Among the books that every person living in this part of the world ought to be made to read — I’m thinking Buzz Bissinger’s A Prayer For The City, Christopher Morley’s Philadelphia, Philadelphia: A 300-Year History, the list rolls out before us like a red carpet — is John McPhee’s The Pine Barrens. It is not, perhaps, an obvious choice, the Pines being a 1.1 million acres of mostly undeveloped land rural New Jersey, but McPhee’s thought-provoking book works on the Philadelphia mind with two chisels: One that highlights how much of an adjunct to wilderness Philly has really always been, and another that draws a line from us to “The Pineys” and back again via our sectarian, almost cultish roots. After all, The Piney, as a sort of regional “type,” has always been but a first cousin to the Hoagiemouth. First published in 1978, it’s remarkable how little has changed (although that has been the remarkable thing about the Pine Barrens for 200 years now), but even that is now up for grabs in Chris Christie’s Wild Wild New Jersey.
It’s in this moment, where the future of the Pine Barrens is up for grabs, that the humble Middle of Nowhere fest will take place in Whitesbog Village on September 17th. Just as any number of legislative moves and other initiatives — chalk them up to modernity itself — threaten to make the still-wild, still-unknowable Pines as boring as the rest of America, there’s also some young disciples of McPhee and “Pineys” themselves making some noise in the opposite direction. Middle of Nowhere is an articulation of what they see in the Pines. Curated by David Scott Kessler (whose long-in-coming doc, The Pine Barrens, is poised to show the wonders of the Pines to the world) and Kristen Neville, the fest will feature said documentary, along with music from The Ruins of Friendship Orchestra (who did the soundtrack), harpist Mary Lattimore, and The Last Whipporwill. There’s also an art exhibition opening during the fest — a group show, likewise focused on the Pines — and so far as we can tell, no lodging whatsoever. Like two centuries of Pineys, you’re just going to have to make do.