This is probably the closest that Saugerties will ever have to having a shanty town, but it could be worse; at least the kids who run the joint seem to be having fun.
It’s the campground at the inaugural Hudson Project music festival, held at Winston Farm, safely away from the village. Placed not but a foot from one another for what seems like three football fields, multicolored tent neighborhoods — replete with neighborhood friendships and rivalries, with just a little more opiate usage than you’d normally find on Mulberry St. — have exploded. There are no bad neighborhoods, per se, considering that everyone is united by the consistent presence of grime, facepaint, molly (a euphoric stimulant), and good vibes.
There is a rich side of town, though, that I desperately want to be in. It borders the campsite, separated from the rabble by a chain link fence and a meager few feet. In it are 70 beige tents that look like a cross between a teepee and a World War II desert command center, and in each of these command centers is: two memory foam mattresses complete with darling and particularly chosen complimentary pillows, hardwood flooring, electric, WiFi, a Keurig coffee machine, and a few K-Cups for good measure. The kicker? You get to keep the coffee machine.
With the sun setting over the hill I gaze longingly at how the other half rightly lives. Nicole Hoerold, whose impromptu tent fiefdom I have become a very minor part of, promises that the upscale campsite — referred to at the Hudson Project as Glamping, a portmanteau of glamour and camping — just isn’t the right way to do a festival.
“You’re here for the mud, you’re here to be among people and experiencing the whole thing,” she says.
I follow her to see a band called Bonobo with a few acquaintances, as throngs of hipsters and hippies alike flood out of the campsite to take in the evening festivities after some minor preparations. Somewhere still in the campsite, someone is flipping around a 15-foot-tall PVC pipe with a double-sided photo of Mike Woodson, the former New York Knicks head coach with the goatee so dense and dark that no light can escape from it; one side shows him doubting the veracity of a call, and the other shows him in apparent anguish.
A first aid quad blows by as we make our way toward the Empire Stage, where all the big acts, including Modest Mouse, Flatbush Zombies, Kendrick Lamar, and Bassnectar (regrettably cancelled) are set to play. On the back is a kid whose mind is some place very far from here.
The Hudson Project is a happy place. Folks are dancing everywhere, even when they’re safely out of range of music. Pretty much everybody is sunburned and, I’m amazed to say, I don’t see a single blow thrown. It’s like a college-aged Sesame Street for the really cool: everyone is kind, everyone is open to experiencing and learning new things, and there are colors everywhere, from the tent-tops to the facepaint to the absurd, million-dollar set-ups that Hudson Project DJs have erected, which blare music from their computers to pulsating space-flowers as they bite their lips and look commandingly over the crowd, like they’re doing everyone a big favor.
Exactly like Sesame Street. Except on Sesame Street, you can probably get a hamburger for less than $8.
The pervasive positivity takes getting used to. There are signs everywhere that read “Good Vibes,” and nobody’s got a lousy thing to say about the whole situation. It’d all be grating if it weren’t so damned sincere.
Malcolm Xavier Archibald, for example, is revved up. He’s flipping a Nerf football around in his hands, he won’t stop smiling, and he has been completely and totally sucked into the grooviness of it all as he travels with his festival-partner Laura Popawlski toward the New York tent to take in a DJ as an hors d’oeuvre for tonight’s dual entree, Big Gigantic and Kendrick Lamar.
“People are all trying to enjoy themselves, but at the same time love everyone that’s here,” he says. “Everyone is trying to experience something new, learn about new types of music, and see their favorite artists ever. This is literally the first ever Hudson Project. It was literally 20 years ago that Woodstock ’94 happened, and this is the next big event. We’re here to make our generation known, that we can party, too.”
Hopefully not too hard. It’s been 20 years, in part, because the kids of Woodstock ’94 partied hard enough to cause post-traumatic stress syndrome in many locals, who have struggled with the memories of such vicious partying for the better part of the past two decades. It took the Schaller family, proprietors of Winston Farm, and Michael Lang, the Hudson Project venue manager, years to get the necessary paperwork together and passed. But the fun has reconvened, and as the adage goes, time heals all party fouls and Footloose-esque fun embargos.
“One thing I like about coming to a small festival is that I got super close-up to ZZ Ward, which is one of the acts that I wanted to come here to see,” says Maria Bartolotta. “I showed up there on time and I got to stand right at the front! Eventually all these people started walking over and it turned into a great show. You can get to everything.”
View photo galleries for any of the mid-major to major music festivals out there, and you’ll see the same thing: seas of throbbing humanity for even middleweight acts, and for the big guys a half a mile of people separating the casual fans from the spittle of the singers. Here, the mid-level acts attract solid crowds, but not huge ones, and the heavyweight acts attract great crowds, but not terribly compact or stacked in such a way that Modest Mouse becomes invisible and indecipherable among a sea of fans packed an inch away from each other. The main stage is huge, and wholly visible from 180 degrees.
But the legendary mud of Winston Farm has sucked down more sandals than Charybdis did sailors, and caused many sparkling party shirts to look like two-a-day tank tops. The musical issue, though, comes in the form of midday show attendance: from noon until 3, certain bands are playing to crowds so meager that a high school event organizer would call the show a wash.
What does it matter though? The middle of the day isn’t really for the third-string bands, unless you or your crew are restless and want to take in some of the riff-raff to break the monotony of dry sun and the unelectrified, Keurig-less, non-glam camping.
Around noon is the time for kids in their hippie rags and their body sparkles to dance in the tent-favela, under the mindful eye of rich-camp security, to pound back questionable edibles and experience a kind of tribalism that most people haven’t felt since summer camp. The signs that the concert-goers carry — like the enormous head of Mike Woodson on the immense stretch of PVC pipe — are tribal totems. In the pit of concert, they are carried and held high to show other tribe members where the brunt of the party-party is, and to attract stragglers; by night they are put up outside of tents just to remind you whose turf you’re on. One totem is of a psychedelic six-armed Pikachu, imitating Vishnu. Another is a loose-limbed blow-up doll strung up like a traitor at the end of a long pole.
On the third day, there is rain. At the advice of my elders and weather.com, I ride the bench for the final day, which was set to be the biggest banger, with a set from showstopper and big-get Bassnectar as a send-off. Insiders claimed that everything was solid, that the vibe was tight, and that the Argentina v. Germany World Cup Final was being played on a big screen in one of the tents until show staff, at 4:45 p.m., announced that because of warnings from the National Weather Service, the site would be evacuated.
Just like that, the tribes had nowhere to go. Some cursed God, MCP Presents and the town of Saugerties, if they knew where they were. Most took it in stride. Maria, the one who saw ZZ Ward, told me what going to a festival is all about.
“The point of a festival is not to care about stupid shit,” she said. “If you’re muddy, dirty, or uncomfortable. If you’re here, you’re going to be dirty and disgusting. You’ve just got to grow a thick skin and learn to have a good time, and you’ll learn to love everything. I love that I’m dirty.”