears pouring down my face.

I don’t think I was in that state for more than a few minutes before Della stood up, walked down the bus to sit next to me and asked me what was wrong. Later, at the actual show (after Vanessa and I performed our duo act), Alyra put her arm around me and asked if I was okay “because she saw that my face looked upset.” Tasche did the same on the bus ride home. On this day when I felt so sad and nostalgic for my hometown and my longtime web of friends, I didn’t even have to announce anything was amiss. Chautauquans in my orbit just felt me.

If I had to identify just one thing that stood out about the NOTC experience, it was this: In such a short time, the tour provided what a family should provide, what a community should provide. Not just the chance to celebrate, but also the space to grieve. The opportunity to feel sad, angry, jealous, annoyed — or whatever any of us were feeling at any given moment.

Honesty is a form of perfection (at least in my book), and it’s rare to roll with a crew who can at least attempt to hold space for whatever a human being happens to be experiencing. Maybe it’s because we have a common goal. We have to support one another individually in order to survive as one, united mothership of weirdos bringing art and laughter to communities. Whatever it is that’s held NOTC together for so many years, I am grateful to have experienced this community. And I suspect it will continue on into the future. It’s too good for us not to use all our combined talents to make it so.

There should be a follow up post with “the best of Oregon Country Fair” (because we did meet again). But while we’re wrapping up the actual tour, just want to give a big “OH!” to The New Old Time Chautauqua, for serving as a reminder that what most people in “the real world” consider reality is utter nonsense and what most people in “the real world” consider magic is totally, absolutely, genuinely real.


(As many moments as you like!)

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2 Responses to Closing Circle: Best of Chautauqua

  1. CiCi says:

    It had been five years since I was on Chautauqua, and the only way I was able to go this time is because it came so close to home. My overall experience was one of awe and a deep comfort. So many new faces, belonging to aware young talented people….just what we always wanted to happen. Rebo (onetime Queen of Chautauqua, now passed on) was on the tour and loving it. I was walking in the 8 at Country Fair and thinking of her, talking to her blabbing on about the great Chautauqua energy these days when I passed Shady Grove stage and I swear Rebo was singing. I froze. The woman singing sang a full line in Rebo’s voice, as if singing out to me to say “yes, I’m here”, then resumed her own voice…goose bumps.
    Magic happens, and it happens a lot when like-minded people travel together, perform, visit people who are shut-in or less privileged, do workshops on a town square, load in and load out, rehearse, cook, wash dishes, meet, eat, laugh, play and love. That’s a Chautuaqua.

  2. Stephen says:

    *The transcendent, neighbor-annoying horn funk jam at the Occidental camp site
    *Watching the deli workers in Whole Foods dance along to the FIoK as we paraded through their store
    *Nolan’s curry
    *Islando’s bus tearing down the California highway, windows open, everybody on their feet grooving to the thumping bass from the sound system
    *Waking up to the sound of the buses leaving, then racing after them so as to not miss the morning’s community shows
    *Eating breakfast while watching aerialists practice to accordion music at the Occidental camp
    *Big ol’ group juggle after swimming in the pond at John Schaeffer’s house
    *The dance party following the show at the Solar Living Institute
    *Hearing Somer Joe rock out on the trombone

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