“Yeah, we knew you guys weren’t from around here when you said you hadn’t heard of Kingston,” Brian said, grinning confusedly through his short black beard. He and Betty were a picture: he in a threadbare Irish soccer T-shirt and tromping through shallow water in his sneakers, she beady eyed and sweet looking. Small-town kids. “What’re you all doin’ here anyhow then?”
Well, I explained, there’s this art-farm place down the road in Acra, and they’re having an overnight . . . folk . . . show. I didn’t want to get into it, really, assuming Brian and Betty probably wouldn’t care much about “freak folk” or know much about Free103point9, a somewhat specious if totally well-meaning nonprofit arts organization that had invited eight or so bands, many of them from Brooklyn, to upstate New York for an idyllic mid-July weekend of performance and communion called Campfire Sounds 2006.
“S’cool,” Brian replied.
Most of the actual crowd—also primarily Brooklynites interested in getting drunk on a different lawn—camped in the meadow. Nothing against that meadow, but it was obvious that while most had come up the Taconic State Parkway in search of some pastoral ideal; they weren’t going to risk a rash for it. Thus their hammocks struck a laudable balance between taut and tender. Park Slope’s quietly majestic Stars Like Fleas were the only band who bothered to actually drag themselves into the woods—the second stage was a minuscule tree clearing—for an afternoon set on top of their evening one. (Bonus: They have a harpist.) The afternoon yawned with sets from Melanie Moser and the Dust Dive, the latter weaving half-sung poetry over slow, drifting plates of funerary folk-rock. They also played a song in protest of the new Nets stadium; I scanned the crowd for concerned looks and found none. Flanked by babies and Labradors, some townies, happily deaf to the idea of city kids getting free in the grass because that’s what they thought country folk did, sat contentedly in sensible, breathable fabrics we won’t concede to until middle age. Later, a local ‘tween in a Volcom T-shirt passed me and said, “Hey dude, yeah, hippies, peace!” I smelled my armpits.
It was somewhere between the willfully half-interested stream of Butthole Surfers theater from Hudson weirdos Bunnybrains and the wake-defying folk drones of Samara Lubelski that I attained ambivalence. Then a guy who vaguely resembled Napoleon Dynamite took the stage with a Telecaster; said, “Hello, I am Gown”; and shocked me with 20 minutes of mantric aches and feedback, a sound that mixed Jandek’s death dirges, traditional Indian kirana vocalizings, and Sonic Youth. Solidly ahead, I quit for the night.
A recent article on happiness in New York magazine pointed out that, despite a disproportionate number of New Yorkers who self-identify as miserable, the city keeps a perverse, mystical hold on us. Driving the two and a half hours from Brooklyn to Acra was like picking up a long-distance romance, with its ideals and fantasies firmly intact. We play-acted in bucolic bliss with the safety of knowing that yeah, soon enough we’d be out of this peaceful and boring Catskills hamlet and back to the hedonic treadmill of limitless options, risky city cycling, and crucially, Wi-Fi. It’s no surprise that young bands from Brooklyn fetishize the “freedom” and beauty of uncivilized nature more than any other scene in the U.S. does—everyone needs a misinformed dream, right?
On Sunday morning I ran into Shannon from Stars Like Fleas. “Really nice set last night,” I said. “How’d you think it went?” “Well, it was just great,” he replied. “I mean, I felt like everyone was really attuned to each other. With this backdrop [he gestured at the sun blazing over the mountaintops], how couldn’t you be?”
“Totally. So . . . what’d you guys get up to last night?”
“Well, we just had to get out of here for a while. We passed by this hotel with a bar, but there was a family reunion or something. Eventually we found this place—you wouldn’t believe it. These rock walls, like 30 people yelling, and two guys that looked like Jimmy Buffett playing music, pumping out these Seals & Crofts basslines. So I’m talking to one of the guys hanging out there and I tell him we’re from Brooklyn. And he says, ‘Brooklyn? I’m from Brooklyn too!’ “