The BERKSHIRE MOUNTAIN MUSIC FESTIVAL
Butternut Ski Basin – Great Barrington, MA
August 9-11, 2002
(photos were lost in translation)
Traveling to the 5th Annual Berkshire Mountain Music Festival, one could only think of the past – the mind filling with thoughts purveying sadness, feelings of emptiness and absence. This day marked seven years since the passing of the transcendental guru, a person whom although he did not want the responsibility, might be regarded as the most significant guiding light for the current vibrant collective of musical movements across the country and beyond; learned musicians and artists, skilled craftspeople with the slightest of hand all reflecting the animated lifelight of the great Jerry Garcia, painting an illustration of the man’s omnipresent spirit.
This light shines brightly every summer as festival gatherings of all shapes and sizes bring the people together for dance-a-thons running from sun-drenched afternoons to star-filled evenings; lineups laden with smorgasbords of bands and musicians traveling magnitudes of melodic, stylistic and geographical distances all just for you.
As we have gotten bigger and more open as a community, the festivals have reciprocated by engaging their audiences with everything from Afrobeat rhythms to ambient trance, from bluegrass to jazz and hip-hop and everything in between, often creating new alliances between musicians and leading to extraordinary, groundbreaking collaborations. Epitomizing the growth and development in our musical community, in almost every band’s repertoire one could find distinct notes and rhythms rooted in Afrobeat and downtempo drum n bass, respectively. And the best part about it is, we get to reap what they sow.
For the past 5 years, the folks at Gamelan Productions have worked tirelessly to create their own harmonious village in Western Massachusetts, but until now Mother Nature had some other plans. First beginning as a small gathering on a farm not far from the present site, the Berkshire Mountain Music Festival has been a wet one… soaking wet. People often wondered if any member of the Gamelan family had ever upset a witch doctor or a metaphysical being of sorts because every year it rained, and it poured and it poured some more.
But perseverance and hope got them through and their festival began to grow not only in population but in the quality of the music as well. The Berkfest was always built upon a solid foundation of ultra-dynamic bands including The Slip, Addison Groove Project, and Lettuce, and over the years with a little tweaking and some genius booking, the folks at Gamelan have truly created something special.
Really bringing the coasts together this year and getting representation from West Africa, Jamaica and across the U.S., this year’s Berkfest flooded the senses got hips-a-shakin’ with the likes of The Abyssinians, Spearhead, Ozomatli, Sound Tribe Sector 9, Garaj Mahal, The Motet, Angelique Kidjo, and the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey to go with East Coast staples Medeski Martin & Wood, John Scofield Band, Soulive, The Slip, and Project Logic.
And that’s not all… Hammer dulcimer soliloquies provided by Jamie Janover and the recreation of Django Reinhardt classics by Stephane Wrembel were festival favorites, offering those looking to take things down a notch a nice alternative to the dance parties at Berkfest’s two stages. And not a drop of rain all weekend, only smiling faces bright as the shining sun. You could feel it in the air; Berkfest was the happening, where all the good, well most of it anyway, was going on.
No matter how perfect your calculations may be, you can always predict that not everything will go as planned. Knowledge of this makes one feel better, especially when you arrive late and miss the first Berkfest performance by Brooklyn Afrobeat consciousness chemists Antibalas. But a through a little research it was learned that they did it up as they always do and they had a blast and will most certainly be back again next year.
Our problems with tardiness continued as we arrived to catch the final three songs from The Slip’s mainstage performance. Had it been ski season, bassist Marc Friedman may have caused an avalanche dropping the funkdefied “Get Me With Fuji” as Brad Barr’s screaming lead line brought roars from the audience.
Taking some relaxing time this summer to do a few gigs with Vida Blue and rock the summer festivals before they embark on a fall tour in support of their major label debut Angels Come on Time (Rykodisc) – which will bring them back across the Pacific to Japan and throughout the States – The Slip is at their highest point. Their playing is magnificent, so fluid and full of grace, intricate and metaphysical, their continuing accomplishments come as no surprise.
A welcoming the evening, the sunset soundtrack was provided by brighter light sonic journeymen Sound Tribe Sector 9along with tabla beat scientist Karsh Kale . Sound Tribe Sector Nine blessed fans that got situated early Friday evening to a luscious ninety minutes of beat science at dusk Friday evening. Taking the stage after the Karsh Kale warm-up, the transplanted Georgia ensemble won over hordes of new ears and bodies with rollers and breaks galore.
