Throughout the year Top of the Knob Productions hosts a number of great events at their privately-owned organic farm in Harrodsburg, KY (Harvest Festival/Snuggleween). To kick off the festival season, Terrapin held it’s Cabin Fever Reliever Festival from April 21-24. At the top of the bill were the Terrapin-staple Rumpke Mountain Boys, Ropeadope Label’s “Spiritual Warrior for the Funk” Freekbass, Winners of the 41st Telluride Bluegrass Band Competition Trout Steak Revival, and Louisville based funk/soul Vessel. But as these great gatherings constantly remind us, the experience is about much more than the sum of it’s lineup.
I arrived with the Lexington-based pizza truck Rolling Oven almost immediately after the gates opened on Thursday. Tickets were $55 in advance and $70 on site the day of. When we pulled into our parking spots there were roughly 200 people scattered about, mostly vendors and festival staff. I was scheduled with the truck, but was to be on call until they needed me that day. This gave me time to explore the farm. Not having ever been to Terrapin Hill, I didn’t fully know what to expect. I had always heard great things about the vibe at their events, but hadn’t heard much about the land or facilities. My friend Lucas, who was also on call with the truck, had been to his first Terrapin event the year before. It had also been at Cabin Fever Reliever around this same time and it was where he had met his present girlfriend. “This place is magical,” he said.
Lucas was excited to show me around, so we grabbed a couple of beers and set out. Terrapin Hill Farm is 400-acres with plenty of grounds for exploring. A stream meanders alongside the road from the entrance. Wooded areas provide for great hide and seek games. And the three separate stages are beautiful settings for great music throughout the weekend. The Main Stage lawn is the perfect hill for laying out a blanket and enjoying the tunes. The top of this hill is what is referred to as the “Top of the Knob”. Here we found a formation of rocks laid out in a circle with an X through it. Inside of the circle is a pergola that becomes a place for marriage, music, and conversation. A temporary geodesic dome was also at the Top with triangular shaped chalkboards filling in empty spaces between lines. Here, Lucas would later draw a Gorilla in a denim vest.
However, the natural beauty of THF wasn’t all that it has to offer. Walking back from the Knob we came across a playground equipped with a merry-go-round, slide, and swing set. This was awesome for the kids that would be coming over the weekend with parents. Here we also came across other vendors. Lucas picked up a sweet Rick and Morty pin to add to his collection.
We sat and talked with several of the booth owners. None of them were attending Terrapin for the first time, a theme that I soon found to be very common here. With the farm having hosted events for over two decades now, some attendees had been coming out for over half of their lives. At one point on Friday evening when I asked my neighbor if there was anything that long time devotees called themselves (I used the terrible examples “Hill Head” or “something about turtles?”) he replied with an answer that struck a beautiful chord, “Family”.
This statement became more and more apparently true to me as the weekend went on. More guests were now arriving to the farm and each and every one of them were greeted with open arms from smiling friends. I had only recently met Lucas and a couple of other people in attendance through working on the truck, but everyone that I met hugged me and welcomed me as if we had been friends all of our lives. It was getting easier to see why everyone I had heard speak about this place talked about it with so much passion and longing for their next visit.
Four legged friends were also welcomed as there was only a $40 charge for the weekend to bring dogs along. Many were in attendance and it was obvious that many of these pups had grown up on the farm as well. They greeted each other playfully like old friends reunited.
Thursday evening provided us with Hollow Bone jamming out on the main stage. A massive bonfire behind the sound booth kept us warm while we enjoyed the music. The weather held out for their performance, but around 9:30 the skies opened up and let loose a relentless downpour that sent many of us to our tents earlier in the evening. For me this was okay as I knew we had a barn burner of a weekend ahead of us. This small bout of rain was the only bit of poor weather over all 4 days.
Waking up Friday morning, breakfast pizzas with a cracked egg sold out instantly. Everyone was getting a good breakfast in to start the weekend off right. We listened to deadmau5 and Rainbow Kitten Surprise, some of the few albums we had saved to our phones. Open mic in the pavilion across from the truck allowed any and all a chance to perform. The pavilion recently added a curtain rod around the entire shelter with curtains to close it off during poor weather. They would not be needed as blue skies were dotted with very few clouds starting Friday morn.
