by Zoey Ross
Driving down the wrong dirt road, I was making my way to FIERCE on the FARM. Climbing Side Road 27 during the start of the golden hour gives you a preview of what a poet I admire exclaimed to be, “one of the most beautiful places in Ontario." I’ve never been to Hillsburgh or seen the rolling hills and valleys there. I grew warm to her assertion as I crested the last ascent. The sun stretched across what I later found to be the knolls and valley of Everdale Farm, home to the FIERCE on the FARM, Queer Music and Art Festival.
Everdale is a registered charity and teaching farm. Its website reads that its, “mission is to be a farm-based organization that provides hands-on, solution-based food and farming education to build and engage healthy local communities." As I entered the foot of the long driveway, I was greeted by four cheerful volunteers stationed at a corn stand retrofitted with lawn chairs to be a ticket-checking station. We talked about my mushroom earrings, and who’d I be looking for when I got closer to the main buildings. These folks foreshadowed the positivity that was ahead of me.
Rolling my ancient and overused SUV over the field now turned into a parking lot there was a rustic feel about it. It was imperfect, but who doesn’t like driving in a field? I still did not know if I was going to unpack my camping gear, or even stay the weekend. I decided to first grab my camera and quickly take pictures of the land before losing the golden light. After a brief chat with Oliver Maynard-Langedijk, the main communications organizer for FIERCE, I went to the highest points of the property and tried to capture some of the setups before the party started. Having recently sprained my MCL, I took a tumble in a sunflower patch and stumbled down a hill landing in a camping area closest to the main stage. I went about introducing myself to folks as a reporter for Exhibitionist Magazine that would be there for the weekend and took some pictures of campers in the twilight.
Enter Leah, Chole, and TikTok Kim (@thekt11).
Fast friends, they asked if I was staying for the whole festival. Quickly reflecting on the vibe, and my responsibilities for the weekend, I said yes to the fest. They immediately offered to help carry my gear from the car and with six happy campers, we crossed the lot. Arriving back at the site Kim and Leah decided it was best to move their tent so my larger tent could fit in the space. They also decided they were moving in. Before my tent was even set up (with the help of Chloe, Kim, and Leah) Kim and Leah were moving in and making a home. I was very much okay with this and saw it as quirky, fun, and not at all an imposition. I will say, as a relatively new gay (pansexual), that there was an unspoken rule that for any reason, any of us could temporarily evict other tent mates. While this clause was never enacted (like what did I even learn to douche for?) I quickly got to learn about Kim’s now legendary dating tactics and share in the hot-gos from new perspectives.
As the sun was setting, I looked across the hills that made up the campgrounds and it felt more like Bilbo’s birthday coming together than it did at the start of a music festival, and it was that energy that drew me in. Longbottom leaf aplenty, I could not tell if it was fog or gentle smoke rising from the camping valley. The only fire allowed was the bonfire scheduled for 1 am that night (which blessedly arrived early). Campers were moving past cozy and getting ready for what would be a night to remember. From the “main stage”, an open-sided tent in front of the community hub building, waves of sound from the turntables of B. The City came pouring down the hill like a call to all of us in the valley. It was time to dance.
Cars kept arriving until late in the night, but this did not deter a crowd from gathering in their own time under the tent on the main stage. Slowly, the front yard would fill with people wearing literally whatever they wanted. It was glamorous, it was low-key, and it was inviting. At times the mood was pleasantly disparate with people dancing like they had a synced, but personal track of Dancing On My Own by Robyn playing in invisible headphones. The irony is that some people were dancing on their own, dancing alone, but also, together, and it was lovely. They had a license to not give a hoot about anything else and moved on their terms in the ways that they wanted to. Being new to queer spaces, there is a lot of new welcoming energy to take in, understand and reflect on, and appreciate. It felt free. At times almost peaceful or childlike as people moved, swayed, and danced the way they liked. No cis-gender man was looking for a meal in the wings. Any expectation of heteronormativity did not have a place under the tent, in that yard, or on that property throughout the festival. Of course, I couldn’t be everywhere all the time, I can’t know about all the dirt that could be, but from what I saw, and what was shared with me, was that this was truly a space of gay bliss. At this point, it felt like I was entering some kind of 2SLGBTQIA+ wonderland. A haven between the hills at Everdale. This sentiment is not meant to exotify anyone or overstate what should probably just be a baseline for respect, but to relish and appreciate the moment.
