Over the past five years, Rockwood Music Festival has become a phenomenon of its own. It has drawn in fans of good TV and good music from all over the world to unite in a baroque revival Palais for three days of friends, musicians, and activities. With barely 50 attendees in 2015, it has grown to be one of the more sought-after events in fandom, selling out ticket categories within seconds of going online.
But what, you may ask, makes Rockwood Music Festival so special? In our exclusive interviews with the celebrity guests this year, the common denominator was the fact that coming here for them didn’t feel like work, even though it was work. And this cognition directly manifests itself in the way the performers present their art throughout the weekend, with ease, with humor, and a joy that radiates throughout the entire room.
According to the guests, the part of the weekend they enjoy most is the elusive jam sessions. For those of you who haven’t been lucky enough to witness these, the jam sessions are an event in the afternoons where musicians collaborate, perform in different line-ups, or even switch instruments. There are phones with lyrics (and chords), songs that have never been rehearsed, and spontaneous collaborations with band members running on stage mid-song and joining in. Furthermore, the atmosphere is light, relaxed, and playful, giving musicians a safe space where things don’t have to be perfect; it allows fans to peek behind the rehearsal process to observe how music and songs are being created. However, there is spontaneity, comedic elements and some moments so special and so ridiculous at the same time, they cannot be re-created.
During the jam sessions, we see the guests in a casual, laid-back state — that included both outfit and demeanor — and this adds to the overall feeling for the audience. Songs, voices, or instruments don’t have to be perfectly performed, played or sung to be entertaining or to move us as an audience. When Briana Buckmaster took to the stage on Sunday to perform “She Used to Be Mine” from the Broadway musical Waitress, she did so with a phone in hand, and after pianist Aaron Beaumont had accidentally started playing the wrong song first. Yet still, she delivered one of the most heart-wrenching, emotional and powerful performances of the entire weekend, because we as fans and also the other guests as her friends could see her deep connection to the song.
Another vital part of the Rockwood experience is the Unplugged Lounges, which are included in the Super VIP pass but can be purchased by all other ticket type holders. In sessions ranging from 20-25 minutes, fans get the pleasure to experience their favorite artists, sometimes in collaboration with other guests, acoustically in an intimate setting. Over the years, these lounges have created some of the most magical moments, ranging from an acoustic version of “Medicated” in a Louden Swain lounge, where fans frantically searched their pockets and bags for their kazoos and other fans just started passing them out like an elaborate plan, to emotional performances and covers of songs that weren’t their own, but another guests’ (like the “Wave” cover in Hayden Lee and Briana Buckmaster’s lounge this year).
Finally, Rockwood would not be what it is without the evening concerts. If the jam sessions capture the essence of how the festival feels, the concerts concentrate its energy. What has built up during the day in the form of creative energy finds a form of release in these hours of performances. This year, the concerts were the stage for many “firsts.” Hayden Lee, singer-songwriter and longtime friend of Jason Manns, was able to perform songs from his latest album Crazy Little Secrets with Louden Swain as his backing band, playing songs they had learned that afternoon (in true Rockwood fashion.) Not only was he able to do that, but the guests gave him the headlining spot with a build-up of different performers and the privilege of closing out the show. This is what Rockwood is, it is a way for artists to enrich their abilities and to give a platform to others where it is needed. Because of Louden Swain or other Supernatural-affiliated artists, fans get drawn to the festival. They most certainly arrive because of one or two artists, but they leave with an array of new artists and music to cherish and love, precisely because they saw their favorite artists hyping these musicians up, collaborating with them and supporting them in whatever way they can.
Rockwood has been a turning point in careers, it has been the foundation and birthplace of new collaborations that outlast the three days of the festival. Artists join each other on tours, at events, supporting them in the production process of their music or simply building a working and friendly relationship that enhances their own creative process. Friendship and support are not just visible in the group of guests and celebrities, it is also visible in the audience. Friendships formed or strengthened by the time spent at the festival are the mirror of what these artists seem to experience every year. We see them become closer, we see their friendships and creative connections grow, while we as fans see ourselves growing closer and bonding over the feeling of attending these magical three days.
All conventions or fandom events are special; an escape from reality. However, spending three days soaking up music, friendship, and creativity in a building reminiscent of a time where fairy tales might have still been real, is a completely unique and wonderful experience.