BY MICHAEL FRITZ
Though time and the government destroyed much of the mystique of ‘70s culture, it’s still alive and well in small pockets around the world. Places free of care or prejudice, where love resonates in the air and positive vibes flow all around. The Blueberry Patch in Gulf Port, Fla. works as one of these windows to the past, serving as a time capsule left for us by the Love Generation.
The Blueberry Path functions off a dogma that their site refers to as “Sharevival,” which is the idea of “sharing to survive and surviving to share .” And thus was the vision of the late founder, Dallas Bohrer. Built in his very own backyard, the Blueberry Patch developed as a hub for offbeat and eccentric artists of all kinds. Florida’s longest running “artist’s retreat” functions not only as a venue for music, poetry, and art; but also as a community that cares for one another and upkeeps the Patch.
We walked into the Patch through a small, winding path just behind a vibrantly painted fence. Even before entering the open air venue, piles of various types of art, knick-knacks, and beads lay everywhere. Every object seemed to be hand-painted and handmade, all shockingly intricate and overwhelmingly creative. One could not help but smile in awe while strolling through this mystical wonderland of lights and exotic decor.
The Patch charges $5 per head for any of its events which are held on the 1st, 7th, 11th, and 22nd of each month. If you’re 21 or up, it’s BYOB and you can pick your poison before arriving. If you’re not, the atmosphere is enough of a natural high to keep you thoroughly content.
A canopy of exotic trees and painted canvas float beautifully over the yard. Various tents full of lounging hippies circle the stage, each tent decorated with mismatching chairs and decor. This being my second time visiting the Patch, I realized quickly that everything had been completely taken down and redesigned since my last visit, a weekly practice for the Patch’s dedicated network of volunteers, playfully deemed “Patch Pals.”
In an attempt at solidarity (and a desire to experience), my girlfriend, Kaylee, and I arrived garbed in what we assumed was appropriate attire for the function. My head was adorned with a hand-knit Rasta cap while I sported a green dashiki and flip-flops below. My girlfriend went the more creative route, tying a forest green scarf around her chest and shoulders as a shirt. She had accompanied me to take pictures, but quickly found that there was just too much to photograph and not a camera in the world that could do any of it justice.
Nearly every tree had something hanging from it, whether it be an antique glass ornament or a rusted piece of silverware. Hand-painted signs on various types of wood spread positive messages all around the Patch like “Just Breathe,” “Good Vibes,” “Help Nature,” and “Enjoy The Little Things.” The last one struck a chord with us, as The Blueberry Patch was just filled with “Little Things” to enjoy. Kaylee and I stood next to a large plaster camel and elephant near a makeshift bar to hear the music.
As you can guess from the composition of this piece, the show at the Blueberry patch is only a small part of the experience. This week’s show was David Oliver Willis, an incredibly smooth acoustic artist who once competed on American Idol. His mellow mix of popular and original songs flowed perfectly throughout his set and set the mood just right. As rain began to fall around 9 p.m., the band played on unfazed. The audience, too, didn’t seem to mind this precipitation. In fact, the more it poured, the more people poured in. People from ages 3-80 all danced and grooved to David’s infectious jam. An open area in front of the stage allowed space for hula hoopers to come display their skill or for audience members to be taken by the atmosphere and dance like animals under the night sky.
As we followed the path cut behind the stage, we bore witness to all sorts of oddities and wonders. A man spun poi (the visual art of spinning tethered balls to music) in front of a blue-lit courtyard that had a bathtub and chicken coop that were repurposed into a steampunk fountain, The crowd increased with the steadying rain and we thought it wise to go mingle with the Pals.
One of the “Patch Elders,” as their called, took note of the vibrant red sunburn on my girlfriend’s chest while we were browsing healing crystals at an artist’s table. She was quick to offer an aloe leaf off of a giant plant she had growing out front to relieve her discomfort. The only hint of care in the air was simply their deep care for one another.
The lady with the aloe pointed us towards the right side of the stage where three canvases were set up only a few feet from the musician. We had seen someone painting a fish earlier and assumed that he was hired to do so. As it turns out, the Patch had provided three blank canvases, each to be painted over by anyone who wanted to contribute throughout the night. I was handed a brush and quickly took to painting detail into what looked like a purple eyeball. Beads of paint washed off the canvas with the rain, creating an even more beautiful smoothie of color while keeping the integrity of the painting in tact. When I had finished, I proudly assumed that what I had created would be the final masterpiece to garnish this canvas. It forced me to realize that true art is collective, composed not for self promotion, but for beauty. I watched over the shoulder of a much more talented artist as he turned what I thought was a finished piece into a masterpiece.
Due to the persisting rain, we had to abandon the camera and notebook in the car. After abandoning all journalistic material, we were quickly absorbed by the merry crowd gathered in front of the band. One couldn’t help but at least sway to the placid music being pumped through the garden. The combination of the music and the atmosphere reverberated in my chest in a way reminiscent of taking in a deep breath.
The initial comeback to reality shook me as the band said their farewells after two encores. Somewhere in the crowd, one of the Patch Elders yelled, “Everyone hold hands!”
We slowly morphed our jumbled, cluster of a group into a circle. In a beautiful, slightly off key harmony, the group began singing John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance.” Sticking to the Beatles theme, “All You Need Is Love” was next to be sung.
Then began the group Oms. A traditional phrase in yoga stemming from Hinduism, this spiritual chant spread throughout the crowd. Each person produced the sound at a different pitch and they combined into a sort of mystic chord. As the sound shrunk and grew in forte, the fundamental note of the chord changed and the pitch of each Om was adjusted to harmonize. When the Oms ended, the hugs began. We hugged nearly everyone in the crowd that had amassed at the Patch. I hugged some of the dirtiest hippies I’ve seen since my homeless days in Venice Beach, all sopping wet from the rain.
In short, the Blueberry Patch is much more than just a musical venue or even an art refuge. The Patch is an open community built on love, spirituality, and free expression. Everyone has weird streaks in them, but they also have the conflicting desire to feel accepted. Just by entering the gate at the Blueberry Patch: you’re loved for who you are and you’re already accepted.
Michael Fritz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org