The Maverick Festival, the Original Utopian Party
5.2.15 West Hurley, NY
“If I ever get a place of my own I will call it the Maverick… And it will be like a maverick, [a wild horse] belonging to no one but also to whoever can get it.” — Hervey White
Text by Anna Godbersen
A hundred years ago, in 1915, there was a festival. The festival was to raise money for a well—already drilled, but yet to be paid for—on the hundred-acre farm in Hurley that Hervey White had purchased in 1905 as the site of an artist’s colony, a place where artists could live cheap and work close to nature, and had since come to be known as the Maverick.
The festival was held on the night of the full moon in August 1915, and attendees were encouraged to come in costume because White said it would put them “in humor for a frolic.” Musicians from the Metropolitan Opera gave an afternoon concert in a blue stone quarry, followed by picnic dinners, bonfires in the meadow, a moonlit dance performance, and a costume ball that began at midnight.
The bohemian extravaganza was such a success that White was carried to the stage at the end of the evening so he could promise another one the following year. The festival became an annual event, every full moon in August, and like the colony, was called the Maverick. It helped fund its namesake’s rustic cottages and to support the artists who worked in them, but also became known as a wild party, a place for nudity and transgression, a raucous ritual of late summer, the only thing of its kind in America.
Through the Prohibition years the crowd grew to as many as six thousand, and eventually the idealists and eccentrics were outnumbered by gawkers and cultural tourists. Alcoholism and lawlessness overwhelmed the spirit of the festival, and White called it off in 1931. But the Maverick, a few miles from the village of Woodstock, lives on as the model for mass gatherings of art, music and activism, free expression and visionary weirdness.
Hervey White was a Midwestern farm boy, a novelist and poet and utopian thinker who studied Ruskin at Harvard and helped found the Byrdcliffe Colony in Woodstock before creating the Maverick, a more free-form and communal home for writers, musicians, artists and intellectuals. He built most of its simple bungalows himself, and charged little or no rent to the residents.
The set of the experimental 1924 production Ark Royale, created by artist Walter Steinhilber. Audience members, seated on a hill in the open air, were shocked by the play’s climax, in which the pirate ship, which was also the stage, was set on fire. It was a symbolic rejection of traditional power structures and a celebration of a more radical way of life that presaged the Burning Man festival’s tradition of an effigy in flames.
The Ukrainian-born Cubist Alexander Archipenko, with his wife and friends, perhaps at the Arabian-themed 1928 festival. By that time, the festival was attracting bootleggers as well as the police—it had become too popular to sustain.
A few years after the final festival, White spoke to the ephemeral nature of Bohemia: “A Maverick,” he said, “is anyone's property—anyone who can capture and hold it, can have it. If another man wishes to try it, good luck to him, but I know it would be easier to steal Hercules' club than to attempt the proprietorship of something that is as free as the air, as restless as the wind.”
Summer of 2015 The Maverick Festival is celebrating 100 years at:
A Warm Thank You to:
Sara Pasti / Dorsky Museum
Ariel Shanberg /
Richard Heppner / Historical Society of Woodstock.