This year, after a four-year absence, I returned as an attendee to the Porcupine Freedom Festival, aka Porcfest. I’m happy to say that Porcfest 2019 was a success and even featured some history-making civil disobedience. More on that in a moment. First, kudos to Rodger and Jessica Paxton and their crew for throwing an excellent festival – in spite of the now-expected political bungling by the Free State Project‘s board of directors. Longtime Porcfest attendee, and Free Keene blogger Rich Paul had this to say:
The tension that has subdued Porcfest for the last few years is finally healed. It feels like 2012 again.
Before I continue my review of the event, a little background:
After its rise to being one of the most well-attended libertarian gatherings on the planet and also becoming the most cryptocurrency-welcoming event as far as its vendors are concerned, the Porcupine Freedom Festival, which is organized each year by volunteers, but ultimately controlled by the Free State Project corporation, ended up making a few key errors. Yes, it was a mistake for them to kick me and my radio show out after a few volunteers made a stink back in 2016, but I don’t hold a grudge, and at the time even published a blog encouraging people to continue attending Porcfest.
That’s one of the more obvious mistakes they made, as despite my urging of people to continue to attend, attendance did drop sharply the following year, from what I have been told. However, the other things they botched were even more damaging to the event.
For years, and from before they decided to ban me, people who’ve attended the Porcupine Freedom Festival each Summer in Northern New Hampshire have complained that its recent years have been lacking in fun, partially due to an ever-increasing burden of rules at the event and centralized decision making on the part of the Free State Project’s board of directors. For instance, longtime vendors felt pushed out of the “Agora Valley” prime trading zone by the artificial extra costs imposed by the FSP onto the RV campsites in that area.
Where did these artificial costs come from? The story of Agora Valley is one that libertarians should know well and should have seen coming, but the libertarians running the FSP failed to see it and fell into the same centralized control trap they typically argue against. In the earlier years of the Porcupine Freedom Festival at Roger’s Campground, the first few rows of the RV camping area became, through natural market functions, the most desirable real estate in the park. The reason is that all the major speakers and events are held at the Pavilion at the bottom of the hill, so most campers will pass through that part of the RV area on their way to attend Porcfest’s various events. Eventually the zone was dubbed “Agora Valley” and vendors would compete to reserve the prime spots first for the upcoming year’s event, however the cost to the vendors at the time was the normal lot fee charged by the campground.
Eventually, someone at the FSP got the bright idea that Agora Valley should be managed by the FSP’s festival organizers, and a vendor’s fee and agreement was created. When asked, the FSP’s representatives generally will defend the fees as reasonable, since they include a ticket to the event, promotion to the event’s VIPs, as well as a listing in the event’s “Whova” event program app, for a very small premium on top. They are right – the Agora Valley vendor prices are reasonable. However, the market is clearly speaking, more this year than ever before, that the fees and rules are not welcome.
One way the marketplace responded to the failures of Porcfest’s central planning was to fork the entire event back in 2017 and create a decentralized libertarian camping festival called Forkfest, which just finished its third year. Click here to read more about the creation of the alternative, yet friendly event.
However the other way the market responded during this year’s Porcupine Freedom Festival, was the creation of the “Where it’s at” zone deeper in the RV area. Longtime Porcfest vendors and attendees, fed up with paying more than they had to or simply frustrated by the restrictions for Agora Valley, decided to opt-out and setup a hot zone of economic activity in the RV rows past the Valley’s “jurisdiction”. This mass exodus left Agora Valley nearly a ghost town at this year’s Porcfest.
To be fair, according to Shawn Grissom, this year’s Porcfest vendor coordinator, there were vendors in the lonely Agora Valley that did very well this year. That said, even Grissom agreed the FSP should let go of trying to organize the campground and focus on their event production alone. Let the market self-organize again in the camp/RV area.
Aside from the centrally-planned failure of Agora Valley, the rest of the 2019 Porcupine Freedom Festival went off well and received rave reviews. The Paxtons did a great job of bringing balance back to where Porcfest wasn’t just a family vacation spot – with approximately 200 kids and teenagers in attendance – but also a great party. This year there was a naked guy down at the campfire at night on at least a couple of occasions that I saw, along with a topless young lady, plus an amazing open-air drug market.
