Certain festivals seem to have crossed that bridge from “memorable gathering” to a genuine piece of American History – the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, for instance, The High Sierra Fest. or The Newport Folk Festival; festivals that are noted as much for their geographic location or annuality as they are for their epic rosters. And while it may be true that there are no more Woodstocks, surely the off spring of that eventlives and, at least one of them, is finding its wings at Wilmer’s Park in Brandywine, MD – just 20 minutes outside of Washington D.C.
And while Woodstock, NY might have recently attempted, miserably, to resurrect that one time only magic, some people are busy building the Woodstocks of tomorrow – enter Tim Walther. His company Walther Productions has been producing two growing annual events – The All Good Festival in the spring, and The Autumn Equinox in the fall. Neither one reinvents the wheel, per-se, but they do seem to roll easier and with more genuine heart than anything else that has come along in years.
It is September 27th, 1998 and I have just returned from this year’s Autumn Equinox. The most impressive thing about this years festival was the line-up, an all-star roster of 15 bands over two nights. There is a general feeling of well-being and camaraderie in the audience – a real “We’re all in this together” feeling.
“It’s like they got the Phish crowd here…only without the undesirables” someone remarked on the way out. It was a statement which I would tend to agree with and which I certainly heard more than once throughout the weekend.
Wilmer’s Park, abandoned, looks like an isolated area of an old run-down summer camp. There’s a rickety old building that could easily be the mess hall. Inside, there are a couple of pool tables, a Pac-Man, and a snack-bar – the kind you would find at the drive-in. Only this snack-bar also sells Heineken. If you dig further in the building there’s a big empty room that looks like it once was a ballroom. They occasionally still do hold concerts in this room – for example, there’s going to be a Halloween concert held here on Oct. 31.
Other than that, there really are no other buildings – well, other than the old barn, more of an infrastructure or skeleton than anything, with a giant sign that says “Do Not Enter” on it. Out of the way of things, you can from time to time find a late-night party-goer wander up to the barn and look inside, testing temptation. Generally speaking though, most people leave it alone. There are several areas of well-trotted thinly-grassed fields where makeshift tent-villages go up. Then there is the stage: At the bottom of a slight hill, nature forms a laid-back semi-circular amphitheater for the wooden foundation which serves as the stage.
Mr. Wilmer walks around the property, quietly taking in the scene. He built the park so that James Brown could play here. And he did once -in 1955. I’ve heard rumors too of other greats – Miles Davis, Janis Joplin. But these are mere rumors, most likely untrue. In recent years acts have included everyone from God Street Wine to Jazz Is Dead; mostly gobi bands, jam bands, and every Grateful Dead cover band on the East Coast.
The First Autumn Equinox Festival, held in 1996, featured The Aquarium Rescue Unit and Everything as the headlining acts. Some of the other bands were moe., The Gibb Droll Band and The Agents of Good Roots. 1,840 people came. This year, the paid attendance was 4,991. A considerably large growth for an event only in its third year.
For this year’s Autumn Equinox, Walther has dressed up the stage nicely – above the tent canopy fly three white sheets, upon which psychedelic images are thrust in a multi-media light show. The effect, from out in the field, is dazzling. At night, given the clear sky and calm breeze, the canopy is taken down – the bands play under the stars, with the three sheets hanging loosely from above, filled with projected images.
Around the perimeter of the concert field are authorized vendors selling everything from fine hemp jewelry to fatty falafel. The Homegrown Network has a booth along with several notable green organizations. There is a tapers section in-front of the soundboard and a kids area at the top of the hill. Despite repeated requests for no dogs, no tanks and no fireworks, there are a few sour apples in the bunch. Other than that, the crowd truly is beautiful.
