Catskill Chill is held at an arts and theatre summer camp in the Catskills, I went there for three weeks as a kid to study music and it opened up a whole new world to me, I was surrounded by the most talented, driven kids while simultaneously being exposed to debauchery, the likes of which I had never seen. It was the first time I ever saw weed, played electric guitar or kissed a girl. What a great place to hold a festival, the camp has a built in stage for its own rock shows and an ample amount of facilities and cabin.
The first day brought in Marco Benevento an area resident who played his originals “Greenpoint” and covered instrumental versions of “Benny and the Jetts” by Elton John and “Doorbell” by the White Stripes. Lettuce played shortly after and their set included “Sam Huff Outta Here” > “New Deitch Go Go,” ”Do Your Thing,” “Phyllis Ziggawatt,“ “Break Out,” “Lettsanity,” and “Blast Off.”
Upstate New Yorkers have always been fanatic about the Grateful Dead and this festival had plenty of covers, my favorites were at the acoustic stage aptly named Acoustic Junction. Cabinet played an entire set devoted to the Dead which included “Brown Eyed Women,” “New Speedway Boogie,” “Mama Tried,” “Cumberland Blues,” “Minglewood Blues,” “Black Peter,” “I Know You Rider,” “After Midnight > Loose Lucy,” “Scarlet Begonias” > “Fire on the Mountain” and “Easy Wind.”
Something special about the jam scene is it’s synthesis of virtuosic musicians who play alongside those who mainly specialize in improvisation and stage presence. Shady Grove acoustic sessions set the precedent for this. The Yonder Mountain String Band played classic Americana including “Troublin Mind” in the peoples key of G, and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” in the non-banjo friendly key of C#m. The addition of Jake Joliff on the Mandolin could not have been a better fit after his band Joy Kills Sorrow broke up and believe he is one of the top mandolin players alive. Allie Kral also added her signature danceable fiddle playing and golden tinged vocals to the set.
Sunday started with Roots of Creation and more Dead covers, soundchecking “Black Peter” and working a “China Cat Sunflower” tease into their set as well as a complete “Sugaree.” Next I caught Magner and Hamilton Acoustic Again featuring Aron Magner of Disco Biscuits and Tom Hamilton of Brothers Past—two musicians with a repertoire and virtuosity that reaches beyond “jamtronica.” They formed a tight acoustic duo, seamlessly covering “The Night they Drove Old Dixy Down” by The Band, “Roll Away the Dew” and the more complex Dead cover “Help is on the Way” > “Slipknot.”
Then it was time to go home, after an exhausting weekend filled with memories old and new.