We went to a folk music festival in Hillsdale, NY, about 30 minutes from Pittsfield, MA, last weekend.


The weather was very wet on Wednesday and Thursday morning but the rain stopped as we arrived. It was very muddy, especially at first.

We’ve been going to folkfests for a while; Philadelphia for the last 12 or 13 years and this one for 10.  We have a 30 x 40 ( x 14) tent that we set up, then put our tents and everything else under. The big top tent is a community property that we and a number of our friends split the cost on.  We bought it used five years ago. Last year it went to Burning Man where it was subjected to heavy winds on several occasions during dust storms.  I improvised some new techniques in setup in response to the winds; one big one was replacing the tie-down ropes with ratchet straps.

The Falcon Ridge management was not letting cars into the campground as we arrived due to the mud and we weren’t going to haul in the huge tent by hand . With the permission of the fest volunteers, we ended up camped in a parking lot outside of the fest grounds. This had certain advantages.

This is our camp in the parking lot.


On the last night, scattered thunderstorms blew in and it was quite wet.

The following day (Sunday), as we prepared to prepare to pack up camp, a storm cell blew by. The camp kids (two ten-year olds and a six-year old) had gone into the fest grounds some time earlier. Rabid saw the storm coming and went in and found them just as the rain started. They ran back to camp through the mud as the storm started to really hit with heavy rain and strong winds.

Back at camp, the big top was starting to take the wind. All of the adults stood at the poles at the end and sides of the tent facing the wind and held the canopy down while the wind raged. The three-foot stakes and the ratchet straps seemed to be holding but the wind was lifting the perimeter poles off of the ground.  Small retention lines held the poles to the canopy but these cords could easily unravel.  If the pole fell out of the canopy or the canopy was allowed to flap, the wind would get underneath and unpredictable things would happen.  The two metal center poles of the tent are fourteen feet long and three inches across and would become terrible if the tent lifted off.  The fourteen metal seven-foot perimeter poles, 2 1/2 inches across, would also be formidable.  The tent must be secured.

The rain was coming down in sheets. We were soaked with the rain as well as runoff from the tent and frigid from the wetness evaporating in the face of the wind.  We were unable to take our hands off of the tent.

Rabid and the kids arrived back at camp.  Rabid immediately herded the kids into a car for shelter.

The wind blew. Someone else’s 10 x 10 tarp and metal-frame structure blew tumbleweed-style from up the street and piled into my corner of the tent and the back of Filth’s car. In a convenient lull in the wind, Filth and I pulled the structure out and back into the street and collapsed it as much as we could.

Filth and I were forced by necessity to return to our posts with the others holding down the big top. The winds came back with a vengeance, exceeding any windload the tent had ever withstood. Lightning struck here and there. The stakes started to work out of the ground. Then the hail started… Ice-cube sized chunks of hail. They really hurt when they smacked into one’s hands where one held the canopy.

It hailed for an improbably long time, ice accumulating on the ground. The wind raged.

The structure that Filth and I had moved took flight; Rabid and the kids saw it fly by from the car; they estimated it to be twenty feet in the air. It ended up several hundred yards away, piled up against another car.

During another lull in the wind, I went around with a sledgehammer and reseated the stakes.  The ground had big puddles, 2 – 3 inches deep, all over and under the big top.

After an eternity, the storm abated. The rain still came down and the breeze still blew, but the intensity slackened and the lightning went away. For a few minutes, we wandered around under the big top, shell-shocked and frankly amazed the structure had survived.

We started to pack. A neighbor come by and pointed out the creek running behind our campsite. Where previously the creek was a little thing burbling over rocks five feet below the level of the parking lot, now the flow was a fast-moving brown monster raging within inches of the top.

We feverishly packed up individual tents and all of the camp gear and got them out from under the big top and into vehicles.  We pulled down the big top and got it folded and in the truck just as the creek started to recede, leaving us with some time to pull the stakes out at out leisure.

Then we all successfully gunned our various vehicles through the muddy parking lot to the exit where we were detoured south to avoid flooding.

It was epic.