The highlights and lowlights of Fields Festival

Future Islands perform at Fields Fest.
Future Islands perform at Fields Fest. (J.M. Giordano/City Paper /)

The Baltimore music and arts community's decampment to the woods for the weekend, otherwise known as Fields Festival, has come and gone, and what a weekend it was. Friday through Sunday, there was no shortage of music, art, comedy, theater, or wellness activities to take in—as well as nudity, drugs, and booze. Here are City Paper's highlights and lowlights from Fields Festival 2016.



-Bobbing around in the pool on Friday night with just about everyone; sipping the Champagne of Beers; the spontaneous whirlpool someone started; the line of beer cans and empty cups around the pool's perimeter that created an ephemeral and interactive installation; the security guards who helped clean that up; the myriad towels and articles of clothing tucked into the chain-link fence; the fruit-themed pool toys, half of which were all popped by the end of it.

-The well-curated selection of pool toys—all fruit except for the giant swan, flamingo, and curious glowing orbs.


-Watching performers at the pool stage while in the pool, which felt strangely surreal and luxurious, particularly when Sapphogeist did her dark and dreamy and glitchy set while dressed like a jester-alien from the future-past.

-TT The Artist summoning so many of us out of the pool for her set with her TSU Dance Crew members.

-The embroidered patches Margo Malter and Nick Peelor handed out when people did something nice.

-Chuckling hungoverly on Saturday at Ed Schrader's Cats on the Lake installation on the lake.


-The Wellness Tent's spacious, pillowy area (near the beautifully marbled, scummy lake), with cushions and crystals and astrology books, perfect for a post-breakfast nap.

-Artist Shola Cole and Mark Gunnery (of WEAA)'s live Pirate Radio session, in a wooded area behind a cabin. Cole, aka Pirate Jenny, hosted the show, and Gunnery produced the music, remixing into it Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton speeches and sounds of uprisings and much more. Pirate Radio guests today were Sheila Gaskins and Abdu Ali who talked about the art community, inclusion, and access. Gaskins described the need for "simple" access, like walking into a space and feeling welcomed, and talked about how the granting and funding paradigm needs to shift. Ali talked about spaces for people of color and people in the LGBT community: "I don't have to integrate in order to have access to golden resources that a lot of us don't have." He also touched on how ambitious projects can be stifled by the grant-writing process.

-Lying on the grass in the shade at the amphitheater on Saturday afternoon, for poetry by Michael Wasteneys Stephens, Lily Herman, Grace Davis, Suzie Doogan, Lindsay Raspi, and Brendan Sullivan. Stephens' multimedia poetry performance opened the set and matched the sleepy mood. Stephens' slow words and droning background sounds created a sort of visual song; the chorus involved, first, opening several small white umbrellas and tossing them aside, reading more, then picking up the umbrellas and smoothly, swiftly spinning around with them, turning them inside out. Raspi read a poem about Boca Raton and then the pool DJ maybe 100 feet away played seagull sounds, as if on cue. In the poem, she describes an idyllic beach scene in Florida, which smoothly transitions like a daydream into imagery of bombings and geysers. Sullivan's pastoral and quietly introspective poems felt like guided meditation (in a good way), or like a high in which every feeling you get is equalized, where you recognize life's beauty and humor and darkness and idleness all at the same time and feel just OK with it all at once too. A favorite line: "Bury me in ice/ I'll keep my cool forever."

-Lying in the grass near the main stage on Saturday afternoon, nursing a hangover and listening to the jangly AM pop of Shinji. They have the best parts of Ariel Pink, but without the annoying pretentious stuff.

-Ellen Nielsen's burlesque routine to Seal's "Kiss From A Rose"—she was once a flower, then a naked flower; a light hit the bloom on the grey.

-Taking a nap on a yoga mat in the grass just outside my tent. Waking up an hour later and feeling so refreshed.

-Napping in cars, snacking in cars, drinking lots of water.

-Finding that one cabin bathroom that had relatively clean and spacious stalls and showers that tent-campers could easily sneak into.

-Swimming, despite the pool's ever-growing murkiness.

-Pretending the pool was cleansing.

-Finding solidarity and camaraderie in everyone smelling terrible.

-Phaan Howng's fluorescent, totemic, gloopy, enormous, phallic sculptures near the amphitheater.

-Running into everyone who agreed that we were all having a very weird but good time.

-All of the kind souls who shared their weed and/or hot dogs.

