Written by Kristan Whitlow Hughes
Photographed by Kristan Whitlow Hughes of KristanRVA
The first annual Weekend at Wolfies camping music festival was held June 13th – June 15th, 2019, at Fort Royale Farm in the Southern Allegheny Mountains of Bedford, Pennsylvania (also home to Domefest, the Circle at Hemlock Groove, Summerisle Burn, among others) and is about 15 miles North of the Maryland state border. Hosted by Bumpin Uglies, this all-ages reggae influenced festival has it all: single day pass or weekend pass options, a reserved group camping site, and a Kids Camp section for those who brought their whole family.
With roughly 500 attendees, Weekend at Wolfies was a home to many first time festival goers and offered an eclectic mix of music styles for everyone to enjoy. The venue is located off scenic Bedford Valley Road, a beautiful whirl of rolling hills and quaint farms with storybook red barns. I was taking in the rays of light over Evitt’s Mountain as I pulled into the venue’s main entrance.
Main Gate entrance in to Weekend at Wolfies
A box office stood at the end of the farm’s main road, giving individuals check-in procedures. Friendly staff offered extra trash bags, pointed out the lost and found, and explained morning curbside trash pick up and their “leave no trace” policy. They provided a venue map that included a daily schedule along with the location of the Bear Care Medical Tent and the free Solar Charging Station near the main stage. That’s right, FREE!, as compared to the daily fee that many festivals would charge for access. The one on one interaction and staff care reminded me as to why small festivals are so special.
Unfortunately, I was unable to arrive on Thursday to take in the first day of the festival. Gates opened at noon which gave attendees time to check in and pick their perfect camping spot before Saltwater Slide hit the main stage at 6:00 p.m. Upon leaving the box office, guests ascended straight up a rocky steep incline with a Squirtle art piece pointing the direction for cars and RVs to turn ahead. Thursday night brought torrential rains and winds; this did not stop fans from catching BU’s acoustic evening set or dancing with Humandala late into the night, but it did lead to a slippery voyage to and from the main stage. Minor flooding and mud did cause some cars to get stuck on the road while heading to camp,but as always, festival guests form a tightly knit family and help was being offered to anyone that needed it.
By the time I arrived on Friday, the sun was beaming through the clouds and evidence of a muddy Thursday evening had vanished. As I headed up the hill to find my campsite, I saw someone trying to make the walk on foot and rolled down my window to offer him a ride. In turn, he invited me to be his neighbor for the weekend and pointed the way to the best camping location with a breathtaking view of Evitt’s Mountain; my new festival family had already started to form.
View of campers and Evitt’s Mountain at Fort Royale Farm
General Admission camping was spread throughout the shaded woods of Fort Royale Farm and was just a short quarter mile walk from the main stage area. A gravel path led the way to a steep trail with built in steps, guiding guests to a muddy path over a wooden foot bridge with a creek below, and through the alpine trees of the Allegheny Mountains. Art in place along the route acted as a trail guide and I was surprised to see that festival management had already prioritized a quick fix to the muddy slope by laying down hay. The walking route emptied out in to the main stage area which included a neighboring side stage for a few performances in between the main stage set changes. Vendors lined the walking path and included artists, snacks, and Boppin’ Beans Coffee which stayed open 24 hours. WAW had given a heads up on social media that there were no ATMs on site, but most vendors did accept credit cards. I had a chance to chat with Stacey Moore, R.N., of the Bear Care Medical Tent, and we shared our love for festivals and The Jamwich family. This service is run by a group of compassionate and judgement-free certified medical professionals who are prepared to help with any emergency first-aid needs, ranging from cleaning cuts and scrapes, giving out free water and lollipops, or escorting you to their “zen area” which offered a relaxed private room to lay back and an adorable kitty to cuddle.
