After a year off, Fields Festival returns to Harford County with bigger lineup, expectations

Baltimore's DIY arts scene returns to Harford County's Camp Ramblewood this weekend.

Two years ago, as the first Fields Festival entered its final day, organizer Stewart Mostofsky decided, in the face of physical and mental exhaustion, he would skip sleeping that night. The scenes around Darlington’s Camp Ramblewood — from the artists’ performances to night swimming and pickup basketball at dawn — were too beautiful to miss.

“I stayed up all of Sunday night purposefully, just because I wanted to soak in every last ounce of it,” Mostofsky, 49, said last week, seated next to co-organizer Amanda Schmidt inside the local coffeeshop Red Emma’s. “I was literally crying the day after the festival. I thought it was truly magical.”

Their vision — a three-day camping event that transported much of Baltimore’s DIY arts scene and its supporters to the open pastures of Harford County — had come to life. Despite the positive vibes and relative success, though, 2015 came and went without a second Fields Festival. Launching a brand new festival without sponsorships or grants was fulfilling for the organizers, but it left them drained, financially and otherwise.

“It just takes so much time,” Schmidt, 32, said.

After taking a year off, a re-energized Fields Festival returns to Camp Ramblewood, starting Friday. The time away led to more preparation, which means everything about the three-day event is bigger — attendance, lineups and expectations. Music performers include national acts like the pioneering jazz big band Sun Ra Arkestra and the New York artist-DJ Juliana Huxtable, along with well-known Baltimore artists Future Islands, Lower Dens, TT the Artist, Dan Deacon, Blaqstarr and many more.

For the organizers, the aim is to strike a balance between growing their festival and keeping its non-corporate, arts-first spirit at the forefront.

“Progress doesn’t mean getting bigger and bigger, and making more money,” Schmidt said. “To me, progress is how can we continue to think outside the box, continue to surprise people and continue to create spaces that are including all kinds of new things. [The festival is] experience-driven. It’s energy-driven.”

In August 2014, they laid a strong foundation, bringing musicians like Deacon, Matmos, Flock of Dimes, Abdu Ali and other notable members of the local scene to the campgrounds. Schmidt and Mostofsky made sure to incorporate as many disciplines as possible, including dance groups, actors, comedians and other artists who make the Baltimore arts scene truly eclectic.

April Camlin of the Baltimore electronic-pop duo Wume played the first Fields, and can’t wait for the second. (Wume plays at 12:55 a.m. Sunday.) Describing the experience as “really beautiful,” she said the change of pace from the city to Camp Ramblewood was invigorating.

“Because so many of us are so busy, we often don’t make the time to place ourselves in natural environments. I really believe that humans are meant to have deep interactions with nature,” Camlin said. “It’s wonderful to be amongst your creative community in that kind of experience.”

This year’s music lineup has nearly 100 scheduled artists, and includes more people from outside Baltimore, like the imaginative singer/songwriter Deradoorian and the hypnotic vocalist Weyes Blood, both from California.

From the beginning, though, Fields Festival positioned itself as something more than a music event, and this year’s installment builds on the concept. There will be dance groups, sound installations, performance artists, poets and more, along with local food vendors including Clavel, Wyrd Kitch’n and B-More Alive Falafel.

Most exciting to Schmidt is the festival’s emphasis on wellness. The plan is to promote it in forms many will be familiar with (massages, yoga, Tarot, acupuncture), and some attendees likely won’t know (Qigong, Reiki, sound immersion).

A longtime proponent of self-care, Schmidt hopes these stations will not only provide a respite from overstimulation, but potentially open minds to wellness practices permanently.

“An event like this, that is so immersive, really has the capacity to be monumentally life-changing,” Schmidt said. “To be like, ‘My life is different now. I didn’t remember what it felt like to get back to this core, authentic connection with nature and community’ — that’s the best I could hope for.”

Laura Kalman, founder of the Metta Integrative Wellness Center in Hampden, will be one of the wellness artists on hand. She and other practitioners will host free group workshops, as well as provide one-on-one services like Tarot readings and massages for $1 per minute.

Kalman believes embracing “healing arts” like these promotes creativity from within, and she’s excited to introduce festivalgoers and artists to such practices.

“The idea is to make people tune into their own sense of love for themselves and also the people around them, and to create a nonjudgmental atmosphere,” Kalman said. “The idea is to comfort people.”

This year’s festival emphasizes safety, too, as seen in the new anti-harassment public policy posted to the event’s website. (“We do not tolerate harassment of festival attendees in any form,” the first paragraph reads.) Organizers said the policy was not a response to anything that occurred at the 2014 event, but it felt natural to include this year.

“The community, generally, is one that embraces respectful interactions between people,” Mostofsky said. “But there’s always potential issues that arise. This was just to put it out there and say, ‘This is how we view things. This is the kind of space we want to create, and we want you to recognize that.’”

With lineups solidified and more tickets sold (800 were sold in 2014, and this year’s has surpassed 1,000), the rain-or-shine (and clothing-optional) Fields Festival is practically guaranteed to be bigger than the first. While all artists will be paid something, the organizers said, the event is still completely funded through ticket sales, which means, once again, Schmidt and Mostofsky’s goal is simply to break even. (If there are profits, they will go toward further compensating artists, they said.)

Money and profit have been last on Fields’ priority list thus far, but Schmidt said the current model is unsustainable if there’s ever to be another festival. While Mostofsky has a salaried job as a child neurologist and research neuroscientist, Schmidt freelance writes physics textbooks — at least, she normally does. Planning Fields forced her to put the freelance work to the side and take a job at a Station North restaurant to supplement her income.

“It wasn’t financially sustainable for me last time, and it isn’t this time,” she said.

They aren’t interested in corporate sponsorship but will have to consider applying for arts grants if they decided to plan a third Fields, the organizers said, tentatively. They’re keeping an open mind to producing another event, but that’s as far as they’ll commit today.

“Will it be annual? Who knows?” Mostofsky said. “There’s also like, our lives and what happens potentially with our lives going forward. We’re going to see how it goes, and go from there.”

In a way, to look beyond this weekend goes against the Fields spirit of experiencing and recognizing beauty as it happens. As long as they facilitate a communal environment like the one in 2014 — the same one that brought Mostofsky to tears — the event is a success. To lose sight of that would be to misinterpret the festival’s intention and essence.

“It’s just a gathering of the tribe, to speak,” Mostofsky said. “It’s a coming together of community, in love and gratitude and enthusiasm. That’s what it’s about, and it’s hard to put a price on it.”

wesley.case@baltsun.com

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If you go

The Fields Festival takes place Friday-Sunday at Camp Ramblewood, 2564 Silver Road, Darlington. Sun Ra Arkestra, Future Islands, Dan Deacon, TT the Artist and many others are scheduled to perform, along with performance artists, poets, actors and others. Gates open at noon Friday. Three-day passes are $100 in advance and $125 at the gate. No single-day passes sold. For more information, go to fieldsfestival.com.

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