August 6, 2007
Mendocino to SF
Called “Hippie Band Camp” by attendees as well as good-natured teasers at home, Lark in the Morning just celebrated its 27th year. A nine-day old-world music hoedown in the Mendocino redwoods, Lark (for short) has been called “Burning Man for musicians” by people who aren’t yet aware that you have to bring all your own food and drinks to Burning Man, that Burning Man’s population hovers around 40,000 as opposed to Lark’s mere 700ish, and that Lark is older.
Oh and that Black Rock City is a blah blah blah who cares right now; we’re still high off of Lark. Make fun of us for hanging out with hippies if you like — these are the good kind of hippies. The ones who are Us from one generation back. The ones who Did Something, and Continue To Do Things. The righteous ones.
But whatever, the commonality is that a particular crowd of people plans for and dreams about it all year. Also, anyone studying the history of the Burning Event will find the old guard of attendees are indeed “our” direct ancestors — those dedicated to creating temporal environments where one’s wildest creative dreams can come true.
At Lark Camp, musicians can bust out and start tooting their own horns (sometimes literally) without shame, retribution, or funny looks. Most are from Northern California and/or the West Coast, hailing from or gravitating toward a fairly liberal lifestyle, and more able to pick Ramblin’ Jack Elliott out of a lineup than Tim McGraw or Barry Bonds.
All instruments are acoustic, and no recorded music is played, except in some dance classes where the musicians can’t make it to provide live accompaniment. The Mendocino Woodlands transport the festivalgoer back to prehistoric (or folkloric) times, when troll families lived in hollowed-out mossy tree stumps and very large dragonflies (fairies?) flew around few-and-far-between humans with a palpable sense of entitlement.
It’s an otherworldly scene to the extreme, especially when one walks down a nature trail and hears a chorus of violins, a Brazilian drumming ensemble, or a lone bagpipe wafting through the Tolkeinsian forest. Some say Lark is a modern Brigadoon.
Lark in the Morning’s founder, Mickie Zekley, taught himself guitar at age 16, and by 19, he’d begun studying sitar with Ravi Shankar. An encyclopedia of Forrest Gump-like experiences lives within him: residing in sight of the Hog Farm, busking at the early days of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, and accidentally being dubbed “King of the Hippies” at the Elysian Park Love-In … all before he’d turned 20.
Zekley’s best friend Bob Thomas — a charming and superhuman artist, musician, and all-around character — designed the Grateful Dead logo.
Quickly becoming a proficient player and performer of dozens of instruments from all over the world, Zekley ended up as a proprietor of two shops (also called Lark in the Morning, after the old Irish tune) that sell some of the most remarkable artisan instruments that exist in the world today.
Lark “camp” started as a Sunday music party at Zekley’s Mendocino house, and when the drunk bagpipers became too numerous, he moved it. Now, once a year, the “good” hippies, and their children, and their ticketholders, and their “native” musician friends gather under a vast and mystical canopy of ancient trees to take classes and play religiously analog (old) world music together for 10 days.
Yep, it didn’t suck.
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