Sleepy Creek Presents: Harfest
Oct 6-9, 2016, Berkeley Springs, WV
Written by Elise Olmstead
As we settle into the fall, I get excited about spending time with my family and celebrating harvest traditions. Sleepy Creek Harfest, Oct 6-9, 2016, was a perfect opportunity to ring in October with some great friends close to home. The venue at Sleepy Creek Campground in Berkeley Springs, WV, hosts three festivals a year including Sleepy Creek Spring Dig and Brokedown Floatdown, and each one has a huge share of repeat attendees with new friends joining in all the time. The festivals are organized by Danny Moore of Brokedown Hustlers, who also play a set at each one. The enthusiastic fan base and lighthearted spirit of their music carries a vibe throughout the event.
The campground is home to many who keep their camper year-round on the property and these folks join in the party as well. The land features a permanent stage with a wooden roof where all acts play, often decorated by tie-dye backdrops, but this time decorated with large cicada and owl cutouts that lit up during the night with John Suntiger’s projections. Late night campfire jams were led by National Headliner each night after the main stage music ended around 1AM.
Thursday night, there was only two bands that played, but it was the perfect amount for Taco, and I, who arrived at sunfall with his daughter Cheyenne in tow. The Plank Stompers, a bluegrass band from Bluemont, VA, started off the night at 8PM with their funky ruckus, then we all gathered around the raging fire pit (which recently got a beautiful new upgrade with a huge brick ring surrounding it) while Squaring the Circle took the stage at 10PM. Their experimental jam sound defied most genres I tried to pinhole them into, and eventually laid back and let them take me for an improvisational ride. They played an especially good “Eleanor Rigby” cover, which was the only song I was able to pinpoint, and by the end of the set my fandom for the band was renewed.
The night continued with plenty of catching up with friends and drinking of wine, and the night was still glowing orange from the fire when we retreated back to the tent. I managed to wake up early at 10AM (early for a festival) in order to make it for a yoga session with Lisa Glassman. We were peacefully serenaded by a harp player and guitar player while we gently stretched. I felt so relaxed and rejuvenated afterwards, just in time for a nap and a wake up lunch of barbeque tofu prepared by some of my favorite people, Michael Tucker and his wife Tara.
I sidled up a camp chair next to Leslie Caneda, who was live painting a beautiful “Fruitdala” (mandala made up of fruit) just in time for Old Line Trio, who I felt appropriately named since their sound was very traditional bluegrass. My favorite songs they played were the ones with less lyrics and more fiddle. Then Scott Raughton, emcee, introduced the next band by saying, “If you have any dirty dishes bring them up here, because this is The Plate Scrapers.” The hard driving bluegrass band mixed styles old and new to keep you on your toes. One of my favorite bands of the evening was Shepherdstown, WV’s own Luke Johnson Band. Luke plays the piano and sings songs ranging from jam, to blues and rock ‘n’ roll, and played some delightful covers of songs like Nirvana’s “Lithium” and Red Hot Chili Peppers “Aeroplane.”
As we walked up to greet BIG Something, we spotted a beautiful rainbow in the sky, which seems to be a repeat occurrence at Sleepy Creek Campground. It seems the festival gods were shining down on us that day. We talked to the BIG Something guys as well as The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers, who played their set next. The four piece band led by Gary Antol on guitar and mandolin, and Libby Eddy on fiddle, played a cover of “I Know You Rider,” as well as a brand new original called “Scattered Pieces.” Brokedown Hustlers took a headlining spot at 9PM, and their high energy playful music was full of laughter from lyricist August West’s great sense of humor. He jokingly dedicated a song to his father, which he said was a “serious” song, but was about a bottle of liquor, and he claimed that peaceful musician Mateo Monk “seems nice, until he stabs you in the eyes with his flute in an alley.”
BIG Something then raged the last set on the main stage, and once again like I do at many of their sets, I find myself up front surrounded by friends. They played originals like “Love Generator” and “Megaladon” and some creative covers like “Teenage Wasteland” by The Who, and “Wake Up” by Rage Against the Machine. After their set, National Headliner kept the music going with a jam session around the fire, and we wandered and chatted with our friends Ben and Nicole until the early morning hours.
Saturday morning it rained lightly, the drizzle keeping us cozy in our tent. Lucky for us, the rain ended around noon, but the ground was still very soft. Thank goodness it wasn’t my first rodeo and I had my tank boots to get me through. The sound of Mateo Monk’s music got me ready for the day, playing many new songs from his new album State of Affairs, using live looping techniques combined with his guitar and jazz flute. Another Shepherdstown band,The Fox Hunt, raged the stage, and raged on the stage, getting the party started at 3 in the afternoon. The wild sentiment continued for The Hillbilly Gypsies, when someone not-so-slyly tried to climb on the stage, looking over his shoulder and smiling like a toddler who knows he’s being bad. Dangermuffin was scheduled to take the 7:30PM slot, but due to the hurricane hitting South Carolina, they were unable to make it. They were in our thoughts, but we were glad to welcome LITZ, who came to save the slot. After their funky LITZ jams, Black Masala impressed the crowds with an explosive set full of unique world music influences and led by high energy vocalist Kristen Long, who flailed about the stage encouraging the audience to do the same.
People’s Blues of Richmond ended the evening, and this Richmond based band has been on a whirlwind tour trying to keep up with their rapidly expanding fan base. The trio is a powerhouse of rock ‘n’ roll blues, Matthew Volkes keeping the bass line funky, Neko Williams shredding the drums with cat-like reflexes, and Tim Beavers lending his signature Jack White-esque voice and personality along with raunchy guitar shreds. They played a high energy set, but were too tired for an encore. After the main stage shut down, the campfire jams began, with members of National Headliner and Batman, formerly of Bat’s Dynamic String Band.
The weekend was definitely one to remember and a great way to cap off the season with some good friends. The anxiety that often overcomes me when going to a festival is non-existent at Sleepy Creek, because I’m comfortable there. I know so many people feel the same and consider the festivals held there like a home away from home with all of their closest friends. Thank you Danny Moore and Brokedown Hustlers for hosting this colorful group of people!