The location with the truck was perfect. Next to us was the general store, which sold snacks, ice, etc. and also had an ATM. A group of three spent their morning yelling compliments from the store’s porch at passersby. “Hey you, with the blue hat! You’re crushing it with that beard. You’re a Go Getter!!” A guy with a fishing rod pulled the classic dollar on a string joke, reminding us all that money can’t buy happiness.
Throughout the day we all played in the vending area with frisbees and toys the kids had brought. Marshmallow guns were a hit, encouraging them to make S’mores not War. I was able to wander over to the main stage for a bit and catch a little bit of Hot Brown Smackdown before closing down the truck for the evening. These 7 guys killed it! It was a perfect prelude to the stomping good time Rumpke Mountain Boys I would catch a little later. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to see Freekbass, but on Saturday morning I heard several people say how great of a show it was. Rolling Oven closed down at about 10:30 and Andrew, also from the truck, and I set off for Rumpke. Set one was amazing with an appearance from Freekbass in the middle. Him and JD had a blast riffing back and forth on bass; JD on the upright and Freek on the electric.
“We’re gonna take a little break, grab some beers, you should too!” Grateful Dead’s “Sugar Magnolia” started playing over the speakers.
To the right of the stage was an area fenced off by what looked like Tibetan prayer flags. The area was about 40ft x 40ft. From behind the stage emerged a flaming whip bearing performer. The crack of the whip drew people in. A single short haired, red dressed female then mesmerized the crowd with some amazing poi skills.
I ended up walking the short 100 yards to my car for a blanket and some beers, laying it out, and meeting the people that walked by. We talked about what we thought the musicians were thinking while they were playing and the imagery of the sounds they were making. Set two was also incredible. The band eased back in with an instrumental piece that I felt like took us through and finally out of winter. Snow was melting at first and water trickled down the mountain. The lights went blue and you could practically taste clean, cold water. Then it was spring and things were coming to life, flowers were in bloom. These guys are super comfortable playing music together, it’s as if they’re all alone in their own little world, speaking their own language. I went to bed still excited about the show we had just seen.
Saturday was set to be a busy day as many had missed Thursday and Friday due to work and were only now arriving. By the end of the festival 1,600 people had come through the Terrapin Hill Farm gates. The truck was steadily busy, but with all of us on staff we were able to rotate in and out. I took some time to kick my shoes off at the pavilion nearby and catch Montana Hobbs’ and Linda Jean Stokley’s The Local Honeys. The group is out of Woodford County and Beatyville and sang songs of mountaintop removal and their time spent in Ireland. I fully enjoyed everything that these two women had to offer. They recently received a sponsorship from Ale-8 and their album “Little Girls Acting Like Men” is set to come out soon, keep an eye out. I then went back to the truck to tag Lucas out for a couple of hours.
With many of my out of town friends in Lex. for Beaux Arts Ball I made the tough decision to head back to join them. It was only about 5 o’clock on Saturday evening and I had a bit of that feeling I have when leaving Bonnaroo or New Orleans. I spent 30 more minutes finding some of the people I had met over the couple of days and said our goodbyes/exchanged information. The drive back from Harrodsburg to Lexington is as Kentucky as it gets, rolling hills and horse farms. It made for great reflection over the weekend. I now realize what brings people back to Terrapin time and time again. The sense of community where you feel comfortable enough to leave your car unlocked and to bring your kids and dogs. The incredible music that it brings. The beautiful land that the events are held on. I hope that I am able to make Harvest and enjoy Rumpke’s second set where the summer comes to an end and the cold starts to settle in.
Things we overheard at Terrapin Hill’s Cabin Fever Reliever;
“Today’s Bloody Mary’s are brought to you by the letter C.. for Celery”
“And now, Saturday morning performances from the Terrapin Hill Dog Choir!”
“I’ll trade you an Ale-8 for a Beer.”
One Friend: “I’ve got a backpack full of BEER!!” Another:”Again!?”