Driving through the winding back roads of Upstate New York, it was apparent that it would be a beautiful weekend for a festival. This would be Bella Terra’s fifth year, and fourth year at it’s current location on Gardner’s Farm in Stephentown, New York. The venue is home to people, plants and animals, and the name Bella Terra (beautiful earth) could not possibly embody a more perfect location for an upstate New York festival, and it definitely adds to the charm and allure of this late summer gathering.
The music was spot on all weekend. The moment your campsite was set up you were drawn to the Red Bull MXT stage residing on the edge of the woods. One of the best sets of the weekend was the back to back performance of Mentally Ill and Leila Harrison. The moment they took the stage, drum and bass reverberated throughout the campgrounds, drawing people out of their sites to dance in the cool August evening. Throughout the weekend the Red Bull truck stage pumped out a variety of different music spanning from early morning dub to late night dubstep. It was an excellent addition and created a balance between the campgrounds and the main concert area.
This year there were two main stages, much like most other quickly-growing festivals. It certainly makes it easier for the crew and it also eliminates the wait time in between sets. All of the headliners that played the festival absolutely blew the crowd away. The highlights of the weekend were definitely The Manhattan Project, Ghost Face Killah, and Robokop. The crowd did not seem to mind Ghostface Killah’s hour delay when he took stage and delivered an insanely high energy set. Ghostface Killah spoke in regards to the festival’s overall vibe saying, “It’s insane to be on stage and see the people singing your songs, knowing you, loving you, and you really can’t ask for anything else. I used to read about some of these places in text books and now I’m performing in front of them. It’s really a blessing.” That energy and that vibe permeated throughout the festival as each artist that took stage was met with so much love and admiration from the crowd. The overwhelming amount of appreciation and respect for music and art is very evident at Bella Terra. Robokop was especially an interesting act to bring to the Bella Terra stage; Clay Parnell of Brother’s Past and Allen Aucoin of The Disco Biscuits come together in an explosive collaboration creating something in the electronic music world that has not been seen before. Emancipator was another amazing and different act that stood out among the other talent. The smooth, ambient samples layered with live violin and down tempo beats made the crowd move in rhythmic waves within the hot tent packed with people.
Datsik took the stage drawing a huge crowd, in part because there were no other artists playing during his time slot, but also due to his huge following in the Upstate region. Although it was a great performance, another act was definitely needed because variety is the key to success at a festival. On the other hand, it is apparent why they chose to exclude any other acts during Datsik with the huge turnout for main stage during his performance. His set introduced hard womping beats that pulsated through the crowd and made the main stage area come alive. Turkuaz delivered a mind-blowing funk-filled set at the late night tent that had everyone moving in throngs from their sites to witness this erratic display of sonic-explosions. The stage was packed with a wide array of instruments Turkuaz brings to their signature sounds. The most interesting site within the tent was a festival goer who had casually fallen asleep atop a table ten feet from the stage using a volley ball as his head support. Interesting things can always be seen in late night tents at a festival, but this was surely a first. How one could take a cat nap during such a loud, energetic and funktastic set is a feat unto itself.
Cinder Block Hustle, true to fashion, had a large area near main stage filled with art installations. Scattered about were giant wooden cutouts of legendary figures that needless to say would tempt you to take some embarrassing pictures with that you would most likely find on your cellphone weeks later. Fantastic and vibrant displays of art were at every turn, adding even more beauty to the layout of the land. The installations also offered some shade and a place to rest during the hot afternoons. The festival also stayed true to nature with it’s eight foot Bella Terra Festival art installation created by some of the best graffiti artists in the game. Each year the amount of intricate detail only grows in this mind blowing centerpiece of the festival. Another spectacular aspect of the festival is the degree of effort put into making sure all of the children and families throughout the weekend are occupied. At one point a full troupe of larger than life puppets came strolling through the campsites riding on the tiny shoulders of the festival inhabiting children. It was certainly quite the sight to see.
Throughout the festival you could catch live painting and live graffiti from some of the best artists in the game. Bella Terra does a phenomenal job fusing the two worlds of music and art and bringing them together to be appreciated and respected in a community that promotes a wide array of talents. It was not strange at all to wake up in the morning and pass a group of jugglers, or unicyclists or even puppeteer- and that is the beautiful essence of Bella Terra. Taking a casual and slow stroll through the festival was a giant tortoise who visited camp sites and brought vast amounts of entertainment to the weekend. Only at Bella Terra would it be common place to see a tortoise wander through the camp grounds. If that was not enough diversity for you, there was also a field of grazing cattle all but a stones throw from the camp’s showers. These are the kinds of things you can only see at a festival in Upstate New York. Overall, Bella Terra was another great success and it is evident that with the growth and popularity this festival has already achieved this festival has become a staple for the East Coast Festival and music scene.