The Hazelden campus is, by design, set in a place apart. Its idyllic location, nestled amidst rolling hills and crystal lakes in the Minnesota countryside, provides a peaceful environment for those seeking treatment for addiction to alcohol and other drugs.
And for those attending HazelFest — Hazelden’s day-long, chemical-free community festival — that sense of being in a special place takes hold from the moment of arrival: cars park on verdant, undulating hills that resemble a computer’s desktop photo, from where attendees hike to a gently sloping path that rambles through native plants and trees to reach the festival entrance. The sign above the path reads, “HazelFest: Celebrate Life.” This quick imperative perfectly captures the festival’s vibe, fully embraced by the event’s 3,000-plus festival-goers.
Music for the day centered on a big stage cradled in a sunny hollow adjacent to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation offices. The music lineup featured roots music from northern Minnesota-based Americana duo Pushing Chain, followed by the jazzy blues of Davina and the Vagabonds (whose frontwoman, Davina Sowers, told Andrea Swensson about her history with addiction on the June 23, 2016, episode of The O.K. Show). The Honeydogs cranked out a rocking set of tunes, including a performance of the song “Devices,” which has been spinning on The Current.
Between sets, a series of guest speakers shared their recovery stories in the “LifeTake2” recovery speaker tent. Among a day filled with inspiring stories were that of Johnny and Molly Solomon from the band Communist Daughter, and the story-and-song presentation of actor/performer T. Mychael Rambo, who shared how his father offered him “a chance to stay at a resort by a Minnesota lake” to help him overcome his addiction. Rambo also described how the sober life has helped him clear his mind for his many creative pursuits, citing Maya Angelou’s quote, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
Recovery stories also found their way into the Honeydogs’ set. Frontman Adam Levy told the crowd that his mother went through Hazelden, saying it was “the best thing for our family.” Later in the set, the Honeydogs’ lead guitarist Ryan Paul Plewacki shared how he went through the program at Hazelden 13 years ago, eliciting joyful cheers of support and affirmation from the crowd.
Music continued with Hippo Campus, whose fans started establishing their places in front of the stage earlier in the day. Comparisons to their energetic June performance at Rock the Garden were inevitable, as Hippo Campus’s set kept the audience on their feet, clapping, dancing and singing, especially with hits “Little Grace” and “Suicide Saturday.” Frontman Jake Luppen assured the crowd the band’s next album is coming soon. “We want to play a bunch of new songs,” he said, “but we have to have patience.
“Pa-tience,” Luppen repeated playfully. “Life lessons with Hippo Campus.”
The positive vibe of HazelFest 2016 was augmented by perfect weather: a dazzling sun shone from the azure-pigmented sky, only occasionally punctuated by puffy-cotton clouds that offered occasional shady respite from the summer sunshine. Attendees could also visit a big-top to see displays set up by a number of vendors and by outreach organizations, or they could stop in to a farmyard petting zoo, with a number of furry friends, including a donkey, sheep, pigs and alpacas. Food trucks offering a range of options proved popular, and a number of them were donating part or all of their income for the day to Hazelden’s patient recovery programs.
Back on the main stage following Hippo Campus, special guest speaker John Feldmann, who has enjoyed a long and successful career as a music producer and as a member of the pop-punk band Goldfinger, shared his recovery story, drawing massive applause when he shared his sobriety date of Feb. 19, 1989.
When Cloud Cult took the stage, a longer shadow extended from the main stage’s proscenium, into which an arching phalanx of music fans gathered. Cloud Cult frontman Craig Minowa opened the set saying the band’s music would focus on themes of hope and courage, drawing heavily from the band’s new album, The Seeker. Noting the bright sunshine, Minowa thanked the audience for “staring into the sun all day to see us.”
Songs in Cloud Cult’s set included “To the Great Unknown,” “No Hell,” and “Time Machine Invention,” off The Seeker. The band finished their set with a rousing rendition of “There’s So Much Energy in Us,” which concluded in raucous, sustained applause from the audience. Those with sightlines of the offstage area could see the band members huddling briefly, and, after a few moments, they returned to the stage for an encore that featured a blistering performance of “Complicated Creation,” from their 2013 album, Love.
As the applause for Cloud Cult subsided, HazelFest MC David Campbell (a former DJ on The Current, now a Hazelden staffer), thanked the audience, sound crew, and event organizers and volunteers. “We hope you’ll join us again on the first Saturday of August 2017,” Campbell said — then, taking out his smartphone, added, “I’m putting it on my calendar right now.”
See short videos of the Honeydogs, Hippo Campus and Cloud Cult performing at HazelFest, posted on the Local Current Facebook page.