A wise man once said, “You can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather.” Although the inaugural year of The Hudson Project wasn’t one of the over 40 festivals OutKast are playing this summer, André 3000’s words still rang true. Mother Nature saved her greatest test for the final day of the three-day camping festival held at Winston Farms in Saugerties, N.Y., the location of Woodstock ’94. After two (relatively) beautiful days of warmth and sunshine, Sunday brought a massive storm system with slashing, hurricane-force rains, spectacular lightning, and booming claps of thunder.
Update: According to the Hudson Project’s Facebook page, the festival will issue refunds for the cancellation of the remaining shows originally scheduled for Sunday evening.
Evacuation of Venue: 4:45 p.m.
At 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, festival organizers postponed all sets due to these weather concerns. Security ushered everybody out of the venue grounds and strongly encouraged people to move directly to their vehicles or to pack up their tents and then go to their cars. If you didn’t have a car (like this reporter), you were literally recommended to “make a friend.” This seemed like a pretty asinine thing to say, especially when a significant portion of festivalgoers either a) were parked at will call, which was about three miles away or b) took some form of public transportation, like I did. (Even those who managed to get to their cars in the daily parking areas, which were located onsite, were not guaranteed to get out because the torrential downpours quickly turned the parking fields into a swamp, with water six inches deep at some points. Many got stuck or had to be towed out.)
Postponement and Cancellation: 7:41 p.m.
This was the greatest logistical and communications challenge for the festival, and unfortunately security and organizers did not rise to the occasion. Shortly after returning to my campsite, the torrential downpours began at about 5:15 p.m. It was just as well that I didn’t pack everything up and try to hitchhike in somebody else’s car because I probably would’ve gotten caught in the storm. Instead, I sat in my temporary home, bailing water out of my tent with a Nalgene bottle in a feverish attempt to preserve all my electronics. The rains eased up at about 7:15 p.m., but there was no word about whether the show would go on. Security and staffers could be seen frantically driving around the campgrounds, but nobody would divulge any information.
Naturally the campers in the Bronx (the neighborhood where I “lived” for the weekend—everything was New York City-themed) swapped rumors about the fate of the festival. Nearly an hour before there was any official decision from the festival, Bassnectar (Sunday’s planned headliner) tweeted that the rest of The Hudson Project was canceled. (I was actually excited to see his show, which was the longest planned set of the entire festival. Bassnectar seemed genuinely concerned, tweeting his disappointment that he couldn’t perform.)
At 7:41 p.m., 51 minutes after the Bassnectar posted his tweet, the official Hudson Project twitter account called off the rest of the festival.
Remaining acts that didn’t perform on Sunday included Bassnectar, Action Bronson, STRFKR, Capital Cities, and Infected Mushroom.
“Our first priority is always the safety of our fans, artists, and staff,” said Jonathan Fordin, partner of MCP Presents, the promoter behind the Hudson Project. “We regret having to cancel any performance, but safety always comes first.”
Which lead us to…
Evacuation of Grounds: Time N/A
In that crucial hour that it took for the Hudson Project to officially call everything off, people still waited around with the hopes that the festival would resume, even if only with shortened sets or a reduced lineup. The critical problem with this delay was that another equally powerful storm system was about to sweep through the area. With the second thunderstorm bearing down on the grounds, there were almost no staffers on site to answer questions. When I managed to track down one woman wearing a Hudson Project shirt, I asked if the New York City-bound shuttles—originally planned for the next morning at 10 a.m.—would depart on Sunday night instead because of the inclement weather. I received a very vague response that they were “looking into it.”
Ultimately, people were evacuated to will call, which was at a local ice hockey arena, by school buses. The charter buses to nearby major metropolitan areas remained scheduled for Monday morning, so people had to hole up within the arena until the next day. However, there was no email from The Hudson Project, despite being on a Listserv that had previously sent me information regarding the shuttles. This information was only revealed on Twitter, and I was lucky that I had charged my phone in the media tent before the evacuation. Again, it seemed like most of the staff had left by this point, and with the second round of relentless rain, the Bronx campground was becoming dangerously flooded. Luckily, I got picked up, but with nobody making any announcements in my area, I would have otherwise unknowingly stayed in the campgrounds.
I can acknowledge that the weather is beyond anyone’s control, but there were such enormous and frustrating lapses in communication that I actually felt unsafe since I was traveling by myself. I obviously was not behind the scenes when the festival was first postponed, but I believe it must have been possible to call up those school buses as soon as a cancellation became a real possibility, especially for the long-distance travelers. The worst part was that the staff seemed to be the first to disappear.