“The crowd was amazingly well behaved” Tim Walther boasted after it was over, “I can count on one hand how many security problems we had…no arrests, no serious injuries and very few reports of stolen shit.” The gates opened at 2 PM on Friday and not long after that the road started getting backed-up with cars. “Friday at 10:30 PM Wilmer’s Park was tightly packed” Walther explains, “…no room for another car and we had cars out on Brandywine 100 cars deep…At 10:33 I knocked on the guys door across the street and gave him a low down. ‘Wilmer’s if full, back up is down the street and I’ll give you $5. a car to park them in your lawn.’ He said ‘Let me talk to my wife’ and returned in about 20 seconds ‘Yeah let’s do it’. This solved the problem and I subsequently handed him $900 the next afternoon. Saturday I offered the same deal to another neighbor and parked about 300 more cars and gave her $1,500. Needless to say the neighbors were all about doing this again.” So were the fans.
Fat Apple kicked things off with the sly collegiate grooves of songs such as “Government Cheese” and “Freak Waitress”. Just a year old and finally getting some local recognition, Fat Apple seemed to make the transition to the “big top” just fine…but their true moment would come later on, towards the festivals close.
In the meantime, the kickoff continued with a surprise four-song set from Keller Williams and an appropriately smoking set from Smoking Grass. Hailing from the new music metropolis of Burlington, VT, Smoking Grass plays high-energy dancegrass.
Although they are fairly new to the scene, the collective members already earned their credentials in the jam band arena – guitarist Doug Perkins has performed with The Jazz Mandolin Project and members of Phish, and is best known for his stint with The Gordon Stone Band. Leader Jason Koornick learned his chops while studying mandolin under Jazz Mandolin Project’s Jamie Masefield.
Covering tunes as diverse as Bob Dylan’s “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry,” followed by Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,” mixed in with their enchanting originals, a Smokin’ Grass set can quickly turn a field such as Wilmer’s Park into a good old fashioned hoedown and stomp fest. That’s just what they did for the fresh crowd, who were still trickling in.
The crowd was getting denser, but still many people had just arrived and were setting up their tents, cooking dinner or walking around and enjoying the festival atmosphere. Around the concert field, the official ring of vendors were doing swift business with their hemp wares, tapestries, crafts and goods. Hefty lines had formed for the food vendors.
The Homegrown Network had a steady stream of people checking out CD’sfrom other bands in the scene and people were getting to know their festival neighbors, sparking conversations with friends they first met as strangers. Backstage, the bands were doing the same thing.
The Gordon Stone Band was on next. With a full band to back him,Stone takes an evolved approach to banjo and pedal steel. Comparable to the music of Bela Fleck and The Flecktones, although certainly with unique and distinguishable qualities all its own, the instrumental set of danceable acoustic banjo music held the audience captive and captured the interest of many new listeners.
“Yeah, we try to just do pretty much the high energy thing. Although, we do…we like to play more of the quiet sensitive stuff too, and this audience responded really well to it, I thought – they quieted right down, they listened. So even though they were dancing they would stop…and some audiences will just – if you try to do something quiet they’ll just start talking and stuff” Stone observed.
Some of the crowd had tuned in initially because they had heard Gordon’s pedal steel on albums by Phish (Picture of Nectar and Rift),but by the end of the set they were equally impressed by the work he does in his own band, and not just as a guest for another. While the Gordon Stone Band would fit in perfectly at bluegrass fests and jazz conventions, the jam band scene has already claimed this act for their own. Relaxing inside the backstage tent after the set, Gordon reflected:
“Well, the jam bands, I mean if you go back to like the 60’s and the 70’s and stuff with like The Grateful Dead and I don’t know what other – with like the Allman Brothers and I’m not sure who else the jam bands were or where it sort of started exactly, but I had never considered myself a jam band – in a jam band at all – until my association with Phish. I mean that’s where it all really started. And they were a jam band…”
After leaving Burlington bluegrass outfit Breakaway, Stone started his own band, which focused on the jam-oriented side of bluegrass, and has found his niche, and his crowd, in the jam scene.
