Escape to New York Breaks Out

Patti Smith
Patti Smith headlined the Escape to New York festival Friday night in Southampton. Joe Nichols

    Escape to New York opened its weekend-long festival on Friday at the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Southampton to scant crowds but a game line-up. By Saturday, as word spread that the Music to Know festival scheduled for this weekend in East Hampton had been canceled because of lax ticket sales, the crowds had grown significantly, and, on Sunday, although the final day of music was canceled due to bad weather, the Escape to New York organizers indicated that they would return next year.
    According to Pam Workman, a spokeswoman for the event, “Friday attendance approached 4,000 while Saturday attendance was closer to 6,000 as word of mouth spread and walk up sales grew in line with our expectations. The Glamping Site was already at maximum capacity and we were turning people away in the final week of sales before the event.”
    Music to Know, also known as MTK, posted a notice on its Web site on Saturday stating that the festival, which was to have featured the bands Vampire Weekend and Bright Eyes along with fashion boutiques and food kiosks, would not be held. Organizers had planned on selling 9,500 tickets, but reportedly sold only 2,500. The concert promoters, Chris Jones and Bill Collage, directed ticketholders to check back next week to learn about refunds.
    Offering free admission to MTK ticketholders, Escape to New York, or E2NY, had its own issues over the weekend. With flash flooding and power outages on the reservation until about 11 Sunday morning, the Shinnecocks had safety concerns for “both attendees and working personnel,” according to the tribe’s official statement, and asked that Sunday’s events be called off. Escape to New York organizers directed people who had tickets to contact their vendors for refunds and told those with passes to check the Escape to New York Web site for refund instructions.
    On Friday evening, as people were just arriving, the festival seemed to need another day to find its footing. During performances by Chairlift and Best Coast, a band in heavy rotation on independent music stations, audiences had enough room to lounge on the grounds, which could have supported thousands instead of the mere scores in attendance. Still, the bands gave the crowd their full efforts. Bethany Cosentino, the lead singer of the Best Coast, complimented those assembled on their attractiveness and asked where Ina Garten was.
     Patti Smith, the headliner that night, drew hundreds, however, and the area close to the stage was packed with spectators who heard her perform a roster of hits and deep cuts from her albums, almost all from her earlier days. She dedicated songs to her husband Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5, who died in 1994, President Barack Obama, and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, who died in 1995.
    In the woods on Friday and Saturday, where there were interactive displays and art pieces, a steady crowd ambled or settled into small structures for different “experiences” as the organizer Fred Fellowes referred to them, of sound, light, or other stimuli such as a Gamelatron, billed as “the world’s first fully robotic Indonesian orchestra,” created by Aaron Taylor Kuffner to document, teach, and pass on music from native Bali. “There’s randomization and algorithms so it sounds like human error,” said Mr. Kuffner. Made from 27 gongs that were used in ceremonies on Bali, a grind inside each gong can raise or lower the pitch. The Gamelatron added a serene element to the chaos of the festival. “I like it. People can float in and out, knowing it’s here to go decompress,” Mr. Kuffner said.
    A laser-cut steel sculpture, “Braindrop” by Kate Raudenbusch, also offered a few attendees a gathering space to retreat to. “Based on a hexagon, it is a meditation sculpture for the element of water,” Ms. Raudenbusch said. “I imagine my friends having a really good time in this. You’re not just building art, you’re building an experience.”
     On Saturday, things became a bit more colorful. As to dress code, organizers advised festival-goers to “use your imagination” and many complied, with gold lamé, feathers, and knee-high socks. Music was the main event but art, performance, and culinary diversions were also highlighted. Free bubble guns, totaling 500, were distributed to the crowd while they listened to acoustic music, danced to techno beats, or heard headliners such as the Psychedelic Furs and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
    Adam Rinn, a k a Professa, of Coney Island Sideshow School, had a one-man act that included dangerous feats with a 27-inch sword, an animal trap, and fire eating. “The secret to sword swallowing is total mind-body control. The sword goes into the bottom wall of the stomach, it’s a gag reflex and muscle conditioning. For the mind control, you convince yourself that swallowing any amount of steel is a normal thing to do,” said Mr. Rinn.
    Those who posted on the festival’s Facebook page said that they had a good time. Jamie Partington noted that the Elks Lodge, where the glamorous camping or “glamping” occurred, had the best party and that he “woke up in a wet tent smelling like Prosecco and dumplings.”
    Tiana A. Phillips Gaines, who said she was from the Shinnecock Reservation, posted, “I had a blast. Saw some cool things and heard some good music that I would not normally be hearing. Thanks for coming.”