Energy both on stage and in the audience was leaping to one of the higher points of the festival weekend as the torrid percussive propulsion of Karsh and STS9 drummer Zach Velmer brought temporal rhythms to the next level. Highlights of their performance of the weekend included opener “Circus,” guitarist Hunter Brown‘s composition “New Try,” the manic jungle of “Orbital,” and the collaboration with tabla maestro Kale and an Indian vocalist who waxed otherworldly sounds rooted in the Far East.
Both sensual and dangerous, fire twirlers joined the band ceremoniously ushering in the nighttime hour. The furthering of the art through fire and dance (ala Claypool in NOLA) provided a lavish visual compliment to “Life’s Sweet Breath” to close their set and prepare the massive for the mighty KDTU.
Readying the people for the getdown portion of the program, the atmospheric soundscapes of Beantown resident drum n bass head DJ Seishi hit the one-drop on the side stage for a hot minute only to be cut off for some announcements. Instead of bringing him back on, the soundman committed a flagrant foul and threw on Mark Knopfler’s solo release Sailing To Philadelphia to pump up the crowd. Though I dig Dire Straits and feel Knopfler is a great guitar player, this record is a little too introspective for the funk.
Nevertheless, by the time Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe hit the stage shortly after 9pm, there was a certain elation in the air. The temperature was breezy and the crowd was still juiced as it was only night one. As the band dropped the steady show opener “Elephants,” the afrobeat took over and the heads started groovin’. “Elephants” is a great song for moving the crowd, warming them up to the steady beats as the band works out it’s syncopation and the performers and audience exchange energies to begin the evening’s journey with what Maceo Parker once described as “happy music.”
“Family Tree,” a classic KDTU anthem reworked with a choice intro, really announced the authentic groove machine had arrived and was in business. Trumpeter Chris Littlefieldshined throughout the two-hour dance party, hooking up cool effects to his horn and joining Karl in some emotive horn crescendos that seemed to reach for the sky.
The performance was atypical of the Tiny Universe, which in this writer’s mind is at the top of its game and evolving the acid-groove genre toward new heights. David Veith is beginning to come out of his shell, lacing choice Rhodes comping underneath a Karl vocal or horn lead, or washing some Hammond B3 sustain amidst Brian Jordan’s jagged-edged guitar licks. Mr. Jordan’s star power is throbbing with intensity as he weaves through styles and energies, trading Hendrix feedback fury with boogaloo agility and afro-crunk minimalism. Resident bombdropper, soul brother Ron Johnson, is the glue and the boom beneath the Tiny Universe juggernaut, locking in with Zak Najor’s drumbeats and last minute fill-in Global Funk Council percussionist Steve Haney with resonance.
The end of the set featured a few songs off of KDTU’s slamming new album The Bridge. “Because of Her Beauty,” a single if I ever heard one, is a loving, deep and soulful R&B song that sits in the pocket with grace, and sports a sexy and mature Denson vocal and horn refrain.
However, the sickest portion of the KDTU set was the delivery of the ‘new tune.’ The four-piece arrangement which was debuted at Bonnaroo (“there you have it, hot off the press”) and brought the house down late at the Bowery Ballroom on the 4th of July in NYC, this progressive-fusion, crunk and funk opus is just the most over the top composition I have ever heard from the Tiny Universe. It is all things jazzy early on, dips into Soulquarian’s-esque R&B flavor, then plays some cool riddles on your dome and leads into the navigation of some of the dirtiest, thunderous, and swanky territory the mighty KDTU have dared tread. No wonder they cannot name the song, as it is behemoth and deserving of a label as monstrous and unforgiving as the tune itself.
Most revelers in the audience were so flabbergasted and awestruck that by the time the boys encored with “The Hen,” we really didn’t know what to do with ourselves except to put our heads down, our asses out, and get our groove on with game tight, feeling twice as nice.
KDTU bassist extraordinaire Ron Johnson remarked after their blistering set how impressed he was with the Berkfest line-up this year. He lamented on the cool relations between the performers, as the festival season so fertile. More importantly he went on to discuss how nasty the rest of Berkfest was going to be, wishing he could stay and watch some of the diverse acts that would grace the stage in the next few days (check for a full interview with Mr. Johnson in a couple weeks right here on JamBase).
Rumor had it that old-time New England jammers Shockra might be joined by some of their Vermont friends during their late-night set in the Upper Lodge, but as usual words are words. Tales of Trey-boy did not take anything away from these New England veterans as they dropped that token jam-funk, proving they had not lost a step in their seven years apart.
Addison Groove Project bassist and old-school Shockra head Jon Hall was loving life, “These guys still got it…A little more gray hair than I can remember but the funk is still stinkin’.”
