Amidst all the eccentric behavior at Forecastle, sometimes it’s the simplest things that garner the most attention. Wandering The Great Lawn was man with a basic cardboard sign draped around his neck. It read: “Ask Me Anything.”
So people did.
The man’s name was Joel Smith—and he moved from group to group to merely sit down and talk to the people who would call out questions. Smith would take off his hat, sit cross-legged amidst fellow festival-goers, and give them real answers.
Then came my turn to ask a few questions:
Where are you from?
I’m originally from Western Kentucky, in a town called Murray. It’s in Calloway County—if you’re from Kentucky, you know it’s always about the county.
What inspired you to wear the “Ask Me Anything” sign?
Yesterday, I was actually sitting under one of the sculptures over here, and I saw the sign sitting next to some people and I thought, ‘Wow, that is extremely clever; I wish I’d thought of it.’ I asked them a question and they said, ‘Oh, that’s not our sign.’
It was serendipitous.
So I took the sign, and I was like ‘I know a lot of stuff,’ maybe I’ll just walk around with it. I will honor it with 100 percent respect, and stay true to the idea.
What has been your favorite memory of Forecastle so far?
There was a couple over here, and we were in between shows. They were engaged, and the woman, Kaitlyn, was just insistent that I should marry them, because I am an ordained minister.
Are you really an ordained minister?
I really am! I have credentials and everything. And so I said, ‘Well, this is totally not legal, but I can do what I would do in a normal ceremony—the exchanging of vows and you can kiss on it.’
So they did, and it was really funny, and really cool having random strangers ask for my blessing on their marriage.
So, what is our purpose being on the planet?
It’s funny; I have been asked every derivative of the meaning of life question. For a long time I was saying, ’42.’ But I am now focused on the biological imperatives of eating and procreating.
What is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear would be dying in a volcano, or like a volcano-incident. Dante’s Peak really messed with me as a kid, so I have an irrational fear of volcanoes.
What is the weirdest question you have been asked?
I think it was ‘why do some people have bad lives and some people have good lives?’ And I gave this really deep, sociological answer and the guy high-fived me and said, ‘I am a sociology professor and I would totally accept that answer.’
What is your actual profession other than travelling the festival being the ‘Ask Me Anything’ guy?
Well, I am an educator. I am a teacher of math and sciences, so I am really good at answering questions because I do it all the time.
What age do you work with?
I work with at-risk and rural 14-year olds.
Is there a particular band that you were excited to see or that you are excited to see?
Yes, I have listened to Beck my entire life, all through my formative years. And to be able to see him live at this time in my life is like a real special thing for me. Like I am really, really super excited about it.
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Photo courtesy of Ashlie Stevens