Community June 28, 2016

‘Feastival’ in the Mountains

A Celebration of Fall Connects Food, Music and Friends

We are well used to the changes fall brings: falling leaves, dropping temperatures, shortening days. For the past seven years, Mat Gershater and Whitney McNees have celebrated these changes, hosting an annual “Feastival” at their Idaho BaseCamp. This gathering, a longtime dream of Gershater’s, is a potluck-concert-campout hybrid, a kind of family-friendly Valley version of Burning Man. It always falls on the third weekend of September each year as a celebration of the harvest and the fall equinox.

There are few better places to celebrate the shifting of the seasons than the Idaho BaseCamp, a 13-acre eco-retreat located along the Big Lost River. The Idaho BaseCamp mission is to connect people with nature, their community, and the self. In addition to Feastival, the group hosts wellness workshops, yoga and meditation retreats, workshops, and a kids’ camp called Mountain Adventure Tours.

The site is a web of trails, leading down to the river and between yurts and houses. Attendees of Feastival are encouraged to bring their fishing gear and coolers, so they can kick back with a drink while searching for trout. 

Community is a central tenet of Feastival, and everything about the weekend is a group effort. While Idaho BaseCamp provides the entrée, generally a stew or soup, attendees are expected to bring a dish to share. Before everyone digs in, the “tribe,” as McNees refers to it, circles up to give thanks. “Some people call it a blessing, some would call it a prayer,” explained McNees. “It is a nice little way of gathering up everyone and looking at who is there with you in that space, who showed up this year, who you’ll spend the weekend with.”

The weekend is not just for those who personally know McNees and Gershater.  Attendance ebbs and flows between 150 and 300 people and the couple is overjoyed when they see unfamiliar faces. While the first two years they relied on word of mouth, McNees recalled, “sitting by the fire with Matty on the third year and looking up and seeing someone we didn’t know. We were both so excited to see that what we had built was growing.”

Feastival strives to offer a different kind of festival experience in which the barriers between people are gone. Meredith Richardson, a local who has volunteered every year, said her favorite memory was jamming with the bands that had come to play Feastival, an experience practically impossible at any other event. After clearing out “the yellow house,” an old brothel brought down to the BaseCamp from Mackay in the 1950s, volunteers helped outfit each room with a different theme, including one room dubbed the “208 lounge,” intended as a late night venue for the festival. After bands’ sets were over, they could come into the lounge and, Richardson reminisced, “play way into the morning, with everyone there. There was a crossover between artist and festivalgoer, this very intimate thing. You had the opportunity to go jam with somebody in the 208 lounge!”

The event is not just for those looking to celebrate until the wee hours. Feastival is all ages and family-friendly, one of McNees’ favorite aspects. “One year, I was walking around all the pathways and trails below the property, when I ran into one of my friends who had her two kids with her. We were listening to the cheerful shrieking of children running around, playing on the pathways, splashing in the streams, and the mom said that it felt so good to be able to allow her children to run and be free, because she knew there was a community of people looking after them, a tribe, where you’re all going to be looking out. Everyone will be taken care of.”

This year, Whitney McNees hopes to take it to the next level, adding even more activities and workshops for kids, with music and food that they can enjoy with their families.

This article appears in the Summer 2016 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.