-Lower Dens' performance as a two-piece, just Jana Hunter on guitar and vocals and Nate Nelson on drums and programming. Especially Hunter's dynamic performance, bobbing on her feet to the melody of the song and falling to her knees to play up a particularly dramatic moment.

-Making what I perceived to be direct and intense eye contact with Sam Herring during Future Islands' set.

-Josh Dibb, aka Deakin of Animal Collective, playing for the first time since releasing his oft-delayed solo debut "Sleep Cycle." Despite some technical difficulties with the monitors onstage, Dibb's set translated well. With the addition of a drummer, bassist, and guitarist, the songs had a nice full sound, while also giving Dibb's vocals a more prominent place. Putting Emmanuel Nicolaidis behind the drum kit was a particularly good choice; the way he pounded out the rhythms proved to be especially exciting live.

-Ingesting some substances which all congealed beautifully, more beautifully than expected, during Prince Rama; drummer Nimai Larson who was basically jumping up and down during the whole set; realizing I was in love with Prince Rama; thinking about the exchange between the performers and the audience; feeling like the members of Prince Rama were having so much fun which made it so much more fun for us, too.

-Fluct, violently thrashing for the dozen or so audience members who could actually see them in the packed Dance Pavilion.


-After dealing with technical difficulties of his own, Dan Deacon said he would have to ride it out like a show at The Crown. Fields, after all, is "like a big show at The Crown, outside," he said. Not exactly a revelation, but it was funny to have this formally acknowledged.


-Dan Deacon bringing out a full band again, including about 10 brass instruments, for a performance of the "USA" suite. He then brought out a chorus, featuring Ami Dang, Cricket Arrison, and Abdu Ali, among others, for the first-ever performance of another grand, sweeping song.

-April Camlin, world's best drummer, performing with Dan Deacon.

-The way the 5 billion-plus bugs became part of the light show during Dan Deacon's set, swarming across the projections and around and into the musicians' heads.

-Napping in the Dance Pavilion before Chiffon.

-Chiffon, who are always great, rallying my last reserves of energy to dance before going the fuck to sleep. Also, Chase O'Hara's denim overalls, with embroidered patches just below the knees that said "Bad Boyz."

-When Princess Nokia made space for black and brown girls at the Field Stage.

-Brushing my teeth every morning, washing my face for the first time in two days on Sunday morning.

-Sunday morning stroll around a nature path that winds around the perimeter of the campground, canopied by leafy trees, overcast sky, and cool pre-rain breeze, the light felt blue, and soft like silk; watching a woman open a watermelon by dropping it on the ground (genius); happening upon L.E. Doughtie's subtle installation on this walk, black and white pennant banner strung across tree branches, black wood beam structures standing next to trees, as if for support.

-When the rain hit during Noelle Tolbert and Alexander D'Agostino's "Mooncrashers," a group dance performance of otherworldly nature set to live beatboxing and bass by Kenneth Johnston and Quentin Gibeau, respectively. Dressed kinda like health goth Power Rangers, the dancers continued to swing, jerk, collide, leap, and form towers when the storm came crashing down the basketball court, their pounding feet and grazing hands splashing in the gathering water as the musicians played under tarps.
-But also all the other artists who continued to perform in the rain, such as Carly Bales, who went on consuming bold participants' transgressions with her "Sin Eater" performance.

-The man pouring out his beer on his foot; his friend asking, "Dude, why are you pouring beer on your wound?"

-Taking refuge for 20 minutes in the rain stage on Sunday, mostly empty, while the rain pounded down on the roof.

-When Christ-like poet Janea Kelly appeared in the pouring rain with a trash bag full of plastic-wrapped baguettes, passing them out to the hungry and stoned.

-Sunday afternoon poetry, postponed and moved into the Barn due to the rain. So much good, including a line by Jasmine Cindy that went, I think, "my body is not a place you enter to apologize for the time spent gone"; Maya Martinez's poem about Tina Fey who pours salt onto slugs maniacally "for fun, I like to watch the slugs squirm"; Maggie Fitz's suggested alternative BDSM materials like "wool as it is being turned into yarn on a drop spindle, a feather boa, a boa constrictor…"; a tender/powerful piece by Janea Kelly on intimacy and relationships and time: "Sometimes I wish I could come around every four years and you'd still want me… studies say that black women have higher self-esteem, denser bones, and thicker skin/ so tell me I'm so strong because I stayed away for so long."

