Living in Brooklyn, you often get the feeling that there’s a parallel world happening all around you that you can’t quite access; a place where everyone is attractive, successful, and vaguely wealthy. Where everyone owns a business, but no one seems to work in a way you comprehend. Perhaps you fell into it for a moment—a marble-countered coffee shop in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon full of relaxed and fashionable people having some kind of meeting your life hasn’t prepared you to understand—but then you turn your head slightly to the side, and they shimmer and disappear. If you could pass through the veil in a permanent way, what might you find?
On a recent evening, I took a train ride that started at Grand Central and terminated in this universe, at the first-ever Likeminds festival, a conference cum friend-getaway. Held at a disused summer camp in Beacon, it was a weekend of beautiful people luxuriating in beautiful weather; fairy lights, camping, gourmet food, and cans of beer; you blearily bother someone with your opinions on ‘80s action movies, only to find out the next day that they’re some kind of world-famous artist. Everyone was astoundingly polite, friendly, and helpful. There were several dogs, and a continuously refilled jug of cold brew. Attendees enjoyed performances from bands like Prince Rama and Dirty Projectors’ Angel Deradoorian and slept in neat rows of tents sold at a discount by Poler.
Looking out over them on the festival’s second morning, organizer Rachael Yaeger laughed and said, “We sort of wanted this Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson-y vibe,” which it was obvious she had achieved with total success. The festival was a complete collaboration between Yaeger and co-organizer Zach Pollakoff. He had the music world connections to lure big names to a summer camp 90 minutes outside the city to play to small crowds (and a mom who’s a wedding planner to help nail the details). Yeager had a vast network of design and art connections from which to draw speakers and attendees. She also the camp Mom, or head counselor, unable to let anyone walk past her field of vision without asking them if were doing okay, if they needed more coffee, if they were enjoying themselves, on and on.
Blond, tanned, wearing big clear glasses, and always smiling, Yaeger spent the weekend in old overalls with her hair pulled up, a look she made seem effortlessly beautiful. A Brooklyn Zelig, she has owned an art gallery, worked at a digital agency building websites, and spent a summer selling her grandmother’s strawberry rhubarb pie at the Brooklyn Flea (“I sourced all the rhubarb from my family’s back yard,” she told me in an aside).
“I was just craving doing something like an art show or a zine, just a creative endeavor outside of building a website,” she told me, when she happened to see a story about a AnInterestingDay.com, a Norwegian conference whose website describes it as “a full day of great stories, inspiration and just hanging out and having a good time.” Maybe she could do something similar, she thought? She started working on it this spring, almost gave up over the summer, but then got sponsorship money from Reaction Commerce, a female-owned ecommerce platform.
“Then I could start ordering things, which was really nice,” Yaeger said. “We ordered 26 tents!” Attendees who paid the $500 sticker price for weekend tickets could take them home. Our conversation was interrupted by a friend of hers—they talked about diners and B&Bs for sale upstate, and bothered each other to pull the trigger on one or the other.
At times it seemed no one had really paid. Everyone you met seemed to know each other, and to be there in some official capacity or another, speaking about their practice or helping out in some way. Local photographer Meredith Jenks (who has worked for clients like Nike, Adidas, and Elle magazine) did the festival photography for free. She was pitched in for similar reasons as most everyone else.
“Rachael’s a very good friend of mine, and she asked me to help out,” she said. “ And obviously I wanted to come, because a lot of my friends were coming, and it seemed great!”
VIPs (like Jenks) slept in the camp’s infirmary, which Yaeger and Pollakoff filled with bunks and a few treats (bags of pretzels were particular popular and sought after). On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, a procession of artists and designers including Adam J.K., Matt Daniels, Leta Sobierajski and Wade Jeffree, and Lisa Butterworth presented on their work in the camp’s old gym, projecting their PowerPoint slides onto a small screen wedged under a basketball hoop. Attendees heard about how to work together as a creative couple, how to build a successful small business, and how to visualize the vocabulary of a hip-hop artist.
These presentations were, technically, the real attraction. But then your new friend might pop her head around the corner of the auditorium and gesture at the swimming pool with a beer in her hand, and ask if you were coming to take a dip. And you might wonder what the real attraction really is, and do your best to stay in this universe a little longer.
All images by Meredith Jenks