The choice of which festivals to attend each year can be an exciting yet daunting task. With the everyday hectic hustle of life, a festival equals the much needed escape from monotonous Mondays and an opportunity for that soul quenching rejuvenation that makes those extra frustrating work days well worth it. After attending Highberry Festival in July, I knew that Hillberry Harvest Moon Festival was no doubt a festival requirement. Why? Deadhead Productions knows how to throw one heck of a festival experience.
From the prime location on The Farm in the rolling Ozarks of Eureka Springs, to the intimately sized crowd of a few thousand loving souls, to the incomparable music bill stacked with two nights of (festival sponsors) Railroad Earth, to the handpicked vendors and artists and to most importantly, the magnitude of hard work and intention placed in creating every detail of this special gathering, DHP is doing it right!
The festival commenced Thursday, October 13th, with a thoughtful opening ceremony aimed to set the intentions for the weekend, focus on personal growth and manifest the highest vibration possible for the weekend ahead. The music kicked off with Fayetteville’s The Squarshers who gave us a little dose of the musical goldmine we had at our disposal for the weekend. Mountain Sprout brought the jams as always, followed by a killer Friends of the Phamily set and an incredible performance by newfound Stompgrass favorites The Hatrick who brought out the King “Delvis” himself for a cover of “Hound Dog,” providing a super energetic set to wrap up night one. It would not be a Midwest fest without a little rain, which came in waves throughout the evening and early into Friday, allowing most attendees to retire early for an ample night’s rest in preparation of day two.
The fog braided beautifully throughout The Farm Friday morning, slowly lifting above the vibrant fall colored treeline as I finished up a lovely morning yoga practice led by Yoga Boots and the Bhakti Body Art Tribe. With a clear head and eager mindset, I rambled through the colorful campgrounds to catch Arkansauce, who popped Friday off proper with a saucy string filled set complete with their classic yet progressive Bluegrass sound. Next up was my first Split Lip Rayfield experience, which will definitely not be my last (damn, that’s some ferocious finger pickin’)! The Travelin’ McCourys, composed of brothers Ronnie and Rob on mandolin and banjo, were up next. These two brothers along with bandmates Jason Carter and Alan Bartram are fulfilling their bluegrass legend of a father, Del McCoury’s, path by proving their dedication and love for classic bluegrass apparent through their musicianship on and off the stage.
After hitting up the most epic costume/party box of all time (Thank you, Tweedy!), a group of some amazing humans morphed into our finest festival beings and headed in full force for some Greensky Bluegrass. For fifteen years, Greensky has composed a fine art from the fusion of classic bluegrass and rock ‘n roll, creating an irresistible sound impossible not to fall in love with. During a special cover of Bob Dylan’s classic “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You,” the spirit in the air emanating from crowd was soaring high through the crisp Arkansas sky as a few thousand people became bound by the common love of music.
The vibe took a funkier turn when The New Mastersounds took the stage just before midnight. This UK band provided a soulfully energetic set that assisted in releasing all that built up energy in the form of nonstop dancing and grooving. Anders Beck even made a lovely appearance, ripping up his slide guitar in all of its funkiness before the night wound down with an intimate campfire set by The Ozark Travelers at The Shrine. The Jerry Garcia Shrine served as a multipurpose fundamental staple of the Hillberry space. Constructed by DHP and decorated by festival goers throughout the weekend with gifts and tributes to Jerry, The Shrine served as a location for workshops, meeting friends, meditation and not to mention a prime spot to soak in breathtakingly fabulous views of The Farm.
At Hillberry, Saturday morning means CHOMPDOWN! Chompdown is a communal breakfast founded by prominent Midwest festivalers with help from the band Dirtfoot in 2007 at Wakarusa. With help from lots of other amazing individuals who work their butts off to organize, cook, clean and feed the hungry, sleep deprived masses who want to chomp it down while gettin’ down. Chompdown takes the morning meal to a whole ‘nother level and the sheer love and hard work exerted to provide a warm and entertaining meal reminds us all why we do what we do. For the first time in (my) history, Dirtfoot did not play The Chompdown, but Arkansauce provided the perfect wake up call to accompany the beloved communal buffet.