The atmosphere in the “Bronx,” which was festive and jovial for the first two days, suddenly turned dark. People seemed to be seriously discussing rioting, hopping the fences to return to the venue or burning tents. Thankfully, no destruction occurred, and most people just packed up and left. This all sounds pretty bad—make no mistake, it was—and similar logistical and communication shortcomings happened to a much lesser degree on the first two days, but Friday and Saturday showed promise of what The Hudson Project could be at its best with some tweaking should future editions take place.
An older photographer regaled the other media members with stories of Woodstock ’94: an estimated 350,000 attendees, an endless procession of people entering with kegs, and a stacked lineup that featured Bob Dylan, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, Green Day, and Santana. Fast-forward 20 years, and the scene in Saugerties, N.Y., has changed quite a bit: the festival organizers only expected about 20,000 fans each day, and naturally there’s a bit more security than in the past glory days.
The varying levels of security rightly frustrated fans—sometimes guards gave me a thorough pat down and searched through all my pockets; other times they barely gave me a passing glance. One thing that definitely pissed people off was the policy that cigarettes brought into the venue needed to be sealed. Until the Sunday debacle, all these issues were secondary to the music. The Hudson Project’s diverse lineup, which showcased psychedelic rock, folk, blues, jazz, electronica, and hip-hop, attracted hula-hooping, bubble-blowing hippies, retro NBA jersey-clad bros, and just about everyone imaginable in between.
When the two shuttles organized by the festival pulled up in New York City on Friday morning, the A/C had already broken on one bus, and the departure was half an hour late. It was an inauspicious start. Organization was spotty at times—not all staff were on the same page, and the media tent wasn’t even labeled for the early part of the first day. Although security was inconsistent, there weren’t huge lines at any point when the days began.
This was an overall feeling I had for the entire weekend: The venue never really felt crowded to the point of being uncomfortable. (The camping area, that was another story.) The organizers made a lot of good choices: water bottle refilling stations were staffed so there was never a long wait to stay hydrated; three of the five stages were in enormous tents, saving fans from the relentless sun; cell phone recharging stations were fine despite costing $25 (that is, until the recharging station disappeared for all of the third day); and overall the layout of the festival grounds was pretty intuitive and manageable—it was possible to cover the grounds in about 15 minutes.
There were some negative, flip sides to these decisions, though. The ground in the enclosed stages were completely torn up by hours and hours of people dancing. There was also noise bleeding across stages since they stood so close to each other, although scheduling conflicts happened less later in the day when the major artists performed.
As mentioned before, everything, from the stages to the camping areas to the pathways, was New York-themed. (RIP to my home, right off the intersection of the Cross Bronx Expressway and Pelham Parkway.) It was definitely crowded for us general admission plebeians who weren’t “glamping” (the festival’s VIP accommodations). Earlier rains had drenched the soggy ground, with brackish water oozing underfoot with every step, but with a few days baking in the sun the grounds firmed up a bit—at least until the rains came on Sunday. And at least among my Bronx “neighbors,” the positive vibes were noticeable—people were friendly, helpful, and generally respectful. It was easy to feel the solidarity of having your tent be turned into an oven in the early morning heat or trekking through the expansive mud pits.
This was my first time covering a camping music festival, so I needed to summon all the meager knowledge from my earlier Boy Scout days. On Saturday, I made the crucial error of not following the Scouts’ most sacred motto: Be prepared. With the sun hanging high in the sky bringing severe heat on the second day, I carelessly didn’t put the rain fly on my tent. But more on that in my write-up of Matt and Kim’s set.
Anyway, the festival did an admirable job for the first two and a half days of its inaugural edition. Organization of staff and security could be much better, especially in an emergency situation. The grounds are picturesque on a sunny summer day, but could be modified to improve the sound. But of course, there was the music, which was filled with memorable sets, from veteran acts like Atmosphere and The Flaming Lips to relative newcomers like ZZ Ward and Moon Hooch.
BEST SEXY SAX MEN
Friday, Catskill Cave – 2:45 p.m.
Moon Hooch delivered one of the best sets of the weekend without vocals, guitars or bass. The Brooklyn trio rely on their dueling saxophonists, Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen, backed by drummer James Muschler. (From Moon Hooch to Rebelution to GRiZ, the fans hoisting the “Sax Addict” and “I Came for Sax” totems got some serious mileage out of their signs.)
Onstage, Moon Hooch seem like pretty unassuming dudes. In fact, they kind of look like band geeks, only the type of band geeks who electrified a massive festival crowd. The band cut their teeth by performing on the streets of Williamsburg, so naturally their performance turns heads. Describing their sound as “cave music,” the band bring the ethos of the most intense dubstep through live instrumentation, with wailing notes slowly building into massive explosions of sound. At one point, McGowen even attached a traffic cone to the end of his saxophone, giving the instrument a wobbling, bass-like sound.