Maybe the best trick that FIERCE pulled out of their vintage hiking satchel was the ability to create two moods; party in the front, and summer camp in the back. Throughout the day campers could partake in a wealth of activities including farm tours, yoga on the front lawn, tree planting workshops, or Mindful morning Qi Gong. My favourite unofficial event was seeking advice from the Wise Lesbian Panel on top of the hill. By seeking advice, I mean staying quiet and taking in the wisdom that was being shared with others that I was fortunate enough to be invited to hear. The following morning I caught up with a member of the group, Phyllis MacLeod during a farm tour to ask her thoughts on the festival.
“Hats off to the group that’s putting this together and making a space for people to come together to enjoy music, enjoy food, enjoy the outdoors, and just to be together after such a long time of us being isolated in our little spaces”, said MacLeod. For me being out for so long, I’ve found and made my community [but] with the pandemic, I think it’s been hard for a lot of queers, maybe especially young queers because where do they go to meet people?
The FIERCE team succeeded in fostering an environment of inclusion, fun, and camaraderie. Considering the amazing people who turned up, it shouldn't have been a difficult task per se, but behind the scenes, a small number of organizers and dedicated volunteers were busy making sure everything ran smoothly. On the second day, an acquaintance would tell me that this space, for them, someone who is neurodivergent and non-binary, was excellent. The only qualm they had was with the amount of photography being taken late into the first night. While the dance crowd was smaller the first night, the DSLR’s with added flash were apparent under the big tent. I can understand how this could be overlooked, that volunteers want to do their job as photographers, that dj’s that gave their time for not much money want to have images that will build the hype of their practice, that lead organizer Oliver Maynard-Langedijk and company want FIERCE to thrive, but yeah, cameras are obtrusive and can damage the vibe - mine included. The FIERCE team quickly adjusted as the following night there was significantly less professional photography and it more or less stopped later in the evening; though by that point anybody sent to photograph the weekend's events was much more interested in dancing.
Inside the rotunda, vendors served up tasty dishes. I opted for late night jerk chicken from Chef Gail and liked it so much I almost broke a bracket on a chicken bone. When it came to ordering food or dining on sweets like Kapow Ice Cream, it felt a lot like I was in line for the tuckshop at camp. There are some marked differences and I only wish that someone as fabulous as Tammy the Brown could have been the one handing 13 year-old me cotton candy at my Christian summer Camp like she did at FIERCE on the FARM. Gathering a mighty applause from all in attendance, she was there to stun the crowd with two magnificent drag performances, one of which involved a scimitar.
Tammy the Brown was a Literal Legend as she radiated with visceral energy performing under the tent on the main stage to Ayesha Erotica and eclectic punk-pop hits. The next week we caught up and had an in-depth chat about what it takes to make it in the drag scene, what needs to change so that more POC’s can be in the spotlight, and what’s next for her career. Tammy the Brown will be featured in our next issue and has a performance at Brother’s Brewery in Guelph on October 6.
Behind the main building, next to an old tractor adorned with a pride flag, and near a willow tree straight out of a Disney movie, there is a massive fire pit, with a circle of benches. Both nights brought a round of self serenade from a glowing crowd of campers. Led in part by @charmedsinger, the group poured their heart into singing Lean on Me and What’s Going on? Looking around the fire, friends and lovers were holding each other. Some people just met, some were loud and led the melody, others gazed into the fire, wrapped in blankets, munching on s’mores. I was drinking a gifted GoodLot beer from Karen Cambell, Co-Founder of Everdale. With Gavin, her husband and Co-founder beside her, both were in merry spirits and brought to the event a country warmth. Our hosts felt more like friends that had invited us all to camp and party at their property. Maybe it was this inviting sentiment that made me realize, I had never been to anything quite this. As if time was slowing down, I looked out across the flames and realized how special the moment was without trying to leave it. Sure, someone wanted to start that fire with gasoline earlier, but they didn’t. Reason won out and like any other side-step or threat to the mood, it melted away allowing a stellar night for all.
