The third annual Appaloosa Festival was held at the Skyline Resort in Front Royal, Virginia this past weekend. It’s in the same neck of the woods as Christendom College. Though not an officially religious event, this bluegrass music festival brought thousands of Catholics together for some good, old-fashioned fun. It was also an unexpected lesson for me in organic Catholic community and effective evangelization.
The anchor act was Scythian, an energetic, local band of Catholics who prep by praying novenas to their “festival director,” the Infant of Prague. When they came onstage on Saturday night, they played everything from “Hey Ma Ya,” (think New Orleans, Irish macarena) to “Czardas,” the famous gypsy fiddle tune. These four guys (and one gal) hopped around stage sporting proficiency in an impressive variety of instruments: piccolo, violins, and even a standing electric mandolin. They looked like hipsters in fedoras and tiny vests but without any of the snappy attitude. They were unpretentious, loved what they did, and put on quite a show.
Perhaps the most beautiful part of it was looking around at the people in the crowd. There were the Christendom students and DC young professionals, volunteering, tending bar, and then dancing up front. Depending on the song, they’d jump in place with their hands in the air, or slow down, pair up, and waltz. Watching the couples, I couldn’t help but think we’d have less of a dating crisis in my generation if we had more opportunities for young men and women to dance. But there were also parents, grandparents, and lots of young children milling about, dancing for a bit, and then returning to their picnics in the back.
It would be hard to imagine a scene more different from the other festival currently in the news: Burning Man. An improvised, anti-commercial society, Burning Man stands for the total destruction of traditional norms. Participants go with the expectation of a costless, guiltless weeklong vacation from moral expectations. Things took a tragic turn this year when a participant ran into the fire and died. I do not wish to detract from the loss of life, which is always devastating. But it is no accident. The kind of hedonistic freedom sought by many at festivals like Burning Man leads to death, at least spiritually speaking.
Appaloosa, by contrast, has no promiscuity, or drugs, or stated agenda. It does not explicitly call attention to its religious roots. However, the way that the festival is run, the kind of people who go, and what they do there all affirm the goodness of human life and the family. It’s the type of event that you could easily invite a non-Catholic to that would speak volumes about the Church. It was a helpful reminder to people like me, who make it their business speak publicly about their faith: you don’t always have to sell it in order to evangelize. Sometimes just good, clean fun is enough.