In the northwest hills of Connecticut lies the sleepy little village of Goshen. In past Octobers, leaf peepers made up the majority of people travelling to this area of the state to see the brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges that Mother Nature shows off every Autumn. This year was different. This October Goshen played host to the first annual Black Bear Americana Music Festival (BBAMF) held at the Goshen Fair Grounds and plans are in place to repeat this event in 2019! As this was the first BBAMF the focus of this article is shifted from the music (which will be discussed) to the festival itself to let the reader know what they will be in for when they make the trip to Goshen next year.
Those folks who were fortunate enough to attend the festival were treated to great music, great food and drinks, and a feeling like they were thrown back in time. This festival had a feeling of old New England about it. There was a sense of community that pervaded the grounds that made everyone feel welcome. From the folks running the event to the volunteers assisting people crossing Rt 63 from the parking lot, everyone greeted you with a big smile and a hearty hello.
For a very small fee, there is a huge amount of parking available to festival goers located right across the street from the fairgrounds with volunteers assisting you in where to park and as mentioned, there are crossing guards to stop traffic. Once you enter the grounds, you will find the first of four stages, There is a lovely little pavilion in a field that housed a number of small acts much to the delight of folks arriving while they were performing. There was also a “Black Bear Workshop Stage” located in a barn where artists or collections of artists gave intimate performances with question and answer sessions on things from harmonizing to song writing to the history of rockabilly. One such session was brought out to a lawn area by Boston artist Adam Ezra where he sat barefoot on his guitar case in the sunshine while performing with an acoustic guitar to a small dedicated audience. It was obviously a huge treat to those folks who were his fans and those who became fans right then and there.
The final two performance stages sat at the bottom of a gently sloped hill that can easily fit the largest of crowds that will no doubt be attending BBAMF in the years to come. One was a full sized stage complete with smoke machines and intricate stage lighting. This stage played host to the larger of the bands playing the festival. Next to that stage sat a lower smaller stage which hosted the smaller folk acts and local performers in between shows on the larger main stage. One need not move to watch shows on either of the two main stages. Lawn chairs and blankets are welcome and needed as the grass tends to be dewy for the earlier performances and then again once the sun begins to set.
BBAMF played host to a number of vendors selling crafts, clothing, jewelry and the like. There was also a merchandise booth which sold festival memorabilia from shirts to hats to large camp style coffee mugs, all emblazoned with the festival logo. Great keepsakes to show your love for this great festival! They also sold CD’s and other merchandise of the various acts of the day so if you fell in love with the music of a particular artist, you could bring some of that love home with you.
This is one festival that won’t leave you hungry! There were a variety of food and drink vendors that would please most everyone. Goshen area favorites, Nodine’s Smokehouse had all sorts of freshly made sausages, burgers, and dogs. Reggae Boy catering from Poughkeepsie, NY served up a wide variety of Jamaican food from jerk pork to fried plantains to beef patties. Central Connecticut favorites, Bears Smokehouse served up traditional barbecue favorites from pork to beef to chicken with all the traditional sides. There were also booths serving up the likes of soft pretzels with dipping sauces and cider doughnuts. There was a slushie vendor for kids and a wine slushie vendor for kids over 21. There was also a booth hosted by Bloomfield based Thomas Hooker Brewery for those fans of fine beer. There were also booths selling wine, coffee and hot and cold apple cider, a traditional New England Fall classic beverage! For those who are interested, there are two local vineyards that are not far from the festival site to visit while you’re in the area!
This festival offers camping to those who wish to stay on site for a night or the whole weekend! They offer places for both tent camping and campers and it seemed there were a number of social gatherings in the evening once the bands started to wind down. People were respectful of others but had fun with friends old and new. The onsite facilities were plentiful as well. There were no rows of porta-potties as is often seen at festivals. The Goshen Fairgrounds has large men’s and women’s rooms that easily accommodated festival goers.
This is a very family friendly / kid friendly festival. There was a female walking the grounds on stilts with a variety of costumes which enthralled kids and adults alike. There was a corn hole tournament with the winners receiving half the entry fees collected with the other half donated to a local charity. There was a large bonfire each night at the far end of the fairgrounds for everyone to gather around, listen to the music, and gaze into the flames. They also had a make shift hula hoop class that a number of youths truly enjoyed as well as a few adults. This is a festival that no one should hesitate bringing their kids to. Even the music was kid friendly as questionable language was an extreme rarity, always a pleasure in this day and age.
Speaking of the music, as it’s billed as an Americana music festival, the variety of styles was broad. There were even flavors of Celtic and Jamaican music but those glimpses were brief. There were a lot of bands that are probably unfamiliar to you but they shouldn’t be. Each and every artist was giving it their all and were highly entertaining. There were a large number of folk singers such as John Gorka, Joe Crookston, and Mike Powell (who we caught up with – interview will be posted soon) The legendary Louisiana Cajun band, the Revelers, lit up the main stage Saturday night as well as a small intimate show on the Workshop Stage the next morning. The band loved the festival and stated they can’t wait to return. As they were well received, their fans can’t wait for them to return as well!
Other bands to grace the main stage were the aforementioned folk rocker Adam Ezra but unlike his earlier intimate performance, he appeared with his band. He ended his set by heading out into the audience with his guitar much to the joy of his fans. Another festival favorite was the darlings of the Hudson Valley, The Grand Slambovians. They combine folk, rock, and a touch of gypsy music and end up with a style that is a very unique sound. Rockabilly cats, The Lustre Kings had Friday’s end of the night folks up on their feet, dancing in the dark. Band leader Mark Gamsjager and doghouse bass player Mike “Chops” LaConte joined the dancers out on the lawn much to their delight. They also did a rockabilly seminar first thing Saturday morning which was well received. Out of Illinois came a country folk rocking group of youngsters called The Way Down Wanderers. With dreadlocks flailing about, they caught many folks by surprise with their get up and dance music. Sunday morning saw a collection of performers gather together to do a wonderfully spiritual set of gospel music. A great way to kick off a Sunday morning. There were many MANY more performers that graced the stages, too many to mention. But every act was top shelf!
As mentioned, the good folks at Black Bear Americana Music Festival are already gearing up for 2019. The 2nd annual festival will be held at the same location on Oct 11-13 with camping available from the 10th to the 14th. If you act before December 31. 2018, you will receive a 25% discount on your tickets. Act now and save big. When the time comes, you will NOT be disappointed with your decision to attend!
Review and photos by Rich Russo