Friends Fest: A Celebration of Friendship Comes to New Paltz

Friends Fest was a two-day festival with a farm setting that celebrated local artists and vendors.

Many music lovers traveled far and wide to participate in festivals this past weekend — between Global Citizens in Central Park and Governor’s Ball in Queens, prominent festivals had masses of excited fans from nationwide. But some music lovers in New Paltz headed over to the Phillies Bridge Farm for a new, up and coming local music festival: Friends Fest.

The festival, which took place on Sept. 25 and 26, was branded as “a party for your friends, with your friends, by your friends.” In addition to music by local bands, there were also yoga and immersive art booths. Camping was welcome. Many described the atmosphere as warm and inviting, just as the name and tagline suggest. 

There were 12 performers over the course of the two days including headliners The Big Takeover and Royal KhaoZ, as well as other groups. Haus of Peculiar, Moonunitt, Cold Flavor Repair, Roobrew and other New Paltz-favorite acts also made appearances. 

One of the bands who performed was The Big Takeover, a reggae, ska and rocksteady group from the Hudson Valley who describe themselves as a blend of “the pop sounds of Jamaica and world music with the soulful energy of Motown.” The band, which has been around for 14 years, is fronted by singer and songwriter Neenee Rushie who was born in Jamaica. The music they produce is evidently influenced by her Jamaican roots, as well as 21st century retro soul, the R&B revival scene and the music of 1960s ska and reggae musician Desmond Dekker, according to their website.

They make music meant for dancing, swaying and occasional introspective listening. 

“We’re trying to get people moving their bodies, having a good time. We want you to dance,” says Ryan Perrone, a member of the seven-piece band. When asked if people did dance at their set this weekend, he said “Oh yeah!”

Perrone says the festival really stood out. 

“Friends Fest was, in my opinion and other peoples’ who I went with, the best local festival New Paltz-wide,” said Perrone. “It was cool, it was a great space, it was sunny, there were great bands lined up, it all felt very welcoming and friendly.”

Royal KhaoZ, a reggae-based band of Jamaican natives, headlined the festival. Their first ever gig was in New Paltz in 2010. Since then, they’ve performed at festivals nationwide, getting more and more acclaim steadily. They’ve also launched Voice Out Jams, a non-profit Black-owned space in the Bronx they created a few years ago for artists to connect, decompress and create together. They’ve made the news performing at Music over Violence in the Bronx alongside HoodCelebrityy and other icons. Eleven years later, they returned to where they started in New Paltz to perform. 

“No revolution will be had without chaos, no change without disruption,” the band states on their website to explain why they chose the name Royal KhaoZ. “From the crumbled standards and forms, a royal way of thinking will rise.”

Psychedelic rock band Moonunitt took the stage Saturday afternoon. Band members say part of what contributed to the homey, friendly feeling of the festival was the location. Recently, they’ve been playing in Brooklyn and at bar venues located in their home of New Paltz such as Bacchus and Snug’s, so the farm setting came as a contrast. 

“It was cool, we got to play at a farm, looking over the farm. Backstage was just a bunch of hay bales. We knew most of the bands, we got to see our friends.”

There were also other activities for festival goers, such as yoga, hula hoop workshops, immersive experiences, interactive art experiences and seed engraving where people could bring a seed and have something, such as a symbol or a word, put onto the outside. There were also food, drink and artisan vendors, and all of the food could be made as vegan alternatives.

Because the festival was composed of exclusively local bands, many people enjoyed the experience of being able to see so many of their returning favorites in one space. That was one reason that, for many, it felt like a festival of friends. 

“It felt like a lot of my worlds were colliding,” says Perrone, describing the fact that he saw band members from multiple bands he knew or had contributed music to. “These are all people I interact with on very different occasions, so that was neat.”

The acts were split into two days. On Saturday, Rootbrew, Moonunitt, Royal Khaoz, Big Takeover, Haus of Peculiar with DJ Fantasea, Mr. Atwood and DJ Redlion performed. On Sunday, Kyle Miller, Rivergrass, Snowbear, Los Thujones, Cold Flavor Repair and DJ Nathan performed. 

Tickets for the weekend ran between $15 and $75, but there were also “justice tickets” allowing those who couldn’t afford the cost to apply for cheaper tickets. 

“No one turned away for lack of funds!” a poster on the website promised. 

The next The Big Takeover performance will be this Saturday, Oct. 2 at Beatrix Farrand Garden in Hyde Park. Los Thujones performs Oct. 8 at The Dale. The next Moonunitt show will be on Oct. 2 at Hart Bar NYC. The next Voice Out Jam session is this Thursday and they’re hosted every other Thursday at 8 p.m. You can RSVP for future  sessions at

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About Amayah Spence 53 Articles
Amayah Spence is a fourth-year psychology major, minoring in journalism and serving as editor-in-chief of the Oracle. She believes journalism should lend a microphone to those whose voices are not typically amplified without one, and that is the goal she consistently pursues as a journalist. Previously, she wrote for the River, the Daily Free Press and the Rockland County Times.