In the past few years, music festivals have had a huge upswing in popularity. It seems like every weekend from May to September there’s at least one festival taking place in any given region of the country. But finding one that still manages to bring together a sense of unity and freedom for the few short days of its existence while also delivering a unique and exciting experience to its patrons has become an increasingly difficult find. As more and more people are introduced to these incredible weekends, it’s not uncommon for smaller grassroots festivals to shift their focus to expanding and creating a larger profit. That’s why this past weekend spent at New Jersey’s F.A.R.M. Fest was so refreshing.
After last year’s magnetic experience on scenic Rickey Farm located just off the Appalachian Trail, I was curious going in if this new incarnation would prove to be another weekend of good music, scenic beauty, and great friends new and old convening to collectively dance away the drudgery of day to day life. Moving from its previous home of the past two years in Vernon, New Jersey to Paradise Lake Campgrounds in Hammontown was a decision that worried me a little, but from the moment I turned off the highway into the woods of Paradise Lake I knew my fears were completely unfounded. Though anything but a farm, this new location showed off so much of the beautiful landscape that many forget what they think of New Jersey. From the main stage on the beached shore of a lake to the Untz stage deep in the forest, the grounds proved to combine the best aspects of Rickey Farm and added so much more, with tons of shade for the hot July weather and the option to go for a swim while enjoying the main stage was a huge plus. The two stages were only a short walk from each other and were surrounded by the campsites, so no matter if you needed a quick change of clothes, scenery, music, or company you could do so quickly and efficiently.
Though the change of location had me a bit nervous, I was never worried about the quality of musicians scheduled to perform. The lineup for the weekend mostly pulled artists from the seemingly opposing jam and psychedelic bass communities with a focus on highlighting acts many had never heard of but absolutely should. Many people I spoke to seemed to only be aware of a couple of acts on the bill, but were quick to talk about the new artist they were exposed to that they were excited to see again. With music going from 11 AM to 6 AM it always felt like there was something going on, though the consistent scheduling problems often made it difficult to tell who was playing where.
Much like last year, the schedule posted online days before the event was at best a guideline to where you could find your favorite band, with stages often being delayed a few hours at a time and acts being switched from one stage to another. For example, all the late night performances were scheduled in the woods but every night there wound up being music on the main stage till dawn. Though this may have been an inconvenience to many who may have missed acts they were excited to see, it also made the festival seem more of a ‘living thing’, and helped facilitate some of my favorite memories of my times there, such as the epic Mr. Bill sunrise followed by a memorable set from Clozee to close out the festival beachside
One of the first things I noticed after arriving Thursday was that there were very few people who were uninitiated into festival life. Everyone was quick to recall tales of previous adventures and no matter where you turned you were bound to run into a familiar face. As the festival continued on it seemed that the population of F.A.R.M. Fest was less a collection of like-minded strangers and more a collection of overlapping groups of friends which made it very easy to approach someone you’d never met and immediately feel a connection. Whether it was realizing the stranger you’re talking to from North Carolina knew your best friend or recognizing a shared interest off of a t-shirt or a hat, I was always amazed at how easy it was to start a good conversation with any of the smiling faces around you. Though overall the vibes at this festival were great that doesn’t mean it wasn’t without its negatives. It wasn’t uncommon to find someone belligerently intoxicated, I witnessed more than one fight break out and personally had my hammock stolen from my campsite but overall my experiences were very pleasant.
As the exodus from the grounds began on Sunday morning I was already thinking about next year. While other festivals may boast a stronger lineup or a bigger crowd, it’s only the small festivals like this that can deliver such huge experiences at such a comparably small cost. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend giving F.A.R.M. Fest a shot next year and see for yourself why I consider this to be the best festival in the north east.