People fall in love and break hearts on every dance floor. Whether it’s the sensory overload, human stimulation, inner realization, fleeting infatuation, or emotional connection, there is always a form of release in every moment of the party. Festivals encapsulate such a process, and it was a great pleasure attempting to keep this in mind writing for Backwoods this year. The production alone was enough to make anyone fall in love with life and although the community was heartbroken the last night, we can focus now on all that unfolded beforehand.
Arriving Thursday late evening allowed the chance to explore the grounds while some of the hardest workers were finishing setup on main stage. Art installations were coming together beautifully such as “Because of the Lotus” where Moe Angelo had just gotten started with projection mapping some flowing artwork on banners. There were also multiple open mics and jam tents in full swing by the time sound check began.
Yonder Mountain kicked off the weekend with some smooth and ferocious bluegrass picking to satisfy hungry souls coupled with some new-grass jams to spice it up with modern flavor. An especially notable moment was a cover of Metallica’s “Fade to Black”. It was a grand start for main stage without a doubt. After that Globe stage was tearing off with some electronic dub and a hike up the path toward parking led to the Counterculture sound camp with even more dub on a wooden pirate ship. On the way there I had a long chat with Chance Garton host of a podcast called “Innerverse” which was inspiring to say the least. The first night seemed idealpreparation for a jam packed weekend.
Waking up early in the glorious campsites of any festival is always fun because you can explore to meet people trading food, art and stories of travel, making the connections that last a lifetime. Our neighbors were a local Arkansas band called “Hyperreflector” who made our daytime relaxation a real pleasure to enjoy together, along with all the family camped with us, including hooper Olivia Holt. Arielle D’ornellas the photographer for this venture came from Florida, with me traveling from New Jersey, so meeting more local artists and friends really felt nice and homey.
We all began exploring the vendors to find unique forms of expression for purchase and of course I came across a shirt sporting my favorite 70s character “Fritz the Cat” designed and sold by “United Festival Outfitters” which was immediately rocked accordingly. One vendor that always makes an awesome impression is “Colorimetry Lights”. Enter a dark room filled with LED reactive paintings and you have a color changing light in your hand for directional enjoyment. AJ Seissiger and the whole crew is very personable catering to your colorful needs. “Third Eye Pinecones” always displays a great soundtrack along with art, even a floating alien. Inflatable extraterrestrials can sometimes be perfectly balanced by the right fan it seems.
Music began with “Linear Symmetry” flowing majestically followed by “Aqueous” filling the sounds of main stage during the late afternoon. “Eoto” played us through the last of sunset and the crowd loved every second of that improvised live EDM (not DJing as they reiterated). I had actually met Jason Hann recently in Florida who showed how gracious and humble he was which is not easily forgotten. One might have popped over to the Aqua stage for a little bit of “Bleep Bloop” and his heavy bass before heading back to the funk insanity of “Lettuce” followed by some of the hardest jams around provided by the legendary “Umphrey’s Mcgee”. It’s always beautiful to look from afar and see how the crowd comes together feeling like a unified family, grooving to the music as one loving being. After that many felt it was time to head back over to the Aqua stage for “Eprom” wobbles and “Funkstatik” glitch hop to lead into another classic “Yheti” sunrise set. First full day finished off quite sublime for everyone it seemed.
During the day Saturday some volunteers were discussing how much they felt accommodated by the festival which was definitely nice news because they are truly the backbone of what makes events happen. The luscious campgrounds in shade were filled with wonderful people relaxing through the hot sun hours, and it was appreciated sharing some time there before checking out more music.
“Arkansauce” felt like sustenance after malnourishment, so much life breathing in the strings vibrated for a crowd filled with many local fans and many new too. A great variety of actual food was available including Chinese (Mai’s Noodle Express), arguably the best breakfast sandwiches of any festival(Two Buds One Joint Griddle), of course the grilled cheeses BBQ and pizza, along with some vegan specialties and healthy smoothies. There was even rolled ice cream.
Some vendors always played more music near the stage entrance attracting many to their booth such as “Mi Kulture” or“Laser Guided Visions”, where Alec Loc nailed a kickflip on camera to boot. It was also nice to catch up with Zach the “Fuzzy King” pin maker in person after he has helped me design many logos through facebook in the past. “The Motet” was firing off the funk during much of that socializing and “Pigeons Playing Ping Pong” really moved the crowd with all their fun bouncy style as well. This led into the DJs. “Peekaboo” dropped some heavy highly anticipated sounds, and “Space Jesus” definitely showed out some classics along with new content boasting subtle nuances he is known and loved for. Then “Rezz” hypnotized the audience fully and we adore her for it.
After parties were of no shortage along with more late-night sets over at Aqua stage such as “Minnesota” who brought heat which kept it going for the restless dancers. By sunrise I was led over to the Globe stage where the ‘secret’ speakeasy behind made for the perfect morning antics to cheer up any tired festival goer.
The Globe stage was a major production in itself. All weekend, Thea Connors, and Brett Befour Brannigan along with a skilled crew, organized and helped build this extravagantly glamorous theater. Dancer Bridget Adams performed up in the sun filled tower until no longer able. These troopers all work with John Ripley and “The Imagine Nation” along with “The Land Collective” in Utah. Globe hosted a wide variety of high quality bands and artists, providing a cultural sanctuary with elegant contrast for the chaos unfolding everywhere else. It was almost like a theater stuck in the roaring 20s, complimented by modern attitude and electrified music. Those involved surely felt accomplished and the stage will be welcomed at many future events to come, acknowledging Thea’s quote, “Needs heard spread the word, Imagine, create, repeat”.
Needless to say much of Sunday the Globe stage and speakeasy became a primary part of the experience for many who sought comfort shaded from the sun. Passing through the art installations one might have admired in awe the upcycled organic treasures created by Chyna Cat which filled so much of the space magnificently. One might have also taken a moment and swing on a very well balanced wooden pony made by Stacy Pants, who could be found painting alongside Wanderweird’s cartoon mandalas. At one point I was even stopped by Seth Salls, who recognized a pinecone I was wearing that he made, which was given to me by a good friend at “Orange Blossom Jamboree”, a favorite local Florida festival which I’ve written about in the past.
At main stage, “The Infamous Stringdusters” brought a final bluegrass love message to the festival before a rapidly moving rainstorm cut off all production for the night. It wasn’t until after the triple rainbow did we learn that three people perished in a helicopter crash. Many were saying it was very lucky they did not crash in the campgrounds and cause even more disaster. People took refuge in the Globe speakeasy which really helped bring us together in such dark time. Bands like “Fuzzlove” and looper extraordinaire “El Dub” fortunately fed the safe haven happy music to carry the mood. The tragic news of the crash did not allow for any more main production because of search parties who needed all the light available. However, people found solace in what was left of the night surrounded by loved ones and beautiful art created and shared by all. Eventually “Handmade Moments” played music and gathered a large crowd in the “Wook Patrol” tent where final vibes were definitely felt all around.
Though there was heartbreak in the end, it was massively outweighed by the love to be found throughout Backwoods at Mulberry Mountain. All those who partook are that much more grateful to have seen what can happen when fun goes wrong, while having lived through it. We all grieve with families who have lost, and look forward to creating safer environments for events in general. That being said, Backwoods family without a doubt created a home for all to express their beauty and love to the maximum and we very much appreciate it, excited for what’s to come.
Your festival friend