New York’s Route 22 has always been a veritable trail of festivals. Loaded with the inherent beauty of the Litchfield Hills, Taconics and the Berkshires, vast amounts of farmland and a location that flirtatiously parallels the western borders of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, the two-lane road carries travelers to some of the best festival real estate in the Northeast.
This really was a nature-filled festival, and would probably be a bit of a shock to anyone who is used to spending their days playing games at sites like www.poker.de and having easy access to other technological amenities.
Properties on Route 22 have been used for years to host the well-known Falcon Ridge Folk Festival and Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, and the quickly-growing (mostly) electronic festival the Big Up has sprouted up within a stone’s throw of the road.
Last summer, Route 22 became the home of yet another music festival: Bella Terra, which held its third annual festival Thursday, August 18 though Saturday, August 20, 2011. The event got its start in 2009 as a benefit for Berkshire Arts Scholarships (BARTS), a program run by the Great Barrington, Mass.-based nonprofit organization Railroad Street Youth Project. The festival made the move to its current location,Gardner’s Field inStephentown,N.Y., after it grew too big for its britches at its original Great Barrington site.
If you’ve only heard about Gardner’s, it may not seem like the best choice for a festival location— the site is a summer haven that is comprised of an ice cream stand and diner, mini golf course and driving range. But upon arrival, it becomes clear that Gardner’s is not your average driving range— it truly is bella terra (Italian for “beautiful land”). The festival grounds are located on the pastures of the land and bordered by mountains and forests. Located nearby is a pond and a stream, and the closest neighbors to the campgrounds are a friendly herd of cattle. If you’re tenacious enough to remain awake until sunrise, you’ll be treated to a beautiful one over the nearbyBerkshire mountains.
The scenery isn’t the only beautiful thing about Bella Terra—so is the scene. The festival is small enough for most festival-goers to encounter each other at least once over the course of the weekend. A large bonfire burns every night, creating a communal space for campers to meet and greet. One of the most novel things about Bella Terra is the campfire jams that are scheduled every night, not only providing an intimate atmosphere for a show, but giving campers a reason to emerge from under their E-Z Ups and hang out.
Many of the people you’ll meet at this fest are involved in one way or another, whether they’re helping with production, vending or volunteering. Most are also conscious of their personal impact, doing things as minute as making sure not to throw cigarette butts on the ground (a request made of festival-goers on Bella Terra’s website). The tight-knit community vibe even extends to the stages, where it’s far from uncommon to see artists making special appearances during their colleagues’ sets.
There was no shortage of fun at this year’s Bella Terra. The whimsical and goofy Time Machine installation made a triumphant appearance on Shakedown, sending its visitors into fits of giggles. Anyone who hadn’t yet stopped by the stand was told something along the lines of, “I can’t tell you anything about it… you’re just going to have to see for yourself.” One World Puppetry also showed face, sparking the imaginations of all who witnessed their work.
Also present were your average festie accoutrements: fairy wings, inflatable toys, fire dancers, live painting and widespread rumors of a loose (and vicious!) platypus.
But wait, it gets better! In addition to all of these fun features, Bella Terra also had music, good music, and lots of it! With one main stage, two tent-enveloped side stages, a DJ tent, campfire jams and the acoustic brunch held at the on-site diner, these guys managed to pack a ridiculous amount of music into a small space.
The lineup included many veterans of the festival, including (but not limited to) Rubblebucket, Zach Deputy, Roots of Creation, Jeff Bujak, the Alchemystics, and the Problemaddicts. Representing the local area were the Rev Tor Band, Higher Organix, Chris Merenda and the Wheel and many others from the surrounding areas. There was a huge array of musicians fromBoston andNew York City, as well as throughoutNew YorkState andNew England, but Bella Terra also featured nationally recognized artists.
For those unlucky people who weren’t able to make it, here’s a brief rundown of some of Bella Terra’s finest musical highlights.
Thursday, August 18
Thursday at Bella Terra was a day (and night) of celebrating artists that value so many different types of music that they couldn’t pick just one to incorporate into their own sound.
The festival started things off on the right foot in the mid-afternoon on the main stage with sets from Pete Gunn & the .357s and Goosepimp Orchestra, two bands that both take this concept very seriously. The king of genre-blending himself, Zach Deputy, took the stage later in the afternoon, doing what he does best— rockin’ the house all by his lonesome.
All eyes then turned to the “Massive Tent Stage” for the up-and-coming band Dirty Paris, a group of youngsters fromAlbany who have been all over the festival scene this summer, combining heavy guitar riffs with fun synths and vocals.
The main stage welcomed Emancipator for its last set of the night, another youngling who has seriously blown up this summer after several years of enjoying success inJapan. His downtempo electronic tunes utilize a variety of samples from all over the musical spectrum, sending listeners into a lofty, sexy trance.
The night continued on with solid sets from Papadosio and Rubblebucket, the latter of which ripped it up with several songs from their brand new album, Omega La La. Meanwhile, next door in the “Vernville Earth Stage,” Dopapod, with their funky, wompy rock ‘n’ roll, invited Zach Deputy back to the stage to showcase his rapping abilities.
