Written by Sam Stratton
Photos by Bradford Watkins
It was about high noon on the 18th of May, my Pontiac Grand Prix climbed the steep dirt hill separating the main route way from Fort Royal Farms, the home of Domefest in Bedford Pennsylvania. At the top, a gentleman in a reflective shirt asked my preferences on camping in the woods versus in the field. I felt the sun beat down above me on what was probably the hottest day of the year so far. Opting for the woods, my car slowly rolled down the path leading into the woods, officially starting the erratic weekend that would be Domefest.
And so started the arduous process of moving my camping gear from my car to my campsite. Grabbing my gear, I slammed shut my trunk probably harder than I meant to, kicking up some dust. My nose started to twitch and itch and I sneezed. Immediately, around 10 people yelled “god bless you!” to me at once. It was right then I knew it was going to be a good weekend. On the second trip to my car I noticed that one of my soon-to-be neighbors were using a rake to clean up the foundation of their site. Knowing a good idea when I see one, I walked over and made friends with a guy named Wilson. After some friendly introductions, he was kind enough to let me use his rake to clear up a spot for myself. About a minute through that weird stretch of a dance of trying to set up a canopy by yourself, a guy by the name of Joe leaped over a stump sliding over the leaves into my site. Without asking any questions he grabbed one end and began pulling back. Yeah, it was definitely gonna be a good weekend.
Camp was set up and I had decided it was time to get my bearing on the area, as in it was time to explore. I walked to the top of the mountain, behind me people and cars shuffled along the rocky path to the bottom. When returning from my short hike the view downhill had stabilized. Tents were pitched, flags were hoisted, cars were parked and people were settled. Now that I had reached the furthest corners of the campgrounds, I decided it was time to check out some music. On the way down I was met with different campsites all around. Some had quaint little additions like fake flowers or welcome mats, while others had large custom tapestries and personally made enclosures, lights and all. Some were bare of decoration save the patrons standing around full of energy, their body language spilling excitement for the next few days.
The woods led out to a stretch of rolling field. One by one cars slowly rolled in carrying people who had just made the choice to camp out in a field for the weekend. At the other end of the field was an even deeper dip into the valley. Within the mouth of the treeline was an old worn looking staircase. Notches cut into the Earth were embedded with a thick log pronounced at every step. At the base of the steps was a small rickety wooden bridge leaning over a small river. A thin, enchanting archway stood over the bridge, vines wrapped tightly around each end of the archway. Small LED’s hung from the arch way for the added flair once night came around. Passing over the bridge felt like a passage into a completely different forest. This deeper section of the valley had considerably more pine trees and the ground retained moisture much better than by the campgrounds. Tiny wooden walk ways bridged the gaps of poky creeks interrupting the path to the main stage. Further down the path was a sign suspended in the air with glowing light bulb colored letters attached to it. “Welcome Dome!” it read in the cutest bubble font you could imagine.
One of the first things I noticed was a brightly painted sign nailed to a tree. It was the workshop schedule for the weekend. Intro to hoop sessions, poetry workshops and other activity schedules dwelled in bright blue and purple. I made a mental note for yoga the next morning at 11am. A geometric dome and community bonfire sat at the back of the stage area. I strolled over to the stage and Broccoli Samurai was just coming on. For most of the set I couldn’t get over how much fun the keyboardist was having on stage. After an hour or so of consistently groovy jams, the whole crowd rejoiced when they decided to close out the set with a Lotus cover. The Main Squeeze was on next, dropping some of the rawest funk music I had heard in awhile.
In between sets I checked out the vendors lining the outer perimeter of the stage area. It was getting dark, I was hungry, and I didn’t feel like cooking a makeshift meal outside in the dark on a hillside. It was then that I graced myself with a loaded potato from the Loaded Potato booth. The loaded potato, which was literally just a steamed potato with a bunch of fresh veggies and cheese inside it, was a great reminder to appreciate the simple things. The only gripe I had with the fest was that it took me until then to figure out that the only water station in the venue was located halfway behind the stage, as far from the campgrounds as possible.
I hung back in the crowd digesting and watched Pigeons play their first set of the weekend. And as always they hopped up on stage and turned the place into a circus. When I listen to Pigeons do their thing, I swear I can hear the fun they have in every strum and beat.
The next morning I woke up and checked the time. My phone read 10:45am. Perfect. I grabbed a banana and headed down for morning yoga. A chant heavy yoga session my stomach growled for roughage and protein. I sat at my campsite and tried to make the perfect omelette with all the diligence I could muster. “Wook things! Wook things for sale!” Shouted one of the neighboring campsites. Popping my head into their camp site, I asked if wook things included ketchup. Figures that it didn’t.
With a satisfied appetite, a fixing for music, and an outfit perfectly appropriate for the night’s pajama party, my feet brought me back to the thick pajama ridden crowd for Electric Love Machine. Their groovy rhythms reverberated through the crowd, causing people to move and hips to swing when some didn’t even mean to. ELM’s crisp livetronic sound made for a smooth transition into The G-Nome Project. As the ambassadors to Israel’s own jamtronica scene, the band could not have been representing with a better attitude. With an urge to dance almost as prominent as the audience before them, their hypnotic effect heavy jams caressed the crowd, lulling them into the rhythmic adventure that was their set. Shortly after was one of the most anticipated acts of the weekend; Consider the Source. Progressive, heavy and a little exotic, the middle eastern sci-fi jazz fusion trio rocked the crowd up and down until their scheduled set came to a close.
Vibe and Direct filled in the slots between main stage sets and killed it every time, making sure the psychedelic flow of the evening wasn’t interrupted by anyone or anything, especially not an absence of music.
With a light show as rambunctious as their music, Pigeons sat back grounded in the limelight and let another set rip. But it wasn’t until the third and final night, when they would play not one but two sets, that the flock would really come out to play. Unfortunately I was worn out by this point and called it a night before I could capture Litz’ performance. But that didn’t keep other people from telling me how much I missed out, and how deep, intimate, and bassily strange Mateo Monk’s late night set was.
Due to the cold and cloudy weather I was able to sleep in till noon, a rarity at most summer music festivals. Considering the temperature I decided to continue the pajama party, and I wasn’t the only one. Under the clouds the stage sat, hosting my first performance of the day, a band called Strange Machines. Leaning a little towards a livetronica aspect while being firmly planted in the Jam genre, the bands slight reggae influence was a great way to start my day. Then came Matteo Monk. A one man band with beatpad, flute, and several other instruments, Mateo’s bassy sound was a tasty spice over a complete meal in terms of the fest’s line up.
Though I somehow missed both The Fritz and Swift Technique, I did manage to catch Scrambled Greg’s set, Pigeon’s lead singer’s side project. Equipped with nothing but a guitar, his voice, and a pedal or two, Greg showcased his personal musical skills to anyone listening.
Aqueous played the main stage before Pigeons while Deaf Scene filled in the gaps with several heavier sets, one of them being a Tool cover set. Bringing the definition of jam rock on stage with them, Aqueous set the bar for the final night of Domefest, a challenge that two sets of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong were ready for. Shortly after started the late night stage with Lespecial. They took the stage and made it their own, blasting the crowd with their original brand of “death-funk.” Following the and closing out the festival was once again Electric Love Machine.
All in all this weekend ran like a picturesque example of what a small local music festival should feel like. From the music, to the community, to the all around vibe, Domefest was an amazing festival to start my season off with.