Welcome to Jersey Arts Quizzo. The question is – “What IS Appel Farm?”
If you’re anything like me, a South Jersey native for whom few things are more enjoyable than listening to live music outdoors, your answer probably mimics mine – “Oh, you mean that wonderful festival in Elmer, New Jersey?”
And, yes, for more than 25 years, Appel Farm did host a full arts and music extravaganza on a portion of their 115-acre property in Salem County.
It is a lovely place to gather, far enough from the urban and suburban hub bub, but still a relatively straight-shot drive from cities in the region. And it seems to me that Appel Farm, which began in 1960 as an overnight camp for fine and performing arts, has changed very little since it opened. Spread across a landscape of forest and fields, it radiates an aura of natural beauty and timelessness.
But since 2012, there has been no early June festival at Appel Farm. And, frankly, I have missed it and been more than a little curious about the back story.
So, you can see why I was excited to get an assignment to write about the new-ish event – the 2nd annual Appel Farm Music and Wine Festival – and to learn more about what’s happening in Elmer this weekend, Saturday, June 3 and Sunday, June 4.
I talked by phone with Cori Solomon, who came on three years ago as Executive Director, and she gave me a great overview.
Several years ago, we reexamined the arts and music fest,” Solomon said, “and made a decision to take a break from producing the festival and refocus back to our roots – which is arts education.”
The original fest always brought together a stand-out line-up of performers. And, as anyone who regularly attended can tell you, it was great. But, for Appel Farm, it was a rather costly venture, which did little to support the organization’s mission and goals.
So, when the idea arose to bring back a festival-style event, the organizers kept clearly in mind their two-fold objective – (1) to serve the surrounding region and community, and (2) to be a successful fundraising tool for Appel Farm.
The first step was to look locally for musicians.
“That was easy,” Solomon said. “There are so many talented artists right in our backyard.”
“And, each of the acts and artists appearing this weekend is playing at cost or charging a greatly reduced fee,” she said. “It means something to them to be part of this.”
Another goal was to reconnect with some partners in the area. A collaboration with one group, the Vintage Atlantic Wine Region, resulted in having a Wine Tasting at the 2016 event. The activity was well-received, and is back again in 2017.
“We reached out to vineyards and wineries from New Jersey and Pennsylvania again this year,” she said. “The 2017 Wine Tasting features nine wineries.”
And don’t worry if beer is more your style. The folks from New Jersey’s own Flying Fish Brewery will be on-site with additional adult beverage choices.
There is also the ever-popular Crafts Faire, which features unique items made by local artists and craftspeople. And, of course, there is food – everything from BBQ to sweet confections – sold in the Culinary Grove and at an assortment of food trucks.
Several new things have been added since last year’s inaugural fest, and one of the best is Kid’s Camp. Staffed by trained and experienced camp counselors, Kid’s Camp offers a wide range of visual arts, outdoor fun, and performance activities – from soccer to sun prints to puppet theater – and more. The cost is a modest $10 per child. And, even though the goings-on are geared to kids 3-13, big people get benefits, too.
“Parents can drop off their children with us and go off on their own,” Solomon said, “and we’ll show the kids what it’s like to have a day at arts camp.”
“It brings it back to being more of a family event,” Solomon said.
Another new addition is a second day of arts, music, and fun. And, along with the extra day comes an interesting option – to bring along your gear and have a Saturday night sleepover on the Appel Farm grounds.
“Since it first started, the camp has specialized in overnight retreats,” Solomon said, “so we are well-equipped to offer that.”
People can band together with a gang and rent a 10-person cabin or can bring their own small tents and camp on the grounds. The prices are reasonable ($50 for tent camping; $500 for the cabin rental), and include an evening bonfire with s’mores, a nighttime performance by Joe Crookston (who was once an AF camp counselor), and tickets to the daytime concerts.
“It is dark and peaceful out here,” Solomon added. “You can just relax, listen to the music, and look at the stars.”
(P.S. I love this idea!)
One more thing making a debut this year is a chance for biking enthusiasts to participate in the South Jersey Cycling Tour. This 22-mile roundtrip ride will take off from Appel Farm at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday, and although riders are asked to pre-register, they will not pay an additional fee to join the tour. Oh, and shower and changing facilities will be available for post-ride, pre-concert freshening up. Geez, it seems like the fest organizers have thought of everything.
It is clear that major events – such as the festivals – get public attention, but I also had an inkling that there’s a lot happening at Appel Farm that people might not know about. So, as our conversation was winding down, I asked Cori Solomon to tell me what I should be telling our readers.
“I want to let them know about all of the things we do,” she said, “and help them understand our mission – which is to bring the arts to young people and to use the arts to build community.”
“That is central to everything we do now,” she added.
In addition to Camp, which is still going strong after 50+ years, programs also include classes and workshops at Appel Farm, as well as “traveling” arts education opportunities. For example, artists and teachers from Appel Farm go out to more than 20 different schools, with on-site instruction, long-term residencies, and after-school programs.
There are leadership and arts retreats for girls and young women who are Girl Scouts, for family groups, and there are occasional one-off weekends, like Dream! A Mother Daughter Creative Escape.
And, as Solomon told me, AF now sponsors “big events” such as the Teen Arts Festival in Salem County. “We reached out to all county middle and high schools to get submissions in visual and performing arts,” she said. “Then we invited them all to come to Appel Farm for a day.”
“We had more than 750 students here this year.”
Solomon says this experience is valuable for many reasons. “Students receive feedback from professional instructors and artists, which helps them grow as creative people,” she said. “And they are spending time with kids from other schools, seeing what type of work they are doing.”
“These students are coming here from very diverse communities and experiences,” she said. “But, at Appel Farm, they seem to find ‘their people’ and feel free to be themselves.”
“Personally, I think that is what Appel Farm does best.”
Artist Line-Up (Click here for more information and artist bios)
3:00 pm Hotsy Totsy
4:15 pm Christopher Davis-Shannon
5:30 pm JUTAUN
6:45 pm Swing That Cat!
9 pm Joe Crookston at the Campfire
12:00 pm Deirdre Finnegan and Dave Cohen
1:15 pm Greg Jones Project
2:30 pm Joe Crookston
3:45 pm David Uosikkinen’s In The Pocket