For three beautiful days, Philadelphia progressive rock wizards Out Of The Beardspace brought their annual Beardfest back for a powerful seventh year at the Paradise Lakes Campground in Hammonton, New Jersey, from June 14th to 16th.

While the focus and draw of Beardfest is the music—this year included impressive headliners like Marco Benevento, the first-ever performance from Medeski, Martin & MonoNeon, and saxophone duo Moon Hooch—festivalgoers have more than just one way to immerse themselves in the culture. Taking inspiration from transformative festivals like Rootwire and Costa Rica’s Envision Festival, the crew behind Beardfest set out to use their platform, both as a festival and band, to give back to the community that has supported their craft.

Something that has been a major part of the experience of Beardfest is the variety of classes and workshops that take place throughout each day, as a way to enrich the downtime of those who choose to dive in and aren’t just there for the party. From yoga and meditation to herbalism and crafting introductions, salsa lessons, and participatory musical workshops in world drums and pedal effects, there is truly something for every walk of life.

“Part of what we’re doing here is providing a stage for inspiration from great [musical] artists,” tells Beardspace guitarist Jeremy Savo, “but we’re also providing a canvas for that inspiration to flow out immediately.”

And that flowing inspiration was apparent from the start of this year’s festivities, from the stage setup that was constantly changing with the direction of the ROMPUS art collective to the massive amounts of spontaneous sit-ins and improvisation from every single band on the lineup.


Thursday, 6/14

When the gates of Paradise Lakes opened on Thursday morning, it was clear to all in attendance that this year would be one for the books. There was something in the air that had every waking soul visibly bouncing with anticipation. On trend with the growth that this festival has experienced in years previous, the camping area was full to the gills in mere hours. Nobody wanted to miss a second of this year’s activities.

The Forest Stage played host to the first set of music from Kingsley Ibeneche, a local rising talent out of Philadelphia who blends elements of world music and jazz with his talents as a classically trained dancer. Following the first set and opening the Main Stage was New York-based acoustic roots outfit Upstate Rubdown. Local alternative rockers Medusa’s Disco followed suit on the Forest Stage, as the sun set on the first day and the celebration hit that beautiful nighttime stride.

Enter the first night of Beardfest, which included another string of performances, mostly drawn from the deep well of talent that is growing each year out of Philadelphia. The Main Stage ignited as Gnarbot, led by dual guitarists Zach LoPresti and Zack Smith, dropped jaws with their technical mastery and genre-defying tunes. Fueling the crowd with high-octane guitar solos, the howling masses swung into full party mode. Philadelphia jamtronica staple Tweed lit up the Forest Stage with a solid set of dance music and proved to be the perfect warm-up for the weekend’s first headlining slot.

In a perfect cap to the opening night, Beardfest alumni Moon Hooch brought the heat in a dazzling display of saxophone madness. One could speculate that their levels were heightened after leading a pre-set sunset meditation class on the beach prior to hitting the stage. Whatever the reason was, the trio blazed into the night as the crowd welcomed them with open arms. As if that weren’t enough, Hungry Ghost, one of the several side projects consisting of members of Out of the Beardspace, took to the Forest Stage for the first late-night set of the weekend.

Friday, 6/15

The first full day of Beardfest did not begin with the usual early start to drinking that one would expect to see at most other party-centric musical gatherings. No, it began with a 5k run hosted by Philly funk fusion explorers Muscle Tough, who would later take the crown as champions of the late-night set.

Providing a platform to showcase some more local talent from the area, Friday boasted incredible and engaging daytime sets, including the masterclass and following performance from Consider The Source bass guru John Ferrera’s new duo project with drummer Seth Moutal, a theatrical romp from dream rock group Miss Cantalope, a sunny set from reggae rockers Suburban Sensi, and a fiery showing from local Grateful Dead tribute Splintered Sunlight to send off the heat of the day.

An impressive Forest Stage set from electro-jazz freakers Sexoffice was followed by the first of two sets by host band Out of the Beardspace on the Main Stage, which guided the crowd into the second night. Beardspace kicked off by welcoming everybody back to the Pine Barrens before starting off their set, which included several original tunes and sit-ins from local musicians including Philly frontman Nik Greeley and young members of the Zachademy of Music to cover Rage Against The Machine classic “Bulls on Parade.”