Wilbur and McGowen also radiate chemistry: as they trade off volleys on the saxophone, they sway toward each other to the beat. The band blazed through an improvised version of “Number 9”, including a drum solo in the middle of the track. When the band finished their set, they tried to let the crowd know their name, but their mics weren’t even working; they might not have been set up properly because they weren’t needed for the most part. Regardless, I doubt many who were in the audience will forget Moon Hooch.
Friday, Empire Stage – 4:00 p.m.
Out of all the bands on the bill, Dr. Dog may have fit the profile of Hudson Project the best: With their psychedelic-meets-garage sound as well as their style, they probably wouldn’t have been out of place at the original Woodstock. I reviewed Dr. Dog when they played the Riviera Theatre in Chicago this past February, but the band seemed even more at home outdoors than cooped up in a dark theater. In the bright afternoon sunshine, the vibrant colors of their trippy visuals added even more warmth to their set. Dr. Dog’s song choices varied from the slow and menacing, bluesy snarl of “The Beach” to the pulsing energy of “That Old Black Hole”, and the band harmonized beautifully to their closing track, “Oh Nelly”.
LEAST DADCORE SET FROM A PRETTY DADCORE-LOOKING DUDE
Friday, Empire Stage – 6:00 p.m.
Plenty of older gentlemen were in attendance at The Hudson Project, some who looked like they could’ve attended Woodstock ’94. Wearing cargo shorts and a black v-neck t-shirt while rocking a soul patch and silver streaks in his short hair, Atmosphere’s middle-aged rapper Slug looked pretty dadcore, but impressed with an intense set that spanned their discography, from “God’s Bathroom Floor” all the way to recent single “Kanye West”.
Often, hip-hop sets just don’t sound good: either the instrumentals are bombastic, or the performer can’t really sing or rap that well. That’s not the case with Atmosphere. In my experience with seeing artists from their Rhymesayers label (Toki Wright and P.O.S especially), their artists seem to be impeccable live performers.
Backing Slug were his usual DJ/producer Anthony Davis as well as Plain Ole Bill, another Minneapolis DJ who tours with P.O.S. Atmosphere indulged the crowd with classic favorites “GodLovesUgly”, “Yesterday”, and “Sunshine”—appropriately performed as the sun set on the first day of the festival—which the audience went crazy for.
Slug had some fun with the set by ad-libbing some of the lyrics to fit the show (example: in “Sunshine”, when the lyrics usually go “a car pulled up bumpin’ Fresh Prince’s ‘Summertime’,” Slug replaced that line with “a car pulled up bumpin’ my older jams” and transitioned to “Modern Man’s Hustle”.) Slug’s vocal skills were on full display during “The Woman with the Tattooed Hands”: The song began without any instrumentals, which allowed his rapping to shine in a stripped-down, spoken-word performance.
BEST SET DESIGN/BIGGEST TRIP
THE FLAMING LIPS
Friday, Empire Stage – 10:45 p.m.
“We hope you have the greatest night of your life,” Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne yelled to the crowd. “Look at my toes!” That moment, when Coyne propped his leg up onstage, revealing toenails painted neon pink, perfectly represented the non-sequitur madness to come.
Seeing the Flaming Lips perform live truly needs to be experienced to be understood, but I’ll try my best to describe the delirious trip into Coyne’s wild imagination. The singer dressed himself in a tight-fitting body suit that looked like the musculature of the human body, along with a cape of silver streamers. The only people I can think of who possess the same visual verve while performing are of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes and Kanye West.
The craziness began in earnest with “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1”—when Coyne sang, “She’s a black belt in karate,” he furiously karate chopped. At this point, he paused all the music, explaining that the intensity of the crowd’s response to that moment would define the rest of the show. The Flaming Lips then ran back the music to replay that line. The crowd noisily cheered for the karate chop, and the band showered the fans with an immense amount of brightly colored confetti.
There were purple, dancing caterpillars (who also managed to sprout butterfly wings) wearing golden crowns. There were people dressed as rainbows, giant mushrooms, and the sun. At one point, Coyne appeared in a giant orb while wearing a cape with lights and proceeded to roll himself out into the crowd.
Toward the end of the set, Coyne called for the lights to be cut off. He had spotted a fan who had an adverse “reaction” to the intense lights and visuals accompanying the show. (“Well, this happens a lot at Flaming Lips shows,” Coyne said in a somewhat terrifyingly matter-of-fact way.) However, he successfully managed to keep the crowd around the afflicted man quiet for the 10 or so minutes it took for a golf cart to take the man away. (Early the next day, security quietly placed a full medical kit next to all stages.) Afterwards, the bright lights and insane visuals resumed as the band finished their set well after their scheduled time ended.
Saturday, Empire Stage – 2:15 p.m.
