Out In The Woods is a Queer Music Festival held at Easton Mountain Retreat in Upstate New York. It was created by Steve Sims and Mackenzie Parish. Freddy Freeman came on for the second year.
On August 13th & 14th, 2011, Easton Mountain held its first ever LGBT outdoor music festival – OUT IN THE WOODS. By Robert Urban
A veritable “queer Woodstock”, Out in the Woods drew award-winning gay & lesbian musical acts from all over the U.S. and Canada. Among them were singer/songwriters Scott Free (Chicago); Norine Braun (Vancouver Canada); Susan Souza (Westport MA); Lucas Mire (Atlanta GA); Tom Goss (D.C.); track artist Jeremy Gloff (Florida); popular party band – the all women Sister Funk (Connecticut); and yours truly Robert Urban (New York City, NY).
Additional fest performers included Terry Christopher, Arjuna Greist , Jeremy James, Roger Kuhn, Stewart Lewis, Dan Manjovi, Morry Campbell and John Small.
For this performer, the early morning Aamtrak train ride on from NYC up to Easton Mountain (Albany station) on Aug 13th was like a lovely little 3-hour vacation unto itself. The train route follows the scenic Hudson River valley nearly the entire way.
On the train I felt excited and eager to perform. (I love playing outdoor music fests!) I was also looking forward to meeting up with many of my fellow LGBT musician colleagues. We all hail from different parts of the U.S., and thus we don’t often get to see one another. Summertime gives us troubadours a chance to get together on the touring circuit.
OITW featured two stages – each set up on different sides of the expansive Easton Mountain grounds. Throughout the day, acts rotated between the two stages. Festival producer Steve Sims expertly engineered both of the great-sounding P.A. systems.
OITW’s first act – Roger Kuhn, took to the stage around noon on Saturday Aug 13. Each act played for a good half hour or so. Most performers were singer-songwriters who accompanied themselves on acoustic guitar and/or piano. The festival audience was lively, attentive, and especially appreciative of the many self-affirming, socially conscious LGBT-centric songs offered up by the event’s performers.
Lyrical subject matter covered the entire gamut of LGBT experience. Listeners heard songs same-sex love, queer pride, coming out, bullying, homophobia and, naturally, the LGBT topic-du-jour: gay marriage. Nearly every act included a heartfelt, unique “pride” anthem in their set.
A certain “folksy” outdoor music festival ambience, reminiscent of all things “summer of love” pervaded festival proceedings. For a few days, out in the woods, we were all flower children. And the beautiful, sunny August weather contributed to the overall friendly, easy-going vibe everyone seemed to share.
During all the music-making, festival goers could relax on the rolling lawn, go for a swim, stroll about the grounds or partake in the giant slip-‘n-slide installed especially for the fest – all while still viewing and hearing the stage performances.
Refreshments and barbecue were available for all. Around midday on Saturday a special treat appeared. The wildly popular, all-women classic dance/rock cover band Sister Funk appeared onstage and in no time had us all singing along and dancing to their catchy sound.
As night fell on Saturday, some artists and fest attendees went off into Easton Mountain’s surrounding woods to play and sing around a campfire. I was drawn to E.M.’s large conference hall (known as the “great room”), where a very talented man (whose name I never learned) was playing show tunes on the grand piano. Within a few minutes I had joined in with him, and together we entertained guests who’d begun filling up the room. As the crowd gathered everyone began singing along. I even got to sing a few numbers from my favorite Broadway musical – Sweeney Todd.
On Sunday Aug 14th at noon the fest continued. I performed at around 2pm. As with the day before, the weather was lovely; the crowd gracious; and the festival P.A. system sounded great. What more could a seasoned rocker want?
Sunday’s show finished with everyone dancing to the vintage techno/house sound of track artist Jeremy Gloff. It was as if the great outdoor fest had suddenly morphed into a wild nightclub rave party scene. Out in the Woods 2011 went out with a celebratory bang!
After the fest concluded late Sunday afternoon, Easton Mountain hosted a special dinner for all OITW performers. With the “official” two-day music fest over, most performers departed Easton Mountain, but my partner Morgan and I arranged to stay 3 more days.
