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Midnight Sun
Wesley Case covers the city's after-hours scene
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Inaugural Fields Festival celebrates city's arts scene with weekend camping trip

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.

“We were just at the campground last night, talking about moving one of the stage locations,” Schmidt said last week. “It was making my head spin, but it's a wonderful thing and it makes me really excited to get involved in this stuff.

“I was thinking, 'Is this the most ambitious thing I've ever done?'“ she said. “I think it is.”

Which says a lot coming from a woman who freelance writes physics textbooks and a physician who researches cognitive neuroscience.

Their dedication to Fields is obvious. (Throughout our conversation, both organizers kept a close eye on their laptops, responding to emails whenever necessary. At one point, Mostofsky showed Schmidt a tweaked Fields logo for the website Deacon had just sent over for approval. She liked it.) Sure, it should be a fun-filled weekend with a wide-range of art and personalities, but Fields represents a way of nurturing and giving back to a community they cherish.

“The idea of this theoretical person in the suburbs who maybe knows of Dan Deacon or Matmos, and then comes in and stumbles upon all of these crazy new things — that is so exciting,” Schmidt said. “Part of what we're trying to do is make the atmosphere feel so open so that none of it is jarring or off-putting. Everything feels welcome and integrated.”

For a split second, Schmidt paused and smirked, as if she knew the idea of a utopia filled with Baltimore artists of all kinds is almost too good to be true. 

Except it's actually happening, and it's very soon.

“It's just a bunch of love and hippie stuff,” she said, laughing.

If you go

The Fields Festival takes place Friday through Sunday at Camp Ramblewood, 2564 Silver Road, Darlington. Dan Deacon, Matmos, Flock of Dimes, Abdu Ali and other musicians are scheduled to perform, along with performance artists, writers, actors and others. 18+, rain or shine. Gates open at 3 p.m. Friday. Three-day passes are $65 in advance, $85 at the gate. For more information, go to fieldsfestival.com.

BONUS CUT: SAFETY AND CAMPING TIPS 

For the organizers of the Fields Festival, that means making public safety a top priority. This weekend's event is 18+, and no alcohol will be sold on the premises. Still, security will check IDs and provide wristbands in order to clearly identify the under-21 crowd. (It is a BYOB event.)

Organizers Amanda Schmidt and Stewart Mostofsky also said security will wander the campgrounds 24 hours per day to check on festival-goers. A nursing staff and emergency medical technicians will also be on hand at all times. There's an infirmary, too.

Attendees will be discouraged from leaving after midnight, unless it's an emergency. (“We don't want people going on a [late] beer run,” Schmidt said.) There will even be lifeguards on duty by the pool.

That's all good to know, but we figured attendees could use even more insight, so we asked some Fields folks what camping tips they recommend for this weekend:

Stewart Mostofsky (co-director): Headlamps! We are going to sell pocket-pen flashlights at the gate, too.

Amanda Schmidt (co-director): Bug spray. We are encouraging people to bring their own food, grills — you can do all that stuff. Bring your yoga mat (editor’s note: Yoga sessions will take place each morning.) If people are staying in cabins, they have to bring sheets.

Dan Deacon (performer): Always bring more socks than you could ever wear.

Ben O'Brien (comedy curator and host): Set up your tent before it gets dark, and make sure you know right where it is in case, for some weird reason, you're stumbling around later when you have to find it. Also bring earplugs to sleep with because tents do not block out noise and also because I'm going to be in the tent area screaming and blasting Bad Company literally all night.

Abdu Ali (performer): Bring a rain fly [for your tent], plenty of water, the best pillow you have and if you want to be fancy — yet this is kind of necessary — bring an air mattress.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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