Art in place acts as trail guide at Weekend at Wolfies
Bear Care Medical Tent
Since I had arrived mid-day Friday and already missed so much great music, I rushed to set up camp and trekked through the woods to catch Tropidelic’s set. My first experience with Tropidelic was three weeks before at Summer Camp Music Festival in Chillicothe, Illinois, and I knew I didn’t want to miss a moment. Their outlandish stage performance along with their mix of hip-hop, reggae, and funk music resonated with me and I had been looking forward to seeing them again at WAW’s. I arrived just in time and as always, the band did not disappoint. Along with a sit in from Brandon Hardesty of BU who they often collaborate with, Derek McBryde climbed on the stage roof with his Sousaphone to rock out a performance while a full drum line walked in front of fans. A staged wrestling match took place between Tropidelic band members and the BU stage hands, who happened to hilariously be identical twins. Derek McBryde undoubtedly won the match with the latest wrestling move I call “The Kiss of Death.”
“Kiss of Death” wrestling move
Tropidelic on stage at Weekend at Wolfies
Derek McBryde of Tropidelic performing from stage roof
Next up was Bumpin’ Uglies, who were due to perform two sets starting at 8:45 p.m. Many attendees were experiencing this as their first festival after following the band as die hard fans for the past nine years and actively keep in touch through the Facebook fan group named Uglies Nation. The moon was exquisite and perfectly positioned behind the tree lines to cast a glow over festival grounds. Fans roared as Hardesty, lead vocals and guitar for Bumpin’ Uglies, stepped on stage with his newly born son and lifted him above the crowd while The Lion King’s “Circle of Life” played in the background. The first set continued with on-stage guests like Tropidelic and they played well known favorites such as “Optimism in F#”, “Serving”, and “Bad Decisions”. There was a pause in the music while a fan had organized this special gathering as the moment he would propose to the love of his life – and she said yes! The second performance from BU was a full set of their 2015 album “Sublime with No One”. Brandon explained to the crowd that as a genre of reggae ska music, they were often compared to Sublime which is what influenced the title of the album. Brandon said, of course, he was a huge Bradley Nowell fan; along with performing the Sublime with No One album in full, they would also pay tribute to Sublime with a few covers. They opened with “Garden Grove” and went on to perform other hits such as “Saw Red” and “40 oz to Freedom.” At roughly 12:30 a.m., Yam Yam took the stage and finished off the night. I took the short stroll back to camp with my flashlight in hand, following the lights throughout the woods to find my destination. For a moment, I paused to take in the stars, the moon, and the smiling faces and friendly hellos from fellow campers walking by me.
Bumpin Uglies starts their set on Friday by presenting Hardesty’s new son to the crowd
Bumpin Uglies on stage at Weekend at Wolfies
Moon glows over attendees at Weekend at Wolfies
The path back to campgrounds lit for night view
I woke early Saturday, eager to catch the scheduled morning group yoga led by Dawn Pruitt and check out the 11:00 a.m. kickball game. My first mission in the mornings is always hot coffee, but I found myself continually pausing on the trail, relishing in the nature surrounding me and admiring the morning songs of the birds in the trees. I felt excited to see Brandon Hardesty circling the festival grounds and taking selfies with fans; another reason why I love small festivals. As I was heading back to camp I could hear the music of Chris Zimmerman, an attendee, who played soft and beautiful notes that set a serene tone for campers starting their day. While exploring GA camping and making new friends I met Ed Payne of Build Productions, who had been working with and following Bumpin’ Uglies for years. We talked about how hard the band had worked to put the festival together, how marvelously organized and successful it was as a first year festival, and our love for BU and their family-like fan base. I made it to the upper field just in time for the start of kickball, and there was Hardesty at the pitching mound leading the game. I was blown away; imagine not only meeting your favorite artist and getting a quick picture, but partaking in a friendly game of kickball with him! A high turn out of kids were also in on the game while taking in the mountain views surrounding them.
