Written By: Matthew Thompson
A genuine “Welcome home!” is likely the first thing you will hear when you get to The Night Lights Festival. You may not know it yet, but it will slowly start to dawn on you that you are indeed home. Tucked away just east of North Harmony State Forest in Sherman, NY, a musical playground called The Heron hosts a three-day musical journey shared with some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. This festival is a neatly orchestrated ocean of lights and camp sites that split three stages shared by some amazing musical acts, surrounded by explorable exhibits and nature.
After setting up camp you have a ton of things to see, from amenities to activities. Some amenities include: The Great Blurrito, a restaurant connected to the main stage that offers snack food, such as grilled cheese and stuffed potatoes, and meals like burritos and naked grass-fed chuck burgers (they also serve breakfast); The Café Stage flanks the main wooded campgrounds with comfort food and makes food convenient at all three stages; an ice station; charging stations; first aid and security; a trash and recycling center so thorough you don’t even need to watch for glass beneath your feet; and a farm store with eggs, meat, and produce grown on the farm, as well as soup, crackers, and much more. This place has pretty much everything you would need to enjoy and be comfortable at the fest. They even had a bath house. This is key as one of the most common questions people ask when you invite them to a festival is “will I be without a shower for three days?” – not at Night Lights!
Activities hosted by the festival and guests, included: yoga to start the days, games, farm tours, communal drum circles that break out anywhere and in designated areas, vendors, a man-made beach, and art exhibits scattered across the public areas that lead you to seemingly endless biking and hiking trails surrounded by explorable woods. The fun doesn’t stop there. There are welcoming people having fun and playing games all over! This makes picking a camp site and setting up quite easy, however, come bedtime, you are at the mercy of those around you. So, if you would rather only hear the wonderful sounds of nature chirping and soothing you to sleep, I would recommend finding a secluded spot or setting up in the designated “quiet sleeping area” that is just beyond earshot of the stages and party. Otherwise, there are a ton of interesting people to hang out with if you tend to be more of a night owl. Smack dab in the middle of the festival grounds you will find the famous Mushroom Walk that is a shiitake yard in a shady hemlock grove where over two thousand logs are producing mushrooms that are sold in many forms in the farm store and picked on tours. Over thirty pounds of fungus was picked to be taken home at this festival alone! There are also a lot of hidden treasures just on the other side of the main road – even more bike trails that weave through woods and the pasture where they hold livestock tours of their grass-fed beef and organic chicken.
The night lights and light exhibits were staged throughout the walking areas and campgrounds that connected the stages. There was a jolly chimp light show with strands of light flowing towards the walkway, a mushroom lounge with a giant illuminated toadstool and benches, and many more light shows; abstract and portrait graffiti murals of all sizes; some of the coolest art was the communal chalk boards provided by the venue and at various campsites – great idea for a souvenir.
All sorts of people gathered at the stages in street clothes and in costume to dance, and to see some amazing artists. Headlined by Papadosio’s space rock tangents and the imaginative compositions of Dopapod, the hits never did stop. Other artists include: Aqueous who put in work for three sets including one as AQoustic; Boss Tweed and the Carpetbaggers got weird, serving up mayhem with a creamy side of grilled cheese straight to the crowd and they also had a surprise appearance by rapper Brandi “Fresco” Carlini. These masked marauders could be stopped if someone could figure out who the hell they are, but no one ever wants them to be stopped; I also know SunSquabi rocked the stage because I heard a bunch of people humming their riffs as they left the stage. So much memorable music!
A special shout out to Aqueous and Mungion. Aqueous volunteered their equipment to Mungion who had their van, trailer, and all of their equipment stolen on their way to the festival. These guys were still able to have one of the hottest sets of the weekend and they played their funkin’ hearts out. Go give their tunes a listen and maybe donate to help them get back on their feet. https://www.gofundme.com/ky8ec4-mungion-needs-your-help
This festival draws the perfect crowd for being held on a community building farm. It’s a beautiful thing to see so many patrons working to keep their personal and festival space clean of trash and bending over backwards to help one another. From the people helping strangers tote their gear into the woods to my man Calvin. This dude heard that my car needed a jump and immediately cranked up his van to lend a hand regardless of friend passed out in back. There were countless acts of kindness being committed. The staff is also extremely helpful and nice, as the majority of them are also there for the music and to have a great time.
On Thursday I left home on a long road ready for a weekend full of great music, camping in nature, and lights, not entirely sure what to expect. I ended up with great company, stunning art, and a rapidly growing community full of amazing people and ideas. On Sunday, my brain wanted to stay but my body was ready to go. The scenic ride through state parks was the perfect way to reflect on the adventure that I had, and let my imagination go on about what could come and how I can better prepare for next year.