The Secret City’s Art Revival in Woodstock — Sparrow

“Healing the Healers” is one of the unofficial slogans of The Secret City, a group that organizes art performances in New York City, Los Angeles…and Woodstock. The culmination of their yearly calendar is the Secret City Art Revival in Woodstock, July 25-28.

Conceived in New York City during the George W. Bush administration in response to a wave of evangelical fervor, Secret City asks the question: “Why should ‘believers’ have all the fun?” A sense of community, of shared purpose, and of celebration can occur without divine sanction. Secret City invented a worship service where the object of devotion is undefined—one might call it a worship of worship itself. The performance includes responsive reading, a choir, and even a “hymn,” in the form of the Secret City theme song:

This is The Secret City:

A world where everything is seen.

This is a Secret City.

Can you feel it? Can you touch it?

Can you make it live?

During the service, Secret City founder Chris Wells dresses in “priestly garments” that call to mind Elvis’s blinding Las Vegas outfits.

The Art Revival begins on July 25, as celebrants gather at the Byrdcliffe Barn to meet the performers, nosh on free food, listen to the Secret City Band, and—at the paper hat-making station—produce headgear for the coming days’ festivities. Friday’s events include an evening of Woodstock history tales hosted by the beloved Jo Schwartz and a poetry reading emceed by the ever-witty Shiv Mirabito.

On Saturday, the “secrecy” of Secret City manifests in a series of performances hidden throughout the town of Woodstock. Viv Corringham, a British sound artist, will lead a “Deep Listening”-style walking tour. The Ukulele Orchestra will play on the town green. Leah Coloff will perform cello improvisations in the woods of the Comeau Property. (“I like the idea that the cello is made from a tree and for people to hear the music while standing among trees,” Coloff explains.) A handy map directs the audience to event locations.

The processional and service on Sunday is the culmination of the festival. Everyone is welcome in the processional, which gathers at noon at the Comeau Property; feel free to dress as a zinnia, or to come as you are. (The recommended colors are blue, pink, green, and orange.) The Sunday events have free childcare and art lessons for children.

The Art Revival has been growing from year to year. In 2014, it was a one-day gathering at the Byrdcliffe Theatre; then it moved to the Bearsville Theater, and last year, the organizers erected a tent to accommodate the growing crowds. This summer the tent will return. (Wells is excited about Christian tent revival parallel.) Although it’s not a rock concert and is drug-free, the Art Revival may come closer than any other celebration this year to capturing the 1969 Woodstock spirit.

“Part of the value of creativity is that it reconnects and connects and reconnects the world back together again,” remarks Wells. With the exception of the events in nightclubs, all performances are free, with donations accepted.