WINDHAM -- Not since the original Woodstock had I seen such a large group of festival-goers so happy despite the pouring rain, and perhaps even thanks to the pouring rain. Three thousand people boarded school busses, rode the scenic, winding road up to Timber Ridge in Windham and set up camp on the lush ski trails. For two full days, or three if you wanted to pay an additional $15 for an Early Arrival Pass and set up on Thursday, everyone camped, danced in the mud, rode the half--pipe, swam in the swimming pond, and especially made new fr(i)ends.
The festival grounds covered the area of the base of the Timber Ridge Ski Resort -- campers set up along the trails, vendors at the base of the trails, and the main stage at the bottom of the hill below the vendors. Travelling in one direction away from the main stage area brought you to the famous side attractions of the festival: the Wood Stage side stage, the half--pipe for skateboarders, and the waist--deep swimming hole.
Early Arrival day was a short one, allowing campers to set up as early as noon to get prime spots. The site allowance was rather liberal; tents were set up far up the slopes, or as close as under 500 feet from the stage near the vendors.
Three bands entertained the early arrivers on Thursday night, the biggest crowd being drawn by Twiddle -- Vermont-based genre blenders that were such a hit they had shirts for sale in the merch tent next to the other headliners.
Twiddle fans needed not be concerned if they were not able to get Early Arrival tickets, though; they headlined on Friday night at the Wood Stage, and on Saturday afternoon they played an intimate set on the banks of the swimming hole to as many people as they could fit.
Friday started early for festival-goers, with Awaken Yoga at 10 a.m.; they also had Restorative Yoga on Saturday at the same time. Despite the slightly muddy environment, yoga mats were rolled out and poses were made.
On Friday, Gold Town took the first of their two sets of the weekend -- the first was on the Main Stage and the second, on Saturday, was on the Wood Stage. They were only a week out from having played another festival, Solid Sound in North Adams, Mass.
Festival-goers bounced between the Main Stage and the Wood Stage all day to see acts such as Jack and the Bear, Tourab Krewe, Tea LeafGreen, and Delicate Steve.
Even though the weather fluctuated from cool and cloudy, to a slight drizzle, to a near downpour with the occasional distant lightning, fans could not be barred from seeing the musicians. Some brought umbrellas, others ponchos, but most of them eschewed rain gear completely and embraced the weather. Regardless of their choice in rain protection, many went shoeless through the mud, opting to feel the earth beneath their feet -- and on their feet and usually up their legs, too.
Large crowds braved the inches of mud and constant threat of rain to watch guitarist Keller Williams on the Main Stage Friday night, and they stayed through the set-up and tear--down time for a chance to see Beats Antique, world-hip-hop fusion musicians featuring bellydancer Zoe Jakes.
Jakes, who is as much a part of the band as the other two members, alternated between costumes -- from traditional bellydancing outfits with large, feathered fans, to a mermaid’s fins and seashell top -- throughout the evening. When she wasn’t dancing, she picked up a large bass drum and provided steady rhythm.
They were also joined on stage by Lynx, who had only moments before finished her set on the Wood Stage.
The festival continued well into the early morning hours, with DJ Equal setting up in the DJ next until just after 1 a.m. Even then, campers stayed up and wandered the festival, taking part in the BYOB rules, and made new friends.
Saturday brought the kind of weather that everyone had been hoping for: sunshine, occasional clouds, and a nice breeze. The swimming hole was never packed, but always full of people looking for a quick dip. Some were even treated to the Bubble Boat, a group of men who had taken the rental boat onto the water and paddled around with their bubble machine on full--blast.
The half-pipe, which had been set up days before, saw the most traffic on Saturday thanks to the dry weather. Even Keller Williams took a turn on the ramp among the other skaters.
The vending allowance at the festival was very liberal; people were able to walk around with jewelry, food, and other wares and sell them from boxes, baskets, and small cases. One man set up a small Tarot card table near the half-pipe, doing readings for donations.
Most of the mud had caked up in front of the Main Stage by early afternoon, bringing more people to watch sets from musicians such as Emma Jane, Rubblebucket, and a second set from Jack and the Bear.
Headliner Saturday night was electronic musician Paper Diamond, spinning tunes from his new album Paragon as well as his previous, Levitate, and additional remixes.
Like Friday night, the festival carried well into the next morning, although it was more bittersweet. Campers had to leave by noon on Sunday to catch the last shuttle leaving the ridge and back to the parking lots.
Thanks to their encouragement of picking up trash as people went along, as well as reminders that if everyone picked up three pieces of trash each day then they could keep it clean, the area was left in almost pristine conditions. After all, there was only so much that could be done about the mud.