-After the deluge, being able to walk to the Dance Pavilion to catch a great set by pensive indie-pop group Outer Spaces.

-Jenn Wasner's heartfelt, emotional speech about still working on Flock of Dimes songs during the first Fields Festival two years ago and being able to return with a complete album, but also about moving from Baltimore and not being sure she would still have a place here and finding the warm embrace of the scene was still there. The set was pretty tight, naturally.

-Abdu Ali giving one of the most enthralling and punk performances of the whole festival that ended with him getting the crowd to hold hands and then get down on their knees to chant "I exist!"

-The Sun Ra Arkestra shifting between jazz standards, a performance of 'When You Wish Upon a Star,' and their well-known otherworldly, experimental sound. Band leader Marshall Allen is a national treasure.

-Sunday Night Comedy, hosted by Alan Resnick and including Lorelei Ramirez's chilling self-deprecation and Bjork impressions, The New Dreamz intentionally inept improv, and a conga line (no festival is complete without one) led by Joe DeGeorge "The Sax Machine."

-Enjoying a ripping set by psych-rock trio Scroll Downers—featuring Lexie Mountain and David Jacober and Zacharty Utz of Dope Body—with an intimate crowd that had thinned out due to the rain and it being late on Sunday.

-Feeling like I was fading and ready to pass out, and then getting a much-needed shot in the arm via Ed Schrader Music Beat's wonderfully manic show. There was an especially cute moment when the whole crowd crooned along to slow jam 'Air Show.'


-Wet socks.

-That one naked white guy who was twerking on the giant swan pool toy. I went in knowing I'd see nudity, but did not expect a taint.

-Being shaken out of my drunken slumber on Saturday night when someone yelled "This is the quiet area!" at two especially talkative drunks in the Labyrinth. Rules are rules, and I'm glad someone told these dolts to shut up, but it was also kind of terrifying to be awaken so abruptly at like 2 a.m.

-The "labyrinth," which was really some small rocks arranged in a kinda small concentric circles in a clearing.


-The nudity/clothing optional guideline wasn't a problem—I'm not a prude—but there is a strange and confusing intimacy that comes with accidentally spotting acquaintances naked before realizing that you kind of know them.

-The uncertainty of seeing a topless man rise from behind a hill and not being sure if you're about to see a dick or swim trunks (could also be a highlight).

-White man standing in front of us at Future Islands with the worst balding/mullet/uneven and ratty dreadlocks imaginable, like badly spun wool.

-Our neighbors in the car camping area who never once left the car camping area, who instead got drunk and loud every night and peed next to our cars.

-The way the pool water became increasingly murky throughout the weekend.

-Technical difficulties pervasive on almost every stage. It's hard to get mad at anyone who's giving their time, but the sound problems were definitely a bummer and caused some frustrations for the artists.

-The bros who pushed all of the women out of view during certain sets so they could mosh and grab or elbow any remaining breast.

-Unavoidable, but rain delaying and canceling some acts.

-Hearing one friend tell of how one nudist in particular, who everyone in our group agreed was half-mast for just about the whole festival, went into the bathroom to "fluff" himself.

-Weird campers who never, ever seemed to leave their tents—why are you even here?

-A knotted, guilty feeling in my belly about how I was supposed to be reaching a higher plane or resolving inner turmoil or having an awakening, but when I think about the idea of spiritual revelation, I just feel a lot of Christian guilt and uncomfortable Jesus camp memories; maybe I wasn't doing the right drugs.

-Missing things because I couldn't find where they were supposed to be or because I fell asleep somewhere—Fields truly was immersive and overwhelming in the sense of sheer quantity of things to do and see, and it is amazing that the organizers put together this whole entire thing with a pretty small team. Wandering into things accidentally, however, was very pleasant.

-Reckless golf cart drivers.

-How quickly the massage sign-up filled—to the credit of the massage therapists, and the horrible things walking all day and sleeping on hard surfaces does to one's back.

-Seeing the heavy rain on Sunday morning that started a stream that ran through your campsite, directly hitting the tent you were going to sleep in that night, which forces you to later sleep in the seats of your friend's Volkswagen.

-Looking at the schedule and realizing you were going to miss something you really wanted to see because it starts at 2 a.m. and you've been out in the sun drinking Old Oriole Park Bohemians all day and you no longer have the energy you once did in your 20s, nor do you choose to consume cocaine.