It is 3 days of camping, music and love. It is a journey away from routine. It is the event my friends and I look forward to the most every year.
It’s the Great Blue Heron Music Festival in Sherman, NY. You may have heard me mention it a few times.
I’m sure we get strange looks when we talk about a music festival as if it were a religion, but it is the single event out of the year where me and the guys go without fail.
This was our third year at the festival, but the first year where Nathan and I took part in the planning and execution of the festival as volunteers. The festival only exists because hundreds of immensely talented and gracious people sacrifice their time and energy to put the festival together, make it run smoothly, and pack it back up for next year. Aside from part of the security team, all volunteer members are unpaid participants in an experience that seems more like a family than a team.
It goes without saying that Nathan and I were latecomers to this family – next year the festival will be celebrating it’s 20th anniversary, meaning I was still watching Sesame Street as the first Donna the Buffalo songs echoed through the Western New York Amish countryside. But the family has grown, and after coming as witnesses for two years, we decided we wanted to take a bigger part in an experience we are so fond of.
After doing volunteering work on the property long before the first car full of hooligans arrived, Nathan and I were a little unclear on what to get our hands dirty with during the festival weekend. We volunteered in some unconventional ways before the festival, participating in a few weekend projects, so we didn’t get assigned to a specific team until we rooted around for work at the festival.
Nathan, using his pizza shop skills, wound up using his pre-festival time preparing the cafe, specifically the pizza oven. I wound up doing what I do best, lighting design. There was an art installation going up in the middle of the amphitheater, created by artist Jeremy Holmes. The piece that needed lighting was a beautiful wooden ribbon that cascaded through the trees, and would unexplainable without photos, so here you go:
Aside from my lighting project, I also spent a few hours stringing Christmas lights on the dance tent, the cafe and various trees, as well as ferrying equipment to and from the cafe. I was quite busy all day, almost missing the evening potluck. Here some other people busy making final preparations for the over 7000 attendees.
Nathan and I, in our typical fashion, brought a whole crew along with us for the festival:
And they enjoyed hospitality in our very creative, carpeted campsite:
Thursday was long, spent getting ready, hanging lights, climbing trees and generally abusing my physical limitations. But all the preparations came to fruition on Friday for the main event.
After spending some time soaking in the sites and sounds, I went looking for more work to do. After bumping in to Julie, I wound up on the performer liaison crew. This team was responsible for performer hospitality, moving equipment on and off the stage, and generally making sure that the talent is happy and healthy from the moment that set foot on the property until the moment they grab a microphone.
I got to meet a lot of the talent and I was sore from carrying hundred of pounds of amps, cases, organs, Leslie’s, drum kits, monitors and generally every heavy piece of equipment a band could bring (sans a keg). But in the course of my work, I started to hang out with one of my favorite bands, the Town Pants.
I ended up hanging out a lot with Town Pants members Dave, Ivanka and John (banjo/vocals, fiddle, bass, respectively), and it was surreal drinking beer with a band that occupies my iPod so often. The whole band, as well as the rest of the GBH talent, was very cool and friendly, a vibe you don’t always feel at other festivals. Their show was kick ass, full of energy, very well played and entertaining. Admittedly, it was my favorite set of the whole festival.
Saturday night, the festival headliners, Donna the Buffalo took the stage, performing one their best sets I’ve seen.
Donna also closed the show out on Sunday night. They were slated to perform for under two hours, but since they had last set, they ended up playing in to the night, a total of a 4 or 5 hour set. Encore after encore, it felt like nobody wanted to leave the festival, and finally at dark, Donna closed the show with ‘Family Picture’ (I think, there were so many songs they all sorta are blurry in my head).
Nathan and I spent an additional night so we could pack up the lights in the morning. It ended up being fortunate for us, because many of the volunteers were still around and it gave us some time to mingle.
Volunteering at Heron really gives you a different perspective. You meet hundreds of people, you make an impact on the festival and you enjoy it way more when you know that you helped contribute. I highly advise anyone with the time available to volunteer next year and help keep the festival running efficiently and happily. It was the greatest festival I’ve ever been to, and thank you so much to Julie, Steve, Maria, Kristine, Magic, the Hillards, Barry, Logan and all of the other dozens of people that I had the pleasure of spending a weekend in the woods with. You’ll be seeing us again really soon.