So I embarked on this weekend in search of answers, like I was on a quest trying to solve some sort of riddle. But what was I seeking? What was the root of these mental loose ends that needed clarification and maybe even some inner resolution? To be truthful, I was worried. Catskill Chill was saying good-bye to Camp Minglewood this year and moving on to a new location for 2016. This cozy and beautiful summer camp has provided the perfect setting for the Chillfam to call home for 5 years. The environment at Camp Minglewood naturally promotes “all love, all the time,” which has become the motto of this great festival. Catskill Chill has been revered as one of the top music festivals for this genre and is one of the only to sell out of tickets consistently, year after year.
But can it endure growth and relocation? Can it be duplicated elsewhere? When things get bigger, they get diluted and tend to get more out of hand or unmanageable. The odds become greater that bad apples may slip through and suck the magic out of the experience. Are the Chillfam-ily values strong enough to transcend this evolution?
I approached the weekend like I needed to over-analyze EVERY detail of the scene and figure out what exactly is the appeal that has made this small music festival such a RAGING success that it sells out every year, causing them to leave such a beautiful place they’ve called home for a larger one. Can this festival avoid fading into the mix of all the other big ones? I had to get investigative if I wanted to unravel some of the mystique and understand the magic of this perfect little utopia. So I started asking around – artists, crew, attendees, and the answers I received led me to some very strong conclusions.
Here’s the deal – Catskill Chill has become a huge success in a very short time. They started small and exploded. I think the key to Catskill Chill’s success is really rather simple and it’s all in the design. This starts at the top. Co-founder and organizer Dave Marzollo has stated that every detail and every decision that is ever made is ALWAYS with the sole objective of making sure everyone has the best festival experience they could possibly have. The festival program this year even included an open letter to the Chillfam from Dave himself where he wrote, “We are tremendously committed to bringing you infinite joy, three days at a time. We are consumed with the need to provide everyone that walks onto these grounds with one of the best times they will ever have. That is our one singular mission.” This really shows in EVERY detail – the organization, the crew, the lineup, the schedule of events.
First, let me talk about the operation. When asking artists about the operation of Catskill Chill and what separates it from other festivals, one term that keeps popping up is “Cream of the Crop” and the one sentiment that is constant is that organizer Dave Marzollo is just the nicest guy you could ever meet and everyone wants to work with him. Therefore, his whole operation, top to bottom, includes the very best people this industry has to offer! The techs running the stage and sound are often described as the most competent these artists have ever dealt with. Some people have even accused Catskill Chill of maybe doing too good of a job! This is evident in the aftermath. There are a lot of festivals that piss people off and leave them feeling like they paid way too much and didn’t get enough. Often the bands didn’t feel like they were taken care of well enough or the crew was lacking. Sometimes organizers cut too many corners when it comes to the quality of production. They hire amateurs to do important jobs and the attendees are left with something that resembles what you might expect to find in a bar. This is just not the case at Catskill Chill. Every band loves to come back and play because it was a great experience for them as well. Proof can also be found online. At every festival, there are a lot of people that have a great time, and then there are a whole lot of people who jump online and bitch about everything that they didn’t like. People just don’t do that with Catskill Chill. No one leaves with complaints. People walk out of there saying, “Can I please order my tickets for next year? I don’t care who’s in the lineup!”
Another reason for such blind faith support is the lineup itself. Most music festivals are dictated by the typical business model – “What bands have the most draw and are gonna sell the most tickets and can compete the best against the other festivals?” So many other festivals are built around namesake royalty figures or even throw together an “All Star Lineup” band and try to sell you on, “Well so and so was in a band that had a person that was in a band that one time played with this huge band. This person here is super famous even though you don’t really like them, and now you are all supposed to like THIS band because there’s that lineage.” Catskill Chill doesn’t screw around with that. They don’t need to. They know they’re going to sell the tickets regardless. Catskill Chill really embodies the REAL side of this genre of music. They focus on the bands that are giving the best live shows right now, up and coming stuff, whatever is blowing up, stuff that’s recently exploded and hasn’t gotten old yet. The fans trust this. The lineup is full of all these bands they love, and the bands they haven’t seen yet are all the bands that they know they really need to see. For that reason, none of the weekend is wasted time.
