The idyllic scene Amanda Schmidt envisions on a recent Monday afternoon sounds less like a music festival and more like a serene, anything-goes camping trip with hundreds of open-minded friends, both new and old.
She sees attendees playing basketball and taking dips in the pool, while others watch a stand-up comedian before heading to the woods to observe art installations. She pictures viewers enthralled by a theater performance in a barn, as many others watch Baltimore musicians like Dan Deacon, Matmos and other acts perform on multiple stages. She can see the first-ever Fields Festival.
“There's so much going on,” Schmidt, 30, said from a café booth in Station North last week. “We really want people to be explorers and wanderers.”
While the American music festival scene continues to rapidly expand and oversaturate, Schmidt and co-director Stewart Mostofsky have organized something else entirely. The Fields Festival — a three-day outdoor event taking placing this weekend at the 200-acre Camp Ramblewood in Darlington — is an eclectic, multifaceted celebration of Baltimore's always-in-motion arts scene. You likely won't find a similar experience anywhere else.
Seated across from Schmidt, Mostofsky spells it out succinctly: “It's like the Baltimore arts scene goes on vacation together!”
Over the course of three days, pockets of art — created by a large majority that calls Baltimore home — will appear across the campgrounds in different forms. There will be performance artists, plays, dance groups, writers, film presentations, art installations and food offerings. And, of course, there's a music lineup that includes nationally known acts (Flock of Dimes, Abdu Ali), up-and-coming artists (Chiffon, Zomes) and everything in-between.
It's as if Schmidt and Mostofsky put our arts scene in a blender, bottled it and sent it away to camp.
“This festival is a reflection of the loving, caring, supportive nature of the Baltimore underground arts scene in every way,” Mostofsky, 47, said.
Deacon, who is currently touring stadiums with Arcade Fire and arguably remains the city's most recognizable solo artist, called Fields a “dream festival” in an email message. On Saturday, after performing at Brooklyn, N.Y.'s Barclays Center, Deacon and his crew will immediately head to Camp Ramblewood for a 1 a.m. set. At 2:30 a.m., Deacon will DJ for a half hour. After perhaps a few hours of sleep, he will host “Take a Deep Breath: For Audience and Phones,” a mysterious set that will involve some sort of exercise at noon. Later that night, the whirlwind continues, as Deacon has to make it back to Brooklyn to open for Arcade Fire for a third straight night at Barclays.
It's a lot of traveling, Deacon said, but he enjoys “doing logistically impractical things.” Plus, he's looking forward to a change of pace.
“I'm most looking forward to the overall atmosphere and environmental shift of going from an insane arena tour to woods filled with weirdos,” he said.
The Fields Festival is about making experiences, not money, according to the organizers. Schmidt said there's a chance the festival will lose money, and the goal, Mostofsky said, “is to at least break even.” Capacity for the event is 1,000, and it will take a last-minute surge to sell it out, he said.
And almost all of the artists are not getting paid.
“The artists are doing this for free because they all appreciate that this is going to be a really special event,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt and Mostofsky said they both have wanted to put on a camping festival for years, but were unsure of a venue that could host it. A friend suggested Camp Ramblewood, which does not advertise itself (“We actually reward people who seek [us out],” said Camp Ramblewood owner Harry Leff). After some research, Schmidt said it was the right place because its summer-camp infrastructure (including electricity, running water, cabins and amenities) was in place and its inclusive attitude fit in line with Fields. Schmidt and Mostofsky finalized Camp Ramblewood as the venue in March and began reaching out to artists and planning the Fields Festival schedule in May.
“It's a really tolerant space for alternative groups,” Schmidt said.
“Before us is a group of high school cross-country runners,” Mostofsky added. “The people after us are a kink festival.”
Leff, who has owned Camp Ramblewood with his wife for 25 years, said the spirit of the Fields Festival is similar to his campground’s. While the Fields organizers said owners cut them “a break,” Leff declined to provide specific numbers. He made it clear profit was not a concern, though.
“Let's put it this way: I'll probably wind up losing money,” Leff said. “But I don't work off an economy of dollars. We work off an economy of emotion and heart and passion. We measure things differently than most others.”
Schmidt, who is from Laurel, and Mostofsky, a transplant from Long Island who has lived in Baltimore for nearly two decades, have been entrenched in the city's arts scene for years. Years ago, she founded the DIY venue Soft House in Station North, while Mostofsky co-owns the True Vine record shop in Hampden and runs the experimental vinyl-and-cassette label Ehse Records. Both will perform music with various groups this weekend, but before then, they're knee-deep in operational preparation.