Mud and chaos mar Hudson Project music fest


Above: A Hudson Project festgoer earns her 15 minutes of Internet fame, as she shrieks at the river of trash and belongings running through her campsite. Source: The Festive Owl's Facebook page.

It was billed as the Northeast's answer to Bonnaroo or Coachella: a cultural milestone for a new era that would put the Catskills back on the musical map. Fueled by a long-held dream of legendary Woodstock promoter Michael Lang, the Hudson Project was a festival with a big vision. 

But despite its outsized ambitions -- and promising lineup -- the first Hudson Project music festival at Saugerties' Winston Farm ended up being something of a washout. The festival came to an abrupt and undignified end on Sunday, after a freak weather event caught the organizers unprepared for mud, food and water shortages, and general chaos. 

Late on Sunday afternoon, the third day of the festival, a torrential rainstorm moved into the area, prompting local authorities to order the temporary evacuation of the fest grounds. Shortly thereafter, with more bad weather on the way, the organizers cancelled the rest of the festival, including headliner Bassnectar.

At that point, the stream of tweets, pictures and other social media coming out of the Hudson Project -- now dubbed "Mudson Project" -- began to take an ugly turn. Some overnight campers at the festival were forced to leave their camping gear to evacuate, and returned to find the campsites a swamp of trash and ruined belongings. Others complained that festival staffers were encouraging drunk concertgoers to drive in the midst of a thunderstorm. 

Those who were able to get out on Sunday were among the lucky ones. The Red Cross set up an overnight shelter at the Kiwanis Ice Arena for stranded festgoers. Hundreds of cars parked on grassy lots at the festival were mired in mud, and remained stuck through much of the day on Monday, while trapped festgoers waited hours upon hours in their cars for towing, food and water. 



 Above: A post left on the Hudson Project's Facebook page criticizing the organizers' emergency planning.

Some festivalgoers (for instance, this one) complained that tow trucks were accepting bribes to tow some cars ahead of others. The towing company contracted for the festival, Steyer's Hudson Valley Auto, wrote a public statement denying that any of their operators charged the stuck festivalgoers, and stating that they had heard rumors of people in pickups and tractors charging for tows and falsely claiming to be from their company.

On Tuesday, facing a firestorm of criticism from fans, the Hudson Project's organizers announced that they would issue full refunds for all Sunday tickets. "We know this doesn't fix the inconveniences caused by weather but we hope this helps," organizers wrote on their Facebook wall. "It was a very unfortunate ending to an amazing event."

With roughly 20,000 attendees each day, the Hudson Project was a fraction of the size of Woodstock '94 (350,000) and the original 1969 Woodstock music festival (400,000), both of which had their own epic struggles with mud and festival logistics. 

Festival producers MCP Presents have some work to do on their parking strategy if they plan another event for next year, Saugerties town supervisor Greg Helsmoortel told the Daily Freeman. (The New York Times reported last week that MCP Presents has a five-year contract to run the event at Winston Farm.)

For some, the festival's muddy and ignominious end overshadowed the music. One of the Hudson Project's more vicious critiques came from Vice's electronic music blog, Thump, which issued a scathing review of the fest just days after sponsoring a breathless ticket giveaway for the event.

Quoting one attendee who described the festival as "if Hot Topic and Mountain Dew merged and threw a festival in a wet ditch," Thump critic Michelle Lhooq wrote on Monday that the Hudson Project had promised much, and failed to deliver:

With its impressive, something-for-everyone lineup, history-steeped stomping grounds, and close proximity to the communities of upstate New York and Manhattan, The Hudson Project had immense potential to make its mark on the East Coast’s booming dance scene. But with its dangerous lack of a bad weather plan, rampant disorganization and untrained staffers, it seems unlikely that its core crowd of bush league baby Burners—many of whom are still trapped in that muddy hellhole—will be back for more.



For others, the mudfest was just an unfortunate coda to an otherwise stellar weekend. 

New York Times music critic Jon Pareles praised the Hudson Project's diverse showcase of electronic dance music and synth-pop. Despite its abrupt cancellation, the festival was a celebration of electronic artistry, Pareles wrote, with the best acts featuring "music that straddled the human-digital divide."

But it seems Mother Nature has no love for dubstep:

This festival was centered on the virtual, the digitized, the synthetic, the artificial — on people deploying machines or sounding as if they were. But then, when the thunder and lightning set in, nature had the last word.