To nobody's surprise, the best things about Smoke Farm's third annual summer performance festival—called Interstitial Heroes—weren't the performances.
(Briefly: Smoke Farm is 360 acres of woods and fields and riverbanks, an hour's drive north of Seattle, owned free and clear—after a decade of wrangling and fundraising—by a nonprofit. Its figurehead is Stuart Smithers, a serene professor of philosophy at the University of Puget Sound who can be found sitting by bonfires at Smoke Farm events, drinking Scotch and smoking cigars and discussing the best places to fish in Latin America. Smoke Farm hosts all kinds of happenings, from outdoor theater festivals like Interstitial Heroes to philosophy retreats to Burning Beast, where excellent chefs cook whole animals on open fires in the middle of a scenic field.)
Because it's owned outright, Smoke Farm has a lack of ambition that works both for and against it. For it: Smoke Farm doesn't have to grub, elbow-rub, and manically hype itself for grants. It can relax. Once you've driven that hour north—past cows, barns, and diners—and through its little aluminum gate, it's difficult to feel tense about anything at all. Against it: Smoke Farm doesn't have to grub, elbow-rub, and manically hype itself for anything, including its summer performance festival. Which is why this year's festival began with six poets standing in a circle reciting to each other, which most people didn't listen to. And why the dinner (salad, farro, beef ribs) was accompanied by an oration (from a vintage snake-oil salesman played by Charles Leggett, organized by Matthew Richter) that most people didn't listen to.
People did, however, enjoy a secular confessional booth by performance artists PDL (in the middle of a hot field on the way down to the river), Seven Andy Warhols Playing Shuffleboard (an installation in which audience members could don white wigs and play shuffleboard), and a late-afternoon performance by a skeleton crew from Circus Contraption (aerialists, acrobatics, and songs on steel guitar and ukulele by Drew Keriakedes, Contraption's grinning, nihilistic genius). People would've danced to the psychedelic surf-rock of Sage—they've reunited—except they played toward a broiling hot field, so everybody sat in the barn behind them to listen. A dance company called the Asterisk Project performed a desultory dance in the river. (All women, all in white T-shirts: a study in breasts.) Bret Fetzer told a bedtime story with shadow puppets but, by that time, most people were taking walks and gently mauling each other beneath the midnight moon. Art and nature compete for people's attention at Smoke Farm. Nature usually wins.