Next up was The Recipe – a band familiar to Wilmer’s Park crowds, having played the Brandywine stage times before, including the very first Autumn Equinox Festival. With a strong regional following in the surrounding mid-Atlantic states, The Recipe play an infectious blend of folk grassroots rock. When The Recipe let loose, they conjure up images of County Fair Americana and down home Appalachia. It was clear that they were really having fun with their crowd and there was even some playful interplay when the band tossed tons of hay into the audience and a hay-flying dance party ensued. The fun continued at the end of their set when they brought up Gordon Stone to play banjo for a cover of “Midnight Moonlight” and “Affected Specimen” – their charming original about the X-Files.
By now it was well past dark and the evening’s final act was up-next – Leftover Salmon. “I’ve been going after Leftover Salmon for every festival and the dates just hadn’t worked out.” said Walther, who was thrilled to have finally brought them here. So were the fans, who really started packing into the concert field, ready for a Friday Night Hoedown. When the boys from Colorado took the stage with their patented stew of Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass, more than just a hoedown ensued!
There are two types of Leftover Salmon shows – the showcase shows where the band displays their songwriting talents and newgrass sensibility…and the no-holds-barred maniacal sets where the band is like a train rolling down mountain tracks without any breaks. Tonight was clearly an example of the second kind – “We like to do those types of shows when there’s a really small audience or when we’re just playing in-front of our friends.” commented Salmon frontman Vince Herman, (vocals, acoustic guitar, rub board) a few minutes before heading on-stage. He noted that many festivals get more of the straight-forward treatment, but when it’s a festival like this, “Everyone’s just burning fatty’s – they can handle it!”
Starting off with tunes like “Bend In The River,” it was unsure which way the night would go, but pretty soon the answer was clear -amidst the craziness lay a loose version of Bob Marley’s Soul Shakedown Party, Hotel California (sung to the tune of Rocky Top), Head Bag, This Reward and The Fastest Song We Know. Mixed-in with Salmon classics such as The 4:20 Polka, Get Me Out Of This City and Euphoria was an appearance of The Mayor McCheese – the three foot cheeseburger apparatus, and a bizarre stage-raid by the band’s manager who dressed up like a gorilla and ran around the stage, taunting the audience and introducing the Mayor during a run-through of Pasta On The Mountain. There were Shake Yer Booty, Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself and Dance To The Music medleys, We Want The Funkbass solos and Norwegian Wood teases. Drummer Jeff Sipe (previously Apt. Q-258 of the ARU) laid down tight beats with bassist Tye North, while Drew Emmitt switched between mandolin and electric guitar, playing off the constant electric banjo runs of Mark Vann.
Hopping around the stage with a grin on his face, Vince looked out at the audience at one point and yelled “Festival!” Indeed, Carnival Time was here and Leftover Salmon managed to bridge the burt.
And though the stage lights went out around 1:30 am, as scheduled, the music didn’t stop. Bonfires were built, acoustic guitars came out and impromptu jamborees went up in the tent villages. In the backstage camping area, the day’s musicians caught the spirit of the festival and before long there was a little jamboree going on around a bonfire there as well – with Vince and Drew from Leftover Salmon, along with members of both The Recipe and Smoking Grass. Playing acoustic around a small bonfire for a handful of the crew, event staff and other musicians, the jam included loose, often unfinished, campfire classics and common threads – including renditions of The Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers,” and The Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” Originals by Leftover Salmon and The Recipe also got the treatment, with ad-libbed lyrics and musical changes of heart.
Continuing until 4 or 5 AM backstage, the ever-changing cast of musicians – spearheaded by Salmonboys Vince and Drew – walked out to find bonfires in the camping grounds and party until dawn. Not everyone lasted that long….
By 10am on Saturday, long lines had formed in-front of the vendors offering breakfast. Already the day was a scorcher, with an unrelenting sun heating up the field. At high noon Keller Williams took the stage – those lucky enough to catch him sat down respectfully and watched Keller single-handedly function as a band, playing 12-String guitar and sometimes a djembe drum. Making trumpet noises with his mouth, Keller generally pushed the fold of folk into the jam realm as he covered classics ranging the gamut from Bob Dylan to the Grateful Dead.
