If it wasn’t for several handpainted signs scattered along Route 22, assuring the right direction to the third annual Bella Terra Festival, Gardner’s Field could have been passed by as a private campsite for a family reunion weekend, nestled in the countryside and barely visible from the meandering county road. Bella Terra mirrored the small-town vibe of its host, Stephentown, taking place in the backyard of Gardner’s Ice Cream and Coffee, a quaint “ice cream ‘n more” shack that was bustling with business all weekend.
On paper, Bella Terra offered an overwhelming schedule filled with every genre expected at a jam-band-oriented music event, as well as acoustic brunches and campfire sets. However, Bella Terra, in practice, presented lots of downtime with attendees sprawled out on blankets and lawn chairs in front of the main and tented stage areas, waiting for the larger acts to perform and for the festival to come to neon, LED-infused life come nightfall.
One way that Bella Terra marked its territory among the generation of smaller East Coast festivals that have blossomed in the past couple years was its focus on spontaneous artwork created onsite. An 8-by-50-foot wall reserved for graffiti artists to spray live bordered creations made in past years. Also returning to Bella this year was the life-size and interactive puppetry troupe, One World Puppets, whose creatures almost blended in naturally among the crowd. Despite these defining characteristics, it felt as though attendance decreased by half from last year, perhaps in relation to the significant jump in ticket price. Or, perhaps, with summer days dwindling, people were “fested out,” ready to return to normal life with the showers and responsibilities they spent their summer avoiding.
In addition to recycling art and material from years past, some musical acts also returned to the lineup, such as Rubblebucket, Psylab, Start Making Sense (Talking Heads tribute), Jeff Bujak, the Alchemystics and local forces Higher Organix, Dirty Paris, the Chronicles and the Deadbeats. Upper-tier headliners included the Mickey Hart Band, Buckethead, Hot Buttered Rum, BoomBox, Emancipator, Papadosio and Zach Deputy.
As dusk fell Saturday evening, Rev Tor and Friends provided a happy-go-lucky soundtrack for a small assortment of people playing with a giant parachute in the grass, as one camper reflected quite audibly, “This ain’t no Camp Bisco!” Buckethead was scheduled to kick off the late-night festivities, but a late start instigated restless people to chant until the guitar god revealed himself just after 10 PM.
Known for his theatrics as much as his instrumental skill, Buckethead appeared on stage through fog-machine mist wearing the trademark KFC bucket on his head. People in the front row began a contagious wave of bowing down, as he switched from electric guitar to bass guitar during the course of his performance. As performers began spinning poi and doing various fire performances to the tune of Buckethead’s shredding, he couldn’t help but look a little bit out of place in the festival setting.
Buckethead interrupted 45 minutes of instrumental guitar thrashing to play with nunchucks and do the robot while wearing giant, red number-one foam hands. He then put down his guitar and grabbed a large bag full of toys such as squirt guns and My Little Pony figurines, and threw them into the crowd, all to the title track from the movie Space Jam, reminding all that festivals are a perfect opportunity to bring younger, carefree spirits out to play.