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Wassaic Project Festival’s 9th: Bridging art and community

with reporting by Arvolyn Hill
by Antonia Shoumatoff
Wed Aug 10th, 2016

"Mail the Horse" jamming at the Wassaic Festival, Photo by Tony Turner
All other photos by Tonia Shoumatoff

August 5-7, 2016: Book binding workshops, local jam and jellies, children’s dance classes, feverish Salsa reminiscent of old Spanish Harlem, international short films, were some of the intriguing offerings at the Wassaic Project Festival this year.  Brooklyn hipsters locked arms with local firemen, fancy guests from Connecticut could feel the beat, all emanating a sense of inclusivity and unity.  There was even a spontaneous peace ceremony at the town peace pole in front of the Lantern on Sunday afternoon after all the festivities were over.

Throughout the afternoon on Saturday bluegrass and cello harmonies echoed through the valley charming families with children in strollers.  The North East Community Center Teen Team Leadership Program ran a taco truck, the Farm Concession served locally grown fare and quinoa burgers, and some imaginative dinner options came from Millerton’s Oakhurst Diner.  Flower crowns and decorative items were available for sale.

The O'Farrell triplets from Sherman, Connecticut, made fiber art antennae at the art nest in Maxon Mills

Musical highlights were the very strangely and hilariously attired Breastfist singing a song called “A Licking:” “Live together, Die together ,Thick skin, Made of leather….Birds of feather, Flock together….” Other groups such as People’s Champs featured afrobeat and South American dance rhythms, and Phony PPL had more of an R & B vintage afro astral beat sound.   An audio treat was listening to Bill Yitalo’s Balinese Gamelan instruments on the Maxon Mills stage on Sunday afternoon.

Arvolyn Hill reported: As the afternoon music started up Lady Moon and The Eclipse made their way to the stage with locks filled with flowers in their hair and white paint on their face. Ngonda Badila the lead singer led a soulful set along with an multicultural band of Afrobeat and R&B influenced rhythms with lyrics that highlighted social issues of injustice. 

Lady Moon & The Eclipse (Tony Turner)

The band 79.5 transitioned the festival from golden hour to dawn playing a Psychedelic R&B set at the Luther Barn stage. The diverse seven person band combined vocals, guitar, electric keyboard, bass and drums to create a chill sound similar to Little Dragon or Erykah Badu.     

The guys of Phonyppl were seen playing around near the campsites and bonfire sliding down the hill on skateboards and laughing with one another earlier in the afternoon. The young all black male band includes lead vocalist Elbee Thrie, rapper Sheriff PJ, keyboardist Aja Grant, bassist Bari Bass, guitarist Elijah Rawk and on the drums Matt Maffyuu. Under the name Phonyppl the guys were the headlining band for the festival. They vibe was funk, R&B mixed with rap and strong instrumental musicianship. They played songs from their 2015 album Yesterday’s Tomorrow.  Their smooth vibe attracted both the older and younger crowds. My favorite a song entitled ‘Why iii Love the Moon.’ Phonyppl has played at the Blue Note Club as well as The Metropolitan Museum in New York City. 

Phony Ppl's Elbee Thrie

New this year to the festival was a small flea market between the train tracks and the Maxon Mill. Megan Callanan bartender at the Lantern Inn also sells vintage clothes under the name, Sour Jane Vintage. Callanan had her vintage picks for sale at the festival. Meredith Goldstein and Christine Dutton of Natural Abundance, sold silks dyed naturally using plants grown at the small garden next to Maxon Mills. Artist Ryann Slauson sold her handmade patches of characters like Pickachu and Scooby Doo.  Arvolyn Hill sold her handmade dreamcatchers and flower crowns.

On Saturday night we were intrigued to see a huge tipi lit up from inside amidst a sea of tents.  A gigantic bonfire with huge logs courtesy of Jeff Viola had sparks that lit up the sky and could not be distinguished from the many stars that could be seen that evening. Young musicians strummed on guitars while others watched the bonfire, mesmerized.


Camping Village for hundreds of visitors at the Wassaic Festival

We spoke to Jeff Barnett-Winsby who indicated that the Project will be putting smaller but more frequent arts specific events throughout the  year. He said that some of the Wassaic Project’s most satisfying work is the hands on arts projects they do in the Webutuck Schools working one on one with students and making a difference in their lives.

Carol and Mark Lapidos, Founders of the fabulous Beatles Fest, came upfrom Montclair, New Jersey to be part of the Wassaic Project Festival