Much of this glow continued and grew throughout the second night at the bonfire. A new friend had dipped into the fungi, and in her elated state belted out more camp tunes into the night as her partner harmonized as best as they could. The group followed suit and could probably be heard all the way to Hillsburgh. Sitting on a blanket I roasted a maple marshmallow between two Timbits while talking with a new friend. Our chit-chat turned into a conversation that ran so deep that time either stopped or was lost altogether to the fire. I knew the Indica that I bought from Monsoon was hitting me hard, but it was not in my imagination that a fast friendship was growing between us.
A professor once told me in journalism school that we should never drink and hard drive, but nothing prepares you for such a moment surrounded by love, appreciation, and the idea of meeting people where they're at. They would inevitably go back to their tent, and after a handful more songs and some unknowable amount of time, I would go back to mine. We wouldn’t ever speak in person again, but this was our FIERCE at the FARM moment, the one that I will reflect on most warmly, a backup Patronus (but F**k TERFS). It is not a mindless self-indulgence of mine that brings this moment into the light. My story is not unique; throughout the festival, you could find couples, thruples, or more, nestled in nooks, on rustic benches, or under a willow tree making memories of their own. This event made space for introspection, personal and romantic growth, adventure, and learning. Everdale is a beautiful space to roam, with pockets and places of natural or manicured beauty throughout. It is a place to grow, not just crops, but community, ideals, and generosity. Everdale does look for volunteers for community harvest days and offers other ways to get involved.
I wish I could tell you more of the particulars about how good the sets were from Oranagadang, Keen Kush, Junglecat, Dirtydabz, and all the other champions behind the turntable, but I can only say that it worked perfectly. They brought the sound that enhanced the vibe and got people moving day and night. They were personable, affable, and likable folks that seemed to enjoy the dissonance of playing club jams on farmland.
The following week I caught up with an only slightly rested Oliver Maynard-Langedijk to talk about the future of FIERCE on the FARM. He told me how he and the team behind the event were elated with the result. In the future, there is a plan to slowly increase the level of attendees at Fierce on the Farm with caution to not harm the vibe they worked so hard to create.
“Thinking about the way that we scale FIERCE, I want it to remain a tight-knit community, so low and slow is the mantra that I’m going with”, said Maynard-Langedijk. “I don’t want to scale it into an event that is as big as Riverfest in the next couple of years. I want it to remain this space we are holding for queer people to really, truly experience themselves and feel what it’s like to be in a space that’s inclusive and feel like they’re part of a community”.
While this festival is still in its infancy, other community organizers could learn a lot about how to ensure that the needs of festival-goers are met to ensure inclusivity. From the get-go, inclusivity was top of mind. The digital ticket page expressly encourages people to reach out with any concerns. This care was built into the creation process and there are plans to do better in the future.
“Inclusion and DE&I is top of mind for myself, so when I realized that FIERCE could be something bigger than it was [last year], [and though] we are hitting that mark of engaging with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, we also realize that in order for this to be a truly inclusive space, we need to engage BIPOC community, Asian community, and urban communities in the GTA”, said Maynard-Langedijk. “I’ve got an outreach list of about 300 organizations that we reached out to and we built up this sort of foundation of how FIERCE could be more inclusive for all of these different communities''.
“I want to make the space feel like it’s a community where anyone can come, but I also want it to be open to allies. Making it a space where we’re making this magic happen, but then also allowing the general public to experience it, because I think that in order to rid ourselves of bias around LGBTQ population and our extreme happiness and optimism, we have to introduce the general public to it”.
FIERCE events returned to Guelph on September 23, with the relaunch of monthly Queer dance parties and more to come in the future. Surely, FIERCE on the FARM has a bright future and the capacity to roll into something closer to Hillside, or Ever After. The organizers find themselves with a good problem of soaring festival popularity as they are poised for massive growth. How they move forward will be key for not only their success, but of the queer cultural landscape in Ontario.