Amanda Schmidt and Stewart Mostofsky, the organizers of Fields Festival, an arty mindfuck of a D.I.Y. music fest set against the backdrop of a literal summer camp in Darlington, Maryland this weekend, gather at Red Emma's and describe with increasing, borderline-manic enthusiasm their vision for how attendees might experience the rarefied, weekend-long happening they've spent the better part of 2014 putting together.
“We have 200 performers, and obviously there’s a focus on the musical acts but there’s theater, dance, comedy, sound and video installations, poetry readings, site-specific performances, tarot, yoga, and the truth is, with all this going on you can go there and spend hours just wandering the woods,” Mostofsky says.
Mostofsky’s description makes me think of the 1966 film “Andrei Rublev.” About a third of the way into Andrei Tarkovsky’s biopic of the 15th century Russian icon painter, the artist and his workshop make camp for the night. Seeing strange lights and hearing strange sounds, Andrei wanders into the surrounding forest, discovering a bunch of peasants celebrating the pagan rituals of St John’s Eve: running naked carrying torches, dancing, singing, chanting, fucking. The painter is scandalized and titillated; he does not turn back. He is discovered by some of the participants and is tied to a cross to prevent him from interfering. A woman disrobes and kisses him. When he returns to his fellows the following morning, Andrei is covered with suggestive scratches and bruises. Though neither of the festival’s organizers will cop to having seen Tarkovsky’s lugubrious epic, I think they take my meaning.
On the surface, Fields Festival, which will take place Aug. 22-24 at Darlington's Camp Ramblewood, might not sound all that different from the typical multi-day, outdoor summer music festival, which is hardly a new idea—you know, like Bonnaroo. But think of it this way: Baltimore's underground music and arts community is essentially relocating to the former site of a Jewish sports camp in rural Harford County for a weekend in August. A sort of avant-garde summer camp, with cabins and lakes, Matmos and Abdu Ali, a performance of Steve Reich's '4 Organs' and a leather-working class with DJ Dog Dick. I might have made that last part up, but it seems likely, doesn't it? And indeed, Dog Dick will be there bringing his particular brand of sophisticated silly electronic noise rap to the rural revel.
Schmidt and Mostofsky actually began to conceive an outdoor festival borne of Baltimore’s underground music scene independently of each other early this year. “Somebody posted [on Google Group ElfWire] about Camp Ramblewood and both Stewart and I saw that and started pursuing it independently,” she says. When they discovered their mutual interest in the project, collaboration seemed the obvious choice.
Schmidt attended some of the traditional Bonnaroo-type camping music festivals in the past and couldn’t shake the sense that it’s ideal. “I love to be outside and being able to find that peace and tranquility of laying in the grass, feeling the earth around you, and watching an amazing concert, I think is an amazing, immersive experience,” she says. What was missing was an outdoor experience that catered to her specific aesthetic proclivities. “Why can’t there be a festival that is curated the way I want it to be,” Schmidt laments.
Mostofsky’s attraction to the outdoor experience began in his youth. “I started going to sleep-away camp when I was a little kid. I was a Jewish kid from Long Island and it was almost a ritualistic thing: Every summer your parents would ship you off to sleep-away camp,” he says. And his idea for Fields Festival was further inspired by the annual Voice of the Valley Noise Rally in West Virginia.
Both Schmidt and Mostofsky are heavily invested in revising and pushing against the typical conception of what constitutes an aesthetic experience. The pair are veterans of Baltimore’s D.I.Y. scene. Mostofsky has been involved in organizing the annual High Zero experimental music festival and is the founder of Ehse Records. And Schmidt launched Soft House, a Copycat Building collective dedicated to hosting performances of quiet music, in addition to organizing the associated Soft Fest music festival.
In organizing Fields, a lot of thought went into how they could take advantage of the unique opportunities offered by the Ramblewood site to create an experience that is wholly new. “We emphasized that to all of the artists we invited, hey, we have all of these amazing resources at this camp, we have cabins and pools and woods and the lake and tennis courts or whatever, and what do you want to do? And some people really stepped up to that challenge and that’s a really big part of what’s going on, we really are trying to create an experience that nobody has had before at a music festival,” Schmidt says.
Clearly the city’s tight-knit, collectively oriented D.I.Y. culture has played a major role in facilitating the festival. “There is a tremendous amount of ideas being generated through the community and I think that’s a big part of it and the festival embodies that. This community has proven itself to be capable of producing really novel experiences and this is going to be a showcase of that in a lot of ways,” Mostofsky says.
And Schmidt agrees: “It’s also the tremendous amount of humanpower in the community, to be a part of a community and be able to tap into it, the people, their ideas, and their willingness to be a part of it. It’s really beautiful because it’s one thing to have these dreams and talk about it, but the community in Baltimore is so amazing and they really do step up and we have so many resources and you can actually realize this stuff.”
Pressed on the question of whether they envision Fields as a potentially recurring event, Mostofsky demurs, “I think it’s like one of those things, like when you’re pitching a no-hitter, we talk about [repeating the festival] from time to time, but we want to focus on this year.”
And, according to Schmidt, if they pull it off, you can likely expect any future incarnation to stay Baltimore-centric and, if anything, to get even weirder. “I would say the No. 1 thing, if we do decide to go forward, is to push the boundaries of the experience. It is really building out of this community, so I don’t think, if it does continue, it will ever become something that is detached from the Baltimore community in any serious way.”
The conversation draws to a close as it becomes clear that Schmidt and Mostofsky have considerable planning work to complete that day. Though they’ve yet to see Andrei Rublev, this is OK; they have a lot on their plate. Swarms of attendees fearlessly entering the forest scandalized and titillated and exiting with suggestive scratches and bruises will be vindication enough.