We spent Monday and Tuesday hiking, swimming, relaxing and taking photos. We both took yoga classes and each got a massage. As it turns out, weekdays (in between the busier weekend group events), at Easton Mountain is a lot less crowded. One can really enjoy all the amenities and the sylvan environs at a more leisurely pace.
On Tuesday evening, the volunteer staff of Easton Mountain hosted an impromtu “Madonna’s Birthday” party night. The great room was set up for dancing and for watching live-n-concert Madonna dvds. The E.M. volunteers raided what they called the house “drag closet” – (every home should have one!) – creating some pretty far-out Madonna costumes.
Accompanying myself on guitar, I sang Madonna’s “Like a Prayer”, which turned into a giant group sing-a-long, with everyone taking turns at a verse. Guests joined in with staff and we all danced and sang into the wee hours. I think this was the most fun night of my entire stay. The E.M. volunteer boyz really turned it out!
That night Morgan and I retired around 2am. We departed Easton Mountain the following day, but I heard the E.M. sweat lodge had been fired up for a late night, after-Madonna party sauna. Oh, well… maybe next time…
All in all, a splendid time was had by everyone at Easton Mountain’s historic, first Out in the Woods LGBT outdoor music festival. For music fest fans planning their next summer’s August outings, OITW is already working on Out in the woods 2012.
The pioneering efforts of openly queer singer/songwriters, who bravely pen their work with openly gay and lesbian lyrics, have helped give our LGBT community an identity… a spirit… and a voice – in song. No longer bound to closeted, secretly wishful, imitative song lyrics, these are artists who have something real to say. They are the Bob Dylans, the Beatles and the Joni Mitchells of our emerging LGBT culture.
The good folks of Easton Mountain are to be commended for creating the kind of extraordinary festival showcase that is so essential and nurturing for original LGBT musical talent.
Out in the Woods 2011 was initiated, organized and realized through the efforts of Stephen Sims(pictured on right, to the left of me) – OITW producer/music coordinator; MacKenzie Parish – producer/event coordinator; John Stasio – venue host and E.M. founding director; Harry Faddis – supporter/board member & gardener extraordinaire. Additional promo and on-site support supplied by Sean McLaughlin – host of Homoradio, Harry Faddis & Stephen Sims – co-hosts of The Quest of Life Radio, Bill Northrup of Qnation.FM Radio, Ron Waite – supporter; and J.D. Doyleof Queer Music Radio.
A special “thanks” is due to the mighty volunteers of Easton Mountain Retreat. These handsome, helpful and genial guys worked tirelessly on virtually every aspect of OITW event production. The E.M. volunteers really helped make this performer’s stay at Easton Mountain a gig to remember.
visit: Easton Mountain website
Singer/songwriter & published writer Robert Urban is also owner of NYC’s URBAN PRODUCTIONS music & video production studio. Robert is proud founder of GAY GUITARISTS WORLDWIDE and supports the LGBT arts community by producing & hosting his “URBAN PRODUCTIONS BOLDLY PRESENTS” live-in-concert events (now in its 12th year).
In 2005 Robert was inducted into the Stonewall Society LGBT Hall of Fame; in 2006 he received the OutmusicMusician of the Year Award; in 2010 he won the Outvoice Producer of the Year Award; and in 2012 won “Best Event” award for his show “Songs for Sarah, Newt & other Schoolyard Bullies” by the NYC Fresh Fruit Festival.
More at: www.roberturban.com
more photos of the 2011 OUT IN THE WOODS festival at: Robert’s OUT IN THE WOODS facebook pics
Cynical And Southern: Our Queer Voices United And Rocked Easton Mountain
By Jeremy Gloff
This post was submitted by Jeremy Gloff
Terrified. I was terrified to leave my apartment, to leave my city, and to leave my state. A thousand miles away I was being waited for on top of a mountain. I was not friends in real life with anybody that was going to be on that mountain. I left Tampa with myself, my music, and a circulatory system charged with anxiety.
