Any doubt the inaugural Escape to New York Festival would transform part of the Shinnecock Reservation into the "wonderland" organizers promised was erased by dudes in the bunny costumes directing traffic on Route 27 in Southampton to the gathering Friday.
Inside the festival, which runs through Sunday, it was all very "through the looking glass." Elements of Escape to New York creator Fred Fellowes' dream, two years in the making, were already blossoming -- including on the main stage, where plastic flowers were blooming on makeshift vines throughout the day, next to an abandoned yellow cab. "I'm very happy with everything," Fellowes said Friday night. "It's all running very smoothly."
When asked how the festival was able to overcome the usual first-year event issues like late starts and food and supply shortages, he replied, "This isn't our first rodeo."
Though attendance was light Friday afternoon, the crowds grew for Patti Smith's headlining appearance. She made it quite timely by dedicating "Free Money" to President Barack Obama and the rest of the country, hours after the historic downgrading of the nation's debt. "I think they need it," she said.
Organizers expect between 8,000 and 10,000 visitors throughout the weekend. Many attending the event, modeled after Fellowes' Secret Garden Party in England, were thrilled to be part of something new.
"It's a great vibe and that's the hardest thing for a festival to create," The Postelles singer Daniel Balk said after the band played the main stage.
"I think they're laying the groundwork to be a festival of the future," added bassist John Speyer. "Festivals like Bonnaroo are built on the vibe."
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Escape to New York builds that vibe by making the most of its surroundings. Art exhibits are tucked into wooded nooks, with fabric panels hanging from trees and sculptures designed to mirror their surroundings. Wandering the grounds brings numerous surprises, from giant orange plastic fingers to pits filled with rose petals and stuffed pandas.
Fellowes promised more surprises, including flash mobs and a shared experimental tour, created by the troupe Improv Everywhere, guided by an MP3 concertgoers download from the festival website.