His originals brought to mind the songwriting approach of Dan Bern or Loudon Wainwright III and included “Portapotty” – a song about falling in-love with a girl while waiting in the Port-O-Let line. It was a scenerio that quite probably happened more than once this weekend. By set’s end, Keller Williams had proven that folk could indeed play a part in a jam band festival and his positive energy gave a kick-start to the days festivities. A very tasteful opener indeed.
The full-on assault of Orange Whip followed – a funk-rock outfit from nearby Gaithersburg, MD who got some of the early birds dancing with songs off of their latest offering – “Get Some!”. It wasn’t an easy thing to do in the scorching sun for a crowd that, at 1:30 PM, was largely just waking up, sweaty in the heat and still recovering from the night before. Many stayed by their camp-sites, conserving energy for the long-evening and all-night partying to come. Still, renditions of tunes like “Wax,“driven by a straight-up beat, show why Orange Whip are the leaders for the new Maryland Funk-Rock scene – a scene which includes bands like Pinfold and The J In Mary and which started with veterans Blue Miracle.
The polyphonic trance-fusion of The Disco Biscuits forced the remaining campers still milling about to come down to the field and get their groove on. The Biscuits’ have invented a new sport in Extreme Jamming and have been able to figure out a way to weave techno sounds with hardcore jazz improvisation. Foregoing a setlist hefty with song titles in favor of a setlist taken up by arrows (”->”) and asterisks notating jams, their set consisted of just four songs and a lot of intensive trance-fusion in-between.
When it was brought up that they didn’t play a single song off of their latest release, The Uncivilized Area, opting instead for all newer material, keyboardist Aaron Magner commented:
“What’s the point, you know? Eventually we’re going to be playing all of them. We take the same liberties that we would at a little [club] and pull it off…We had no idea that Magellan, or Helicopters->Magellan->Helicopters->Magellan or whatever it was would go on that long, but it’s cool…It’s really cool to see like 40 minutes of that shit and people are still attentive, you know, partying down.”
Being friends of The Disco Biscuits, the guys from Foxtrot Zulu contemplated playing a practical joke on the Biscuits, perhaps even raiding their stage. When the guys wisely realized that they had to go on after the Biscuits, leaving themselves open for retaliation, they reconsidered. However they did manage to walk on-stage and start playing their instruments while the Biscuits were still wrapping up their last tune. A two-band jam occurred, before the gentlemanly Biscuits finally conceded.
Foxtrot Zulu’s own set far exceeded the funky energy they capture on their CD, serving up a unique trumpet, sax and mandolin mix. Foxtrot Zulu’s sets are about one thing: energy! Having the admirable ability to make an entire bar get-up-and-groove, Foxtrot carried that over into the outdoor setting, creating a sweaty sea of dancers who, despite the unseasonably hot sun, had no choice but to dance.
As frontman and trumpet player Jeff Light noted, “I really think it goes back to caveman days. It goes back to when men had to hunt and they had to communicate on a subconscious level. Like, we’re all men in our band so we can somehow tap into that primal feeling, that, like, thing…some sort of intuition that we don’t use anymore in any other part of life. It’s definitely there.” The crowd tended to agree.
Up next was a set from Lake Trout that seemed to come from some musical paradise rarely acknowledged, let alone achieved. If legends such as John Scofield had clearly commanded the respect of all the other musicians present, Lake Trout’s set earned their respect. Formed in 1994, Lake Trout is another veteran performer of Walther Production festivals, and a survivor of the first Autumn Equinox. Even so, this was many people’s first exposure to them. Karl Denson went out into the audience to watch and admire their performance…and later voice his enthusiasm to the rest of his Greyboy Allstar Sidecar Project. Members of The Disco Biscuits, Foxtrot Zulu and others all watched as Lake Trout went through a string of originals to finally close the set with an instrumental version of Jane’s Addiction’s“Stop.”
