All photos by Michael C. Pressey unless otherwise stated.

I Threw a Music Festival in My Backyard and My House Burned Down

Rick Kidson was hosting the BelTek festival in rural Maine when a devastating fire broke out on his property.

Aug 18 2016, 6:00pm

All photos by Michael C. Pressey unless otherwise stated.

For the last 14 years, Belmont, Maine resident Rick Kidson has hosted an electronic festival called BelTek on the sprawling property behind his rural residence. Kidson, who DJs under the name Psydways, has been heavily involved in Maine's electronic scene since the early 00s when he was going to illegal raves in the White Mountains, but grew frustrated that they always ended up getting shut down. In 2003, while he was working for a local radio station, he decided to throw an above-board festival on his land.

Over the years BelTek has grown from its humble beginnings in a tiny, countryside town and has become an annual pilgrimage for New England's underground electronic music fans. Frankie Bones, the iconic New York DJ heralded as responsible for transplanting rave culture to the US, played one year; renowned drum and bass act DB & Dara, and eclectic Boston trio Hot Pink Delorean have also graced the grassroots party. But during this year's festival, tragedy struck. Kidson explains what happened that day.—Anna Codrea-Rado

We were well into the second day of BelTek Festival on Saturday August 6 and everything had been going great. The Friday night with British drum and bass crew EZ Rollers headlining was excellent—there were no noise complaints, no police or ambulances, and nobody getting hurt.

It's an old New England-style home, nothing too fancy. The main house is a story-and-a-half, with newels in the bedrooms upstairs. The old barn has cedar shingles that are pretty weathered, and a green metal roof with a couple of chimneys sticking out. The town of Belmont, has a population of about 1200. I have one neighbor effectively. It's cosy and comfortable and it's very peaceful out here.

During the event I'm usually running myself ragged, wearing a walkie-talkie. But this year I stayed closer to the house. I just had my cellphone if anyone really needed me. I cooked for our guests and kept the place tidy for them. That's really what I like to do anyway; putter around like Bilbo Baggins. Just keep all the cakes and ale coming and keep things tidy, and answer questions when it's necessary.

It was 4 PM on Saturday and it was my time slot, so I went down to the field where I was meant to play a drum and bass set. I live on 18 acres of mostly pasture, some woods and a little pond. There's a little bowled out area cornered off by forest—like a little amphitheater—where we set everything up for the event. It's maybe 1000 feet from the house.

I was hitting my stride around 4:30 PM, when my friend Gus came tearing down to the bottom of the field, hollering: "Shut everything off!" I thought he was trying to tell me that the cops were there, but then he said: "No, your barn is on fire." We clambered into a golf cart and got up to the barn and sure enough, there's smoke coming out the side wall. It's a 120-year-old house and barn—all one rambling structure.

In my mind's eye, I can see us riding up, screaming at people to get out of the way because we're going as fast as the golf cart will take us. I saw the flames coming out. I thought that I could go to my truck and grab a fire extinguisher, but it was just a little tiny thing. I tried to spray it through the window and the garage door, but it's doing nothing.

"Get the birds out! Get the birds out!" That was my next thought.

I keep 13 pet birds inside the barn. Eight diamond doves from Australia; two black-masked lovebirds from Tanzania, two white-faced cockatiels from Australia, and one green cheek conure from Brazil. Several people helped get the barn door open, and we managed to get the birdies out.

Homer, one of Kidson's 13 pet birds that survived the fire. Photo courtesy of Rachel Benner

I looked over and saw my daughter tugging on a hose, and somebody trying to turn it but to no avail—I later found out it was kinked. People were running around trying to grab fire extinguishers that we had around the event. There were people trying to drag buckets of water up the field. The immediate thoughts weren't that this was going to be complete destruction, but it was more about what needs to be done right now to save what we can without getting hurt.

We had DJ Sage from Ireland who was staying with us for the weekend. She was in the first floor room; she'd gone back to the house to freshen up. She had walked out of her room and saw the smoke. She had to crawl out of the open front doors. I hadn't realized she was in there.

Security was camping right in front of the house on a little lawn. One of them had brought her tent right up close to the house to get some shade so she could have a nap. She was woken up by screaming and yelling and smoke. She made it out there fast enough fortunately.

I smashed my finger in something. It didn't really do damage, but I cut it up and bruised it pretty bad. Other than that, though, there were no injuries at all.

Then we turned our attention to moving cars away from the building because the flames were already starting to come out of the barn windows. We got those moved across the street. My whole structure is about 12 feet long, and by now it's engulfed about halfway. It's gone well past the barn and into the woodshop and kitchen area.

I have a metal roof on one of the buildings and that created a wood stove scenario. A ten mile-an-hour wind coming out of the south was just fanning the flames and pushing it towards the house. And it had just been so dry; we had one of the driest summers this year. We did everything we could. It just went up like a box of matches.

We have a volunteer fire department here in Belmont, but the chief was on holiday with his kids that weekend. The first responders were the next town over, in Belfast, and it easily took 10-15 minutes for the trucks to arrive.

I'm in a rural area and there's no place to connect water, so when the first responders got here, they set up these monstrous swimming pools with the water they had on their trucks. Eight towns responded. There were two of those giant bathtubs set up with two pumper trucks and dozens of firemen.

At the same time we had the festival in full swing. There were about 400 people there when it happened and lots were able to help in the immediate aftermath. One buddy was helping me get the vehicles out of the way. Another guy was barking orders: "Get them out of there!" It was quite a thing. We were all working pretty fast.

BelTek 2012, photo courtesy of festival.

We managed to get some important things out of the house, and that was about it. Then we just went across the street to the neighbour's house and watched the fire department go at it for probably at least four hours before they were finally able to put the flames out. It burned out about 75 percent of the structure in the end, and what's left is heavily smoke and water damaged.

The cause of the fire was undetermined by two different investigators because the destruction is so immense that there's nothing to tell what could of started it. It's going to be a teardown, but I'm planning on rebuilding. I'm picturing a new energy-efficient home and a steel building for the barn, and a beautiful single story breezeway that connects the two of them. I'm insured fortunately, so I'm waiting to see what they say about the dwelling.

But the festival is on. It will be the first full weekend in August 2017. I don't see any reason not to do it.

There is a GoFundMe campaign for donations to help Kidson rebuild his home.

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