In the wake of what some will say was the best, others the worst, first-run music festival the Midwest has seen since Rothbury ’08, there is definitely a lot to discuss about the inaugural Phases of the Moon Music and Arts Festival.
As a writer I strive to provide the most honest, and when it comes to music festivals there will always be the lovers, the haters and the in-betweeners. Phases Fest was set to be a dream festival – the be-all, end-all in jam and funk music – and the perfect way to end summer. After two years in the making, founders Barry & Sam Shear took beating after beating, yet came out the other end smiling, looking to the rising sun with thoughts about how next year will be better.
To recap on the festival: it was set to take place at the Kennekuk County Park, a 3,000 acre park which includes historic buildings, lakes for fishing and plenty of wooded, as well as field, camping. The line up was stacked: two nights of The String Cheese Incident and Widespread Panic and single sets from Govt. Mule, Tedeschi Trucks Band and Galactic, just to name a few.
The first unforeseen incident took that struck Phases happened before the festival even got underway when headliner Bob Weir and Ratdog canceled their tour. The open timeslot was filled by Grace Potter & The Nocturnals – and it was a wonderful performance – but a disappointment to miss Ratdog nonetheless. Despite the weekend’s chilly weather, the music was amazing and every single band delivered powerhouse sets.
Heavy Rain Delays Early Weekend Festivities
As we arrived Thursday morning we knew the festival was going to be tested, as torrential downpours halted Wednesday arrivals and pushed back the Thursday entry time by several hours. What attendees need to understand, and unfortunately the festival staff failed to inform the public about, was just exactly how bad the rain was.
Countless backup plans could not have prepared Phases for the inclement weather they received. The venue, as was discussed in a short Q&A with Barry & Sam, is designed to hold up to 25,000 cars, but over half the facility was flooded and thus impassable. If they had allowed cars to enter and park, attendees surely would have been even more angry with cars stuck in the mud, ruined camping equipment and a hefty tow bill (the base fee was $80). This is why festival-goers waited in line for upwards of nine hours to get into the festival. This is why there were low flyovers from a helicopter trying to dry the grounds. This is why campers had to be relocated to the nearby fairgrounds and another park.
With alternate camping and parking plans in place and everybody safely inside the venue, stars finally aligned for Phases fest. The park is beautifully laid out with camp-next-to-your-car access and a short walk to the stage entrance. Once inside, there were a large number of food and art vendors, a farmers market selling local veggies and baked goods, lots of porta-potties and plenty of bars to purchase alcohol (at an astoundingly high $7-$8 per 12oz beverage).
The stages were close enough that walking between them was very easy, bur just far enough that there was no noise pollution from adjacent stages. The visual art present was awesome, Alex and Allison Grey were in attendance providing fans with endless eye candy. There was non-stop performance art in-between big acts, as well as live painting throughout the festival. Lastly was The Sanctuary, a beautifully constructed area that was isolated from the rest of the festival where they held educational classes on art, meditation and yoga.
Overall there was one thing that put a very uncomfortable and unnecessary vibe on the festival weekend, and that was the policing of outside beverages. We can all agree and understand that festivals must turn a profit, and alcohol sales are a big part of that. But when a festival allowed, what appeared to be private security meets club bouncer, to harass festival patrons all weekend. These people were demanding to look inside backpacks and purses AFTER patrons had entered the festival and passed the general security check point. Disregarding how illegal this is as we as Americans maintain our basic American rights, it was the only part of the festival that felt tainted.
On the whole, Phases of the Moon Music and Arts festival was amazing. The music could not have been better, the food vendors were top notch, they served beer that was not limited to domestic pours, and the overall crowd was very enjoyable to be around. Yes, there were some major flaws, but as my editor likes to remind me – what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger, and we can only hope that for the future these issues will be addressed in advance. I definitely plan to return next year, and I hope the same for everybody that went. Sometimes we have to find it in our nature to accept that some things are out of our control and find it in our hearts to give it a second chance. I am fully confident that this festival will be one to remember… both now and in the future.