Berkshire Mountain Music Festival, also called Berkfest. As of now, at the end of 2002, there have been five Berkfests. People all travel down to Great Barrington in the Berkshires to hear the tunes or smell the hippies at Butternut Ski Area. I have only been to the last two, things to keep in mind. I have heard that the first three were very low key and small, that the first two were hard to get to actually happen. They had some great bands playing at those, Bela Fleck, Soul Coughing, et cetera, I wasn't there so I couldn't tell you about the great shows or nice community. However, I did go to the last two.
Now Berkfest 2001 was a random event for me, I had never been to a festival before, I didn't know what to expect. The tickets are expensive, like a hundred dollars, but I found the cash and borrowed a tent and packed up my framepack and me and a friend headed out.
Now, to my knowledge, there are maybe three reasons you would want to go to this festival. The music, the community, or the drugs. They have an abundance of all three. My friend and I arrived early and were eager to get some mushrooms before the night began. We ended up eating about a quarter of an ounce each and spending the first night in the car, too amazed at everything to actually leave and listen to the bands. How ridiculous.
The next day we just crashed on the green in front of the stage listening to jam band after jam band. Now I like jam bands, really, but there's something about them that's hard for me to find special, it was like a wave of constant noise from the stage. Interesting, but there was one guy I really wanted to catch that day, Dan Bern. I like Dan Bern and I was eagerly anticipating his set. A bit before he came on we drove into town to get some supplies. This proved to be our undoing. At first there was a lot of traffic, and we realized we had become too strapped for time to get back for Mr. Bern. So we sped. We drove as fast as possible, reaching around 100 mph in our desperate attempt. Now as we sped along, we saw a cop on the side of the road. He was issuing a ticket to someone else and saw us speeding. He waved us to pull over. My friend asked if he could do that. I insisted that I didn't see him do anything, and went faster as we were very near our stop. He caught up to us, we got a $300 ticket and he said we could be arrested. We ended up missing Dan Bern.
The next morning some friends of ours came and we caught Les Claypool and Dan Bern came on again. We caught his act, it was great, and after I wanted to tell him I thought he was great. But he just ignored me, how sad. Now this is the important part, I left Berkfest 2001 happily. The people were nice, I have some friends at Simon's Rock so I met up with old friends, the drugs were fun, but most importantly, the music was great. The people that were there, I felt, were there for the music. The general vibe was one of appreciation.
After such a fun time I decided to make the trek once again this year, in 2002. Now this was a bit tricky because I did not have the money they were asking. So me and two friends borrowed a car and just went down without tickets. We got there and they were checking bracelets at the busses, so we couldn't even get near the campsite. We started walking down the street to get there, when I stuck out my thumb. This townie gave us a ride, and I asked him if he knew any back way into Butternut. He drove us to these woods, and he said hike straight for 10 minutes and you're there. Now of the three of us, we all had a problem. I had an heavy framepack, carrying a gallon of wine an a half-gallon of bourbon and all of our stuff. One friend had a giant sleeping bag, needing the use of one of his hands, and the other friend was wearing flip-flops. This meant hiking was.. interesting.
And it turns out we were not just walking through the woods, at times we were scaling rocks to get in. It took us around 4 hours, all in the dark. We came in on the wrong side and had to run through brightly lit areas to get by. Finally we stopped at the snack area because someone was shining a flashlight at us. We thought we were busted and lied still for around 20 minutes. We decided to fuck it all and just go down to the scene. When we got there, there was no one there and we just walked into the milling people.
At this point we were very tired. We were all working on Star Island at the time and it can be tough on you physically. As we made our way through to the campsites, all we wanted was a place to sit. None of us could find our friends. After walking around for 30 minutes, and almost deciding to just pass out on the side of the path, we found someone. A former co-worker had set up Camp Puff-n-Stuff.
Now we see Berkfest for what it has become. After drug use being too obvious in previous years, security has beefed up. People were searched heavily while entering. Mounties walk around the campsites. Staff stroll around looking for people without bracelets to kick out. Our friend brought some cookies to sell, but they wouldn't let him. The alcohol ran low at the festival and so did the cigarettes. People would demand to buy the beer out of your hand, the smoke out of your mouth. The whole thing had become about drugs and money. People got all pretentious about only smoking the really good weed at the festival. One kid got really pissed, threatening violence because I refused to sell him my bourbon. I offered him some if he wanted to drink with us, I'm all about sharing the wealth, but no, he wanted to buy it all.
Everyone talked about being spun. He's spun. I want to get spun. Dude, I'm so spun. The whole thing felt like everyone was trying very hard to follow a formula of how to be cool, but none of them truly were. Having spent some time hiking in these woods, I now became angry. I saw all these people just puking everywhere, pissing everywhere, leaving there trash everywhere. It was disgusting.
Because I didn't have a bracelet I could only hear the music played on the main theater. Now, the music was good. Medeski Martin and Wood were amazing, John Scofield was great. Everybody seemed assured about that. Everybody would walk around and say things to each other they knew everyone would agree with. We were all some sort of happy family.
By the end of it, most of the people I saw had been eating, smoking, drinking whatever drugs they could, most of them brain altering, for 3 or 4 days straight. Many people chose not to sleep. They were all a mess. People stumbling around, not able to talk coherently or operate there eyes correctly, and insisting on talking to everybody. You could walk around and watch people just fall over, passing out. I got very sad, and then got very angry. I felt that all these people had no right to be here. They were not here really for the music, the community, the beauty of the land. They were here fucking up the land, fucking up the vibes, and it seemed most importantly fucking up themselves. At the end we just gave away the cookies. This was the worst part. No one wanted them if they were free. Cookies for money people wanted, but if you offered them cookies for free, people thought they were laced. People thought we had spent money on drugs to fuck up people we didn't even know. There was no trust. I don't want that man, I don't know if I want to get spun yet. People had their tents robbed. I wanted to give the whole festival a big fuck you.
I left Berkfest sad. Something had died that weekend. There might be more, who knows. You might want to go. There will be good music, good drugs. Both will be expensive. You just have to think if it's worth it. If you want to pay the price.