I’m sure the title of this post leads one to think I am talking about a festival where spaghetti is celebrated by pasta lovers from around the country - maybe even from around the world. Honestly, looking at it right now, that’s pretty much what it says to me. However, as I am sure you suspect from the fact that I am rambling about such a thing, I am going to talk about something completely different. It’s just that I’m apparently too lazy to change the title – go figure…
Well, lazy AND my brain is still a bit fried from 3 1/2 days at PUF in Tennessee. Good fried, yes, but fried nonetheless.
So, let’s talk about PUF, because when you get right down to it, that is what this entry is really all about. You see, this year was the 13th PUF, and it was my 10th year of headlining same. In fact, I was their very first out of town “big name talent” ever. The fest has grown over the years, bringing in big names from all over the country, but no matter what, I am always on the schedule. I’ve been told that even if I die, they will dig me up and make sure I am at PUF. And, you know, oddly enough, that doesn’t bother me at all, because I absolutely adore the folks and the fest.
But, what does all this have to do with spaghetti?
Okay, I’ll tell you. One of the staples at just about any festival – pagan or otherwise – when trying to feed the masses is pasta. It’s inexpensive, quick, and just about everyone loves a good plate of spaghetti. If they didn’t, then you wouldn’t have all of these “Lodges” and Churches holding “Spaghetti Dinner” fundraisers. Therefore, PUF serves spaghetti. Not for every single meal, mind you. They actually have an amazing feast on Saturday night that is so beyond compare that I can’t even… well… compare it to anything. Suffice it to say, there is food for miles and I’ve never had a single thing that I didn’t like. PUF provides a portion of it, and then the rest is from “food donations” – that being various “covered dishes” brought by attendees. The lunches themselves are most excellent brown bag type fare. Breakfasts are cereals and fruits – although, I have to say, Rachel the Kitchen Goddess (aka VIP Chef) does up a major breakfast for those of us in the author cabin. However, getting back to dinner, Thursday night is soup/stew night, and Friday night is spaghetti/pasta night.
“So what?” you ask.
Well, I’ll tell you.
At a PUF four or five years ago, the kitchen was short staffed during dinner on Friday night. Now, while it has always been customary at PUF for the staff to wrangle the “VIPs”, bring us in the back door, and run us through the chow queue before anyone else, on that particular occasion I saw a line of hungry people waiting to get in, and a frazzled half-staff that was trying to figure out how they were going to keep the line moving fast enough to avoid problems. For me, it was a no brainer, and over their objections, I put down my unfilled plate, rolled up my sleeves, and took up a position at the serving line. Suffice it to say, the attendees were surprised to see one of the Headline Author/Speakers slopping their choice of meat sauce or marinara onto their piles of pasta, but by the same token, they really enjoyed it.
And, so did I.
You see, sometimes folks can get the wrong impression of headline guests at festivals. They see us being pushed to the head of the line, dining at a private table – sometimes on display in a sense. We get the “VIP” treatment while they stand around and wait. For the most part these folks understand the situation, although there is the occasional person who doesn’t. Of course, I have to admit that when you get a VIP who carries about an attitude that matches the treatment, then folks aren’t getting the wrong impression, they are getting shafted. But, we won’t talk about those “big names,” because I already have to deal with them enough at events and I’ve come close to slapping the snot out of them on many occasions.
So, moving right along… The attendees generally only get to see us at our workshops, or sitting behind a pile of books where they have to stand in line to obtain an autograph. For some – and I am definitely NOT saying all – but, for some, this seems a bit daunting and makes us appear unapproachable. For the record, this is something I have been told by the very same folks who feel this way. It’s not something I’m making up just because I have nothing to do.
On top of that, when you have vendors, multiple speakers, and all sorts of activities going on, people end up making choices as to what they will attend while on site. Therefore, when you have a fest with 300, 400, or even more folks, not everyone gets to have contact with you, even if it’s just to say “Hi.”
And that’s what this is really about. That experience all those years back allowed me to not only help out the frazzled staff and make sure everyone was fed in a reasonable time frame, it also provided something much, much more. I was afforded an opportunity to at the very least say “hello” to each and every person at the festival as they came through the queue for dinner. This is why I have made it a point to take a place in the serving line on Friday night ever since. It’s like a tradition of sorts. The doors open and people file in to have their plates filled with goodies from Rachel the Kitchen Goddess. (see photo above)…
I just stand wherever Rachel puts me – be it the spaghetti noodles themselves (as it was this year), or one of the various sauces, or salad, or dessert… Rachel always objects, of course, saying that I’m a VIP and should be filling my plate instead of other folks’ plates. But, I wouldn’t miss my kitchen time for anything. It’s important to me that not only am I helping out the staff, but I am also able to say “Hi”, crack a few jokes, and even chat a bit with each and every PUF attendee as they come through the line. That way, if they are unable to be at my workshops, don’t run into me during the day, or for some reason see me as unapproachable, I have had the opportunity to come into contact with them. It’s my way of making sure I meet everyone I possibly can.
Afterward, once each person has had “firsts” and even a few have been through for “seconds”, I fill my plate and eat dinner in the kitchen with the staff, which is my chance to visit with them for a while. They work their tails off so that everyone – not just the VIP’s – can have a great time, and they have little to no chance of attending a workshop, or even getting to visit for any decent length of time.
For other meals, it’s usually a different story… Breakfast is at the author cabin where we are all trying to get our things together for the day and figure out where we are supposed to be and when. I eat lunch at my table, because I will be signing books between bites of “sammich”… And, for the feast I am on display at the head table – Please note that I’m not complaining about that. It’s the way things are done, and I certainly understand that it puts the headliners in a central location – probably because they want to keep an eye on us so we don’t get into any mischief (although, we usually find a way to do so, even when being watched and wrangled)… Besides, it also gives me time to visit with the other headliners who have been rushing from workshop to workshop.
Because of various logistics, I don’t get to do this at every festival where I present, but I do at PUF. Of course, if you don’t come through the chow line for Friday night pasta, well, I might not get to meet you. But hey, for 45 minutes to an hour at PUF, you know exactly where I am, and I’ll be happy to “sling hash” for you and say “Hi.” And, even though by the end of it, I am hot, sweaty, tired, and just want to get off my feet for a while, it has become one of my absolute favorite parts of the festival.
More to come…