SHERMAN - Every year in Chautauqua County, more than 8,000 people head to the back hills of Sherman for the Great Blue Heron Music Festival. This weekend marks the 21st year of the three-day event, but never fear, it's still going strong.
As I entered the grounds of the Great Blue Heron music festival for the first time ever, despite having lived in Chautauqua County all my life, I experienced sensory overload. With the sun beating down on my poor head, I immediately looked for the nearest shade. It happened to be a short distance to my left, where a tent full of enthusiastic would-be musicians pounded on bongo drums, strummed banjos, even clacked together sticks with all their might. Their energy was infectious, and I felt invigorated and ready to experience the rest of what the Heron had to offer.
Just beyond the tent, several dozen swimmers splashed happily on the beach, presided over by two vigilant lifeguards, while their less aqueous peers built sand castles on the beach. I followed the crowd up the hill, and realized just how big this festival was.
More than 8,000 people will visit the Great Blue Heron Music Festival in Sherman this year, the 21st year of the three-day event.
P-J photo by Nicholena Moon
Thousands of people streamed out before me, laughing, eating, drinking, shopping and enjoying the music blasting from the main stage. The singer of the band playing, The Town Pants, announced to the crowd, "This is a song about two cheating ladies," and launched into a fast-paced ditty about his ex-girlfriends, to the delight of his fans.
Seeking shade once again, I ventured into the dance tent, where an act called Blue Sky Mission Club was providing attendees with spirited tunes to boogie to. I hung around for a while, then went to explore the campgrounds, where colorful tents dotted the surrounding forest.
Eight thousand people is quite a few, and the Heron had no shortage of volunteers to help run things. Seven hundred people volunteered this year for pre-fest, running the event and cleanup, some coming up far before the actual weekend. Riley Gustafson, an event volunteer, said he was at the Heron a week in advance.
"I helped put in both the dance floor and the dance stage," he said, "which will accommodate dancers until 3 in the morning."
Riley enjoys volunteering with the festival, and his family has been helping since before he was born.
"I like to get involved and see different kinds of music thrive," he said. "It's a different environment. It's cool to see bands come out here and get big crowds like this."
Music is everything at the Blue Heron Festival. David Tidquist, who has been booking bands, making graphics and promoting the festival since its inception 21 years ago, expressed excitement about this year's lineup in particular. Even though the show's headliners have not yet played, a newly added four-piece jazz band from Brooklyn, Lake Street Dive, "took over the crowd," Tidquist said. "I've never seen anything like it."
Dan Forsythe, guitarist for Driftwood, a bluegrass band, was another newcomer to the festival.
"It's great, we love it," Forsythe said. "It's a really beautiful spot to be and everyone is really friendly. It's a perfect festival."
Tidquist was also particularly happy about the atmosphere at the Heron this year.
"There are a lot of happy people out here today," he said.
The festival was co-founded by Tidquist and Julie Rockcastle, who handles logistics and planning for the event.
A less-glamourous job, Jodi Barron handles trash and recycling for the weekend. Everything tossed into the labeled bins at the Heron is sorted and either recycled, composted, or thrown away.
"At the end of the festival, we see the weights of everything we've recycled, and hopefully it's more than the trash," said Barron. "We're trying to get to that point."
The Heron doesn't stop there. It donates the return from every can to a charitable cause. Also, proceeds from T-shirts for sale announcing, "I'm a rainbow recycler!" go toward the Allegheny National Forest Defense project.
Baron expressed her gratitude to Julie and Steve Rockcastle, who own the land festival-goers party on for three straight days.
"We just want to help them keep it beautiful," said Barron.