Intimate crowds. Squeaky clean port-a-potties. Cheap craft beer. Minimal security checkpoints. Underground headliners. Functional pirate ships.
If these concepts are unfamiliar to you, it’s because you’ve been wasting time at the wrong music festivals.
Over Memorial Day Weekend, Brooklyn’s beloved party starters, BangOn!NYC, hosted their inaugural Elements Arts & Music Festival at Camp Ramah in the Poconos. This delightfully different take on a three-day music and camping event reminded even jaded-old-me just how sweet the festival life can be.
The BangOn!NYC crew is notorious for throwing top-notch, burner-style ragers, complete with art cars, climbable installations and internationally renowned musical talent. Their first foray outside of Brooklyn provided the perfect opportunity to take their one-of-a-kind style to the next level at a vacated Jewish summer camp tucked deep in the secluded woods of Lakewood, PA. Top tier names like Claude VonStroke, Lee Burridge, Keys N Krates and SNBRN unleashed incredible sets from sun up until sun down across 10 stages, which ranged from a makeshift, lakefront crab shack to a dreamy, tree-house inspired forest.
More than 4,000 attendees made the trek to this premiere event, and the general consensus was this: BangOn!NYC has changed the festival game. After taking a spin through the Tiki Disco roller rink (free skate rentals with your ID!), it became very clear to me: If you build it, they will come.
Veteran thrill seekers are downright tired of the invasive pat downs, brutal beer lines and the lack of variety found at mainstream music festivals. With so many city-bound and destination fests to choose from, lineup hardly plays a major role in one’s decision to buy a ticket nowadays. People are desperate to experience something new in the company of good friends, and BangOn!NYC delivered this as their first priority by creating an ephemeral adult playground where weird was the new normal. And surprisingly enough, everyone seemed to follow the rules. (I mean, to an extent. Let’s just say, I never once saw a stretcher or a naked teenager tripping balls on bath salts – something that’s become all too familiar at overcrowded, 18+ EDM events.)
That’s not to say that the lineup wasn’t impressive on its own – UK Glitch Hop artist, Tipper, was a rare booking, and house producers like Justin Jay, Doorly and Bixel Boys are all hot draws. But ultimately, BangOn!NYC was successful because they imagined a fun-filled wonderland where everyone was created equal. Local artists shared the stage with headliners. VIP ticket holders roamed the grounds with their friends in GA (though they did have comfy beds to sleep in at night thanks to the on-site cabin accommodations). Everyone was welcome aboard a floating pirate ship. And a “Healing Garden” provided wellness workshops and yoga classes for the attendees who opted to get balanced on Revive Kombucha instead of lit on Goose Island IPAs.
Longtime supporters of BangOn!NYC must have been thrilled to see the puzzle come together. I know I was. The massive campground was littered with almost two decades worth of art installations that have acted as the centerpieces of past Time + Space NYE parties, Short Shorts disco raves, and of course, the collective’s hugely successful Brooklyn-based festival of the same name.
As with any first-year festival, there were some kinks. Off-site parking and shuttle transportation left some campers with long wait times and muddy gear. The camp’s well system was not prepared for the onslaught of thousands of attendees, resulting in periods when showers were unavailable (but honestly, whatever, Liquid Stranger was on the bill, and I know his fans embrace that filth-life). Regardless, everyone made it work. The vibes were stellar. Strangers looked out for each other. Friends shared magical moments. People threw away their own trash, for fuck’s sake.
So I’m giving an enormous hug, high five and booty bounce to BangOn!NYC for making festivals invigorating again. The organizers have eluded to Lakewood’s 2018 return on social media, so let’s hope the party comes back even stronger next year. What I saw was the beginning of something big, but only if it wants to be. After all, BangOn!NYC’s shindigs shine brightest when intimacy is the focus and the magic is reserved for those who celebrate the spirit of innovation.
Don’t miss BangOn!NYC’s third annual Elements Arts & Music Festival taking place in Brooklyn, August 12-13 featuring sets from Zeds Dead, GRiZ, The Knocks, Flying Lotus and many more. Avoid FOMO by snagging single day and weekend passes HERE.