A quick shout out to Out of the Beardspace is due. While running a festival with upwards of 1,500 attendees, these guys managed to play two sets of music for an approximate total of four hours on the weekend as a band—not to mention that each member sat in and performed with multiple side projects, as well as many of the 30 or so bands that on the lineup. Let it be known that guitarist Zach LoPresti and keyboardist Sam Gutman both could be crowned kings of the sit-in on the weekend.

Beardspace members made a point to hype up the audience for the following set on the Forest stage by one man band fOUR, the side project of Kneebody’s Nate Wood. This man, or machine, depending on how you look at it, did not disappoint and melted some serious face. If you haven’t checked this project out, you can see what he does here.

Marco Benevento took the Main Stage by storm as fOur came to an end, drawing the masses in with an electrifying set, including the epic original jam “The Story of Fred Short” and a crowd-pleasing cover of the Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper” led by bassist Karina Rykman.

Marco’s set left the whole place brimming with smiles as the focus shifted back towards the Forest for late night favorites Muscle Tough. The aforementioned Friday warriors quite literally fed the night owl crowd not only with delicious tunes and infectious smiles, but with a marathon 3 hour set with barely anybody leaving until the final note.

Saturday, 6/16

The most anticipated day of the weekend yielded yet another round of sunny skies for all to enjoy. An early and high musical bar was set by the young guns in the Zachademy of Music band. Made up from the intensely talented students of Beardspace guitarist Zach LoPresti and his musical cohort and guitarist Zack Smith, these kids played masterful covers spanning from D’Angelo to Knower (and even threw in some original compositions). In a phrase, these kids have chops for days.

The day came and went in what seemed like minutes as the sun passed over salsa lessons on the beach. Weekend warriors were just arriving for the final day and night of activities. And as the sun reached its downward trajectory, the heaviest night of Beardfest music commenced led by none other than the funky juggernaut that is Ghost Note.

The side project of Snarky Puppy rhythm masters Robert “Sput” Searight and Nate Werth brought the grooves that had the whole festival moving. Ghost Note’s lively bandleader Sput even found time to school the crowd on the history of Afrobeat, while the band simultaneously broke it down. Low-end legend MonoNeon was firing on all cylinders as well—and this set would not be his last on the day.

Philadelphia favorites the Underwater Sounds threw down on the Forest Stage as the stars crept out of the sky, setting the vibes on cruise control for the last night of music. Out of The Beardspace took to the Main Stage afterward, thanking the crew and crowd again for an incredible weekend before blasting off into an exceptionally spirited final festival showing. The band’s vision was in full effect and was clearly seen in their playing. Smiles and spontaneous improvisation were all prepared in the moment—the hive mind that is Out of the Beardspace showed just how grateful they were to be on stage again together. Percussionist Nate Werth also made a guest appearance during the set, adding to the staggering number of sit-ins on the weekend.

That creative force was only doubled, maybe even tripled, as the final headliner graced the stage. The most anticipated group of the weekend, Medeski, Martin & MonoNeon—three of the heaviest cats in the jazz and funk scene on stage together for the first time. With little to no preparation, it was decided that they would hop on stage and improvise an entire set. That’s no easy feat, but the trio clicked from the first wave of sounds and locked in the entire festival for a wild journey.

Mad scientist John Medeski would slide around his set of keyboards and lay down a lick, Billy Martin would answer within a second, and MonoNeon would creep up from the deep with an infectious groove. MM&M made it funky for a while, listening intently to one another, before they really took things deep. Acting as cosmic chauffeurs for the audience, driving the crazed masses out for a ride through the stars, they challenged those who would listen. As the ride hit multiple peaks and valleys, the sonic landscape was expanded with the help of two Beardspace members in guitarist Zach LoPresti and vocalist Kevin Savo. This set encapsulated the spirit of the festival: there are no boundaries to where music can go, just so long as there are people willing to strap in for the journey.

The last night of Beardfest went until the break of dawn with dual late night sets. First, a party in the forest provided by Philly funk phenoms Swift Technique as they shut down the second stage in style. Finally, in true Beardfest fashion, organic livetronica powerhouse G-Nome Project lit up the Main Stage one more time with the pedal to the floor and played until the sun rose on Sunday.

From humble beginnings as a small gathering of friends and musicians in a backyard has grown into an explosion of creativity, community, and absolute musical madness, proving that the festival scene in the Philadelphia and South Jersey is indeed alive and well. The growth that this particular festival has experienced is a true testament to the ideals that Beardfest was founded upon. The Beardfest family is breathing new life into the concept of what a music festival can and should be.