MAYfest 2017 Review: Prepare to ASCEND
MAYfest is a family affair. So much so that Friday’s headliner, Dar Williams, mentioned between songs that the MAYfest’s organizers’ daughters are awesome babysitters. Many of the participants of and contributors to MAYfest are Hudson Valley residents. This gives the festival a homey, warm feeling that is missing from many music festivals.
This doesn’t mean that the festival isn’t ambitious, though. There was much chatter about MAYfest’s next iteration, to make its appearance in 2018. Keep your eye out for MAYfest to ASCEND over the next year. Defined in the weekend’s program as “to rise to the highest version of self,” ASCEND is a mantra, an aspiration, and a state of being.
But, back to the present. The week’s steady rain had ended by the time the gates opened on Friday, but the grounds of Surprise Lake Camp were muddy and damp. This cool weather turned out to be a blessing at a festival that includes so much physical activity and features a bonfire to keep you warm during the late night sets. Overall, Friday was a quiet, rolling start to MAYfest.
I took the opportunity to ease into the festival with a class entitled “Cha Dao: Tea Meditation.” During this class, about 15 of us sat in a circle in a teepee next to scenic Surprise Lake. We were ceremoniously served tea over the course of an hour by Casey Marie and encouraged to meditate in any way that we felt comfortable. This ancient practice was restorative and warmed up both my mind and body for the weekend.
One of the more exciting parts of MAYfest is that several classes feature live music accompaniment. Friday featured a lively Ghanaian Dance class with live music from Will Evans, who would also play the main stage later that night with band Rising Tide.
Friday night featured an eclectic mix of music, from DJ Taz Rashid and Srikala getting the crowd hyped and keeping us dancing into the late night hours, to the folk stylings of Upstate Rubdown and Dar Williams. Upstate Rubdown opened the main stage and charmed everyone with their beautiful harmonies and endearing stage banter. Dar Williams, who quite literally lives next door to the festival, was Friday’s headliner. She took the stage with one backing guitarist. Her career-spanning set left me wanting to hear many, many more songs.
One of the most unique aspects of MAYfest is the SUP yoga, which is conducted on paddleboards in the middle of Surprise Lake. These classes can be seen from almost everywhere on the festival grounds and they are captivating to watch.
This land based yogi opted for a class called “Align your body, flow in your life” on Saturday, which was held in the aptly named Moose Hall, which features a giant mounted moose head over a large fireplace. I took this class as a challenge to myself and it was. But nothing feels better than pushing yourself and doing one or two things you’ve never tried before or could never do before. Instructor Phoebe Miller was very supportive and helped encourage us with her great sense of humor.
I also enjoyed “Dharma Art” on Saturday afternoon, an art and meditation class held by Nicole Renninger. During this class, Nicole helps to stimulate your senses: smell, through essential oils; hearing, through music; sight, though colors, etc. Renninger then encourages you to draw based on these sensory inspirations. This class is not about being a perfect artist. Instead it is about taking inspiration from everything around you and being able to clear your mind and create.
Saturday night’s music schedule was high energy from start to finish. Festival favorites Hayley Jane & the Primates opened the main stage. They were followed by Sadie Nardini with Salt & Bone, an all-star band that featured several members of Beyonce’s backing back. Like many contributors to MAYfest, Sadie Nardini not only performed but also taught yoga classes and could be seen hanging around the festival all weekend. Both Nardini’s classes and her set, which ended with a cover of “Crazy Train” are designed to amp you up (and they did)!
Next up was DJ Drez, a returning MAYfest musician and yogi, with a set that got every single person up on their feet and dancing. Then, Ozomatli took the stage as Saturday’s headliners. I had no idea what to expect of this band and I was beyond pleasantly surprised. Although they were missing one band member due to a family emergency, they put on a clinic in entertainment for their hour and a half set. These 20+ year veterans seamlessly blended hip-hop, reggae, and music from their Latin and SoCal roots to the delight of the crowd.
On Sunday morning, I attended a lecture on Ayurveda, which is among other things, an alternative medicine philosophy. This class, held in the camp’s library, was a great introduction to the topic. Our instructor, Sarajean Rudman, took the time to patiently answer all our questions.
Then I headed over to the beach stage, which on Sunday afternoon featured the bluegrass stylings of Tall County. The beach stage was a popular hangout for the families who attended MAYfest, and the kids were treated to a professional puppet show that afternoon right on the water’s edge.
Finally, it was time to get my “Jerry Sunday” on. Grateful Dead fans are familiar with this tradition of listening to Jerry Garcia on Sundays. MAYfest helped me and my fellow Deadheads honor this tradition. This class, run by John Smrtic, incorporated the music of duo “Acoustically Speaking” (a Garcia Project side project). This class, while challenging at times, was a great way to end the weekend. Smrtic’s love of the music was contagious and inspired several singalongs, including a rousing rendition of “Not Fade Away.” We all walked away from this class truly believing that the peace we found at MAYfest will not fade away.
The Garcia Project would return for a late night, full band electric set at the beach stage later that night. But first, the passionate and talented folk musician Dustin Thomas warmed up the crowd. Sunday’s headliner was legendary Rusted Root. Rusted Root also treated festival goers by playing live during a yoga class earlier that day. They expressed during their set that they felt immediately at home at MAYfest and wanted to make their attendance an annual tradition, to great crowd response. Rusted Root closed the main stage on Sunday night with the appropriate “Send me on my way.”
And thus we were all sent our separate ways. The rain returned late on Sunday night, bookending a peaceful, relaxing, and enriching weekend. Pulling out of the festival on a rainy, quiet, Monday morning, I was already looking forward to what MAYfest would ASCEND to in 2018 and beyond.
Photos courtesy of Stephen Olker Photography.