“The crazy music of Lake Trout…” marveled The Biscuits’ Aaron Magner, “…they were really really patient with what they did, it was great,it was linked to the high heavens like a DJ would be spinning.”
Foxtrotter Jeff Light agreed: “I’d really like to get a copy of Lake Trout’s CD, like whatever their latest thing is.”
Changing the pace a bit was the reggae music of Jah Works. While Jah Works played a set of well-performed reggae, the straight-ahead feel of it was in stark contrast to the mixing-and-matching of musical styles that the other bands all seem to have mastered creatively. Regardless, Jah Works approached reggae with such a pure, scholarly approach that it was hard resisting yelling “Yah mon!” during their tasteful set of covers and originals.
A DJ, operating from a stage-side platform, mixed things up while preparations were made for Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. One of the Greyboy All-stars’ Sidecar Projects, Tiny Universe gives Denson a chance to focus on more of the jazz side of the “West Coast Boogaloo” sounds that The Allstars are famous for. As Universe member Carlos Washington explained: “Ours is based a lot more on a r&b feel. A lot more jazz.” Denson spent four years as the featured man on sax for Lenny Kravitz and has recorded five solo albums, including a collaboration with Miles Davis alumni Jack Dejohnette and Dave Holland.
It was when Denson joined ranks with the Greyboy Allstars, however, that he found respectability and recognition in the groove scene with the Gobi kids and the hip scenesters that were into the evolving jam and groove bands. With the Allstars on hiatus, several members have went on to form Sidecar Projects in the meantime. Tiny Universe is one of them. While the r&b and jazz flavors of Denson are the focus, New Orleans beats as defined by Michael Ray’s Cosmic Krewe and Galactic are also clearly present in the Tiny Universe sound. Not as in-your-face boogie as the Allstars, the boogaloo of the Universe was soul food – a perfect appetizer for the treats to follow.
Charlie Hunter and Pound For Pound took the stage to a sea of anxious festival goers. The general mood in the audience was that of curiosity- many people in the audience knew very little about Charlie Hunter, other than the fact that he plays an 8-string guitar and that his cover of the entire Bob Marley album, Natty Dread, reinterpreted for jazz, has been frequent set break music for Phish.
Hunter has also been in-and-out of both the jazz and the jam band scene for awhile, consciously or not. The Charlie Hunter Trio featured David Ellis and Jay Lane – both of whom went on to play in Bob Weir’s Ratdog (Ellis also became a member of The Other Ones). Hunter himself has certainly been all over the map, appearing on Les Claypool’s Holy Mackerel CD as well as, more recently, the solo release from Galactic drummer Stanton Moore. He was a member of The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy in the early ’90s and also a member of the noted three-guitar group T.J. Kirk – a band that unconventionally collided the music of Thelonious Monk, James Brown and Roland Kirk.
His latest project – “Charlie Hunter and Pound For Pound” – not surprisingly, is just as unique. Hunter, of course, is the main attraction playing an unheard of eight string guitar – the bottom three strings are bass, the other five, guitar. This allows Hunter to lay down a bass line while simultaneously handling guitar duties, be it rhythmic chords or melodic soloing.
The touring incarnation of Pound For Pound is comprised of Monty Croft on vibraphone and Willard Dyson on the drums. While taking an unconventional instrumentation approach, Pound For Pound’s set remained at a constantly danceable groove. Was this intentional?
“Yeah, I mean I just do what I do. And I’m always changing it around because that’s what I like to do, I like to try to evolve. This is what I’m doing right now.” Hunter commented before going on.
His penchant for delivering unique versions of cover tunes was evident in his set, as he delivered a light-hearted rendition of Steve Miller’s Fly Like An Eagle along with originals and covers taken from the course of his recorded career.