During the final night’s Free Ross auction to benefit imprisoned liberty hero and founder of the Silk Road underground market, Ross Ulbricht, there were two vendors set up just outside on a couple of picnic tables right next to each other. One vendor offered items for sale on a whiteboard such as “not mushrooms” and “not pot” while the other seller’s blackboard offered shrooms, flower, and edibles. It even included a shout-out to #freeross.
The little things like that made this year’s Porcfest feel like Porcfests of the past, but what made this year’s Porcupine Freedom Festival historic was what happened at the end of the Free Ross auction. After two hours and well over $10,000 had been raised from bidders on dozens of donated items, two activists donated a couple of eighth-of-an-ounce containers of cannabis to the remaining auction items. The auction was run by Mancamp founder Jay Noone and since he doesn’t have a auctioneer’s license, the entire event was civil disobedience. Noone then made Porcfest and likely New Hampshire history by auctioning off the cannabis to two lucky winners including me and the his assistant, Angie. What fun!
The vibe was positive and everyone I talked to was reporting having a good time. Even those attendees who were somewhat jaded by the event’s shift in recent years were impressed with this year’s event. They commented that even the long-criticized security volunteers known as “Porc Rangers” seemed more hands-off this time out. I was welcomed back by some of the very same board members who voted to ban me from the event in 2016. Turns out, though it sounded like a permanent ban at the time, the ban was only for one year. Rodger Paxton, when he was part of the FSP’s board, examined the meeting minutes of the meeting where the ban vote was held and learned that it was just a yearlong suspension. As long as I have a ticket, I’m allowed to be at the Porcupine Freedom Festival. So, this year I took off a week from work and attended the festival without the responsibility of having to host a talk radio show every day from the campground.
I’m glad I did. It was a pleasure to see the Porcupine Freedom Festival have a great year and also see Forkfest as the top sponsor of the event. Thanks to Chris Waid from Freedom Decrypted for putting forward the sponsorship, which is how I got the Porcfest ticket. Of course, despite having no responsibility to do a radio show, I did opt to record a few of the excellent presentations including a crypto panel, speech by Lyn Ulbricht, the Free Ross auction, Jeffrey Tucker’s speech, Mark Edge’s speech, and a ladies social media panel. I’ll work on releasing those over the coming weeks, so be sure to subscribe to the Free Keene YouTube channel.
Another thing that had Porcfesters buzzing was the fact that this year’s top sponsor of the event was Forkfest, the decentralized event that sprung from the Porcupine Freedom Festival. This year, as it had in the prior two years, Forkfest occurred the five days prior to Porcfest. Since the event is decentralized, there are no organizers, which means there are no tickets, so there’s no real solid way to get an idea of how many people attended. That said, the people I talked to who had been to Forkfest 2018 and 2019 said we tripled 2018’s numbers and that it felt like there were a few hundred people there at its peak on Sunday night.
It was interesting that Forkfest’s energy peaked on Sunday night rather than Monday night, which was its final night. After the final, epic dance party thrown by Anypay‘s Derrick J Freeman and Steven Zeiler called the “Pirates’ Big Gay Somalian Road Builders Disco”, the rest of the campground on Monday night felt subdued compared to Sunday night, which we speculated was due to the Monday arrival of many Porcfest elements such as the “Porc Rangers” putting up signs containing Porcfest rules all around the campground. The transition had begun.
Next year however, many Forkfesters will be holding Forkfest after the Porcupine Freedom Festival, so the transition will be in reverse. Plus, Forkfest 2020 is expected to expand to seven days instead of five. There were multiple people at Porcfest who expressed an interest in attending Forkfest next year, as they understandably felt like they missed out this year. Dates for Porcfest and Forkfest have yet to be announced, so please follow the Free Keene blog for the latest news about the New Hampshire Freedom Festivals for 2020.