Bella Terra closed out their first night with dueling sets from hip hopper DJ Hush and electro-piano virtuoso Jeff Bujak, prompting festival-goers to run back and forth between the two tented stages.
Friday, August 19
Friday was what you might call “Grateful Dead Day” at Bella Terra, starting the theme early in the day and not ending until late in the evening.
Kicking off the day was Boston’s GD tribute band Fennario, followed by New Paltz-based the Deadbeats, who combine their original material with everyone’s favorite covers for an all-around fun dance party.
The onset of evening brought with it three real live members of The Grateful Dead and their comrades: The Donna Jean Godchaux Band, Tom Constanten and The Mickey Hart Band.
The DJG Band is a rare treat for anyone who catches one of their few-and-far-between shows, and this one was extra special because they had Ratdog and Jemimah Puddleduck guitarist Mark Karan with them! The set was chilled-out and bluesy, highlighting Godchaux’s southern as well as her Grateful Dead roots.
Wedged between the DJG Band and the Mickey Hart Band was a short set by keyboardist Tom Constanten. Constanten, also known as “T.C.,” was a close friend of Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh. He was invited to join the Grateful Dead in 1968 to supplement Pigpen’s organ, and remained in the band through the recording of three albums. He has continued touring and recording ever since, with his most recent album being self-described as “four years of Juilliard slathered with a healthy polar bear marmalade.” His live show definitely lived up to this description.
Headlining on Friday night was the infamous Grateful Dead percussionist and world drumming extraordinaire Mickey Hart. The ensemble he is currently touring with is focused on jamming with (literally) cosmic samples that Hart has been taking, converting light waves from the universe into sound. Pile on some Dead tunes, and you’ve got a good idea of what his set was like. A pleasant surprise came in the form of band member Crystal Monee Hall, who switched seamlessly from strumming guitar during Fire on the Mountain to producing beautifully primal vocals.
The night closed out with a shift into reggae and hip hop, with Roots of Creation, the Problemaddicts and the Alchemystics.
A fourth stage was also introduced into the festival grounds on Friday night: the Deluxe DJ Tent, which hosted both scheduled and unscheduled electronic acts.
Saturday, August 20
The third and final night of Bella Terra was an all-out balls-to-the-wall mashup of great music. There was little rhyme or reason to the lineup on that day, except for the high quality of musicians scheduled.
While many campers were still waking up in the early afternoon, bluegrass band Hot Buttered Rum was finger pickin’ it up for all of those who were up and ready to start dancing. Their Saturday main stage set was actually their second set of the weekend, after performing at the acoustic brunch the previous morning.
Zion I was the next group to take the main stage, with their hip-hoppy blend of musical genres, immediately followed by local powerhouse Higher Organix (who are the fuel behind the fire of the Big Up festival) on the Massive Tent Stage. Higher Organix sets are always worth catching, because the trio never uses a setlist. The band consistently manages to turn their improvisations into jams that won’t let the audience stand still.
From this point on in the day, there was so much back-to-back and overlapping good music that there was little time for people to even head back to their campsites for a break. Local rockers the Rev Tor Band hosted an all-star set featuring special guests Tom Constanten, Gordon Stone, Fuzz (of Deep Banana Blackout) and members of Hot Buttered Rum, while yet another up-and-coming band, Auto Orbit, was busy raging the Vernville Earth Stage.
More overlapping sets continued through the night. Wes N’ Worrell, an epic combination of P-Funk and Talking Heads keyboardist Bernie Worrell and bassist Wes Santo, played at the same time as Boston funkrock outfit Wobblesauce.
Next up was none other than everyone’s favorite shredder, Buckethead, leaving the crowd with a hankerin’ for fried chicken and strange dreams of Willy Wonka.
Young Boston band (that has its roots in northwest Connecticut) Lespecial got the honors of following Buckethead—and actually pulled it off. These guys are another band that has been seen all over the festival circuit this summer, and they’re definitely a band to keep an eye on. Lespecial is planning on hosting their own festival inMillerton,N.Y. this October, the first annual Lespeshtival, which is ironically located on… You guessed it…Route 22.
Consistent with the night’s theme of concurrent sets, playing during Lespecial was Talking Heads tribute band Start Making Sense, which came complete with a frontman who looks, sounds and acts remarkably like David Byrne.
Next up were Caravan of Thieves, a psychedelic gypsy folk group that made a second appearance later that night at the campfire jam in place of Hot Buttered Rum, who for unknown reasons couldn’t make their third scheduled set.
Closing out the festival was BoomBox, the duo of Zion Rock Godchaux (Keith and Donna’s son) and Russ Randolph. Both musicians are multi-instrumentalists, functioning as DJs, producers and a guitarist and drummer, respectively.
2011 was yet another successful and beautiful Bella Terra, and the festival is certainly off to a good start. The future is obviously going to be bright for these guys, with nothing but good vibes, happy people and a positive and clean scene!