John Henry & Friends kicked off the Main Stage followed by the before mentioned Louisianan brass-filled group of musical mayhem, Dirtfoot. The perfect balance of wild and tamed, Dirtfoot is never anything short of incredible. A pig masked man on stilts serves as the band’s hype man while every single audience member becomes involved in the ruckus of a good time Dirtfoot serves up. Next up was Fruition and being the fruity freak I am, I was front and center the entire set. The whole crowd sang along with the band’s infectious three part harmonies, soaking in Mimi Naja’s delectable mandolin shredding fused with the band’s undeniable chemistry, talent and lovable lyrics. A sit in by Elephant Revival members served as the cherry on top. There is a reason Fruition is selling out shows around the country and their Hillberry set might have been one of this year’s favorites.
As the sun went to sleep, no one could help but notice the powerful and beyond-words-beautiful full Super moon rising steadily above the horizon of trees into the dark Sodalite sky. The energy was electric as Elephant Revival sang us through the moon rise for what was definitely the most magical and moving moment of the weekend for me. The headliners and festival sponsors Railroad Earth took the stage afterwards and dished out an immaculately perfect first three hour set of the weekend. The audience drank in Railroad’s magnetic and spritely energy, leaving us itching for round two.
Turkuaz closed out the Main Stage, transforming every audience member into an instant fan and additionally, a full on dancing machine. This nine member eclectic funk powerhouse from Brooklyn has been surprising crowds at festivals all over lately and their fusion of Soul, R&B, Pop and Funk had us a groovin’ and a shakin’ all set long. The night ended with the sweet, sweet serenades of Opal Agafia and The Sweet Nothings. Nestled amongst friends new and old, Opal Agafia’s heavenly voice and her wonderful band speak good times, bad times, drunk times and love times in their honest tunes and know how to have a damn good time doing it! You couldn’t ask for a better night cap than sitting around a campfire with some seriously amazing people and live music.
Sunday of Hillberry came with that surge of raw excitement for the final day’s jam packed schedule but also that bittersweet rush of knowing that something incredible was slowly coming to an end. These are the feelings that gave me and my fellow Hillberrians all the more reason to make the most of every moment, catch that extra workshop we had been eyeing all weekend, check out the official merch booth, exchange information with newly found friends, dive into the live paintings and soak in every last ounce of that musical medicine Hillberry provides. Sunday started with Fayetteville’s funky Brass band, Crescent City Combo and a badass pickin’ contest hosted by John Henry, where attendees could pick their instrument of choice for chances to win cash prizes!
The Ben Miller Band jammed the main stage before the flatpickin’ legend, Larry Keel, performed an epic “Larry does Jerry” set. Following Keel, The Infamous Stringdusters completely slayed the stage, proving that their sound is an equal balance in the duality between the new and old, the classic and progressive, the legacy and the expansion of that legacy. We were treated to an extra Dustin’ during Railroad Earth’s second three hour set of the weekend, which surprisingly found a way to top the previous night’s.
The DHP crew came on stage for a special thank you and toast to the Hillberry family before Railroad returned for a double encore featuring a captivating cover of “Midnight Special” and a perfectly chosen “Peace on Earth”. The crowd faded into family and The Farm into a familiar backyard from days of old, as the realization of the ineffable beauty and gratitude of the weekend sank into the hearts and souls of everyone in the moment. Sad Daddy gave us one last late night git down by the fire as the mood waved and the party rolled on.
It sure is a challenge to place into words the undefinable magic that happens at festivals, especially at the smaller, more intimate and family orientated festivals…which is exactly what Hillberry embodies. From the talent packed live art gallery to the unmatched helpfulness of the Central Plains Jamband Society’s Saint Bernards, to the delicious and drool inducing food vendors, to every staff, volunteer and parking attendant that dedicated their time and energy into helping the festival operate at maximum smoothness, Hillberry is a festival we always want to be a part of.
It is a refreshing and much needed dip into invigorating waters for the mind, body and the soul. It is a true family affair (pups included!) where humans of all shapes, ages, sizes and capacities can relinquish all worries, cares and judgements to simply enjoy life, embrace their inner child and give thanks for the massive blessings that surround us. See y’all for Phunkberry in May and Highberry in June!