Hustling over to the late night lodge to catch a bit of rope-a-dope recording artists Bullfrog featuring the always-enigmatic Kid Koala on turntable wizardry. I was certainly surprised at the energy level of the people as they were literally dripping with sweat inside the cramped converted ski lodge. With a worldly mix of funk, electronica and some candid hip-hop freewheeling rhyme styles, Bullfrog definitely won over many new fans and solidified the impressions of older ones like myself. Bullfrog is without question a live experience, the product doesn’t translate quite as well on their disc, but then again this was late night at Berkfest, of course the energy was going to be pulsating.
The burgeoning New York City video imaging collective Static on Static provided some tasty visual imagery to Karsh Kale’s world dance movements and the smooth hip-hop stylings of Kid Koala’s Bullfrog. The Static crew got love from bands all weekend, joining forces with the likes of STS9 and Lettuce during their late night sets with their unique illustrative exhibitionism, lacing movie scenes and visual effects into the resonant fabric brought by the evening’s sound providers.
Brooklyn resident visionquesters, Static on Static will soon be hooking up with bands during tour stops in the NYC area, lighting up stage and screen with their illustrative pictorial chaos.
Day one was now complete, great music and no rain and so much more to look forward to. We gathered ourselves together for the first time since embarking on our festival trip and set off into the night to explore the living world and find some other things.
Awaking to a bright sun with not a cloud in the sky, it was hard to believe that it was really Berkfest. Nonetheless there were no complaints. Day one gave many reasons to smile and glancing over the rest of the weekend’s events only made it bigger. Ethnomusicologist Tony Vacca’s rhythm and consciousness was the alarm clock for many, signaling the beginning to yet another day of what he called “Thought Amplification.” His “City Spirts,” written for mentor and father of world music collaborations Don Cherry, was an electrifying and heartfelt number performed on Bilophone was greatly received.
Creating the perfect dichotomy, the duo of the enchanting soul-diva Ekene Nwokoye and the smooth groovin’ flavorist Eric Krasno played a collection of their favorite songs of love lost and found including an Ekene original “No Reason at All,” Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon in the Sky” and Earth Wind and Fire’s “Can’t Hide Love,” proving that the love song is no cliché when it’s coming from deep down.
The trio of hypnotic jazz freaks, the Jacob Fred Jazz Odysseyspun the late morning crowd maybe a little too much. Playing some of their more free and entrancing songs, most likely leaving the harder numbers for their late night set, the Fred boys left many virgin minds crowded like sunset on a Saturday.
Opening with the mellow and intoxicating “Hover” followed by an eerie improvisational number entitled “Good Morning Berkfest,” the band left behind the Middle Eastern root of the song and boarded the mothership, dropping the heavy heavy funk stuff. Favorite “Thelonius Monk is My Grandmother” had keyboardist Brian Haas sending notes into a virtual whirlwind in front of the convulsively tight beats of drummer Jason Smart.
Highlighting the set was the transcendental composition “Vernal Equinox.” As all of the Fred’s compositions are rooted, they often seemingly spin out of control and may be found far from the point of origin, but never do they leave the trio’s tight grip. This was most evident during this “Equinox” as the energy onstage built to a boiling point, leading the music into the industrial metal world, a far reach from the song’s beginnings.
Although the timing of their set, something they had no control over, may have been a hindrance to their acceptance by new listeners the band’s music was sensationally successful. Elements of space and time do not particularly effect their expression as some have seen during 5 am performances in New Orleans or during marathon sets at the Knitting Factory in NYC during the recording of their freshly released All is One: Live in New York City (Knitting Factory Records). Many supporters encouraged those initially turned off by the Fred to see their late night set which was sure to please. Keep reading and you’ll see they were right all along.
Now if there was anything to be spoken of unfavorably, it was the scheduling for Saturday afternoon. The afro-funk of The Motet with special guest bassist Garret Sayers was up against the original roots radicals The Abyssinians. Because of this, The Motet’s set at Berkfest will be without commentary but what can be said is that The Motet tore it up during their summer tour. Word of this traveled with friends back to us as all they heard about during their summer travels was how good their shows were and how much of a badass Mr. Garret Sayers is. Saying this it can be presumed that The Motet moved it. Now back to The Abyssinians.
Back in 1968, vocalists Bernard Collins and Donald Manning composed “Satta Massa Ganna,” a song and a rhythm that would become a mantra both in the Rastafarian culture and in Reggae music. Since their inception, they have shaped and refined the culture and its music and it was truly a gift to see them onstage (and to play a little soccer with them later).
