It’s the 2014 Hudson Project festival. MAGNET’s Maureen Coulter reports from the festival.
“I never thought I’d find myself on one of these again,” a festival-goer remarked as we all piled into a yellow school bus serving as the shuttle between the parking lot and the Hudson Project festival grounds. It turned out to be a fitting way to travel to the event at which everyone felt free to unleash their inner child. Nestled in the mountain town of Saugerties, N.Y., far from reliable cell-phone service and the daily grind of work, schoo, and other responsibilities, the mostly 20-something crowd frolicked about in pajamas, underwear, costumes, bathing suits, body paint and mismatched plaid and tie-dye combos.
Like the first day of a new school year, people were excitedly striking up conversations with each other. “Where are you from?” “You pumped for Modest Mouse?” When we arrived at the venue and walked amidst the Ferris wheel, tents and yard games, it was apparent that festival-goers were here to play. A big, burly guy in a tie-dye T-shirt carried around a “Free Hugs” sign. Half-naked girls in body glitter hoisted signs and props such as oversized photos of Oprah and Gary Busey, glowing jellyfish umbrellas and inflatable sharks. A giggling group of friends were rolling down the grassy hill next to one of the stages. And this was before the music had even started.
As dusk settled upon the festival-goers assembled in front of the Empire Stage on Friday night, Modest Mouse played its jilted-yet-melodic brand of folk rock, starting off with the strong banjo riff of “Satin In A Coffin.” Singer/guitarist Isaac Brock spewed his raspy, gut-wrenching lyrics into the microphone like it had pissed him off. He took command of the stage through brute force, rather than by intrinsic charisma. With a polo T-shirt, copious tattoos and a mop of hair, he looked like someone who frequents the local sports bar instead of the front man of one of the most successful indie bands of the past two decades. Wasting little time bantering with the crowd, the group segued into favorites “The View,” “Dramamine” and “Third Planet,” before sending us off with the thunderous “Cities Made Of Ashes.”
Once darkness enveloped the festival grounds, the costumes and props emerged in full force. Glassy-eyed kids in cow suits and sparkly fairy outfits marched to the Explorer Stage with homemade illuminated signs, blinking hula hoops and glow sticks to take in festival veterans Sound Tribe Sector 9, the psychedelic instrumental electro-rock group favored by the jam-band scene. STS9 could barely fit a fraction of its work into the 90 minute set—the prolific band has made 11 albums since it began 10 years ago. Across the grounds inside the Circus Tent, the dance party continued into the night with electronic dub-step artists Savoy and Excision.
Pretty much every day we were at the Hudson Project, we witnessed people having fun with antics that would raise eyebrows, trigger snickers or outright offend in any other setting. As everyone waited for the shuttle on day two, we watched one guy—built like an NFL wide receiver and wearing nothing but a patchwork skirt and muddy Vibrams—play in the parking lot with bubbles while smiling and waving at amused bystanders.
We took in a few second- and third-tier acts throughout Saturday afternoon. ZZ Ward is Adele with a harmonica. If she ever breaks out, parents across the nation will be hearing their teenage daughters belting her songs from the shower. Wearing a fedora and black boots, she buttered up the crowd, telling them how delicious and sexy they looked. However, this was the beginning of the day, when no one’s makeup has melted off yet and their bodies were not yet burnt to a crisp.
Early in the evening, Rebelution, the talented Sublime-esque reggae crew, played to a burgeoning crowd as the odor of pot grew increasingly pungent. Acid-jazz, trip-hop DJ Bonobo and lively hip-hop duo Big Gigantic warmed us up for the later acts.
A downpour around 8:30 p.m. sent festival-goers running for the tents. We ended up huddled with a few hundred others in the New York tent with a mediocre local band that had never seen this many people see the group play even in its high-school orchestra production. However, once the rain cleared a few minutes later, the sopping-wet crowd hauled their signs and props back to Big Gigantic.
Matt And Kim embodied the theme of the festival, living up to its reputation of having a fun, D.I.Y. attitude toward music and basically doing whatever the heck the band wanted to do onstage. Upbeat and party-friendly, the duo is best known for perky 2009 hit “Daylight,” and its songs are in every commercial and movie trailer made in the last five years. Kim, with her checkered pants and Colgate smile, throttled the drums with her Crossfit biceps and couldn’t sit still, climbing on top of the set and shaking her very toned rear at the audience while still drumming. The duo played interludes of club music like Master P’s “Make ‘Em Say UHH” and engaged the fans in the audience in a way that would make Blue’s Clues proud, throwing balloons into the crowd and encouraging dance parties and sing-alongs. The duo was also hilarious. “We are going to play something by a great American poet. You may have heard of Robert Kelly, known as R. Kelly.” Then Matt commenced a group recital of “Bump n’ Grind.” By the end of the set, I wasn’t sure who had the better time—the audience, or Matt And Kim.
On the third day, bleary-eyed and sunburnt festival-goers straggled into the venue and headed straight for the food and beer concession stands to cure their hangovers. Early afternoon was cooler than the previous two days, but rain clouds loomed. We took in a few performances including the Floozies, who played an electro-funk set to a packed Circus Tent. Mid-afternoon, organizers appeased futbol fans by showing the World Cup Final on a big screen in the New York tent. At the 75th minute, an announcement came in over the loudspeaker telling everyone that they were suspending the festival due to severe weather concerns. Not wanting to be conductors of lightning, and realizing that the shuttle pick-up zone could turn into a Titanic situation, we hustled to the parking lot and hopped onto a bus. Other people weren’t so lucky. Packed-up vehicles floundered in the mud, and marooned and cranky attendees left unhappy comments on the festival’s Facebook page.
Despite the less-than-perfect weekend, we still enjoyed two-and-a-half days in a bubble of good music, good vibes and free expression—which is all that folks will remember a month from now anyway. The next time I ride a school bus, I hope it’s during Hudson Project 2015.