Just take a stroll through the campgrounds. A lot of festivals tend to be all about the partying, where the attendee spends most of the day at the campsite partying and priming for whatever 3 bands they might catch at night time. The Catskill Chill campground is pretty much a ghost town the whole time. There are always 2 or 3 bands playing at any one time, so you can’t sit around camp for too long before you feel like you’re missing something. There is ALWAYS someone you shouldn’t be missing.
Another key to the success of this small festival is the way the schedule flows. 100% by design and ALWAYS with the attendee in mind, the festival is curated like an art exhibit or planned similar to a gourmet meal. The organizers plan every band carefully and really think about what music they are feeding to people. The flow of the day seems natural from one thing to the next. Now you’ve seen this band, you are kind of primed to now go see that band. This thing gets you in the mood for that sort of thing. It’s kind of the way courses come out in a good meal. And there are always choices! There are 2, sometimes 3 stages going at all times. There are even bands like The Primate Fiasco that will perform a spontaneous street set literally anywhere on the grounds. If there is that band that you’ve already seen too many times, or you don’t really care for, it’s not down time! You just go over to another stage and there is something VERY different going on. Catskill Chill organizers really know how to piece it together like a gourmet chef, but they do just a little too good for the amount of tickets they can sell.
In my opinion, the whole business world could take a lesson from Catskill Chill. The secret to their success is as simple as adhering to some basic principles that have been washed out by greed and since forgotten. You should have integrity. You should always do the best you can, and you will be successful. If you treat people with integrity, they will go out of their way to do a good job for you and Catskill Chill is proof of that.
So, in conclusion I come to this – it all comes down to people, places, and things, right? The people, oh such beautiful, beautiful people! Let me define “Chillfam” for a moment (or at least my interpretation thereof). “Chillfam” is not some cheesebag moniker that gives the attendees a handy dandy label that they can attach themselves to and provide a false sense of belonging to something. “Chillfam” is actually a literal term. Once you enter the gates of the festival, you are family. Your defenses come down. You peel back the onion and expose just a little more self than you would normally allow, even at other festivals. The whole atmosphere allows one to truly be oneself, just like you do with real brothers or sisters, not the figurative ones. There is no need to lock your doors here. Would you worry about your brothers, sisters, mothers, or cousins? The Chillfam is faithfully bonded by “All Love All the Time!” This term translates to the back of the house as well. Behind the scenes, it is like a high school reunion instead of the usual assembly line of load in, load out, this band coming, that band going. The bands get the time to hang out with each other and catch up on an eventful summer, sharing stories of the ALWAYS busy festival season. This atmosphere lends itself to create some of the most amazing impromptu collaborations of bands that any music festival has seen. The bands look forward to Catskill Chill as much as the attendees!
Things – how do you capture in words the things that make Catskill Chill what it is? It is 3 days of complete synchronicity of music, mind, and intention amongst organizers, artists, attendees, strangers, and friends. It is a microcosm of amazing beautiful moments and musical camaraderie amongst one of the most well planned groups of people. It is – “All Love, All the Time.”
And that leaves us with PLACES. Camp Minglewood was hand-picked for a reason. It has always been a key element to this festival’s success and leaves you questioning, where does one go to from perfection? They started small but they did such a good job so quickly that they are now going through the process of “How do you keep this amazing vibe going when you have to grow and how do you make a big festival that still has that Catskill Chill feel to it next year?” I have to admit, when I started this weekend I was deeply concerned that this could be the last hoorah and I better take it ALL in because it will NEVER be this good again. Well, it didn’t take too much poking around to realize that the “perfection” of this weekend really starts from within the organizers, the artists, and the attendees equally and then radiates outward and becomes this 3 day utopian society that resembles that of a fiction novel.
Camp Minglewood is a perfect place, yes. However, New York State is FULL of beautiful places that most of us don’t even know exist! Deep down, at the end of the day, everybody just wants to feel alright and know that everything is going to be OK. While researching this article I discovered that EVERY decision that is EVER made concerning Catskill Chill is based on providing the Chillfam with the BEST festival experience they could possibly have. So let your worry go, as I have. Wherever that pied piper may lead us, the Chillfam will ALWAYS follow and take comfort in knowing that all will be OK once we are back together, here, there, or anywhere. Can’t wait to see what comes next!
WRITTEN BY: George DiFabio
PHOTOS: Jerrie DiFabio
Stay tuned at http://www.catskillchill.com/