Roots, natty roots, brilliant vocal harmonies and heavy riddims were poured out in a rub-a-dub style. Delving deep into their catalogue, the Abyssinians brought their original roots flavors laden with messages of awareness and consciousness. Classics “Know Jah,” “Good Lord,” and of course “Satta Massa Ganna” were intermingled with tales of demoralization, separation, oppression and the effects slavery in “Slave Descendants.”
The Abyssinians performance was truly a highlight, born not just of the festival alone but through many years of admiration of their musical heritage and their message. With their place high amongst the ranks of world musical figures, it was a gift to have them join us at Berkfest. Thank you.
Dean Bowman (formerly of Screaming Headless Torsos) performed a little vocal set in between the mighty Abyssinians and Robert Randolph & the Family Band. Bowman delivered a unique gospel-tinged set of soulful lyric and melody set atop beats akin to Phil Collins “In the Air.”
People in the crowd certainly felt his positivity but some I spoke to were thrown off a bit by all the God-speak. Bowman certainly got attention as a really large and energetic crowd assembled to hear another man of God rock out.
Robert Randolph did not disappoint, as he and his Family band delivered their standard R&B flavored rocking gospel with authority and high energy. Randolph pretty much delivers the same tunes and the same vibe time and time again, however he really flourished in the plush surroundings and not-to-oppressive sunshine, mixing his own joints like “Joy” and “The March” with covers “Iron Man” (Black Sabbath) and “Thank You fa lettin’ me be Mice Elf, Again” (Sly and the Family Stone) when he was joined by Soulive’s Eric Krasno who seems to turn up just about everywhere these days.
Once again the scheduling made for some serious decision-making: the guitar-driven fury of Garaj Mahal or the uplifting sunshine soul of Michael Franti and Spearhead. Well, with some craftiness and sly moves we got a little of both.
Thoughts from Garaj Mahal drummer Alan Hertz (formerly of West Coast powerhouse KVHW) let the Berkfesters know that they partied harder than anyone they had seen out West and being that it was their first East Coast festival, these guys had something to prove. Many words about them traveled and so had the music, but the experience had not. These guys had to throw down and throw down they did.
Lead by the enigmatic underground guitar maestro and KDTU t-shirt wearin’ Fareed Haque (who many claim as their fantasy band axeman) along with the just plain nasty virtuoso Kai Eckhardt on bass, Cameo fan Eric Levy on keys and drummer Hertz, Garaj Mahal has been working and collecting lots of notoriety throughout the music scene because, well, these guys are just blazing. With a repertoire of compositions playing tricks on your ears while simultaneously warming your heart, these cats come out firing polyrhythmic jazzy-rock jams that stop on a dime.
Wasting no time at all the band tore things open for the Hillside Stage attendees as Haque and Eckhardt matched through heavily syncopated lines as Hertz kept time like a watchmaker. Ripping on a tune only to be described as Ska in reverse, Fareed remained in complete control, laying down scale heavy jazz fretwork with the picking intensity of a country axeman drenched in reverb.
The set continued in this manner without slowing for a moment, keeping the dance floor inspector and ever pop-lockin Ian Perry poppin’ and lockin’. Tunes like the 80s funked-out synth-driven “Which Side of the Bunk are You On?” illustrates the professionalism, energy, conviction, and desire that breathes from this four-headed fusion conglomerate as they continue infuse the truth to their swelling reputation both as a band and as individuals. All four members are seasoned veterans who have worked with some of the top musicians in the business and underground and we can all expect to be hearing a lot more from these cats in the near future. And for all you CSN&Y fans, check out Fareed’s take on the legendary Déjà vu record.
Sacrificing some time with the Garaj, we got down to the Main Stage in time to catch Radioactive rock that pan flute beatbox he was practicing backstage. Getting the people up for it, Spearhead’s charismatic leader Michael Franti dove head first into the call and response of the hard knock rockin’ “Rock the Nation.” Taking some time to speak in a tone quite juxtaposed to the intensity of “Rock the Nation,” Franti preached for an end to the violent attacks and bloodshed occurring daily in the Middle East as a result of American involvement, “We can not use bombs as communication. All bombing is terrorism no matter who is doing it.”
Passing out flowers the band received as gifts “so everyone can smell and touch them” brought a unifying message to a festival enveloped in smiles and charm. In apropos fashion the band began “Power to the Peaceful,” its chorus ringing “We can bomb the world to pieces but we can’t bomb it into peace” as we all sang on. The audience held onto Franti’s every word, getting up to dance for a little rock-boogie out of the Blues Traveler Handbook. The raucous chorus of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” broke way into some cooled out island vibe, enter Berkfest Allstar Eric Krasno taking a nasty solo to finish out the wildly energetic and frontal lobe Spearhead set.
