How Mysteryland Got Me Out of Myself and In to the World
written by Michael Talavera
Decades ago, Woodstock pioneered the American festival frontier and left its mark on popular culture. The third US edition of Mysteryland, held on the very same grounds, is similarly boundary-pushing. Originally started in the Netherlands, the festival has been around since 1993, making it the longest-running electronic music festival in the world. It seems only right that the once-dairy farm is often described as sacred grounds; attendees (also known as ‘Nomads’) found themselves falling happily down a rabbit hole of art installations, massive performances, and uniquely curated stages for the third year in a row. Here’s how it went down…
Mysteryland Festival Quick Facts:
Crowd type: Diverse demographic, from the hipster raver to the raging bass head
Music genre: Mostly EDM with a heavy emphasis on Deep House, Bass Music, Hip Hop, and Funk
How To Get There
Being that the festival is a few hours from any major airport, the best option for a crew to get there would be to drive a personal vehicle or rent a car. If you are traveling alone or in a small group, I would suggest flying into one of the major New York airports (LGA, JFK, Albany, Newark) and hopping on one of the official shuttles to Bethel Woods. If you’re not used to extreme traffic, NYC can get pretty overwhelming, so avoid the extra hassle and take advantage of the safe and reliable transportation Mysteryland offers.
Where To Stay
Hotel options are limited in this remote area of upstate New York. Book an AirBnB well in advance, or take advantage of one of the official travel packages if you consider A/C and running water to be must-haves.
Mysteryland emphasizes camping for good reason. I’m a firm believer that your experience will be infinitely more positive should you opt for one of the fest’s many camping/glamping packages. The soft grass and rolling hills make for a stunning landscape with plenty of room to spread out, but be prepared to haul your gear in from the parking lot as there is no car camping (pro tip: bring a wagon).
On-site camping on “Holy Grounds” is separated into GA, VIP, Easy Tent, and Bird’s Nest. Bethel Woods is massive (close to 500,000 attended Woodstock) and, as incredible as it is, it can be a bit of a walk from the main venue to the campgrounds. Be sure to factor that in when choosing your campsite. VIP is only slightly closer than GA, but the Easy Tent and Bird’s nest glamping options are much closer.
Mysteryland made a significant organizational change this year by limiting the campgrounds to those 21+. Off-site camping at Lander’s River is available for those who fall below the age limit, or anyone looking for different kind of adventure.
Nothing outstanding, but the standards were met, including the availability of free water refill stations. I was a bit disappointed at the lack of New York culture present in food options (i.e. no halal trucks), but burgers, tacos, pizza, etc. could be found at all hours inside the venue as well as inside the campgrounds.
This is where the festival truly performed. Exploring with friends and strangers alike, we found ourselves stumbling into little art installations, geodesic domes with dancing flames on the ceiling, joining marching bands, and constantly getting lost in the main stage production as it transformed throughout the day. With festival stages nowadays stressing the importance of overused LED screens and expensive lights, the main stage at Mysteryland was a breath of fresh air. The excellently crafted stage traded the usual production style for a massive work of art that included vibrant wings and hummingbirds—a true testament to the creative focus at Mysteryland. I can’t effectively describe to you what it was like to watch main stage transform as the sun went down, the lights came on, and the stage came alive with color. You have to see it for yourself.
Pair that with a stacked main stage lineup, and I wouldn’t blame you if you never left. I probably would have permanently attached myself to the main stage area were it not for the musical gems found at the Viking-dragon-spaceship-boat stage stage. Hudson Mohawke, Gramatik, Ganja White Night, Emancipator, and many other favorites all played here, and the stage had a nice amphitheater feel thanks to the gentle hills surrounding it.
