The genesis of the Fields Festival was one part accidental, one part deliberate. Amanda Schmidt got an email from a listserv that alerted recipients to a cool nearby campground called Ramblewood. She had an idea to use it as the site of a camping music and arts festival.
Stewart Mostofsky saw the same post, and had the same general idea. For about a week, Schmidt and Mostofsky planned their respective events separately, but a mutual friend put them in touch, and they joined forces.
The first Fields, in 2014, was a kind of haven for local weird-cool music kids — the lineup at the Susquehanna State Park event included Baltimore stalwarts like Dan Deacon and Lexie Mountain Boys. It was such a hit — and such a draining experience for its organizers — that there was no festival in 2015.
But this year, it’s back, Friday through Sunday at the same site, which is off Interstate 95 near Darlington, Maryland. If the 2014 gathering was somewhat of a haven, the 2016 version is a full-on sanctuary, with more than 70 musical acts (including Deacon again, along with Future Islands, Juliana Huxtable and many more) performing.
“We’re dreamers and we’re doers and we just can’t do it any other way.”
This isn’t just a music and camping festival, the founders are quick to point out. For Schmidt, bringing in other artistic elements was of the utmost importance. This means visual and sound installations, theater, film, poetry, performance art and dance. And both Schmidt and Mostofsky like to tout the event’s “wellness” activities — including yoga, herb massage, tarot and Reiki-attuned candles.
“The multi-sensory, immersive, integrative aspect of kind of wandering around and there’s just arts everywhere” is the dream, Schmidt says. “Like you’re camping out there and you’re suddenly a part of this new world and it’s just all around you, that was really an inspiration for me and that’s something I really wanted to bring to the table.”
The two founders had somewhat overlapping reasons for wanting to plan a festival. For Schmidt, it was attending similar events and not loving the tunes, but loving the camping and overall atmosphere.
“I remember thinking ‘OMG it’s so amazing, camping out in nature,’” Schmidt says. “It’s like a vacation with a ton of other people with shared interests and you’re all kind of making this new home for yourself for the weekend and I think there’s something really beautiful about the communal aspect of it.”
Mostofsky grew up going to sleepaway camps and credits his astrological sign — Sagittarius — for his love of all things nature. (Schmidt says there’s a lot of Sagittarius in her, too.)
“The sense of community that would form in those situations was very powerful and definitely left a strong impression on me,” Mostofsky says.
Both Schmidt and Mostofsky were deeply entrenched in the Baltimore music and art scenes before planning their first Fields Fest. Schmidt, who works by day as a freelance writer of educational content, co-founded DIY space The Soft House. Mostofsky, a neurologist by trade, has run Ehse Records for over a decade.
When asked if it was hard managing all the aspects a multi-sensory festival, the pair laughs out loud before the question is finished.
“Sorry to laugh out loud — it’s so hard to juggle this,” Schmidt says. “Yeah, it’s crazy.”
No other way
Schmidt and Mostofsky say it helps that they’re totally in sync in one important area.
“We’re dreamers and we’re doers and we just can’t do it any other way, and yes that means sometimes taking on too much and sacrificing in certain ways,” Mostofsky says.
Now that they’re into their third year of running the event, they know exactly what kind of tone they want to set.
“The vibe is one [that is] both celebratory as well as thoughtful, sort of at the same time,” Mostofsky says. All the artists are at the top of their game, he says — it’s basically high art.
Schmidt is a little hesitant to use that phrase, but she basically agrees.
“I think there’s something more humble and gentle and loving,” says Schmidt. “But at the same time very inspiring and transformative.”