This weekend, the town of Beacon, NY celebrated the apex of their self-made renaissance with two town-wide festivals coined as “Beacon Bonfire” and “Back to School” that could both rival the execution and establishment of Coachella and Lollapalooza alike. With over 400 artists, 150 concerts and events, 25 indoor and outdoor venues and seven campfire locations, Beacon established itself as Hudson Valley’s mecca for artistic expression and exploration over the course of a mere 48 hours.
“A lot of the f****d-up-ness of our world right now has to do with the fact that we’re not in rooms in real life together,” says Christian Campbell, a Showtime Emmy award-winning producer and director who also happens to be one of the five Beacon Bonfire founders. “We’re more connected than we’ve ever been and yet, loneliness is at some of its highest levels. We’re providing a place for people to get together in real life and exercise their social skills, and since sitting around a fire and listening to music are some of the most primal human experiences, we’re also creating a community rooted in spirituality and connectedness.”
Creating a community is exactly what Campbell and his other four founders (America Olivo Campbell, Jeremy Schonfeld, Kelly Ellenwood and Timothy Parsaca, respectively) are doing, since they all are or have been Beacon residents and care about the culture of their hometown. Even though the festival is in its humble infancy – this is only their second official year, and it has tripled in size between this year and last – the effect it has had on Beacon’s development is indisputable.
“I think the idea that you can live in a community like this and you can be a real professional working artist with family and a life is what Beacon Bonfire is highlighting,” says Schonfeld, a Billboard-charting singer/songwriter who played with his band at the Beacon Music Factory at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. “It is a lovely way to build a more sustainable atmosphere for artists to exist and thrive in. Also, the more that people come into Beacon, the better our restaurants do and the better our bars do.”
Schonfeld happened to be the programming director for this year’s lineup, meaning he was in charge of gathering all the musical acts for the weekend. This was not an easy task, seeing as they had to fill 25 venues over the span of two miles and two days while making sure that all the artists they hired got paid. In his talent search, however, Schonfeld did find New Paltz native horn-led funk band infamously named “What?” and gave them a primetime spot on Sunday’s sunny afternoon. What?’s venue was a quarter-mile section of Eliza St. that was shut down entirely in the festival’s honor. They played to a crowd that was gathered together on flea-market couches and homemade blankets, roasting marshmallows over a fire that burned in the street’s center.
A half-mile away from the music on Main Street was a similar but separately-operated festival for visual art entitled “Back to School” at the KuBe Art Center — which just so happens to have taken over the old, abandoned Beacon High School building. The Ethan Cohen Gallery, the group that runs the KuBe Art Center, repurposed the run-down building as a “space to promote international exchange of culture and art, as well as unite local and global artists in a community forum” for the residents of Beacon and the Hudson Valley.
Each room in the high school represented a different subject or theme that is part of the high school experience, making clever use of the building’s design. The artists that “took over” the building wanted their patrons to show what the high school experience would’ve been like if there were no bullies, homework or teachers — a sort-of “Lord of the Flies” for the artistic outcasts of the Hudson Valley.
“I think this exhibition was the most comprehensive, large-scale united theme to tie all the gallery spaces together,” said Emil Alzamora, a sculpturist who was exemplifying physics in his exhibit. “It’s the most ambitious effort on the part of Ethan Cohen gallery and collaborators to embrace the high school setting and add elements of absurdity and snarky and sarcastic and surrealism to help bring that out.”
Back to School and Beacon Bonfire worked in perfect tandem to announce the cultural rebirth of the town of Beacon and to remind the Hudson Valley and New York State as a whole that even when things seem bleak, art will always prevail and provide safe spaces for beauty to exist.
All photos were shot and edited by Gabby Gagliano.