Spiegeltent was something I’ve never seen before. Hosting deep house and electro swing dance parties, the carnival-themed traveling tent was out of this world. I could only describe it as a cross between an old western saloon and a gypsy dancehall. BangOn!NYC in partnership with House of Yes formed a massive circle with their double-decker busses that could be easily compared to Burning Man art cars. The unique party had Mysteryland Nomads bouncing around all weekend and you really couldn’t resist walking by without joining in. The festival reached for unheard of levels of production and the ambiance that resulted from the hard work and creative dedication is something you see attempted at many other festivals, but not always achieved. I was impressed.
Artists You May Not Have Heard of But Can’t Miss
Besides a ridiculous main stage lineup and a Sunday consisting of consecutive performances by Keys and Krates, GRiZ, Zeds Dead, and Bassnectar, the festival had a lot of hidden talent and rising stars. While the masses flocked to main stage on Saturday for Tchami, Chainsmokers, and Young Thug, the rest of us found ourselves at the aforementioned boat stage for some really intimate performances. Black Tiger Sex Machine captivated a small crowd of churchgoers with their robotic tiger masks, followed by G Jones who brought some brand-new experimental trap from the future for all the eager bass heads in attendance.
But, as wild as those sets were, it was Emancipator and his mesmerizing violin that stuck out most vividly. A unique kind of buzzing energy emanated from the crowd that had been built up from the previous two performers as he took the stage. Night had finally set in, and many people were sitting down and engaging each other during his set as his strings serenaded the crowd. It was a perfect moment of clarity and peace before the madness of Gramatik and Skrillex closed out Saturday night. Meanwhile, John Digweed and Desert Heart’s Mikey Lion and Deep Jesus kept it sweaty in the Spiegeltent. At Mysteryland, talent was everywhere, and we were stoked to see each artist excellently showcased regardless of what stage they were on.
Things To Do
-enjoy sunset yoga at the Healing Garden
-do a little dance at the Car Wash Disco
-giggle at a few dance battles held on a WWE-style wrestling ring
-catch some comedy at Spiegeltent
-lose yourself in countless art installations
-hone your fighting skills in a mixed martial arts class
-learn from motivational speakers on topics including How To Achieve Your Wildest Dreams and Better Sex
Why Go VIP
VIP came in two sizes. Premium came with your typical VIP amenities: private viewing area, bar, and restroom at main stage, slightly better camping location, free showers, happy hour, express entry, etc. Platinum added an open bar at the main stage and golf cart transportation inside the campgrounds. I’ve seen a lot of VIP options and, while this wasn’t the worst and I enjoyed the sights from the viewing areas, the extra $200-$500 did not seem worth it. Your money would be better spent splitting one of the resort packages offered on the website with your group.
What Makes The Festival Different?
Everywhere you go, every stage you see, every artist you dance to, every vendor you talk to, and every art installation you find had imagination and ingenuity bursting from its seams. It was this culture of creativity that separates Mysteryland from the rest. I had this realization many times throughout the weekend as I caught myself staring at the intricate and hypnotic flags flying proud near the boat stage, or dancing with strangers in the bass-heavy Car Wash Disco.
It was almost an out-of-body experience, removing myself for a second and observing what was really happening from an outside angle. One look at the main stage and you immediately begin to feel the passion and appreciate for artistic detail evident in every project at the festival. This passion, an almost desperate determination to express oneself in a chaotic universe, is what I love about music, art, festivals, and humanity as a whole. When we’re out in these fields getting lost in the lights and sounds, it’s easy to forget how very lucky we are to be a part of such a magnificent celebration of expression. Any festival that cultivates that creative energy with as much passion and grace as Mysteryland USA should be proud. Bravo to all the artists involved.
Always remember the 5 P’s… Proper preparation prevents poor performance.
Security is tight. They had officers with K9’s checking people in line on the way in. I saw a lot of unhappy individuals being escorted out of line. Be smart. Play smarter. Again, be prepared to haul your gear from the parking lot to campsite. That being said, the after party situation was kind of lacking considering the DJ’s and headphones at silent disco were mediocre, so bringing a speaker and having a communal area to talk the day over at the end of the night is crucial. We also experienced weather of all types, so be ready for wind, cold, heat, and a little rain.