Bless the Woods Festival Review

June 9-13, 2016, Fairplay, MD

Written by James Shartzer

Photos by Amy McKee


Good food, great music, fantastic vibes, & the best of friends. All these things and so much more describe the Bless The Woods music festival. Hidden down the backroads of Fairplay, MD, BTW calls the Woodmen of the World campground home. In its fifth year, this annual event brings friends and family together every June to raise awareness for Lyme’s Disease, with all of the proceeds going to benefit those who suffer from it. With many of the attendees multiyear veterans of BTW, it shows that it is an event by the people, for the people.

Two rolling fields made up the campground, with a thick tree line separating the two except for a single gravel road at the far end. The first field was parking and the campground for the vendors, staff, and artists. The second field was where the stage was located along with a few booths with general supplies for sale, information on Lyme’s Disease and a few hot food vendors. The field was inclined in the back half, resembling stadium bleachers, giving all the onlookers a good view. The front half however, was much flatter and was frequently transformed into a dance floor.

The music at BTW was absolutely astonishing, while not many bands were very well-known, every single artist that performed was extremely talented. Asking around, everyone seemed excited for a different group. The genres varied from funky jam bands like Leo & Cygnus and Trailheads to heady reggae acts like Secondhand and The Reef with late night performances by more psychedelic sets by Humandala and Close to Consideration. Many of the artists were also veterans of BTW, returning for their second and third years.

The stage’s backdrops were tie-dyed tapestries and the front housed a large white owl cutout in the center with two smaller white butterfly cut-outs. Lights were projected onto them revealing abstract patterns. The entrancing light show only added to the ambience of the enthralling beats. Beside the stage was an easel with paints readily available allowing everyone to come and paint. It was very interesting to watch the piece of art progress through the festival as more and more was added to it. The painting was then raffled off with all proceeds going to Lyme’s Disease.

The festival this year ran June 9th to the 13th, the longest it has ever been. Thursday the 9th was a beautiful sunny day for the vendors to set up, staff to get organized, and early arrivers to grab the prime real estate and chat up their neighbors for the weekend. Although no bands were scheduled to play, later in the evening Trailheads, an instrumental funk band with an otherworldly saxophone player, gave a stellar performance to kick off the celebration early. The smell of BTW BBQ and the authentic Jamaican jerked chicken set up beside the stage enticed the hunger out of the audience. After a few more great sets, the night was brought to a close with a set by Humandala, a wicked groovy psychedelic group that never ceases to amaze.

Friday, the first full day of the festival, was just as sunny as the previous, with a nice breeze, keeping the temperature in check. The day was spent basking in the sunlight shopping amongst the vendors. There were a few folks selling tie-dye, others selling art & other crafts and one roving vendor had gorgeous rocks & geodes.  One vendor even had an entire tent of live performances on DVD ranging from Cream to Black Sabbath and everything in between. On the stage, Leo & Cygnus, an indie rock group with harmonizing male & female vocals that just blew me away, along with Fractal Cat, a six piece experimental groove band with a member who played both flue & saxophone (not at the same time of course). Pete Lancaster & Stack O’ Blues switched things up with their bluesy sound.

Saturday was more or less the climax day. Mother Nature had decided to turn up the heat a few notches, but that didn’t slow anyone down. The smell of breakfast wraps made by the wrap & smoothie vendor whose name escapes me filled the campsite as many sat around the smoldering fire discussing the previous night & the night to come. The artists of the day had definitely brought their A game. Wise Eyes, a hard folk band from Bowie MD, blew the crowd away with songs like “The One” and had the crowd singing along with “Secrets of the Ohhs”. After their performance, I was lucky enough to meet up the band and when I asked them their opinion of the festival, all they had to say was “Bless The Woods? Fuck yeah!” They also went on to describe it as a place for bare feet & good vibes. Later on Secondhand performed, which was the host’s band. They were a five piece reggae dub rock group who had the crowd dancing & singing. The late night was dominated by Hexbelt, an insanely funky five piece that had everyone on their feet.

Sunday was a much mellower day. Many slept in after draining themselves the night before, a lot of people hung around the camping areas, talking with their newfound friends about everything & nothing at the same time. The music did not play quite as late as the other nights, and the night was concluded with a drum circle by the staff fire pit. The good vibes & love were very present, it all felt like one big family.

Monday came and many headed out early. As the morning went on, the field became more & more barren. The state that the venue was in when I headed out was stellar. All the trash had been put in the proper areas, there was no litter, no abandoned campsites, and even the portable toilets had managed to stay as clean as a public toilet can be. I even spoke to a volunteer who had commented on how wonderful it was to see everyone pitching in and doing their part. It truly showed what kind of people attended the festival.

Bless The Woods is a celebration to do just that; a time for this great big festival family to get together in the woods and bless it. There is no better way to spend a weekend than with good folks and good music. This year was big, but next year will be bigger, so hopefully next year I’ll see you in the woods.