Before COVID hit, the main way that we sold crafts made by our partner artisans from the Peruvian Amazon was being a vendor at summer music festivals. The pandemic shut down all of these in 2020, and we only attended one event in person in 2021. Many events held impromptu online festivals, but while these provided some means to listen to some good music they could not substitute for the energy of the live events and did not lead to any online sales for us.
So while new versions of COVID are still circulating, we signed up to attend six music festivals again this summer. I'd like to share some thoughts, highlights, and images of the first three.
I began the festival season by attending the Romp Bluegrass Festival in Owensboro, KY. Given the super high prices for gas, I had some trepidation about driving my Toyota Highlander and small trailer to an event that would take two days each way from my home in central Pennsylvania. It was well worth the time and effort, though.
It was great to see Tessa Daniel again who is an artist that began volunteering with me at my booth the very first time I was a vendor at Romp in 2017. She came back again and was joined with her partner Truss Campbell. Truss' skills as a handyman were immediately useful to temporarily fix two broken braces on my two aging 10 x 20 tents.
Tessa leant her aesthetic sense to arrange our new collection of llanchama bark paintings of flowers and butterflies on attractive panel walls and dress Fairtrade Francie - a full-size mannequin that I brought along for this tour to display a rotating complement of earrings, necklace, bracelet, anklet, belt and fair-trade "topper" from Ten Thousand Villages. Francie was a bit intimidating to some people so we tried to be playful by inviting people to take a selfie with her along with a message they wrote on a little whiteboard. She did her part, though, by helping us sell a number of nice accessories.
I left the big whiteboard at home this time that I had used for a community art board since it was full of cracks and the trailer was quite full, but we maintained and built on our tradition of stimulating engagement with festival goers with a new set of trivia questions every day. Some people take pleasure in testing their knowledge while others shy away if the exercise feels like school. I tried to remind people that the purpose of the trivia "quiz" more about learning and having fun than getting the right answers.
Since an owl is the mascot of the Romp festival, our crafts with owls were very popular. These included owls that were woven, carved, and incorporated into jewelry.
It was also wonderful to engage with visitors to the booth about their trips to Peru and other parts of the tropics and take pictures of a few smiling customers with the crafts they had purchased. Over the course of the festival, several people like Ruth, Carl and Alyssa came by several times to chat and shop for gifts and things for themselves.
I appreciated getting to know other neighboring vendors who each have their own fascinating life stories. Some vendors have built a business traveling to festivals to sell their wares (lots of tie dyed clothing) or services (henna drawings) while others are people with other careers who mostly want a chance to share their creative efforts and make some extra income if they can. I made a special connection with an artist named Nate who offered to do a sketch of me while we discussed ecology, spirituality, and prisons.
The other highlights of the trip for me were getting to stay with two good friends in the Columbus, Ohio area coming and going and the chance to meet the owners of several fair trade stores in Ohio and Kentucky who I hope will be wholesale customers in the future.
See the full collection of photos from the Romp Festival on the Amazon Ecology page on Facebook.
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