What makes a festival a home? We hear these weekend gatherings deemed as such all the time. Is it the connection to the grounds—the setting itself becoming our home away from home? Is it the history behind the show—the curated collection of acts that strap fans with the certainty to buy that ticket before the lineup is even announced? Is it the friendships that transform a weekend of music into an annual tradition? Whatever theory you want to go along with, Briggs Farm Blues Festival will check the box.
Nestled in the Nescopeck pines is Briggs Farm, a family homestead that has morphed itself into one of the most anticipated weekends of music each year. Alison and Richard Briggs started the festival 24 years ago as a single stage for one night of music. As time passed, that single stage doubled, and that single night flourished into an entire weekend of music, art, and camping.
“The festival has grown a ton, and in so many ways,” Maegan Beishline, who has been working for Briggs for the last two years, told me. “It still has this fun, family reunion type of feel, and that’s one of the really lovely things about Briggs. I think what so many people connect to is the fact that it doesn’t feel like a corporate concert—it feels like a big family picnic. Over the years, everyone on the [Briggs] team has been very conscientious about maintaining that feeling. It’s been a balance to learn how to grow and expand—which we’ve done a lot of for this year—while still maintaining that environment.”
In 2019, Briggs surpassed 8,000 attendees. Now that the 2021 weekend of July 8, 9 & 10 is set, they’re preparing to accommodate even more fans than ever before.
The weekend’s growing draw holds water against the nationally acclaimed acts Briggs invites on stage. This year, female powerhouses Shemekia Copeland and Ana Popovic headline. Copeland is a Grammy-nominated singer who has performed alongside Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton, and Keith Richards, while Popovic’s band has shared stages with names such as B.B. King and Buddy Guy. (She was also described as “one helluva guitar player” by none other than Bruce Springsteen.)
Other notable artists on this year’s lineup are The Campbell Brothers, Victor Wainwright & the Train, Vanessa Collier, SwampCandy, Mike Miz, and Scott Pemberton. Guests “went crazy for” Pemberton’s 2019 set at the Back Porch Stage, so much so that it only made sense for him to take the Main Stage in 2021. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg; check out 2021’s full artist lineup here.
As attendance grows, so does the festival. Brigg’s 2021 guests can expect some welcoming changes to this year’s event. Certain ground renovations were underway for 2020, but the extra year to plan and execute helped to develop them further.
“It was terrible when we had to cancel last year, but it gave us a whole year to put some things in place for …Obviously, the pause was not what anybody would have preferred, but it’s been a nice step back to reassess. I think they’re all really good changes to accommodate our growth and to keep up with a changing environment,” Beishline said.
The Briggs team has built a larger main stage, which will create extra space in order to prevent “anybody from feeling crammed in.” The second stage, known as the Back Porch Stage, is getting moved in order to expand as well. Beishline explained that the Back Porch Stage has “its own, intimate vibe” that will not get lost in its reconstruction.
Outside of architecture, more vendors have been invited to the 2021 festival, including food vendors and local microbrewery Berwick Brewing Company. Attendees are still welcome to bring coolers full of their favorite food and beverages, but they can now enjoy a freshly poured draft while getting down to music on the lawn.
Another must-stop is Beyond Violence’s raffle tent where, each year, Martin Guitars, Cigar Box Guitars, and Orange Amps contribute prizes for the lucky winners selected Saturday night. Money raised benefits Beyond Violence Berwick, a nonprofit providing support and safety to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Many aspects of Briggs will remain the same: Thursday night’s festivities—which, until a few years ago, were open only to camping attendees—welcome all ticket holders. Thursday guests can let the music throw them back into the flower child decades with Bret Alexander & Friends performing songs from the Summer of 1970 and Mike Miz recreating the monumental Grateful Dead album American Beauty.
Beyond the festival, Briggs plans to hold more single-night concerts in the area—a move they were planning since before COVID. As a thank you to fans, Briggs hosted Dustin Douglas and the Electric Gentleman at the Nescopeck Township Fire Hall this past May.
“Our audience has stuck by us, and they’ve shown right back up [for 2021]. Ninety percent of our ticket holders from 2020 kept their tickets for 2021. We felt really grateful for that,” Beishline said.
Although future concerts will be ticketed, Briggs plans to bring a variety of music to the area year-round.
“We’re all really passionate about bringing music to the community and giving artists an opportunity to perform. I feel like [these shows] extend our mission to do that and keep people engaged throughout the year, rather than for just one weekend,” Beishline said.
Whether this upcoming July weekend will be your return home or first-time experience, Briggs Farm Blues Festival is a family-friendly event that welcomes everyone to the transformation of their pasture. With top-notch artists, vendors, and attendees, it leaves little room to wonder why so many people are dedicated to this summer production.