SALEM — Stepping on to the stage at East Grove Farms for the Music and Mead festival was a homecoming for Nella Thomas.
The last song of her set, “Porch Song,” was written about the front porch of the house at East Grove Farms.
“The wandering years have come and gone, and this is where I belong,” sang Thomas, a Mt. Pleasant native who now hails from Des Moines, at the Music and Mead festival on Saturday, June 8.
Joel Garretson, owner of East Grove Farms, began festivals in 2013 as a way to bring musicians and guests out to the farm.
Garretson said he feels as if he’s carrying on the tradition his parents and their friends started when he was a child. The farm was always a fun place for Garretson growing up with horseback riding, trail riding, a ski slope and a tow rope. He likes to see other people enjoy it too.
“It’s a warm, inviting place. You’re out on the grass. We have shade around the house and things to look at with the vineyard and specialty crops we grow,” Garretson said.
East Grove Farms is always working on improving the festival experience. Garretson said they are slowly preparing a barn on the property from the 1880s as a rain location for the festivals.
They’ve been lucky over the years, however. Garretson can only recall one festival evening that got rained out.
“There was a tornado coming through, and it knocked the power out,” Garretson said. “We huddled in the house and the musicians kept playing. It was acoustic by candlelight.
“There are still people who talk about it,” Garretson continued. “They say, ‘Oh, that was the best one.’”
The farm sees an average crowd of 300 people for festivals. But Garretson said he has seen as many as 700 people come out for a festival before. For those who want to party throughout the night, East Grove Farms even offers free camping.
“We encourage them to stay off the road and stay overnight,” Garretson said.
As a musician himself with Whiskey Friends, a band that plays at most East Grove festivals, Garretson said he enjoys bringing other bands out to the farm to perform, share stories and learn from each other.
Garretson said guests at East Grove Farms enjoy the music they have to offer from folk, acoustic, Blue Grass and the blues.
The River Kittens were welcomed back to East Grove Farms Saturday night. They played at East Grove two years ago.
Allie Vogler, with the River Kittens, said that everyone at East Grove is always so welcoming.
Mattie Schell, with the River Kittens, said that late night barn jams like Music and Mead are their favorite performances.
“It feels like home when you get here,” Schell said.
Angie and Randy Kruse, of Salem, live right down the road from East Grove Farms and find themselves in lawn chairs with mead in their hands frequently during the summer.
“The music, the people, it’s a good time and we don’t have to go far from home,” Angie said.
Nancy McGehee, of Dallas, Texas, was brought to the Music and Mead festival by friends she was visiting in Salem.
“It’s great BBQ and good music,” McGehee said. “Dallas is huge and they do have festivals, but not with this kind of feel of a close-knit community of people who recognize each other and support each other.”
Amy and Blake Waldon were visiting from Kansas City, Mo.
“It’s got a really great vibe, laid back and the mead is awesome,” Amy said.
Lonny Morrow and Randy Morrow pick elderberries with the Garretsons.
“We’re almost like family,” Sue Ann Morrow said. “Oh my stars, the company, the music, the camaraderie, they work so hard to make this happen.”
Music and Mead kicked off East Grove Farms’ five summer festivals. The next festival at East Grove Farms will be the Summer Solstice Celebration on Saturday, June 22, at 5 p.m. featuring Flash in a Pan, Dave Zollo and Whiskey Friends. There is an admission fee.
For more events at East Grove Farms, visit their website at eastgrovefarms.com.