Fields Festival could resurrect Baltimore’s Whartscape legacy, with more campfire

Imagine it for a moment: Dan Deacon and Matmos, Flock of Dimes (Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner) and the rest of Baltimore's rich music and art scenes, all frolicking in the woods. Whartscape meets summer camp. Lakeside yoga and poolside electronica, all in the relative wilds of the the shores of the Susquehanna River.

That's the general vibe the inaugural Fields Festival -- an ambitious little undertaking from two plugged-in participants of Baltimore's DIY scene -- is going for. The fest, set for Aug. 22-24, will plant about 200 performers from Charm City at Ramblewood, a progressive campground with cabins, a pool and room for 1,000 campers, all about an hour north of Baltimore.

What will set the Fields Festival apart isn't just the poolside concerts or kitschy, '70s-looking cabins, many of which will serve as the weekend quarters for the stars of Baltimore's music scene. The full list of performers will incorporate Charm City's burgeoning artistic communities, including indie theater, comedy, film, and visual and performance art, spread across a handful of music stages, a barn stage for theater and comedy and site-specific performances.


Dan Deacon (right) is among the Charm City performers bound for the forest as part of Fields Festival. (Photo by Kyle Gustafson for The Washington Post)

But where the Baltimore’s recent music fests from the defunct Whartscape -- which drew national attention to the city just as its biggest acts, including Beach House and Deacon, were emerging --  to the more recent underground offerings Scape Scape and Ratscape, have taken place on blacktop, in warehouses and gallery spaces, Fields Festival will channel Baltimore on holiday.

“We’ve wanted to do a camping and music festival for quite some time,” says co-founder Amanda Schmidt, who founded Baltimore’s Soft House DIY space. "Camping and being outside and laying on the grass and hearing music -- that's one of the most ideal ways I can envision experiencing music. It's a really beautiful way to [be] outdoors with all of the arts that we love."

"The idea is that is a completely immersive experience," adds co-organizer Stewart Mostofsky, who runs the label Ehse Records, has been involved with the city’s experimental High Zero Music Festival. To that end, the pair are encouraging visitors to stay a while and camp on-site or in their cars; they're not selling day passes, instead charging $65 for each weekend-long ticket ($85 at the gate).

Asked to describe what a day at Fields Festival might be like, both demurred, saying there will be any number of ways festival-goers could spend their hours. The festival will begin Friday night; on Saturday, organizers will begin the day with a sunrise performance around Ramblewood's lake.

"If somebody was really eager, they could get up early and watch this performance at the lake," says Schmidt. "Then at 10 o'clock, they could do yoga in the Dance Pavilion, and at 11 a.m. the music will start with Steve Reich's '4 Organs' piece. Somebody from there might wander over to our pool space and watch a performance there. Later in the day the music and theater will stop, and there will be performance art pieces around the lake."

Gathering the best and brightest of the scene wasn't that difficult in the insular city some like to call "Smalltimore."

"We're friends with the majority of the people playing on this bill," says Schmidt. "It was a matter of kind of asking favors from friends." Deacon, in particular, was one of the first people they consulted: The electronic musician, who will open for Arcade Fire at Verizon Center on Sunday, was the founder of Whartscape, which ran in various Baltimore venues from 2005 to 2010. "A lot of people are likening this to Whartscape," conceded Schmidt, because many of the acts will return for Fields Festival. "That's the thing about Baltimore's DIY community, there's always this positive energy and spirit that pervades it, and everybody is thrilled to be participating," adds Mostofsky.  But the pair say that's where the similarities will end.

One thing it isn't, says Mostofsky, is a big indie-rock festival. "There's a wide texture to the musical performances that leans entirely toward experimental."

Fields Festival

Aug. 22-24 at Ramblewood, 2564 Silver Rd., Darlington, Md. www.fieldsfestival.com. $65 in advance and $85 at the gate.

Lavanya Ramanathan is a professional eater/drinker/thinker for Weekend and the Going Out Guide. University of Texas. Northwestern University. Rap fan.
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