Dimensions away from the days of The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy with Mr. Charlie Hunter where his voice message lived among the ranks of the Chuck D, Michael Franti has become a prophetic figure speaking a gospel of inquisitive peace rather than forceful freedom echoing the words of the banner hanging next to the stage: “May Peace prevail on Earth.”
Catching heights on the way over to see the band some may regard as the resident founding, well, brothers of the Berkshire Mountain Music Festival, Providence/Allston born rockstars The Slip. After the previous day’s lateness, it was made sure that none of this set was going to be missed. Once again, a decision must be made: Get all Slipped up or all New Dealed Out? Which did you pick?
Deciding on the Slip for many reasons both personal and musical, a little delay allowed for some wading through the crowd of young, eager faces, eyes fixed in determined focus. The band walked onto the quaint little Hillside stage to a resounding roar as Viva declared, “Marc is my Rockstar!”
Listening closely, one noticed Brad Barr’s dark minor guitar line referencing “Blues for Allah” as brother Andrew Barrbegan his new entry into the book of polyrhythmics. A Marc Friedman breakdown led into some old school hip-hop breaks as Andrew kicked fully organic 808 drum machine beats. The breaks lesson continued as the band dropped something out of the Swizzbeats catalogue.
A long, Frisellian Brad Barr intro in 3 brought the band into that rock number “Sometimes True to Nothing” which really brought the house down. “Jumby” got the Lions Lyin’ on the Rock a-moving. A little collaborative treat brought friend Reed Mathis onstage to sit in and the great feelings were expressed by Viva once again, “Now we love our Reed and we love our Marc”, illustrating the spiritual uplifting of The Slip experience.
Amid calls of “It’s Electric,” a beautiful bright smile spoke more on these emotions, “The best way I could possibly describe the music of the Slip is just to say that it makes me want to me a better person.” Without a doubt, the happiest people could be found at this portion of the festival program as the ones who love to take part in the music reflect its message.
For those who chose the other route this evening, Toronto’s The New Deal is another band whose reputation precedes them wherever they travel. Equally at home at a club’s progressive house night as they are at a jamband festival, and it seemed that Berkfest 2002 was equal parts both. The trio really melds the improvisational aspects of this broad genre that is ‘jam’ and wraps the progressive house sonics and techno characteristics to a wildly energetic delivery.
The band battled through some rugged technical glitches (the only ones I can remember the entire weekend, big-up stage crew!) and traveled without moving through a brand new warp of busy techno four-to the floor joints; and analog synth soaked techno-house bangers from their eponymous debut album, then even further beyond realms of normalcy.
By the time the sky had retreated to pitch black (save for the moon and stars above), The New Deal had whipped the amassing hordes of bboys and bgirls, hipsters and hippies, and everybody in between into a veritable frenzy.
Mister Roarke, Bostonian Turntable assassin, warmed up the swollen main stage audience after The New Deal. His tasty selections got some asses moving, the stoic bboys sweated his technique and watched the needle drop, while the rest of the growing crowd got all fired up for the Soulive Revue 2002.
The same ensemble that toured the US this past spring with Soulive and N’Diambi, the Soulive Revue is a banging dose of downtown New York giving you the sounds of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. These days fans of Soulive are split into camps; those who long for the trio again with suited jazzbo attitude and really psychedelic exploratory exhibition and those on board with the NYC dub-hop boom-bap that manifests with addition of alto saxophonist Sam Kinninger.
The Revue is a whirlwind presentation, part trio, part quartet, but when trombonist Josh Roseman and tenor man Ryan Zoidis join Kinninger, the punch is complete and the heads get bobbing. Mister Roarke, the most tasteful and articulate turntablist I have ever seen rock with a band, just brings the Soulive thang to the new frontier combining the Blue Note rare groove vibe with the Tech 1200’s to bring out the glistening bling and the dirty funk.
Whether they are dropping the Doin’ Something-era joints as a trio or rocking a dubbed out, banging “Bridge to ‘Bama” with the Revue poppin’ collars, Soulive is driving the lane and bodying up any and all defenders. Eric Krasno has gone from a promising, respectful jazz player who would let loose here and there to a venomous shredder who steps his band up to the next level with distorted wails and powerful leads even standing up out of his normally seated playing position to get into it and get involved.