Hardesty plays kickball with attendees at Weekend at Wolfies
Backstage, Sophia Hardesty could be seen with baby Auggie strapped to her chest, all smiles and excitement. The artist hospitality area offered beverages, coffee, and scheduled meals. Behind the scenes, you really understood the sense of family the artists had amongst each other and with fellow volunteers. Francesca Belcastro, wife of BU’s Chad Wright and owner of Fraimework Productions, offered her videography talent to create amazing recap videos of the weekend. Ed Payne, whom I had met earlier, could be seen on stage also offering his talented videography skills; WAW was a family effort and you could strongly feel their sense of community. I had a scheduled interview with Bumpin’ Uglies that afternoon and was eagerly anticipating sitting down with them. While Brandon was out chatting with fans, I decided to approach him since I was slightly nervous about our interview and had been fan-girling and following their music closely since seeing them open for Twiddle in 2018. I had no reason to be nervous; we hugged three times, discussed the excitement of the festival, and talked about music we both loved like Bright Eyes, Elliott Smith, and Mihali. We were instantly friends, or as I truly felt, family.
Stationary Pebbles started the day off while attendees relaxed in the grass and enjoyed the perfect weather. Space Koi, The Grilled Lincolns, Brachtopus, and The Quins continued throughout the afternoon playing high energy, upbeat, fun, and lively jams that kept the crowd enthused and excited. I had the chance to talk with the incredibly talented live artist Katelyn Buchan, who was working on a butterfly art piece while relaxing in the grass. Her paintings offered a blacklight glow finish at night which made for an alluring and magical experience. Joey Harkum Band took the stage and I knew he would be memorable for me; both based out of Maryland, he and Hardesty had known each other for years and shared a love for writing and reaching fans through their meaningful lyrics. Joey Harkum was all smiles and offered a relaxed, folk-ish vibe with strong vocals.
Joey Harkam Band on stage Saturday
Live artist Katelyn Buchan
I was sad to leave half way through his set, but it was for the best reason: BU was ready to meet with me backstage. When I arrived, Brandon greeted me and rallied up TJ Haslett (drums), Dave Wolf (vocals/bass), and Chad Wright (vocals/keys/guitar). We walked through camp and found a quiet place to sit and talk.
Brandon, last night you said that hosting a music festival had always been my dream. What was the inspiration as a band for making this come together in 2019?
Brandon: Well, I wouldn’t say it’s always been a dream because I didn’t grow up doing music festivals, but as a band we played our first music festival about seven years ago and it was called Jam at the Dam. Our former booking agent put it together and it kind of just started off as a party in his hometown in a field, and it became a relatively small festiva. It consisted of mostly bands that we played with in the area, around Maryland, some out of state, and it just became a huge reunion of friends. We were all in the same place at the same time gettin’ fucked up and playing music and enjoying each other’s company. I really liked the vibe of that and ever since then I thought it would be cool to do something like that down the road.
So when the festival finally gets here, do you guys get to chill and kick back and relax or is there still a lot of work to be done?
TJ: Everyone’s been pretty much walking around to see if everything’s cool. The first couple days everyone’s had jobs, like me and Brandon and Wolfie doing lights, or I should say Brandon and Wolfie were doing lights and I kinda just stood there texting.
Brandon: Well that was before the festival started, we got on site Tuesday.
Chad : Yeah we got here on Tuesday, did a bunch of work and got everything pretty ready. Then Wednesday had the vendors show up and got it fully ready, then worked pretty hard Thursday just getting everyone in. Then it just kinda mellowed it.
Brandon: Thursday was definitely the most intense day with some pretty serious responsibilities but since then, yesterday and today are pretty relaxed.
I was telling Brandon how cool it was to see you out and on the grounds – it seems like you have a pretty good volunteer base as well.
TJ : Yeah they’re doing a little bit of everything.
ME: Being a fan and being part of the festival is very rewarding. As a volunteer myself, I can tell you that.
What would you say is one defining characteristic that sets Weekend at Wolfies apart from other music festivals?
Brandon: I mean, it’s Uglies Nation. It’s our fan group. For sure.
Chad : It’s like all the people we see all throughout the country just coming here, our friends that we see in various places. This event got ‘em all together, everyone’s meeting each other.
Brandon: Most of the people that are here have interacted on Facebook for years now, and they’re connected digitally because they like this band, but now everyone’s converging in the same place and it’s beautiful. Whatever your substance of choice is or whether you’re just bringing your kids to have fun, everyone’s just kind of coming here, having a weekend away, enjoying music, fuckin’ doin their thing, you know?
