Almost heaven (again): Back to Paw Paw

The little radio-controlled boat pulled up alongside me, with a GoPro camera mounted on its bow and three cans of Natural Light in its stern. “Beer boat!” the two guys next to me yelled, by way of explanation. “Grab one! Hey, you’re the harmonica guy, aren’t you?”

I was back at Paw Paw, standing in the beautiful Cacapon River and enjoying the near-perfect day. Around me were a dozen or so folks wading, swimming, drinking and combining those activities, and up on the land were perhaps another 50. A pig was being picked. Corn was being boiled. Beer was arriving by toy boat.

This was, by my reckoning, the 12th time I had attended this party, which has been going on for more than a quarter-century — almost always on the second Saturday of August. The only qualification to attend is that you have to know a guest or be invited by the host the first time you attend. After that, you can come back as often/little as you wish.

Part of the party involves music performances by bands set up in a toolshed, and this was the first time I attended/played without my musical soul brother Joe. He had a high-paying gig in Ohio, and he’s trying to scratch out a living with his guitar, so he had to make the tough choice. In his place was a pickup band of people I’ve known for years — some of whom I only see at Paw Paw. I played with them and we fought our way through 20 or so songs to an appreciative crowd.

I now have a number of “Paw Paw friends” (and my wife, who is much more extroverted than me, has many more). I generally see them only on this weekend, although some will pop up now and again at a gig I play, particularly if it’s in the outer suburbs or I somehow wind up playing in West Virginia. They join my group of Cayamo friends — another passel of wonderful people I only see once a year, if that — and it’s a little bit surprising to me how you link up with folks once you become a regular at special events. (I used to have a group of King Biscuit friends, too, but I’ve not been to the festival now in many years.)

I’m not sure how many more years this party will continue. We’re all getting older — the party is much mellower than it was when I first attended, and from what I hear, it occasionally bordered on full-on naked bacchanal Back In The Day — and the party sponsor/owner of the cabin where it’s held is now over 70. I missed last year’s party — only the second time this millennium that has happened — because I felt like I needed a break. Saturday’s experience reminded me of what a dumb idea that was.


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