Written by Alejandro Beach
Photography by Nick James
Months ago, when I was still cooking at a diner in Pittsburgh to make ends meet, a customer asked me where I was from. “I’m from a town near Clarion, called Rockland.” Not expecting him to have the slightest inkling of an idea where the isolated pocket of civilization, deep in the heart of rural northwest Pennsylvania was. To my surprise, his face lit up, and he asked, “Do you know where Brookville is? I have a camp up there.” With this, he had my attention. “Yeah, I visit Brookville about every other year for a small festival called FarmJammaLamma.” To which the customer eagerly nodded and responded, “I know all about FarmJam, my camp is really close to it. Those guys REALLY like to party, huh?”
You’re damn right they do.
I don’t always get to attend a festival that is the full package. Somewhere that from the moment you set foot, to the moment you leave, is one of those few places where your body and soul bound effortlessly and untamed. It’s a place where natural beauty meets the tireless effort of a group of artists and others for the purest of collaborative communities. FarmJammaLamma feels like home because, well, it is home.
FarmJam was the first music festival I ever attended. At the time, and maybe even up until this year, I didn’t have a full understanding of the magic that this plot of land hosts every year. FarmJam is a two-day event that showcases a mix of grassroots rock, jam, fusion, bluegrass, and more. Most of this talent hails from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With that, a tight-knit community of western Pennsylvanian natives converges on Brookville, PA each 4th of July weekend to celebrate on the Farm owned by the Golier family. Holding true its name, the one and only stage at FarmJam is the barn itself which is situated at the foot of a hill that produces a natural amphitheater when complemented by the tree line splitting into a small clearing atop a hill which also just happens to be one of the most scenic camping spots on the grounds (not that the Farm is by any means lacking in beautiful camping spots). Also, to clarify, when I say barn, what I really mean is a psychedelic spaceship filled with artwork on every wall and in every corner. Much of the artwork hanging in the barn is provided by none other than Pittsburgh-based painter/graphic designer, Pierce Marratto. A FarmJam regular who also lends his talent to the creation of the poster artwork for the festival each year, Marratto’s artwork provides an added layer of depth to the barn that truly brings the structure to life in a special way. The rabbit hole of a barn is also home to a wide array of items ranging from, but not limited to, flags, black lights, a full-sized traffic stoplight (where they hell did they even get that?), and more. Throughout the day, you’ll find attendees from all walks of life passing through the barn and posting up just outside to catch some shade from the single, tree directly stage left to the barn. About a hundred yards away, into the field, lay a massive and disorganized pile of wooden planks; by Saturday it will be reordered into a stack resembling a twenty to thirty foot high wooden tee-pee. FarmJam, beyond one of the most dazzling and mind-bending barn-turned-stages you’ll ever see, doesn’t focus too much on the production frills that you’ll see at larger festivals, and that’s just fine because the focus is on the people, the natural beauty, and of course the music.
Like I said earlier, Pittsburgh, PA is where the majority of the acts call home. From headliners Beauty Slap, Starship Mantis, and The Clock Reads, to name a few, a lot of these bands are heavily rooted in the Pittsburgh jam scene. Pittsburgh locals The Glenn Strother Project, and the Derek Woods Band also made appearances this year for what were electrifying sets. Even though the majority of the acts do hail from the Pittsburgh area, by no means does that mean that other bands haven’t traveled long distances to perform at the Farm. Saturday night late night closers, Karmic Juggernaut, traveled from New Jersey to deliver one of the most simultaneously mind-blowing and hilarious sets of the weekend, complete with a massive, lip-synching monster puppet being controlled by the lead vocalist during parts of their set. Notable highlights from the weekend include an extended late night set from Pittsburgh electro-jam staple, Chalk Dinosaur (featuring multiple sit ins throughout the night/early morning), a set from funk scene up and comers, Funky Fly Project, a band consisting of some of the most talented teenagers that I’ve ever seen perform live, and Friday night headliner Beauty Slap almost literally burning the barn down with their signature brass meets electronic get down music. Saturday night headliners Starship Mantis also brought the heat with their unmistakable space funk launching the barn into orbit before The Clock Reads took the stage for one of their most solid performances I’ve seen so far, including tons of music off of their recently released album, Inner Peaks.
Saturdays at FarmJam are arguably one of my favorite days of the entire year. As a force of habit, I make my way to the top of the tallest hill and watch the sunset over a panoramic vista of breathtaking Pennsylvania rolling hills. Shortly after the sun sets is the annual fire lighting ceremony, which anyone can take part in, complete with a fireworks show that seems to get more extravagant every year, and a multitude of Chinese lanterns being released into the twilight sky. As an added bonus, Philadelphia-based funk quartet, Minka, left quite the lasting first impression as they brought down the house (err, barn) during their set which coincided with the fire lighting ceremony. To this day, I’ve never seen a fire as large as the one at FarmJam, and to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised or disappointed if I never do see one like it again.
FarmJammaLamma is everything you could ask it to be: family, community, art, and a showcase of some of the most dedicated local and regional music in the area. On top of serendipitously beautiful weather, stress free camp-by-your-car sites, and grounds that are simple to navigate, FarmJams’ production team offers attendees a seamless experience from start to finish, and staff is there to help at any time. The owners, Kevin and Jodie, are some best people you could ask to host a music festival. Now going into its twelfth year (aptly named the Dirty D), FarmJam shows no signs of stopping any time soon, and as long as it continues to be fueled primarily by the bustling Pittsburgh music scene, will remain alive and strong for years to come.