Strange Creek 2011: Same Creek, Different Vibe
What happens when the very quality that makes something so unique is the same quality that seemingly exploits it? When the “special thing” that sets something apart is the very same thing that allows it to gain popularity?
I found myself pondering such quandaries during my time at Strange Creek Music Festival, held last weekend in Greenfield, Mass., as I frolicked among the hippies who also opted to spend their Memorial Day weekends dancing in a field eating grilled cheeses rather than sitting at a barbecue eating guacamole.
I’m sure there is some poetic expression for this type of thing- nothing gold can stay? All good things must come to an end? If a tree falls in the woods… nah, not that one.
Certainly the implication that Strange Creek is “coming to an end” is a false one, considering the festival sold out for the first time in its 9-year history last weekend. But, while the Western Mass festy- known for its intimate number of attendees and strong familial vibe- has gained major popularity over the years, it also may have lost something along the way.
The biggest problem with this year’s festival (which happened last year but wasn’t as noticeable with the smaller crowd) was the camping situation. Strange Creek attendees are used to sleeping in the cool shade of the Camp Keewanee woods, but apparently the town of Greenfield got pissed and rezoned the woods, which led to a huge chunk of the normal camping area being blocked off by yellow tape because it was now considered “private property.”
A third of the camping space being gone, plus the most ticket sales ever, equaled a bunch of crowded hippies. (And a bunch of pissed off Hells Angels. I swear we didn’t move that yellow tape…) Before the end of the day on Friday, festival workers were opening up the parking lot for camping because there was just. no. space.
Of course, due to the excess amount of people there was an excess amount of security- much more than I’ve seen at past Strange Creeks. But who can blame them? When you’re dealing that many bodies in that small of a space, maintaining everyone’s safety becomes harder and harder.
It also seems that every year a notable band is missing from the main stage line-up. Last year, Rubblebucket and Playin’ Dead (who thankfully returned this year for an awesome Saturday afternoon set), and this year Zach Deputy. It’s a real catch 22. Many of these bands get their start at Strange Creek, work their way through the time slots, and by the time they have enough of a following to get to the main stage they’re “too big” and want more money or else they won’t play.
One of my biggest selling points of this festival was the fact that you could get separated from your friends and literally bump into them while you walked around. This year was the first time that I A.) had to call or text friends to meet up with them, and B.) didn’t see friends that I knew were there (probably because I didn’t do A).
I chatted with a festy-goer who I’d met at Strange Creek the previous year and we discussed how much bigger it had gotten. Even the fire pit that we were sitting around was way more crowded than it should be at 7:30 on a Sunday morning. It wasn’t that there was a “bad” vibe- I still think that may be an impossibility at this festival- but it was almost a lack-of-a-vibe vibe. “It feels diluted,” he said to me.
It’s similar to the whole Multiplicity theory (I’ve referenced this film way too many times on this website). You can liken Michael Keaton’s character cloning himself to what happens when a friend tells a friend about Strange Creek. After one or two times it’s still pretty sweet. But as the chain gets bigger, the sense of closeness and family that Strange Creekers have come to know and love gets lost in translation (like how the fourth Keaton clone is retarded). I can see it in my own group of friends- last year I camped with two other people. This year I camped with nine other people.
I’m sure to many the idea that letting more people in on the fun that is Strange Creek could be considered negative is crazy. And of course it’s crazy. It’s selfish to think that something so special could be claimed as your own, unchanged and untarnished by the masses.
But when a festival once cherished for its intimacy is suddenly exposed, you can’t help but wonder what its future holds.
It’s kind of like that expression, “they say if you love something let it go.” Actually.. ah, dammit, still not the right one.