It’s that time of the year again. Geese are flocking south, leaves are falling from the trees, and we begin our own seasonal transition of watching daytime acts from blankets and beer-filled coolers to buying eight dollar Goose Islands at venues. (How heartbreaking is it when that’s the best option? Just pass me a cup of whiskey, please.)
All Hallow’s Rager: Wonkapocalypse was NEPA festival chasers’ last breath of the 2019 season. I arrived on Saturday, curious of how this first production would wear in November after spending the week mentally preparing for the cold that would inevitably creep in come nightfall. The dedicated who braved the weather Friday night told me they had Philadelphia four-piece Mercury Retrograde to thank for keeping their bodies loose and warm with movement. Those Saturday daylight hours, however, had been blessed. The sun was shining, and the open field made us ants under a magnifying glass, concentrating whatever spotlight of heat the sun could combat the sharp autumn air.
Tents lined the tree perimeter of the Ukranian Homestead with campsites decked out with fake severed hands, creepy baby dolls, and possessed clown mannequins—guests were taking the decorating contest seriously, just as every element of Halloween should be taken. An impressive amount of the attendees were committed to costumes. Faces were masked in full layers of paint, and onesies with ears were strictly worn hood-up. We hung around my friend’s 1989 Dodge conversion—which had appropriately transformed into a voodoo witch hut—watching participants in character roll by before collecting our things to pitch tents in the available indoor camping: a clever consideration by festival organizers.
All the music was held inside the Uke’s jam house. Food trucks and art booths circled around the entrance of the building, and inside booths crowded the back of the venue. It was intimate and homey: vendors selling knits and coffee, blacklights glowing on a spread of paintings, and the stage, all in one room. Say what you will about fall festivals, but at least they minimize the likelihood of getting camp locked. The stage, the music—it was the place to be. Dee Maple’s acoustics rang through the room as we checked out the vendors and made the greatest discovery of that evening: a lady selling gloves for a dollar (shout out to you, selfless guardian of the spunions).
The next time we returned to the stage, Somethin’ Divine was tuning up to play. I had just discovered them months prior in at Karnival of the Arts, but as late-night sets sometimes go, my body wouldn’t allow me to listen any closer than from the sleeping bag in my tent. Dancey jams weaved between the brooding, soulful funk of saxophone player Staci Fink and was dropping me off somewhere between feeling the music delivering up elevator shafts and getting lost in how the lights suspended lazily in the air.
As Somethin’ Divine wrapped up their set, a crowd formed around the fire performance kicking off outside of the jam house. The flowing chaos of a festival when the sun goes down was on the upswing: people chanted, cheered, and laughter roared from every direction. Chestnut Grove kept that energy pumping, consuming the room in music while their lead belted ballads in a full skeleton get-up.
At some point, the indoor campground collected with LED toys painting the air, and our home had altered itself into a full-blown flow house. The scene is exactly what should happen every time a bunch of flow artists accidentally camp in one area together. After a while of nerding out over all things flow with our neighbors and new friends at Proteus, a Jersey-local LED flow company, they shared that the smart staffs and hoops they brought were of their own creation.
We put our flow toys away and geared up for the last and probably the most anticipated act of the night: Medusa’s Disco. Carrying the heavy, high-energy rock from Breaklite’s performance, Medusa’s Disco closed the festival with the bang that is guaranteed each time they take control of a stage. Their crowd threw the energy right back to the band, wildly singing along and climbing onto the shoulders of friends for a better view.
The music broke, people gathered around fire pits, and the hum of late-night buzzed onward. The amount of people who came out to camp out for an especially chilly first weekend in November is a true testament to the love that is poured into the NEPA festival scene. Wonkapocalypse lived up to the party they had planned it to be and threw hell of a closer to the 2019 season. Until next year, we’ll be running down city blocks and gathering around overpriced well-liquor drinks, calling upon the memories of festival seasons past.