I was one of the performers scheduled at “Out In The Woods”, a two day fest of LGBT performers taking place on Easton Mountain, a queer spiritualist retreat an hour north of Albany. All of the names on the bill were familiar to me. Heavy hitters. Legends. Some of them I’d been emailing for years.
I boarded my flight sour-pussed and finicky. A thousand worst-case scenarios zigzagged through my head. I am secure about my music performance. I don’t get stage fright. It’s what happens before and after the performances that terrify me. What if no one talks to me? What if I get on everyone’s nerves? What if everyone gets on my nerves?
A three hour layover in Philly left me in a food court full of tired and weather-worn Northerners. No one smiled. I sent a dozen texts to a dozen people. I wanted company. My Sbarro pizza was lukewarm and the person I hoped would text back the most didn’t. Color me sour.
As I boarded my plane to Albany I longed for the safety and seclusion of my warm bed. There’s no danger in seclusion. There’s no risk in hibernation.
The Albany airport was eerie and quiet. It was 10 PM and the shops were closed. My Albany snow globe and Snickers would have to wait. I waited for my ride.
Sean picked me up. Sean was a conversational redhead with a thorough knowledge of Albany’s history. This introduction to Albany was friendly and smooth and I knew I was in good hands. I was taken through downtown and enchanted by the historical tales of a quiet and beautiful city.
Upon entering Sean’s apartment I knew I was on safe ground. I was introduced to the other house guest – legendary queer music historian J.D. Doyle. The night’s conversation was varied and fulfilling. In Tampa there is no one to share my thoughts on queer music with. To uncage this interest with other people interested in the same thing was a liberation. If sleep weren’t a necessity the conversation may have never ended.
Early the next morning I was to meet festival organizer Stephen Sims at 9am. Would the hour car ride to the mountain be awkward? Walking into Stephen’s house I felt a coziness that had nothing to do with temperature. Not only was Stephen warm and accommodating – his house guests (fellow out-artist Norine Braun and her partner Alice) were an immediate delight.
The drive into the country was serene. As memories of my childhood in Western New York emerged a surge of regret and nostalgia came and went. As a teenager I recalled driving on similar roads under similar skies. I ran from those northern skies years ago.
The final stretch of road before reaching Easton Mountain is not paved. My cell phone reception was becoming dodgy and I knew I was at the mercy of the mountain. To endure the next 48 hours meant releasing all control of my life and letting the moments take me where they may. I was a willing prisoner of fate.
The first two hours at Easton were a whirlwind of introductions. Within 120 minutes I’d matched a half dozen faces with names I’d known for years. Tom Goss. Terry Christopher. Roger Kuhn. Scott Free. John Small. Morry Campbell.
Over the next few hours I heard possibly the best live queer music I’d ever heard in my life. Each artist was different. Each artist was emotional. In addition to everyone I already mentioned Sister Funk and Jeremy James also performed. There was no ego on the mountain. A supportive harmony between the artists presided. These artists cheered each other on and there was no sense of competition.
Night one wrapped with a mystical campfire underneath a full moon. A dozen queer voices known for their separate bodies of work united to sing sloppy and spirited cover tunes. Under a moody midnight northern sky we became one loud boisterous queer voice. Stevie Nicks could you hear us?
Day two unfurled another powerhouse lineup. Dan Manjovi. Arjuna Greist. Robert Urban. Lucas Mire. Susan Souza. And I played too.
We ate one final dinner together before we had to leave. I looked out the window at the peak of the mountain and the beautiful pond beneath it. I was reminded of the other times over the last few years I traveled alone and found myself enjoying a memorable view. Like the one outside of my hostel in San Francisco in 2009. Or the view of the sky from the Nancy Drew cruise I took alone in 2010.
I made a vow to myself at that moment to never fear again. I promised myself I’d never be enslaved by the shackles of my comfort zone again. I’ve never left my safety net and not come home with new friends. What if I’d let my fear and anxiety preside? A part of my world from that weekend on will always live at Easton Mountain.
I arrived at Easton Mountain a stranger and went home a member of a strong and vital family. I’m homesick already.
more Jeremy Gloff on Facebook.