Shakerfest—grounded in community and nature—comes full circle
Anna Roberts-Gevalt, left, and Elizabeth LaPrelle dig deep into the roots of Hancock Shaker Village for the newly curated Shakerfest.
Brett Winter Lemon
It was common in a traditional Shaker village for people to dance, celebrate, and worship in circles. The religious group firmly believed in equality, and there was no shape more equal in size and existential meaning than the circle. No one side could ever be bigger than the other, and each part of the circle came together to form the shape—the perfect symbol for the messages of fairness and community that the Shakers adhered to so deeply. Unlike most churches, there was no authority figure standing at the altar, with rows of people facing the leader of the congregation. Instead, there was an overwhelming sense of unity. The Shaker community was also rich in arts and culture and allowed individuality and inspiration to flourish in daily life.
The Hancock Shaker Village (HSV), which aims to preserve the history and beliefs of the early Shakers and to enrich and educate people on those beliefs, explores the essence of equality during the upcoming Shakerfest on August 18. The event brings people together for a day of music, picnics, art, and storytelling.
Boasting the tagline: “It’s not Coachella,” or an anti-festival, which is trending across the country, Shaker-fest aims to displace the culturally defined experience of modern music festivals by creating a festival that is fundamentally Shaker—highlighting equality, simplicity, and nature’s beauty.
“We aspire to erase the line between artist and audience. Ticketholders are as important as the artists,” says communications director Maribeth Cellana. There are no VIP passes, no dressing rooms, and no expectations; Shakerfest is all about tradition and feeling connected to one another.
Nestled between the rolling green landscapes of the Berkshires and HSV’s wooden silos, the numerous events of Shakerfest have been curated by Appalachian folksinger/songwriters Anna and Elizabeth (Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle), two rural-bred performers who will immerse themselves in the musical styling of the songs’ original time periods.
“They’re a band that walks the line between folklore tradition and bringing that tradition alive,” says Karl Mullen, music curator at HSV. “The Shakers wrote over 10,000 songs, and Anna and Elizabeth will be performing some of them.”
Other artists in the lineup include Susan Alcorn, an innovative and talented pedal-steel guitar player from Baltimore, Maryland, who transcends the original context of the instrument with a modern, classic style; Paul Wiancko, a ground-breaking cellist, composer, and collaborator who has performed to audiences all over the world; and Sandy Silva of Montreal, who was among the first to combine body percussion and contemporary dance, blending movement and sound into artistic expressions.
“We hope the audience will take away a sense of community like it was their show, too, and know that because they participated, preservation continues,” says Cellana.
Festival guests are invited to enjoy the music over a picnic, or a traditional dance in HSV’s Round Stone Barn.
What sets this festival apart from other music festivals is the organizers’ aim to preserve and authenticate the original meaning of such an event. The eccentric and sometimes over-the-top atmosphere of modern music festivals has become the norm for today’s event-goers, but that atmosphere strays from the values of community and passion that the Shakers cherished. By stripping away the stadiums, the lights, and the distance between a performer and the audience, the purity of the arts becomes the main act.
“At the end of the day, it’s about the program, but it’s also about the community and nature,” says Jennifer Trainer Thompson, CEO of HSV. “We’re passionate about the Berkshire landscape, and Shakerfest was created in a way that weaves people through this unbelievable natural landscape. Everyone is invited to be part of the community—the guests are as important as the artists who create it.”