The Great Blue Heron Music Festival is one of our favorite yearly events! Lisa and I have attended quite a few music festivals, ranging from very large, national events (Clifford Ball, Bonnaroo, Summer Camp) to small, indoor festivals. Nothing beats the friendly vibe at a small fest like ‘The Heron!’
All photos in this article, except where noted otherwise, are the property of the Great Blue Heron Music Festival, and are used with permission.
Situated on a beautifully scenic farm just outside of Sherman, NY (about as far west of NYC as you can be and still be in NY State), the Heron is more than just a music festival; it’s a vibe … a spirit … a three-day village where everyone is a member of one tribe. Here’s a little taste of the experience.
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The Heron Vibe
The Blue Heron is such a laid-back environment that there are really just two rules: 1) you need a wristband to get in, and 2) be kind to each other. (Okay, there are a few more policies, but I think this sums it up nicely.)
Since almost everyone obeys the rules, security is minimal. There’s no police on the grounds (although the state troopers set up checkpoints going in and out, so be smart), and the on-site security consists mostly of volunteers checking for wristbands at the venue entry points, plus a few professional security people.
Currently they have three stages: a main stage, a dance tent, and a little stage in the woods. At the main stage, you can stake out some territory on the lawn by setting down a blanket or some chairs. If you leave and come back later, it’s more than likely that your stuff will still be there. People take care of each other at the Heron, because we’re all members of the Heron Tribe. (That’s not to say that theft doesn’t occur, but it’s rare.) We lay down a blanket and leave it there all weekend; people have always respected our space.
Food and Drinks
While the Great Blue Heron Music Festival has a variety of food and beer vendors, you’re allowed to bring your own food and drinks right up to the stage area. We leave our main coolers at the campsite and bring a small cooler bag with a few beers to the venue. In between bands, we run back to the campsite to replenish.
Our first Heron, we brought enough food for all of our meals, but then we discovered that the vendor food is tasty and reasonably priced–and there are vegan, vegetarian, and other healthy options–so now we buy more on site; it saves a lot of hassle and we’re happy to support the local businesses. We’ll bring a package of bagels and some cream cheese, a loaf of bread and a jar of PB, and a bag of apples, and then buy a meal or two each day.
In addition to the food on “vendor row,” the Cafe in the Woods makes great pizza (including breakfast pizza in the morning), fresh-baked cookies and muffins, and excellent coffee. They also sell frozen treats, soft drinks, and other snacks. (We volunteered at the Cafe in 2018 and had fun!)
Microbrews at The Great Blue Heron Music Festival
On the adult beverage side of things, craft beer from a local microbrewery is available at bar prices, not concert prices. You won’t find any “BudMillCoors” for sale, so if you like the watery stuff, bring your own. They frown on glass bottles, so please bring cans.
Living Lightly at The Great Blue Heron Music Festival
Hydration is important and the Blue Heron encourages sustainable lifestyles, so bring a reusable water bottle and fill it up at one of the many potable water taps around the venue. Don’t waste your money (or Earth’s precious resources) on plastic bottles of water!
Speaking of sustainability, the Heron has Rainbow Recycling stations, trash cans, and even compost bins. For smokers, there are “butt cans” everywhere, so please don’t throw them on the ground!
Check out our article, Your Guide to Having an Amazing Music Festival.
Parking and Camping at The Great Blue Heron Music Festival
The Heron offers several options for campers. The least expensive is free camping in the woods – you just pay $20 to park for the weekend. Here’s the deal, though: you don’t camp near your car. The parking lot is a big field adjacent to the festival grounds; once you park, you’ll have to haul your gear to the woods.
The free camping option really isn’t a hassle, since they run a tractor with a flatbed up and down the parking lot rows. When you’ve got a load of gear, the tractor stops for you. You load up and climb aboard, and it takes you to the top of the hill at the edge of the camping woods. From there it’s a short walk to your campsite. (There aren’t any “official” campsites – people just stake out some space and pitch their tents wherever there’s room.)
We did this the first few years we went and it was pretty cool. It took us about three trips to move our stuff from the car to the campsite, and our tent ended up being an easy five-minute walk to the stage venue. And if you leave a few things in the car, it’s a short walk to the parking lot.
More Convenient Camping Options
If you want the convenience of camping with your car, you can pay $50 for a drive-up campsite in another section of the woods. We’ve done this three times too. It’s easier than hauling your gear, but the campsites are a little farther from the stage – maybe a ten minute walk. There’s a small section of this area outside the woods with staked-out sites. Some folks with small RVs or trailers choose these. In the wooded section, you just park and camp wherever you can find space.
