The toast of Brooklyn’s nightlife descended on the Poconos for BangOn!’s Elements Lakewood Festival, now in its second year. The best of our local DJs, performers, and party organizers united with an international roster including Claude VonStroke, REZZ, and Jamie Jones to create an extrasensory experience for the roughly 5,000 attendees, with music and more going well past dawn every day.
The journey began Friday afternoon aboard yellow school busses. On the bus I ran into the “Philly Pham,” a group I photographed when I covered the festival last year and the first of many returning groups.
Attendees that arrived in time to enjoy Friday’s pleasant afternoon at Elements Lakewood, held on the grounds of the seasonal Camp Lavi in northeast Pennsylvania, discovered the various art cars, murals and sculptures that awaited. Though we’d left New York, the cabins bore familiar names like “West Village.”
Opening the Earth Stage was Bushwick’s own DJ 2Melo, founder of party crew JunXion, who are celebrating their fourth anniversary this weekend. While backstage, I met band The Saturators who recently played one the final reggae shows at the now shuttered B.B. King’s in Times Square. At sunset, I took in the immersive play Moonveil. The sets were carefully built into the foliage and the twinkling water behind the Moon Queen’s finale performance brought the play to life.
Friday evening, Bushwick’s Penny Lane opened the Wub Hub stage at midnight while Oona Dahl played the Air Stage. Accessible adult-size treehouses hung over the stage and lights made the whole scene look larger than life. Up at the Fire Stage, flames shot 20 feet in the air as Dirtybird Records co-founder Claude VonStroke played for a legion of fans. Meanwhile, the Water Stage was packed with freshwater beachgoers who danced in the pond to back-to-back sets.
The kayaks and canoes available at the Water Stage were part of a wider array of physical activities like rock climbing, basketball and hockey. For those seeking relaxation, the Brooklyn-based female-driven collective BAE ran the Wellnest, where spiritual and emotional empowerment activities were held including their popular Bass Yoga.
Chris Lake closed out the Fire Stage at 1 am following sets by resident DJs Dirty Looks and The Golden Pony and afterwards I walked over to the Alchemy Stage to see more of my Bushwick friends. The path between the stages became a de facto Wyckoff Avenue as I ran into people like Tonya Karina, a House of Yes dancer who had performed earlier.
The final day brought rain throughout the day. As Sunday headliner REZZ rocked the high ground, down by the water people came together for a fire-walking ceremony, the first of its kind attempted at a music festival. Hosts Brett Barker and Kaytibunny Roberts introduced themselves and their 100-split log pile that would become a bed of coal. Safety was paramount: waivers were signed and medics with ATV’s were present. “You are all part of an experiment not only to test whether you can walk on fire, but that we can all do it safely together,” Barker told the crowd.
While the bonfire burned, a Viking funeral ceremony commenced, and an archer hit a raft with a fiery arrow that landed on the first try. As it burned, a string rendition of The Rolling Stone’s “Paint it Black” was performed in the mist. More spectacle came in the form a pyro-jet-pack stunt that flew a man over the pond. When the coals were ready, everyone took their shoes off and waited in a muddy line to test their inner strength. “Walking on hot coals in your underwear is a great analogy for event production,” BangOn! co-founder Brett Herman said.
The rain stopped in time for the late night parties. With the help of Rawb Lane, a House of Yes personality and warm-up man for MTV’s re-booted Total Request Live, I attempted to document the sweaty, rainy faces.
While Danish DJ Be Svendsen gave his all till nearly 7:30 am for the die-hards that had switched from booze to teas and tonics from Bushwick’s Ambrosia Elixirs, I spoke with Scott Vincent, owner of Big Boys Security. “This is probably one of the best festivals I’ve worked and the kids are really good,” he told me. Wasting no time, I went straight to the shuttle busses where at 9 am, a line was already 100 strong.
The five old yellow school busses became all terrain vehicles and roared down the muddy roads like Hummers. Just as Elements Lakewood’s childlike cabins welcomed the imaginations of the adults that stayed in them, the busses were a Phantom Tollbooth that we exited back through to our grown-up reality.
(photos by Nick McManus; photo of REZZ by Manny De Tatkieto)