Mudfest ‘98: The Berkshire Mountain Music Festival

by Brian L. Knight

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It has been a wet couple of weeks in New England. For about seven days straight, the rain relentlessly fell upon our heads. The repercussions were felt everywhere: hikers got lost in the mountains, a rafter perished in the West River and towns suffered from flash flooding. During the weekend of June 12-14, the rain stopped for only brief moments and then picked up again with even more fervor. Despite this onslaught of poor weather, the Berkshire Mountain Music Festival in Lanesboro, Massachusetts persevered and provided three days of fantastic music.

In the beginning, the Berkshire Mountain Music Festival was an ambitious plan. The festival was organized by Gamelan productions of Boston and High Sierra productions of California. Both outfits were experienced with the music industry and High Sierra has organized numerous concerts in California in the past. It was this organization that allowed to for the festival to come to fruition. The organizers easily impressed the local officials and the permit getting process was relatively easy.

According to the organizers, finding a suitable site was the biggest hurdle to overcome. The festival was in the conceptual stages for many years and the only thing thwarting its reality was finding a site. After putting feelers out, a friend of Gamelan Productions located a site in Lanesboro, Massachusetts. A farmer named Rob Steele had allowed his farm to be used for a bluegrass festival and he was willing to give a rock and roll festival a try. After convincing a few doubters that Los Lobos was not a heavy metal act, the site was confirmed.

After finding the location, the organizers began to put the festival together. A professional was flown in from California to help run the event while the local producers scrambled to get the necessary infrastructure, permits and most importantly, the musicians. By the time the festival arrived, there were over 40 bands slated for the event, two stages, kids activities, lots of food and best of all - plenty of port-a-potties.

The only thing that got in the way of the event was good old mother nature - she decided to rain before, during and after the festival. Although a major pain in the ass, the organizers quickly acclimated their game plan to the climate and like so many musicians who came to play at the festival - they improvised. The organizers had to cancel most of the second stage acts and they moved the main stage acts inside to the acoustic tent. The rain created a big mud puddle out of the fields and the parking had to be transferred to the main road. For the cars already inside the fields, farmer Steele brought out his trusty tractor to assist the numerous stuck vehicles.

As for the concert-goers, they were treated to all of the main stage acts in the intimate setting of the acoustic tent. Food was still being served and the beer tent was alive and well. During a brief respite in the weather on Saturday night, Los Lobos took to the Main Stage. The remaining phenomenal acts, such as the Slip, Galactic, Loudon Wainwright III, Charlie Hunter, String Cheese Incident and the funky Meters, treated the fans to a private concert in the confines of the tent. For the fans who braved the mud and the rain, the music was a special gift. To the organizers, the mud and rain was a little less desirable but it did not stop them from putting on a professional, well ran event. To look at things from a positive point of view, we should look towards the other big concert that happened the same weekend. During the Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington DC, Mother Nature was a little harsher as she struck a bolt of lightning amongst the fans. With this in mind, a little rain and mud looks a little inviting.