Every year in early July there is a music festival near my hometown in western New York state – The Great Blue Heron. It’s a festival full of bluegrass music, zydeco, camping, dancing that goes until the wee hours of dawn, and so much more. Growing up I used to attend the festival as a high school student and college student. The weekend was late nights and late sleeps. Now in my 30’s I appreciate the festival for being so much more than cases of beer and no sleep.
At the most recent Blue Heron I made sure to fill my days with a schedule that had always existed, but that I had never explored, such as, you guessed it – yoga. There has always been yoga at the Blue Heron, but I never woke up in time to make a class. What a shame that turns out to be. The Revival tent where the yoga classes are held take place in the Revival Tent, a tent that kisses the end of a serene pond. Yoga is at 9am, which may not seem all that early, but to those bustin’ a move till 6am, that is an impossible time.
This year my husband and I didn’t attend the festival until Saturday morning and it was my primary goal to get to the Saturday morning yoga class, so we dropped our dear pup Fred off at grandma and grandpa’s house and arrived just in time for me to roll my mat out for class. Being that I had never attended a single yoga class at the Heron before, I was surprised to see that quite a few people set their alarms to get to the class. There were probably 20-30 people at the class and around the same amount of people attended Sunday’s class. Sunday’s class was just as good as Saturdays and both days offered completely different styles of yoga – Vinyasa and Iyengar, both were beneficial for heads and bodies aching from worldly pleasures of the day and night before.
Another new experience for me was a sound healing, or a sound meditation on Sunday. A soft-spoken woman with an array of instruments guided a large group through a chakra balancing meditation. She encouraged us all to incorporate outside noises into the meditation, which was necessary since the festival’s beach area is practically connected to the Revival Tent which meant that sounds of children enjoying splashing in the pond were difficult to ignore, and then halfway through the meditation the truck that serviced the porta-potties (my husband and I playfully referred to it as the ‘Poop Truck’) arrived to the adjacent beach to service the porta-potties there. That was hard to peacefully incorporate, especially knowing what it was, but after a few minutes the hum of the truck doing it’s job did incorporate its way into my meditation.
It would be a long post to write about everything other than a party weekend that the Blue Heron offers everyone from young children to mature adults, but a short list includes a mushroom walk, star-gazing, activities almost every hour for the kids, vendors, a tent full of events specifically for teens, etc. Unfortunately the Blue Heron has a local reputation for being a drug fest full of ‘undesirables’. Is there a wide range of people at a festival of around 7,000 people – yes, so might there be people partaking in illegal substances? Yes. Are there also young families that come for a day or the entire weekend? Yes. The festival can be what you make of it. If you want to party till the sun comes up, do it. If you want to put ear plugs in and crawl into your tent at 11pm to wake up early for the 7:30 meditation and the 9am yoga, do it.
The primary draw of the festival is undoubtedly the music. The lineup has not altered much since my high school days or my last time there in 2012, and while that can seem mundane it also speaks to the artists that people enjoy their sets year after year. There’s something for everyone on the line up at the Heron, bluegrass and Americana cover people who love those styles as well as those that enjoy country music, which there are many in Chautauqua county; there’s also world music, funk, psychedelic rock, and so more.
For musicians, professional and aspiring, there are music workshops on Saturday and Sunday so bring your fiddle and drum. I myself always enjoy bruising up my hands at the drum circle with my djembe, which a kind man tuned for me for a donation, saying that he considers his skill a gift to the world. Whatever your opinion of hippies are, they sure are kind and warmhearted.
The event as a whole can be described as happy, warmhearted, and sustainable. Event volunteers sort through recyclables which festival goers divide initially into plastics, compostables, and waste destined for the landfill. My environmental-hippy hat tips off to organizers for making their Rainbow Recycling program such a large part of the festival. To get waste to its proper place for 7,000+ people is a commendable task.
The Blue Heron is a celebration of American culture that I was excited to share with my English husband. It had something for everyone, even more so than I remember as a younger adult. If you’re looking for a summer festival next year, keep the Blue Heron in mind and mark your calendar for the weekends surrounding July 4th, the festival is always held on the weekend before or after the holiday. We’ll definitely be there, maybe I’ll see you at yoga.