Fest Food: Magnaball

Our kitchen was cranking out enough cold brew concentrate for 800 cups of iced coffee. Everything was covered in coffee grounds for weeks and I thought the sound of grinding would never stop, but the moment we had been waiting for all summer arrived at last: it was time to pack up the car and make the pilgrimage from New England to Watkins Glen.

I splurged on tickets to the first Festival Ate dinner on Thursday evening, justifying the expense as it being my journalistic duty to do so. The setup was incredibly impressive, transforming a simple tent with some lighting and fabric to create a warm, elegant space and it was surreal to walk into a fine dining restaurant in the middle of a muddy field. Every night featured a different menu for vegans, vegetarians, or omnivores with beautiful plates of seasonal produce from Finger Lakes farms, each course named for Phish songs. While some dishes were not as flavorful as I hoped, it is not fair to judge a new restaurant on the first night of service in a big city, let alone at a music festival. Overflowing pitchers of the headiest Vermont craft beer pairings easily paid for the cost of the dinner and I discovered my favorite brew of the fest, Sip of Sunshine from Lawson’s Finest Liquids.

Every morning at Magnaball you could go do yoga, then wander through the farmer’s market snacking on freshly baked breads with local cheese, pickle and beet juice shots, a rainbow of summer vegetables and heirloom tomatoes, lush from the peak season sun. Elderflower Farm was selling blueberries by the pint as well as berry popsicles that made a perfect breakfast. I was lucky enough to be standing there when the caterers brought over a batch of blueberry muffins still warm from the oven that were fluffy, golden, and buttery. Elderflower Farm is run by the Fishman family in Lincoln, ME and in addition to growing berries, they produce organic, raw milk from jersey cows, and have Shetland sheep, pigs, chickens, turkeys and horses.

Next to Elderflower at the farmers market, Tessa Gordon, Mike’s 9 year old daughter, had set up a lemonade stand with proceeds to benefit The WaterWheel Foundation. The most adorable stand imaginable was constructed and Tessa couldn’t have been cuter in a lemon-patterned apron, serving up the tart drinks with a shot of blueberry juice and a yellow, polka-dot straw.

The fest food lineup at Magnaball was truly fantastic with something for everyone, from teriyaki tofu with quinoa to BBQ pulled pork from a giant smoker or pizza baked in a wood fired oven. There were so many new vendors to try, but at setbreak the first night, the siren song of an old favorite called… a primal craving for JERRY ROLL. This is the original king of Shakedown cuisine, vended on lots since the early days of the Grateful Dead and still going strong at shows across the country. The gigantic egg rolls are stuffed with shredded veggies, fried, and sodomized with Sriracha, soy and duck sauce. After inhaling my roll, I literally needed be hosed down under a water pump to regain composure and return to the show.  

All summer we enjoyed the most delicious iced cold brew coffee at home, so my fiance wanted to spread the gospel of this beverage by vending at the fest. Every morning we were up early, ready to sell coffee in the lots. “It’s Ice Cold Brew Co.” featured both dark and light Magnaroasts that were low in acidity, high in caffine and had rich, robust flavor. Seeing the joy come over the hungover faces of happy campers as they took a sip and said, “Ahhh.. delicious!” made all his hard work worthwhile. And rolling out of my tent every morning to an unlimited supply of artisan iced coffee was absolutely heavenly, making Anthony my personal Magnaball MVP.

The last evening of the festival the pressure was on to plow through as many vendors as possible and that’s exactly what we did. Our all around festival favorite award goes to… Roti Rolls! This food truck from Charleston, SC served meat, veggies, and curry on Indian flatbreads similar to a scallion pancake. Easy to eat, filling but not heavy, with satisfying flavor is the recipe for perfect festival food and Roti Rolls definitely crushed it. An honorable mention goes to Arancini Bros from NYC for their sweet and savory stuffed risotto balls. And Righteous Felon Jerky for their Victorious BIG variety made with Victory Brewing Company beer- they share a wall with the brewery in Pennsylvania. I’ve never ordered food online in my life, but one taste convinced me to track them down immediately after the festival and order a wholesale case.

For the last evening at Waterwheel, I had to check out our neighbors vending in the next tent. They turned out to be a bunch of Phish fans from Massachusetts with an artisan popcorn company called Corn and Co. and gave us a box of goodies to taste test which we washed down with hibiscus, ginger, lime Aqua Vitea kombucha. When I returned to report back on our favorites, the owner mentioned that they were donating all their tips from that weekend to WaterWheel. I tried to reply and uncontrollably burst into tears of joy. All the wonder, magic, and good vibes of Magnaball seemed to culminate in this one act of kindness. Later that night we found out that WaterWheel hit a fundraising record at the festival with more support from the fans than ever before to help good causes across the country.

After the sublime YEM > fireworks encore, we danced our way through the DJ Drive-In set for a final midnight snack: hot and juicy fried chicken. Just as we ordered, a hot pan of cornbread came out of the oven and maple butter slathered squares were passed out to all the kids in line. It was a slice of heaven, just like Magnaball. Which was really a food festival where Phish happened to be playing every day. My dream come true.