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Appel Farm Arts & Music Festival: Memories in the Making.

Appel Farm Arts & Music Festival: Memories in the Making.

The Appel Farm Arts & Music Festival is more than a convergence of performers and audience; more than a family experience in the heartland of the Garden State; more than a gathering of artists displaying their creations and vendors tempting you with foods you rarely dare to eat.

The Appel Farm Festival is memories in the making.

I remember when my soul-sister-slash-best-girlfriend visited from Portland, Oregon and we had a totally girly time at the fest with my daughter and my granddaughter.  I remember my fascination with the collection of guitars on stage behind Jackson Browne, and how I unabashedly swooned as he played them all and delivered many of my favorite songs.  I remember Richard Thompson’s unmistakable voice floating across the field and rousing me from a sleepy daze.  And I recall watching in a downpour as Amos Lee performed, only to discover, at set’s end, that the woman next to me was not only a friend from a former life but also Amos’ mother.

And then there’s that serenity that settles in as you drive to Appel Farm – leaving behind the suburbs and sprawling shopping complexes – and come into a stretch of Jersey farmland that reassures you that some things DO remain the same.

In today’s world, where our jobs often find us tethered to a computer screen and where the clatter around us at times sounds like cans tied to a car bumper, how lucky we are to have outdoor festivals to help us to take it easy, even if only for a single June day.

The 2010 Appel Farm Arts & Music Festival, back from a blessedly brief break, had that very effect on me.  The wide-ranging line-up provided a stream of such exceptional performances that I’m hard-pressed to name a favorite.  And the mellow mood worked an absolute magic trick on my too-busy mind.

The fest began with 61 North, bluesy-rootsy rockers who brought to mind outdoor venue darlings like the Allman Brothers, but who played with such vitality that I was definitely nodding along, not nodding off.  And, in an amusing déjà-vu moment, I looked to my left once the band stopped to see another friend from another former lifetime who – it turns out – is the mother of one of 61 North’s members.

Next up was Richard Shindell.  Both a solid solo artist and sought-after sideman, Shindell is a master at crafting song-stories, and he and his band played a terrific selection of those on Saturday.  His velvety voice and literary lyrics, including a few lines pilfered from the English poet John Donne, combined to create a wonderfully evocative mood.

Shortly after noon, the first of the Poets on the Grove performances got underway.  Throughout the afternoon, Napalm De Bomb and the Jazz Poetics traded turns with The Mayhem Poets in the Grove Stage area, presenting their unique poetry in an equally unorthodox manner and forever altering my perception of a spoken word show.

Back on the Meadow Stage, Enter the Haggis was delighting the audience with their Celtic-meets-English-folk-with-a-side-of-70s-rock sound.  Enter the Haggis, back at Appel Farm after being warmly received in 2008, had the festival crowd – as co-host Gene Shay predicted – “on their feet and dancing.”

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings brought THE FUNK to the festival and immediately pulled the Appel Farm audience into the groove.  Despite the summer temperatures and Jersey humidity, Ms. Jones and her spiffily-dressed group of 3 horn players, 2 guitarists, a bass player, 2 drums and 2 smokin’ back-up singers, never let the energy level drop.

Between sets, I meandered about in the area between the stages.  All afternoon, the place was abuzz with members of the younger set – doing arts and crafts in the shaded tent, cooling off by the misting fan, and enjoying the storyteller, puppet show and juggling act.

As always, the craft area offered many temptations.  Although I made no purchases, I admired many beautiful and cleverly-designed items and came home with a pocket full of business cards for future online shopping.

From across the field, Buddy Miller’s twangy guitar and country-tinged voice beckoned me back.  Miller did a solo number, Patty Griffin came onstage and played a couple songs with Miller, and then Patty’s band joined the party.  Together, they launched into a highly spirited – and sometimes spiritual – set that drew heavily from “Downtown Church”, Patty’s Buddy-produced gospel record.  I recently saw these folks at Denver’s Paramount Theatre, and knew we were in for a treat.  But in that warm, heavy outdoor air, I felt almost as though I was at an old-time revival meeting.  Hallelujah!

As the sun was slowly descending, a stream of people began to move forward, and by the time the Avett Brothers were set to play, a dozens-deep throng of people had assembled in front of the stage.  And this band DID NOT disappoint.  Those who were already fans sang and gestured along with every word of the Avett Brothers’ song, and for the clearly unenlightened listener, like me, it was easy to immediately understand the band’s appeal.  They are charming fellows, playful performers, and serious musicians, with simple, earnest lyrics and a style that encompasses a wide spectrum of genres.  What’s not to like?

Following an encore, the Avett Brothers left the stage and the Appel Farm crowd began to gather their belongings and to slowly head for the exits.

As I walked to my car in the serene semi-darkness, I realized that I was smiling.

I’m already looking forward to next year.

Passage Theatre's Play Lab

Passage Theatre's Play Lab

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New Jersey Film Festival