The audience, energized from a full day of dance music, adjusted well to Hunter’s band who, although markedly different than the other acts, still put on a quite a groove. Not as straight-up energetic as many of the preceding acts, Hunter matched the feel of the festival.
Preparing for his set, he reflected, “Every gig is different and when you’re playing to people who are amped up, you’re going to get amped up. You’re going to play louder, harder stuff.”
Amping people up visibly as well as musically was band member Monty Croft, who consistently showed the audience that the vibraphone was not always a reserved instrument – his vibrant performance and physically demanding style of play earned him much respect and exposed the vibraphone to a whole new generation. Charlie Hunter himself, on bass and guitar, was no less a sight to see – as Foxtrotter Brad Haas commented: “I’m watching him and I’m like ‘Man this guy’s awesome!’ Very innovative.”
The Disco Biscuits’ guitarist Jon Gutwillig was also enthusiastic, naming Pound For Pound’s set as his favorite of the festival: “I thought Charlie Hunter was so freakin’ unbelievable it was ridiculous. I heard his albums and I was sort-of sold on his whole concept but he’s just ridiculous. He’s ridiculous. I mean the guy’s playing bass like a motherfucker of a bass player and then he’s playing guitar at the same time and when you see him do it live – like the CD you can actually get fooled but live you don’t see a bass player the whole time and you’re just like “Holy Shit!” So that pretty much took the whole cake for me, man!”
The cliche “A tough act to follow” was invented for situations like this, as there was yet another headliner. If there were four people who could do it, though, certainly it would be the all-star roster of John Scofield, John Medeski, Chris Wood and Clyde Stubblefield.
This special limited-time line-up was in many ways a groove-jazz enthusiasts “dream band” – the type of lineup that might result from an internet thread; you know, fodder for dinner table conversationalists that posed the question, “If you could assemble a four-piece instrumental groove-jazz band, who would the musicians be?”
The answer, it appears, is John Scofield on guitar, John Medeski on the keys, Chris Wood on the bass and Clyde Stubblefield on the drums. The incarnation actually came from jazz luminary John Scofield’s latest album in which he commissioned the talents of Medeski Martin and Wood for his back-up band. A smart move which thrust the legend into a whole new audience – one that had largely never even heard of him before.
Medeski Martin and Wood, coming from the notorious Downtown Scene in NYC, has been embraced the past few years by a young mix of groovesters, jam kids and hip college scenesters as well as the Downtown Jazz cats. Starting out a piano-jazz trio, the group slowly started exploring more groove-oriented improvisations with mad Hammond runs, science-fiction flavored acid sounds and even hip-hop beats.
Says Medeski: “We were always interested in finding grooves and jazz improvisation. And there’s so many different ways of combining it, it’s just kind of what’s done is done and it takes a life of it’s own.”
Scofield toured in support of A Go-Go with a whole different cast of all-stars in the spring. This fall, leading up to and culminating with the Autumn Equinox, both Medeski and Wood joined the jazz guitarist for a select tour of the Northeast, while newlywed drummer Billy Martin enjoyed his honeymoon.
The drummer Scofield recruited for the tour was none other than the world renown Clyde Stubblefield, who first rose to fame while drumming for James Brown. Stubblefield is truly a beat artist in every sense of the word. During the immaculate and tasteful set, which was filled with selections from A Go-Go, each member stood out in-turn, whether it was the innovative and immensely satisfying approach of Chris Wood on the bass, a ferocious attack by John Medeski on the organ or the undeniably boogieful beats of Stubblefield. But there was little doubt that Scofield was in-charge here, tackling grooves with a cool and assured confidence.
As Medeski remarked after the show had ended: “Scofield’s a master of the linear improvisation and weaving around, harmonically weaving through different stuff and I’m getting a lot of that from him, you know just linear things – you know, it’s incredible what he does.”
