A Ship in the Woods Music & Art Festival will debut this weekend in Escondido with edgy verve

Ishmael Butler, the former leader of the Grammy Award-winning hip-hop trio Digable Planets, will perform with his duo Shabazz Palaces at this weekend’s open-air A Ship in the Woods Music & Art Festival in Escondido.
(Photo by Jeremy M. Lange/The New York Times)

Land-locked Felicita County Park in Escondido may seem an unlikely location to launch a multimedia extravaganza with an at least partially sea-worthy name.

But the organizers of this weekend’s A Ship in the Woods Music & Art Festival have high hopes the inaugural edition of their two-day, all-ages event will make a big enough splash to merit an encore — and become an annual attraction.

That goal could be attainable, if enough people show up Saturday and Sunday for this eco-friendly festival’s unique mixture of 50 envelope-pushing visual artists and 20 similarly edgy bands and solo acts. It is being presented by the 8-year-old North County arts-collective A Ship in the Woods, a self-described ”non-profit incubator working to engage the community through elevated dialogues in art, science, music, new media and culture based in Southern California.”

“Part of our mission is to be inclusive and diverse, so we focused on that as we chose the artists and bands for the festival,” said A Ship in the Woods Co-Executive Director Lianne Thompson Mueller. “We’ve done seven events so far at A Ship in the Woods, which borders Felicita County Park, but this is our festival.”

Ticket are available through the event’s website,, and can also be bought at Vinyl Junkies Record Shack in South Park and Lou’s Records in Encinitas.

The festival’s musical lineup includes Built To Spill; No Age; Bill Callahan of Smog; Ice Balloons — a group featuring Kyp Malone of TV On The Radio and Giselle Reiber of Midnight Masses — singer-songwriter Tara Jane O’Neil; and Shabazz Palaces, which teams multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire with vocalist and electronic-music maverick Ishmael Butler, the former leader of the Grammy Award-winning hip-hop trio Digable Planets.

In addition, San Diego indie-rock mainstay Pall Jenkins — of Three Mile Pilot- and Black Heart Procession-fame — will team with former Nirvana cellist Lori Goldston on Saturday to perform a specially written opening song to kick off the weekend. Jenkins is a member of A Ship in the Woods’ music advisory board. The board of directors itself includes Salk Institute neuroscientist John Reynolds.

The two music stages for this weekend’s festival will be juxtaposed with immersive, site-specific art installations to create a distinctive audio and visual experience for attendees. No less intriguing is the festival’s location in a 50-acre park that boasts an oak grove and a stream. The San Diego River Valley Conservancy is one of the festival’s partners, as is Gabriel Miller, a senior scientist in the San Diego Zoo’s Global Partnerships department.

In the midst of the festival site, author, visual artist and film director Aaron Rose — best known for his 2008 documentary “Beautiful Losers” — will erect an indoor art bar, La Rosa Social Club. All of the walls in the “club” will showcase large works of art. Also featured will be the League of Imaginary Scientists, which combines science and art to illustrate how to counter ecological dangers, including global warming.

“We really wish we had more local bands in the lineup for the festival and that was our intent,” said A Ship in the Woods board member Lou Niles, a veteran local music champion, filmmaker and longtime co-host of radio station 91X’s Loudpeaker show.

“But we had a wish-list of super-cool national acts. And many of them said ‘yes,’ even after their agents turned us down. They told their agents: ‘Hey, we want to play this event.’ It shocked us. We expected to have more than half the national acts that we wanted say ‘no,’ and then fill the rest of the bill from this huge list of San Diego County bands we wanted to have play.”

Either way, Niles and a Ship in the Woods’ co-executive director Mueller both cite the success of the nonprofit organization’s 2015 event, Convergence. That seven-hour event drew more than 2,000 people to Cabrillo National Monument for a site-specific, multimedia extravaganza.

“Convergence was a trial run for this weekend’s festival,” Mueller said, “with a lot of similar details and organizational planning. And it did really well.”

“We ran out of tickets!” Niles recalled of Convergence.

“This new festival is about raising funds for A Ship in the Woods. And if it doesn’t raise a lot of funds, it’s also about raising awareness of this organization, which promotes — and pushes the envelope for — the counterculture of art and music.”

A Ship in the Woods Music & Art Festival

When: 11:30 a.m. to dusk Saturday and Sunday

Where:. Felicita County Park, 3007 Felicita Road, Escondido

Tickets: $60 (daily ticket), $100 (two-day pass), $180 (two-day VIP pass)

Phone: (858) 349-2636


Twitter @georgevarga


8:30 p.m., June 14: The Information box that accompanies this story included an incorrect day for this weekend’s A Ship In The Woods Music & Art Festival. It will be held Saturday and Sunday, June 16 and 17.