There are certain moments that stick with a man long after they have passed. Crashing a car, losing one's virginity and the impending pregnancy scare, or an athletic achievement, can all sear themselves onto your frontal lobe helping to define your sense of self. The first time I attended the Great Blue Heron Music Festival in Sherman, NY will be forever burned into the “good” hemisphere of my mind.
Now I admittedly do not have the vast festival experience that some members of my generation have acquired but I have been around the block as it were, and have seen enough to know that nestled in a clearing in the woods of Amish country there exists something extra-ordinary. The music on it's own would easily offer enough draw to spend the $70 bucks and take the 45 minute drive from Erie, but the true beauty of GBH runs so much more deeply than that. Pinpointing the exact characteristics that tug at my heart strings has, as of yet, proved to be an unattainable quest. My goal is to provide a shotgun spread of the highlights with the desire to perk your interest enough to make the pilgrimage. So without further adieu, in no particular order, my favorite things about the Great Blue Heron.
Who doesn't like camping? I would venture to say no one. Hiking into the woods carrying all your things is a great feeling. It immediately frees you from all the material possessions you spend so much of your life lusting after and working to buy. Now, what if you take that feeling but bring back a FEW material things. Stage, speakers, instruments, tents, vendors, golf carts, you know just the essentials. That is exactly what you get at Blue Heron. You can walk into the woods and feel completely isolated, but a 5 minute walk will put you back in the company of 9,000 music lovers and the greatest collection of musicians I have seen in one place to date (in close competition with Merelfest). Camping at Blue Heron runs on the clear-your-own spot principle. There are several well maintained trails that most people camp on the banks of but you are left more or less to your own devices when it comes time to select a spot. For the more sleep oriented folks I would suggest hiking down “Fern Gully” for quite a while. Did you come to the festival to see if you could stay up for 72 hours? Pick out a spot of “Dragon Run,” I dare you. If it wouldn't be so blasphemous to miss the musicians playing on stage I'm quite sure I could be convinced to stay in the woods all weekend, with the people, which brings me to my next item…
The people that choose to attend this festival are great. Over 9,000 strong. There is zero police presence and the atmosphere could not be better. There are no fights, there is no yelling, just people living together in the woods, brought together by music. Sure you can find a drunk kid back in the woods at night, but they are happy drunk kids, stumbling off into the darkness for reasons known only to them. As far as festivals go GBH seems to achieve the perfect mix of family festival and raging party, and the people are to thank. You will see some characters, I promise, and you will leave the grounds with a slightly higher opinion of the average homo sapien and a more favorable opinion on humanity in general. I greatly suggest not turning on your TV for as long as possible after the festival. See how long you can keep up the feeling before you let the news and reality TV bring you back down to the hating people level.
What a great idea. Let's just set up a stage under a tent with a smooth wooden floor and have all the most rocking bands play it all weekend. That is the dance tent in a nutshell. Slo-Mo, The Town Pants, Tiger Maple String Band, and the Horse Flies will all have you dancing. Did I mention that there is music all night Friday and Saturday? I guess it stops sometime, around 3? I'm not even sure because of my lack of time telling device (by the way don't bring your cellphone or watch, you will feel better without them, I promise). Check out the dance tent early and often. Do not miss Buffalo Zydeco playing there late Friday night, again you just have to trust me. As a bonus the dance tent is right next to…
All that dancing (and being outside in the sun, in July, for three straight days) is bound to build up a powerful urge to swim. Don't worry, GBH has you covered. There is a small, life guard manned, beach for your laying down pleasure. This beach is connected to a pond which, I will admit, looks dirty but is so crucial to my happiness level. You will get dirty from sitting on the ground. You will get sweaty from dancing, you will drink until you don't find the water disgusting, and you will go swimming. And you will be thankful. Also the beach is a great place to enjoy some…
Wine and Sunshine
Bring red wine. Drink it in the sun. Stop to reflect on all the great choices you have made in your life that landed you at this exact spot at this exact moment. Be thankful.
On a serious note it would behoove you to bring some plastic bottles to put that wine in. A few people, myself included, do not wear shoes, not even for one moment, the entire festival. It would really bring me down if I stepped on any broken glass, so PLEASE don't bring any. Now let's be honest, your going to bring glass, even I bring glass. PLEASE leave it at your campsite, and if (read when) it breaks PLEASE take the time to clean it up.
Slo-Mo, The Town Pants, Donna The Buffalo
Do not miss these bands. I beg of you. The first thing you need to do when you get to the festival is grab a schedule and circle these names every single time they appear. Watch them play, buy their music, visit camp Slo-Mo, you will never be disappointed.
Remember that rant about material things from earlier? Well in the wilderness at GBH if you look hard enough you might just find an oasis filled with Greek food. I once saw someone ask the guy behind the counter to make him a Gyro with everything they had on it. Gyro meat, tzatziki, falafel, lettuce, tomato, onions, BBQ beef, etc. The last thing he said was “you can charge me whatever.” They are that good. Also isn't this a great example of what makes the festival attendees such good people. He clearly just wanted the worlds most perfect sandwich and was willing to pay any price, probably monetary or otherwise.
The Tequila Bar
This is going to remain a secret. Everyone has secrets, myself not withstanding, but there is absolutely a tequila bar in the woods at GBH, and I will absolutely spend some time standing around under that happy umbrella of Mexican liquor. Go start your own cool thing for your and your friends, that is what makes The Heron so Great. Happy Heron.
So what did we learn?
Don't miss Slo-Mo, The Town Pants, or Donna The Buffalo.
Don't bring glass.
Don't bring fireworks. I love fireworks to but they are not permitted. A few years back select members of an unknown band spent a night in jail after a late-night m-80 experiment. They performed the next night. Anyway no fireworks.
Bring your swimming trunks and your dancing shoes.
Bring some cash, if you want delicious food.
Bring some wine.
Take some time to reflect on how great this festival is.
Invite people that will appreciate this type of thing.
See you on Dragon Run,