In my attempt to get from Point A (Plattsburgh, New York) to Point B (Greenfield, Massachusetts) in the shortest distance possible, I found myself in every which direction except the right one.
Wandering up the desolate and unkempt Route 8A (trying to get back to Route 2), the enchanted Berkshire Mountains unrolled before my eyes. Ancient forests hung high over the pothole laced pavement as quiet family farms readied themselves for dinner. It was early evening, and though many were calling it a day, those at Strange-Creek were arising with excitement and anticipation of an unknown weekend.
The beat-up GMC Sonoma crept down the familiar dirt road as young faces and old heads awaited entrance into their beloved festival grounds. With almost a den mother instinct over the years, Wormtown Trading Company has created a gathering of humanity, a family reunion that relatives never miss during the bookends of each summer season.
The vehicle parked and a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon in hand, I frolicked over to New Riders of the Purple Sage as the last of the sunshine radiated over hundreds of freely moving bodies.
With Americana dripping from their foreheads, the New Riders encompass a lost sense of showmanship and pure knowledge of the circulatory system that is the open road. From hot deserts to lonely diners, broken women and broken whiskey bottles, each tune (most notably Panama Red) conjured an era seemingly forgotten yet remembered within moments of encountering the group.
Couples pulled one another closer, a little tighter, as a heartfelt Peggy O blew through the fields and lively woods. Smiles werent the only thing sparked as Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35 concluded the set with cheers and a joyful sing-a-long, But I would not feel so alone, everybody must get stoned!
For the better part of this decade, Assembly of Dust is a band that always pulls my arms up in the air like a mother changing a childs shirt- their folk melodies I know by heart, their hometown stage presence a magnet for backyard fun.
With the task of properly ending the evening, AOD leaped through their ever-growing catalogue. Rachel captivated the crowd, while Man With a Plan showcased the pipes of Reid Genauer, a vocalist who never fails to give the audience goosebumps.
Having an audience like this gives one a sense of purpose, Genauer said afterwards. There are reasons for what you do, for what they do. For me, personally, its about the chemistry onstage.
As I strolled down the winding, never-ending dirt paths, freaks and the friendly alike sauntered out of the dark funhouse that is the Strange-Creek woods. This infamous forest houses numerous strobe lights, hundreds of glow sticks, drum circles, the smell of burnt food and cheap beer as many then make the pilgrimage out towards the enormous central bonfire under a crisp New England night sky.
Late-night soon turns to early Saturday as some track down their campsites, while others continue the party until mid-morning amid DJ tents, fire dancers and raging cabins nearby.
Sometime around 11am, my truck turned into a sauna as I finally gave in and emerged from my sleeping bag cocoon. I washed my face, changed my shirt and cracked open my first lukewarm PBR of the day.
Tranquility swept over the fields. Bodies rolled out of tents, bodies waded into the river, gently bordering the venue.
Celebration began the day as an older couple united in holy matrimony- exchanging their vows on the main stage, in front of any passerby soon turned wedding party. And as the bride and groom exited the grounds, The Kind Buds (a festival staple) took over the microphone with How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You). The acoustic duo stirred up the campground like a parent getting their children out of bed, as if to say, Time to get up, you have a lot to do today. There were tambourines in the hands of some listeners, hula hoops, streaming sundresses and miscellaneous banter between old friends catching up on winter endeavors.
It was evident there is a second family here. There is the family you eat Thanksgiving dinner with, and there is the family you shake your bones with.
*Vernville Earthstage 11:17 am: *
The Kings, a rock outfit with impressive female vocals, got the blood pumping with guitar solos and a handful of well received covers (Shambala had heads bobbing, How does your light shine?). Fathers twirled their daughters in the midday sun, while the brainfried and hung-over found a seat on the grassy knoll (which led to a picturesque colonial cemetery).
*Main Stage 11:37 am: *
Bubbles floated through the air and strangers told jokes in efforts of getting a fresh beer or Bloody Mary. Weight of Gravity, a catchy funk unit, provided the ambiance with climatic grooves. With a savvy saxophone player to boot, the ensemble raised more than a few eyebrows.
*Riverworm Caf 12:42 pm: *
As if one could never have enough horn sections, my ears followed a sweet backwoods noise until I found myself at the cafa miniature stage immersed in the far-off reaches of the festival grounds. Holmes, a group rich in instrumental texture, noodled for the curious and carefree during the early afternoon, their sound echoing far into the forest.
A dreamlike state emerged as a rather large man with a tie-dyed sousaphone sat in the river, conducting a one man show for the children with painted faces that stacked rocks and swam in the brisk current of the cool water. All was at ease, at least in this corner of the world.
*Main Stage 1:12 pm: *
BuzzUniverse caught my attention with a mangling drum solo amid a plethora of elements (including another horn section) that only further the point of this groups intent to become a mainstay on the northeast circuit.
*Main Stage 1:38 pm: *
Playing Dead (Bostons Premier Grateful Dead Tribute Band as was stated) opened with Shakedown Street into a poignant Bertha. It was a treat to see their interpretation of the songs, which was not only respectful, but also enabling to my antsy dancing shoes.
Throughout the rest of the afternoon, a delicious burrito found its way into my hands as I rested by the river, feet dangling in the stream. Zach Deputy dusted off dreary shoulders in the distance on the main stage, while jugglers and tightrope walkers entertained passing audiences to destinations unknown. After a cat nap, it was time for my second encounter with the New Riders in as many days.
*Main Stage 6:30 pm: *
Spiraling lap steel solos and free flowing vocals filled the atmosphere. The New Riders of the Purple Sage again took the listener out to the shed for another belting. Their mix of honkytonk and prairie blues justified the highlight of the weekend once Ripple reared its beautiful head, ending the Riders set, queuing the decent of the sun and the kickoff to the evening.
*Main Stage 10:15 pm: *
Putting a musical nightcap to the evening, Max Creek summoned one and all as the main stage area burst at the seams. Led by guitar wizard Scott Murawski, the raw and jubilant sounds ricocheted off the Berkshires in a steady stream of jam-rock. Onlookers jumped for joy as old favorites and recent gems surfaced. Glow sticks were flung into the air as sweat dripped from any who lent an ear. It was a powerful statement by Murawski, who, during the last few years, is finally getting his dues for being a seemingly unknown A-List guitarist.
*Sunday Morning 8:20 am: *
After a frightening, yet stunning, thunderstorm throughout the night, I was awakened by the sight and sounds of two naked bodies lying in the holiest of positions outside of my truck. The sun shined as moans of passion filled the fields. Finally (after they completed their intentions), I opened the tailgate and began to pack for my long trek home.
Hey man, beautiful morning, huh? the overzealous nude male said as he sat with his companion.
It is, indeed, I replied, looking for my cooler.
This is a magical place, man, he added.
The couple then put on their clothes and said goodbye with blissful smiles adorning their faces.
Strange-Creek is a magical place. All you need to do is open and embrace the unknown, the mysterious and the unfamiliar. It is a place of friends, family and those just looking for some sort of serenity in a sometimes unjust world. Pulling out of the venue and back into the rushed reality of the Eisenhower Interstate System, my mind drifted to the splendor one can experience in this part of the Berkshires. The weekend recharged my batteries- at least enough to get me through till my next family reunion in Greenfield.