Please pick up your trash, this is not Bonnaroo.”
Those words greeted us on a sign that marked the entrance to the Wildwood Revival campgrounds this past weekend, moments after a volunteer warned us a rattlesnake had been spotted near one of the patron’s tents. “They bush-hogged it the other day and it stirred some stuff up, so keep an eye out, boys,” he told us.
There was no chance of anyone mistaking Wildwood for Bonnaroo. Now in its third year, this finely curated music and culture festival is the epitome of a laid-back Southern hang.
Wildwood is held on 30 acres of rolling farm country in northeast Georgia, about a twenty-minute drive from Athens. An 1850s antebellum mansion sits prominently at the front of the property. This year’s event was capped at 500 entrants and at times gave off the air of an over-sized Southern wedding. It was a far cry from the bacchanalia that is Bonnaroo — no toplessness here, no candy-flippers frolicking in mushroom fountains, no appeals to the lunatic fringe.
The two-day event featured 15 musical acts and leaned heavily on rootsy singer-songwriter fare (Joe Fletcher, Lindi Ortega, Kelsey Waldon among them), with some more rocking ensembles (Water Liars, Blackfoot Gypsies, American Aquarium) thrown in for good measure.
In addition to the music, all of which took place from a stage nestled at the front of an open-air barn, the weekend offered a wide spectrum of life’s finer things: farm-to-table cuisine, craft beer, a pop-up vintage clothing store, Civil War-era tintype photographic portrait sessions for patrons, wiffle ball, an early morning yoga session, and more.
So it was as much an all-around chill-out as it was a music event. Once the province of neo-hippies and jam bands, the music festival as we know it is a constantly evolving beast, offering a little something for everybody, if they know where to look. Some festivals are run so well it’s easy to get spoiled as a music fan. In the age of the Internet and human isolation, these type of affairs also make for great social events, giving patrons to chance to kick back and make new friends with kindred spirits.
We arrived on grounds late Saturday afternoon to find Joe Fletcher and the Wrong Reasons engaged in a rowdy set amid some Deep South August humidity. (My photographer marked time that day by the arc of the sweat stain on my friend Will’s T-shirt.) Fletcher, who cut his teeth in the Providence, Rhode Island music scene but moved to Nashville years ago, led the crowd in a sweaty sing-along of “Mabel Gray,” an original tune by Brown Bird, the solo project of David Lamb, a Providence musician and friend of Fletcher’s who passed away from leukemia in 2014. Fletcher’s band, which featured Texas singer-songwriter Brian Wright on lead guitar, closed the set with a rootsy, down-home version of the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man.”
Another highlight on Saturday came from Water Liars, a three-piece from Oxford, Mississippi who takes its name from a short story by Barry Hannah, the other great writer who made his home in Oxford. They delivered their brand of Crazy-Horse styled Southern rock as the drummer took sips of beer from a sports water bottle between songs.
Canadian songstress Lindi Ortega, who served up a sea of heartbreak ballads along with a cover of Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz,” was the last performer to take the stage. Her set was followed by the Keep On Movin’ dance party, a DJ set of national renown that goes down every Monday at East Nashville’s 5 Spot. Their playlist, heavy on the Motown, made for the perfect ending to a great day of music.