The inspiration for the Summer Hoot Festival, which debuts at the Ashokan Center August 23 through 25, was partly the venue: a rustic, barnlike facility located on 374 acres of Catskill woods and wetlands that is run by a foundation dedicated to forging a greater appreciation of nature, music and culture in the community. “That’s inspiring,” said Ruthy Ungar of Mike + Ruthy, founders of the festival. “Everyone who sees this place will want to play here. That’s how we feel.”
Ruthy said that the couple’s gigs have taken them to some pretty fabulous festivals. “There would be such a thriving music scene that we would say, ‘We should move here,’” she said. But instead, the couple decided to give the area around home a nudge. “To be honest, the people around here are amazing and it’s a beautiful place to live; but in Woodstock there’s no college, and not a lot of people are going out to shows.” She hopes that the Summer Hoot helps change that by creating a tradition – a tradition that by appealing to families will enable today’s youngsters to be part of a cool scene by the time they are teens.
“As the child of folkies, I have been deeply inspired by the Canadian, Michigan and West Coast folk festivals that draw hundreds of teenagers,” said Ruthy. “It’s because they have been coming every year since they were little. That’s why we’re all about making the Hoot as family-friendly as possible. In ten years I envision a whole ‘teen scene.’ We’re planting a seed. The music will live on.”
She adds that, while “some of the bigger festivals we’ve played are fun, the best seem to be the ones with one to two thousand people tops. They started small and grew, and they’re really community-driven and -supported.”
That in a nutshell sums up her vision for the Summer Hoot, which will feature nearly 30 musical combos representing the cream of local talent and a few notable outsiders as well. Mike + Ruthy will play Friday and Saturday nights, followed by Happy Traum on Friday and preceded by Jay Ungar & Molly Mason on Saturday. Natalie Merchant is a big name who will take the stage at 8 p.m. on Saturday night. Pete Seeger, another big name, will kick off the festival on Sunday morning, followed by the Ivy Vine Players and Ungar & Mason.
Robert Sarazin Blake, a troubadour from Washington State, will perform on Friday and Saturday evenings. “He has a festival featuring local Washington bands that we’ve played at, so it was a symbolic gesture to have him play at ours,” said Ruthy. Another outsider is Dan Bern, “an incredible songwriter” whose tour schedule aligned with the festival; he’ll play on Saturday afternoon.
“We’ve got huge names and good local ones, from Woodstock and the Catskills,” including A. C. Newman, the Big Takeover, a reggae band from New Paltz, the Cupcakes, the Murphy Beds, Gregg Humphreys, Lindsey Webster, Mikhail Horowitz and Gilles Malkine and the Dirt Farmer Band, which continues to play despite the passing of its most famous member, Levon Helm, and will close the festival with a performance at 5:30 on Sunday. Brooklyn-based Kristin Andreassen, who frequently sings with Mike + Ruthy, will perform on Saturday afternoon, and Mike’s brother Chris Merenda, traveling from the Berkshires, will take the stage Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
A documentary film about Helm, called Ain’t in It for My Health, will screen at 11 p.m. on Friday. On Saturday night at 10, fiddler and banjo duet Rosie Newton & Richie Stearns, who will also perform earlier in the evening, will accompany a square dance.
Tickets cost $50 for the full weekend. Friday admission costs $25, Saturday is $35 and Sunday is $30. Volunteers and kids under 12 get in free. Volunteers are still needed to help with parking and “peacekeeping” (security).
On Saturday and Sunday, arts and crafts and music will be offered for young people, along with birding, hiking, nature photography, blacksmithing, broommaking, singalongs and jam sessions for all ages. Chef Jill Freiberg will be serving hot breakfast on Saturday and Sunday, and there will be a food court featuring local vendors.
The Summer Hoot follows on the heels of the Winter Hoot last February, a smaller, more intimate indoor event that attracted upwards of 400 people. In the dead of winter, “You are craving some kind of party,” said Ruthy. “The Summer Hoot will feature more than triple the number of bands. We’ve had a volunteer crew here dismantling some old buildings to repurpose the wood to build an outdoor stage. It will be done tomorrow, and it’s quite something.” A dedication for the stage was held a week ago in honor of Toshi Seeger, Pete’s wife, who died last month at age 91.
“When you put your intention out there to manifest something accessible to families and all ages and that’s fun, it’s just going to grow,” concludes Ruthy. “Already with the Winter Hoot, we saw that happen. It was a shot in the arm. People I didn’t even realize were my neighbors showed up. We’ve now started something that will take on a life of its own and be a magnet to draw all the most fun, collaborative people out of the woods in one place to be together.”
Summer Hoot Festival, Friday-Sunday, August 23, 6 p.m. on, August 24, 11 a.m.-12 midnight, August 25, 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m., $25-$50, Ashokan Center, Olivebridge; www.homeofthehoot.com.