Indeed it is, but something even more incredible was to follow this set – a surprise all-star jam. As if the combination of Scofield, Medeski, Wood and Stubblefield wasn’t enough, room was made for Charlie Hunter, Karl Denson, Carlos Washington (from Tiny Universe) and Paul Miller (percussion; Foxtrot Zulu). Breaking into A Go-Go, the audience cheered as one by one the improvisational ball was passed. Pointing to Jon Gutwillig from The Disco Biscuits, Scofield waved him on-stage as he turned around and, beyond the microphone’s range, asked, “Hey, you want to take a solo?” Gutwillig responded by improvising a playful interactive lead which seemed to intertwine with Chris Wood’s bass line. Medeski then picked up the ball, passing it back to Scofield for completion. As the musicians filed off stage, the after show partying that went on the night before continued.
There was a much softer feel after the show on Saturday – in-part because people were worn out after two days of boogie-blasts and in-part because the music of the last two acts set a mellow tone.
“Friday was the party whereas Saturday was the night to appreciate a mellow and intellectual exploration of the mind” commented Walther, “This world needs to change in many ways and if we, as a group, can start burning our brain cells for positive change we can truly make a difference.”
The presence, and vibe, that reverberated throughout was definitely one of positive good will and camaraderie.
It’s now 3:00 AM and I’m wandering around the camp grounds trying to find Fat Apple. Chris Pastore, the group’s lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist, had mentioned earlier that they would be playing somewhere over in one of the camping areas after the main-stage acts were finished. I’m looking and I can’t find anything. Finally I ask a festival-goer who is tending to a camp fire, bottle of whiskey in his hand, friendly sincere smile on his face. “Yeah man!” he lets out a deep and joyous chuckle, “You’re looking for Appleland! It’s a ways back there – you got to hike through that path over there.”
I’m worried there might be a misunderstanding: “No, no – Fat Apple” I explain, “a band…they said they would be playing…”
“Yeah, I know!” he smiles, “That’s what I’m talking about brother! Start walking up that trail and follow the music.”
Something about his sincerity and the glint in his eye left me no choice but to instantly trust him. Five minutes later, walking on the dark path in what seems to be a forest, I start questioning my decision. There are people camped, even back here, but not many people around – they are all either in their tents, or hidden in the shadows of small camp fires, cuddling in pairs or solemnly watching the embers glow.
Then I hear the music.
Faintly at first, but definitely getting louder as I walk-on. Suddenly, without warning, the forest seems to open up into a kind of den where cut-outs of stars hang from a canopy of sheets, suspended between trees, giant tie-die tapestries and stained-glass effects mix in with swirling lights and a blazing bonfire; on one side of which Fat Apple is playing, and on the other sits almost a hundred or so people, swaying to the music, faces radiant, blending in with the forest and letting the sexy funk of Fat Apple serve as the final desert to this two-day musical meal.
“Welcome to Appleland!” percussionist Barry Cooper says to me as the band takes a short break. I am blown away. A security guard comes walking by and stops one of the band members – “Did you guys think of this? You know, I’ve been doing security here for years and this must be the most creative thing I have seen done with this land.” Indeed, Fat Apple converted a small hidden piece of forest into none-other than what they call “Appleland.” It was the hidden surprise in a festival filled with surprises.
Guitarist Scott Lloyd smiles, “Eventually we want to bring this to all the festivals.” Meanwhile Matt Pierce, the saxophone player for Lake Trout, makes a guest appearance as the band goes back on. I stay for 4:20 and eventually find the way back to my car where I will be sleeping for the night. On the trail back, two lovely girls join me. We walk silently back to one of the main camp areas. When we are almost there, the one turns to me and says, “Today is special, isn’t it?”
“And it’s my birthday too!” I laugh.
She hugs me and says quite sincerely, “I hope the rest of your year is a good as this weekend!”
“So do I” I say. And I mean it too…that would be one great year.
We all laugh and as I head back to my car, I wave goodbye to those two lovely girls. “That would be one great year” I think to myself.
Benjy Eisen is a roller-coaster engineer and the inventor of The Oreo Cookie…maybe.