Backwoods Brought West Coast Festival Culture to Mulberry MountainArticle by: Anthony Paro|@anthonyparo
Wed May 02, 2018 | 13:10 PM
The perfect summation of my experience at Backwoods Camping and Music Festival escaped me all weekend long, ‘til late Sunday night when, mid-closing set The Floozies lead singer, Matt Hill, put it so damn simply: “Oh my god. I’m having so much fun right now.”
It’s rather effortless, unfortunately, to envision the Southeastern United States, complete with generalized notions of a literal backwoods, as devoid of progressive thought and experience. Backwoods Music & Camping Festival, however, an oasis atop Mulberry Mountain oozing with West Coast festival culture translated through Southern roots, thoroughly invalidates such sentiments. There are or have been similar welcoming, let-your-freak-flag-fly vibes in the geocentric capital of the country before, previously experienced at beloved gatherings like Wakarusa, Highberry and Phunkberry, where art installations, workshops and healing villages, and mindfulness often reign supreme, in addition to the music. All you you have to do to get ready is leave expectations behind, come to Mulberry as you truly are, revel in its paralleled natural beauty and utterly breathtaking panoramas, and discover the glorious breadth of the Backwoods Motto: “Good People. Good Music. Good Times.”
Amongst the abundant advice organizers make available prior to the festival, one key nugget prepares campers most for this adventure: We’re All Friends Here. Your time is just as valuable spent wandering about the campgrounds as it would be were you front and center at the main stage. Meeting eccentric neighbors with whom you could well strike lifelong friendships is effortless in this neck of the woods. Take in the abundance of wild garments and body positivity, talented flow artists and musicians. Welcoming campfires abound, and good vibes to light your path are everywhere.
Speaking of the commute across festival grounds, at no point will you feel obligated to rush to the main stage. This is especially true if the day’s exhaustion has finally caught up to you. Here’s the trick: Backwoods is wise enough to tap AVL Productions for the Motherland Stage's sound design, and fortunately for you that means the sound quality even 200+ yards away is pristine as they come. Slow down and settle in with new friends, as each light show at a distance ensures a remarkable concert experience unto itself.
Party All Day, and All Night
While I make no claim to have traveled the world over in search of perfect sound design, I’ll confirm without a doubt that, were the Motherland main stage to provide the last notes to grace my ears before an unexpected demise, I could pass on to the afterlife truly at peace.
As we arrived at camp, my significant other made mention of her disappointment that objectively heavier acts didn’t land the closing set each night. Honestly, I found this approach all the more compelling. Acts like Snails, Figure, and Space Jesus sonically destroyed the stage, only for GRiZ, STS9 and The Floozies to seamlessly follow, rebuilding and uplifting the crowd’s emotion, radiating positive, party-all-night vibrations.
Each night as the main stage lights faded, many campers chose to keep the party going at the Space Station stage. Hard-hitting acts like Yheti and Jade Cicada kicked off the Thazdope Records late-night showcase, bumping heavy bass ‘til dawn all weekend long against the backdrop of spectacular light projections. Alternatively, this stage’s afternoon sets served as perfect complement to the groggy sensibilities of all the late risers in attendance. I never before recognized how fitting a complement coffee in the wilderness would be to bass laden stylings of Brainrack, Yokai, Beardthug, and Mass Relay.
No stranger to camping out at main stages all festival long, I thoroughly shocked myself over time spent at the Globe Theater, an intimate, barnyard-esque venue, hay strewn about the muddy ground. As a testament to the traditional roots of Arkansas, folk, bluegrass, Americana and jam band acts kept crowds jigging and square dancing the days away. True, Backwoods does not require the Bassnectars and Jay-Zs of the world; instead, it calls on cherished regional acts like Groovement, Arkansauce, and The 1 Oz. Jig to rile the crowds' Southern predilections.
Leave No Trace
Unlike many popular, large-scale festivals, Backwoods chooses not to send an ornate welcome package to festival-goers with every ticket. In a far more practical, forward-thinking move, it partnered with 501(c)(3) nonprofit Trees for the Future to plant one tree for each of the weekend’s approximately 24,000 attendees. Reverence for the sanctity of Mulberry Mountain was on full display all weekend long. By far my favorite recollection of this involved tripping back to the campsite late Saturday night only to discover my wonderful neighbors enjoying a dance party complete with, ostensibly, hundreds of glow sticks. They provided a delightful, two-fold explanation: It was just too much fun to illuminate the now neon-hued ground during Sound Tribe Sector 9’s set, and things were presently so well lit that not one more camper could possibly trip over our tents’ fly lines. Such logic is both adorable and indisputable, I thought. Shortly after I awoke the following day, those glow sticks were all but entirely picked up. Kudos, family.
The leave-no-trace mentality was evident even throughout the vendor community. For example, I enjoyed the most delicious tomato bisque from The Grilled Cheese Incident with a rather impotent wooden spoon. My moment’s worth of inconvenience spent ineffectually shoveling hot, freshly prepared soup down my gullet was beautifully offset by an enormous sense of pride in our collective respect of this place we called home.
Daily visits to the Deep Ellum Art Village provided serenity and sanctuary from the non-stop party. Whether so simple a form of healing as group yoga or so profound as Sunday’s dedicated Post Festival Depression Prevention session, Backwoods equips campers with tools necessary to maintain well-being and spread the Backwoods Way long past their momentary mountain excursion.
Of particular note here were ten-minute sonic healing sessions wherein campers sit together, eyes closed, amidst several softly vibrating gongs. On first glance, I was instantly reminded of a digital art installation at Houston-based Day For Night festival, Ryoichi Kurokawa’s Octfalls. The Backwoods’ conceptual iteration, raw and natural, therapeutically softened any and all nerves the wilderness brought.
Immersion came in the form of sonic empowerment, too, as a young man set up shop late night in Deep Ellum to teach passersby just how easy it is to make music.
If we pull back our lens to view the bigger picture, these moments illustrate perfectly the Backwoods Way I came to appreciate so thoroughly. In the face of new experiences in uncertain places, especially at the festivals we adventure to along the way, there will undoubtedly be a friendly face and learned hand to guide you through to the other side.