Zoidis, also a Lettuce co-conspirator really brought the ‘A’ game to Butternut this year, blowing straight love and fury into his tenor over the head nodding Evans’s riddims. N’Diambi‘s rugged, sensual vocal changed up the pace as the band introduced this lovely sister to legions of new listeners. The straight grooving beats and swing of “Flurries” brought NYC thuggin’ up to the forefront of Berkfest as the Evans brothers’ rhythm section laid lumbering and powerful foundations for the rest of the Revue to manipulate.
Somewhere during the Revue’s ridiculous sonic assault, Alan Evans broke his snare head and just cold tossed the drum back over his head. True rock star shit, but the commotion and delay it caused returned to bite the band in the proverbial ass.
Before organist Neal Evans and Kinninger had finished the outro to an elongated “Tuesday Night Squad” to close the set, the plug was pulled due to the band’s running overtime. This act led to the dismay of the ensconced audience and drummer Alan Evans showed his discontent by unprofessionally uttering an obscenity into the microphone, directing at whoever was in charge of the yank. From there, things got a little heated between the band and the festival organizers who had been warned the previous night about Main Stage acts going overtime. Needless to say, this made for some weird energy and a lot of gossip and he said, she said garbage backstage and may have burned a few bridges between the respective parties involved, but this has yet to be seen. And even though the circumstances ended things abruptly, with almost two hours of the Revue delivered with authority, most of the fans were more than satisfied with the Soulive Revue, though some old schoolers still expressed concern with the sound, energy, attitude and direction of the Soulive star.
Even late into the night Saturday, it was the day of decisions: Do you do The 9 or get mind fucked by The Fred?
With their morning set a bit too heavy on the head for most, the boys of the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey had a little work to do to gain some more supporters to the already filling ranks. With just the right amount of people, the trio brought some of their danceable numbers to the Lower Lodge floor and a couple special guests to boot.
Slip drummer Brother Andrew Barr requested something fast and laid down some perversely agile rhythms which Brain Haas and Reed Mathis hungrily sunk their teeth into. Welcoming Moog monster Rob Marscher of soon-to-be-Sunday-favorites Addison Groove Project and percussionist Johnny Durkin from Deep Banana Blackout, the band took requests hooked me up with the driving “Hunter/Gatherer.”
After some cowboy joshing around with the crowd, as always in the Jacob Fred tradition, the band hit on a crazy improvisation entitled “Everything’s Bigger in Texas.” Getting an extra half-hour, longer than any of the other late night performers, the Fred boys once again rocked the house proper and left any of the day’s former doubters asking for more.
Sound Tribe Sector 9 again took the stage at Berkfest, this time for a late night performance, after moe.’s Al.oneelectronica experiment ran its course. The late STS9 show was an invigorating journey through mad jungle, sensual downtempo, white-boy spacey funk, and territories within and beyond. They jammed out a bit before delivering a “STS9” in all its glory, then brought a lovely “Hubble” out and traveled that classic avenue to frontiers of new understanding.
“For My Peeps,” an incredible “Baraka” (during which I swear the temperature inside the lodge was at least 110 degrees), and “Today” left the packed joint clamoring for more. Unfortunately, the band was forced to shut down shortly after 2am, although its safe to say the righteous vibes and otherworldly sonics remained in love and light within the people through daybreak.
With lots of spunions about this evening, things took on a primitive vibe deep into the Butternut woods. Amidst masses belting out Biz Markie’s “Got What I Need” in unison, and games of see-lo and freestyle ciphers abound, things were very city back in the forest.
Sunday Funday. So far the place had been rocking and everything was on point. This was shaping out to undoubtedly be the best Berkfest ever and might go down as one of the best East Coast festivals to date. So much had happened already but yet there was so much more to look forward to.
As the blazing sun and two days of fun could be felt, the anticipation kept the motor running hot. Sunday was by far and away the hottest day of the festival, all the way around. The temperature reached scorching levels of heat and the sun blinded and baked those brave enough to challenge the elements. Sunday also had a really rootsy vibe.
A lot of the performers were Nor’Easters and the joining of many of who were responsible for the blossoming vibrations prevalent at Butternut seemed to congregate on the final morning. As the day progressed, the elixir of different sounds, songs, and energies created a monumental culmination to a quintessential event. Once again the line-up Sunday made for some treacherous decisions concerning whom to see, whom to miss, and when to break for another stage, making for an afternoon that literally flew by in what seemed like an instant.
A ceremonious ending to the festival would occur on the Main Stage with the triple threat of Project Logic, John Scofield Band¸ and the realest Allstars Medeski Martin & Wood. We had gotten so much, but some of the real sickness was yet to go down.