Want to camp with your car close to the venue? Well, that’s $80, and the campsites are in the open, not in the woods. But they’re close enough that you can still hear the music pretty well from the campsites and it’s adjacent to the stage venue. We’ve decided to try this option the next time we attend.
Family Friendly Camping at The Great Blue Heron Music Festival
Whichever of the three you choose, plan on not getting a lot of
We’ve been to music festivals with long lines and really nasty port-a-johns; luckily, the Heron isn’t one of those festivals. The port-a-johns are cleaned daily and there are enough of them that you won’t wait long to get into one. And if you can’t live without a shower every morning, $5 will get you five minutes in a bathhouse shower. Or do what we do: jump in your tent, wash the “essentials” with a wet wipe, and slap on a little deodorant. This ain’t Tea with the Queen, you know.
The Heron also provides handicapped camping with special shuttle service to and from the venue.
If you really hate camping, you can stay at a nearby lodge, motel, or B&B. Then, drive to the Heron grounds and pay $10 for day parking.
So what kind of jams can you expect at the Heron? In a word, eclectic. The emphasis is on rock, with shades of folk, blues, country, bluegrass, and even a touch of hip-hop mixed in. With three stages, there’s bound to be something for everyone at any given time.
Being a small festival, don’t expect to see big-name bands there. It’s mostly local bands from upstate New York, with a mix of up-and-coming bands from around the US and Canada. Before they were big, Rusted Root played the Blue Heron. Their drummer, Jim Donovan, still plays every year with his new band, the Sun King Warriors. We saw the Avett Brothers there in 2006, when they were just a three-piece band. They played a couple more Blue Herons before hitting the big time.
The local bands are great too. Donna the Buffalo is a perennial favorite, and we recently got turned on to Funktional Flow, an excellent jam band from Buffalo, NY. There’s a lot to be said for seeing smaller bands in more intimate settings, and at the Great Blue Heron, you’re always close to the stage. There’s no big screen because you don’t need one. Most of the bands will finish their set and then join the audience to see the other acts.
And More Bands!
Last year we saw a great band from Jamestown, NY called Kaleidoscope Sky. They played in the Dance Tent, and when they finished, we went over to the Main Stage (a two-minute walk) to see The Town Pants. As I was looking around the crowd, I noticed the drummer and bassist for Kaleidoscope Sky right behind us. We shook their hands and told them we really enjoyed their set, and they were very appreciative. Likewise, I met the drummer from Jamestown’s Cold Lazarus after their set finished and we were watching Smackdab.
More Fun at The Blue Heron Music Festival!
I mentioned that
There’s a beautiful pond with a swim beach, complete with a certified lifeguard.
If you’re planning to attend music festivals with your kids, the Blue Heron is a great place to get started; it’s small, friendly, and safe. The kids and teen tents are staffed by volunteers.
Are you a budding musician? Check out some of the music workshops. I attended a drum workshop with Jim Donovan, the original drummer for Rusted Root. I also went to a harmonica workshop one year. Both were geared towards beginners. They also have dancing, singing, and fiddling workshops, for those so inclined.
Speaking of drums, there’s a weekend-long drum circle in the woods, surrounding a giant bonfire. Some people come just for the drum circle!
Of course, there’s an on-site first aid building, staffed by volunteers with first aid and CPR certification. They also have a first aid and security tent set up behind the lawn area. If you bring kids, it’s a good idea to take them to visit these areas so they know where to go if they get lost.
Volunteering at the Blue Heron
Tickets in 2018 were $130 each – a bargain for a weekend of music and fun! But if you’re watching your budget, you can get free admission by volunteering for twelve hours before, during, or after the festival. We did this last year and it was a cool experience. You get in a day early, so you can get a better campsite, and the admission ticket (but not the camping) is free.
I worked a six-hour shift doing early-morning security on the first day. The next two days I did three-hour shifts in the cafe. Lisa spent three hours with the Rainbow Recycling crew on Friday, six hours in the cafe on Saturday, and three hours at the cafe on Sunday. You can request certain shifts, including before or after the festival; we opted for early mornings since we’re morning people and our shifts would be done before the music started each day.
If you’re looking for three days of music, fun, and relaxation, the Heron is for you. Get used to the phrase “Happy Heron,” because you’ll hear it from the volunteers, vendors, and the other festival-goers.
Get your tickets, pack your gear, and head for Sherman, NY. When you get there, be cool, stay safe, and have a Great Blue Heron Music Festival!
Check out The Great Blue Heron Music Festival website for more information!
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