With people shaking off their hangovers from the night before, as well as the early afternoon heat, the festival grounds were pretty quiet when the gates opened on Saturday. When ZZ Ward came on as the first performer on the main stage for the day, the crowd barely filled in two rows deep. By the end of the set, she had a sizable crowd moving in unison.
Although the lyrics to her songs deal with heartbreak and loss (“Got It Bad”, “Lil Darlin”, “Save My Life”) Zsuzsanna Ward sang with such bravura that she effortlessly energized the crowd. She even performed a harmonica-infused, rollicking cover of Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home”.
“We can play one more song,” ZZ Ward teased toward the end of the set, “on the condition that you lose your fucking minds!” She then led the band into “Move Like U Stole It”, as she bounced onstage and commanded the audience to jump with her to the cheery screams of “Go! Go! Go!”.
BEST RAINY DAY PICK-ME-UP/MOST POWER PER CAPITA
MATT AND KIM
Saturday, Explorer Stage – 9:30 p.m.
After two picturesque days, dark storm clouds quickly rolled in Saturday evening, dousing the festival grounds in a brief, torrential downpour. This journalist had the misfortune of being caught in said torrential downpour, taking my camera out of commission for the rest of the festival. (I therefore became the most surreptitious Instagram picture-taker in the photo pit.) After dealing with the rain issues, I entered the photo pit sans DSLR, and, quite ironically, Matt and Kim were playing “Cameras”. “No time for cameras/ We’ll use our eyes instead” suddenly took on new meaning for me.
I’ve seen Matt and Kim play live before, but even after knowing some of the tricks (like Kim rallying the “itty bitty titty gang” and standing atop the crowd), seeing the duo perform still entertains. Although the band certainly have the chops to play as main stage material, their set took place on the up-and-comers stage. Throughout the set, they had some on-point samples, including Flosstradamus’s remix of Major Lazer’s “Original Don”, with Kim emphatically twerking in front of her drum set, and “Turn Down for What” after a girl flashed the band. (“Good thing Matt didn’t see you,” Kim joked. “Any time he sees titties he fucks up.”)
Before transitioning to the modern classic known as R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)”, people marched throughout the crowd, hoisting totems with light-up cloth jellyfish. Kim instructed them to encircle the fans as the band began to play. The band then quickly shifted to the high-energy “Block After Block”, The music sounded great and catered to the electronic leanings of the festival and was even further improved by the visual splendor of the crowd bouncing along to the set and throwing colorful balloons into the sky.
MOST CONFUSING SET
Saturday, Empire Stage – 10:35 p.m.
The Hudson Project allotted Kendrick Lamar its second longest time slot: 1 hour and 25 minutes. K Dot turned up onstage 10 minutes late and ended his set after playing about 50 minutes. Not to say the set was bad—Kendrick performed very well, as usual. It was just curious that he didn’t maximize his stage time. He played a decent amount of good kid, m.A.A.d city and even remarked about how incredible it was that people still felt so enthusiastically about him performing a two-year-old record. Kendrick actually played a similar-length set when I saw him open for Kanye West’s Yeezus tour in Chicago.
I absolutely love that Kendrick performs with a live band. As I previously mentioned with Atmosphere, sometimes the instrumentals for hip-hop performances feel lacking. With the majority of the backing music played live, Kendrick’s set had an urgent, energetic feel. After “M.A.A.d City”, his guitarist unleashed a searing guitar solo. Kendrick tore through his first two songs, “Money Trees” and “Backseat Freestyle”. On the latter, Kendrick didn’t even have to rap the opening verse; the crowd sang all the words.
When I first listened to good kid, m.A.A.d city, I liked the balance between Kendrick’s R&B croon and his furious rapping. When performing, he does very little of the singing, but during a beautiful rendition of “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”, Kendrick appropriately cut the lights for a toned-down performance where he sang all the words.
At his core, Kendrick Lamar doesn’t seem like a natural fit as a festival rapper, in the sense that his songs tend to tackle serious issues. It was weird thinking about the contrast of the drug- and alcohol-infused hedonism of the crowd versus the messages behind “Swimming Pool (Drank)” or “M.A.A.d City”.
Toward the end of the set, Kendrick unleashed “I Am (Interlude)”, in which he proclaimed, “You can’t control greatness.” The track ended with Kendrick emphatically promising, “I’ll be back.” He briefly disappeared offstage, having played for about 35 minutes. He then returned for “Real” and “The Recipe”. It was tough to gauge the overall crowd reaction. Some admonished other audience members for not cheering loudly enough for a second encore. Others proclaimed Kendrick’s greatness as a performer and a certified festival headliner for years to come. (A quick perusal of Twitter afterward showed that most people were impressed by the show.)
Kendrick’s set just left me hungry to hear even more.
Photographer: Killian Young