A bright morning wakeup to the fantastic guitar stylings of Stephane Wrembel’s take on the great Django Reinhardt soothed a weary body.
Inspiration to get up and shake the soul was soon provided by West African vocalist Angelique Kidjo. Her vivid unification of African spiritual rhythms with new world grooves combined with a stage show filled with the architecturally explosive traditional dance lit up the early morning crowd, filing the air with beauty and sound.
Tea Leaf Green played an off-the cuff late night/early morning set early Sunday morning outside their campsite, and returned a few hours later to rock the Hillside stage around the noon hour and Luke Patchen of Strangefolk dropped a brief acoustic set in that heated early afternoon hour, delighting fans with a spirited cover of Sublime’s “What I Got.”
It was Sunday afternoon when the news began to circulate about the untimely passing of Widespread Panic guitarist Michael Houser. The sentiments of the crowd were conflicted; here we were in a musical and cultural wonderworld neatly tucked away in the Berkshires making it difficult to process the enormity of the unfortunate loss as we danced in the plush surroundings rich in culture and performance.
DJ Motion Potion‘s afternoon set was cancelled, to make room for the only half hour of silence the entire weekend. This makeshift however heartfelt period for reflection and mourning was punctuated by both uplifting and solemn poetry read from the stage. The breather gave those in need of perspective some down time to reckon the reality of the harsh situation.
Motion Potion rocked late night parties at the hospitality tent all weekend (which were crunkdafied and raging ‘til the morning came!) so some still got a taste of his disco/soul madness.
The Black-Chicano-Cuban-Japanese-Jewish-Filipino crew was a lesson and a raging party; the performance provided a glorious scope into widening horizons of the music, message, and communication values present in their Latin beat, hip hop, salsa, Mexi-Cali stew.As each day brought a little something conscious, a little smattering of politics, and a few messages, on Sunday afternoon it came in the form of Los Angeles multi-cultural ensemble Ozomatli. This freewheeling, instrument-switching, high-energy bounce-a-matic group brought many different flavors and a fantastic attitude that screamed exuberantly through their music.
Tenor man Ulises Bella blew soulful and poetic over madman bassist/ringleader Will-dog’s whack-happy groove. MC Kanetic Source reveled in the shake-what-yo-mama-gave-ya vibes while breaking it down for the backpackers, the peace-kids, the coffee shop prophets, and of course, the ladies in the house.
The fun and spun vibes melded nicely with the socially conscious/political platform of their rallying music, and Ozomatli definitely represented for all creeds, colors and peoples, as well as the West Coast. Hola!
A common occurrence at this Berkfest, once again a decision had to be made from the heart. Instead of watching the Steve Kimock Band’s Main Stage set, I took to following an amassing crowd on its way up to funk the hell out with Addison Groove Project on the Hillside Stage.
Flashing back to the day before, I began to picture the ridiculous AGP vs JFJO NY State Highway food fights Addison bass player John Hall was laughing to me about where the Addison boys were hitting the JFJO bus off with Prosciutto sandwiches as the Oklahoma boys retaliated with shots of Wheatgrass. As one of the three bands with roots in the original Berkfest, these Allston residentials have been rocking the Northeast scene showing peoples that they are also making great strides in their songwriting abilities.
The dubbed out “Just So You Know” featured some excellent clavinet work by the six-fingered man Rob Marscherunder a Ben Grappe and Dave Adams horn line that shone some light on the Large Professor. The electronica-styled vibe of “Phrenic” made statements that these kids are not just a funk band anymore and fellow Allston resident and Moteter Garret Sayers jumped on to join the boys for some ill hip-hop groove. Bassist John Hall and drummer Andrew Keith were the ones to watch on this day as Hall’s low-end licking was thumping it out and the dexterity in Keith’s movements were incredibly tight, holding things down proper for the AGP.
The boys of Addison really got it going on, it seems every show gets better and better. During their summer tour they rocked the house in Little Rock, AK and killed it in Northampton with a little help from the scorching fretwork of Fareed Haque. With two nights at the famed Paradise in Boston soon to be announced, the recent release of their hot new record Allophone and an adjoining with NYC scenesters Velour, the world keeps on looking mighty bright for these young lads who have been doing this here thing together since high school.
Before the Main Stage triple threat finale, I snuck on over one last time to the Hillside stage to catch another left coast group, Global Funk Council. Featuring ex-KDTU drummer Eric Bolivar, this disco-funk quartet dropped some smooth analog-heavy grooves that seemed to levitate and swim around, full of steam yet relaxed. Not high energy as much as very danceable, this group should get things off the ground and take it places, although their isn’t much room for just hanging around with some of the other funk heavyweights bringing in the noise and the crunk.