TJ: It’s definitely cool because people know each other, and everyone wants each other to have a good time. When it’s a bigger festival I feel like there’s more chances of sketchy people coming in and messing everything up, so it’s good because this year everybody knows each other, everybody has a safe space.
As far as the lineup goes, how do you choose your musical guests?
Chad: There’s, like, a bit of a committee between me, Brandon, David, and Zach, and as a whole.
Brandon: But the idea was, we just wanted homies. Bands that we play with.
Chad: People we like.
Brandon: We wanted the same philosophy as people we work with to be applied to bands: fuckin’ good people, who play good music.
Two more questions for you guys: working in the music industry is sometimes a 24/7 job –
Brandon: It is 24/7 job, haha.
What advice do you have for the people wanting to break into it, whether it be artists or even those wanting to start their own festival?
Brandon: Work harder than everyone you know and fuckin’ do everything that you can do.
Chad: Don’t stop.
TJ: There’s always someone working ten times harder than you.
Brandon: And give away as much music as you can, to everyone you encounter.
TJ: And you gotta be comfortable with the fact that you’re gonna be poor, ha!
Last question – what’s next? What’s in store for the remainder of 2019 or even 2020?
TJ : We’re going to Diissnnneeeyyy Woooorrlllddd, hahaha!
Me : TAKE ME WITH YOU!
Brandon: So next week, everyone’s going to take off – and we’re playing at Firefly – but as far as trying to do work and shit –
Chad : We’re going to take a week off, and then get back to writing some new music. We’ll be busy with festivals and tour dates and stuff.
TJ : We’ve got a tour coming up in July right?
Brandon : It’s a little 2-3 week thing, but like, honestly, we are always on tour because that’s how we make money. Aside from that, the next big thing is definitely starting work on a new record, like a full band acoustic thing, and also record probably 2-3 singles of just the more traditional full band sound. It’s studio, in conclusion.
TJ: Hoping to sleep and pet my dog.
Chad: Pet my kitty.
Brandon: Some Netflix to catch up on, haha.
Bumpin Uglies taking a group photo with Brandon’s wife, Sophia, and their new baby
When I left backstage, People’s Blues of Richmond was next to perform and being from RVA, I knew what was in store for us. Lovingly referred to by their fans as PBR, these three guys are well known for their psychedelic, emotionally-driven, blues, retro, rock out sound. Tim Beavers, vocalist and lead guitarist, has a sonic powered voice that leaves the crowd blown away. Chad of BU joined them on stage to play keys for their last song. When BU took the stage for their final set, fans were ready. The stage lighting soared past the crowd, between the mountain trees and into the full moon of the night. People lined the stage with lighters and glowsticks in the air as Hardesty serenaded them with his powerful vocals mixed with inspiring, engaging, and heart-felt lyrics. The night finished with a scheduled set titled “Super Jam,” which, you guessed it: included artists all coming together on stage for one big family jam out session to end the weekend.
People’s Blues of Richmond on stage at Weekend at Wolfies
View of main stage for Bumpin Uglies’ last set
Bumpin Uglies on stage at Weekend at Wolfies
All together, Weekend at Wolfies was one of the most meaningful weekends of my summer so far. Adventuring to festivals alone is still slightly out of my comfort zone, but I needed this important reminder that is so prevalent at small festivals: we are all a family. We are all friends. If you need anything, I’m here, and I know they’re there if I need them too. Whether it be the Uglies Nation fan group organizing pot luck dinners, “family” photos, or meetups; whether it’s your first festival or you’re a seasoned festie professional; whether you’re nervous about taking your kids on this musical journey or take them all the time: you have a festival family and they are waiting for you. If you’re thinking about going to Weekend at Wolfies next year, don’t let it be a pending question: DO IT! And come hug me.
Monte Thomas enjoying the festival on Friday – whom I was able to identify and meet within an hour thanks to the BU facebook fan group Uglies Nation
A printed polaroid memory gift from Weekend at Wolfie’s family