DJ Logic and Project Logic hit the stage after the brief interlude with a top-notch performance chock full of the band’s cutting edge funky downtempo trip hop and jazzy-fat-nasty breaks. Bassist Lamont McCaine took charge early on with thunderous rolls, gold teeth blinging in the Massachusetts sunshine.
Mike Weitman manipulated a vast array of keyboards and sequencers as Logic and drummer Stephen Roberson rocked breaks and beats, sometimes succeeding but constantly cross checking the envelope, all the while leaving the true spotlight on the best utility player in the game, all-world keyboardist/saxaphonist/vocoder/ mad-other-shit-caper Casey Benjamin.
The New York City crew mixed old school jams off the Project’s first album, Logic favorites “Late Night” and “French Quarter” from the more recent The Anomaly (Rope-a-dope), and newer drum and bass and hip-house experiments.
Project Logic continued its ascension up the ladder from underground beatsmiths into a new evolution of club culture and NYC sound science. Judging from the reception given back by the cooking Berkfest massive, Logic and company had better don some shades.
Next came the John Scofield Band who is really on some shit these days. Taking the stage during a beautiful final Berkfest sunset, the temperature began to cool out to a nice breeze for the audience but the heat was on. And the scorching flames stood well over three feet high and rising as the jazz guitar great dropped some ridiculous sonic concoctions on the fertile ears that congregated in great numbers as the festival neared its destination.
Drummer extraordinaire and all-world sickass Adam Deitch has completely revamped Scofield’s vision and their unification of chops and desire has produced an evolving sound that grows by leaps and bounds each time I have the pleasure of witnessing their voodoo.
Electro beats pulsated behind leslie drenched guitar dissonance, spiced by guitarist/sampler maven Avi Bortnick’s complimentary give way to breakneck drum and bass that is as rugged and rough as mid nineties London jungle in “Jungle Fiction,” then revealing hip-hop funk with a side of raging guitar in the hilarious “Watch Out For Po-Po,” complete with ‘Po-Po’ audience participation. Some of the most dynamic, genre-defying and authenticating compositions this writer has ever witnessed was hit during Uberjam, confirming that the John Scofield Band is pushing the envelope right alongside electro-rangers The New Deal and STS9.
This performance saw the debut of new bassist Andy Hess (Black Crowes, Britney Spears… FACT!) and judging from the JSB soundman’s backstage reaction shortly after the set, I think Mr. Hess passed the audition. I guess Ms. Spears is in the market for a new bassist.
As Sco and Co. prepare for world domination this fall on a tour that trots across the globe, the Deitch factor at Berkfest resonated from within the beatmaster and spread throughout the awestruck masses. Wait ‘til the rest of the world get a load of him.
Now the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Heavyweights Medeski Martin & Wood were the headliners at the High Sierra Festival this year as well. They are at the top of the game these days as a band and as individuals. Billy Martin has been out performing and recording his passions in the worlds of percussion and turntablism and Chris Wood and John Medeskiare always out playing. But when they are together the three-headed monster wreaks the power of trilogy. 3 is the magic number. But on this night, maybe 5 can be the exception to the rule.
Taking some time to ensure audio perfection only added to the suspense and upon their arrival, the place just went berserk. An enormous balloon monster made its way toward the stage as the band got the place jumping right from the start. John Medeski beat heavily on the B-3 creating a sonic whirlwind as if he was tempting a lion from its den for a little playtime. Then, hopping over to the concert grand, an item rarely seen onstage with this band anymore, the band dropped into the frenetic piano trio characters they often play.
This is where the power of three really came out. Their movements were consistently seamless as the band dropped out for some IllyB breaks and then hit on the Shackman favorite “Think,” sending the place into a frenzy while in the back corner sat new bandmates Adam Deitch and Andy Hess along with Logic and Sam Kinnenger watching Chris Wood’s torrent upright solo.
Bringing up John Scofield and congratulating Chris Wood on his new baby girl, the band dropped the funk basic “Boozer” off of that album they recorded together. Giving up to Sco for an extended solo that the man just tore up, the band turned the song’s bridge into some old-school boogaloo. (But who missed the change on the way back? Scofield says not me).
DJ Logic jumped on to complete the long anticipated quartet. All five just continued to vibe off of each other superbly, locking it in the pocket with all kinds of flavor. Scofield exited to allow for a little Logic airtime as Medeski showed why he’s the third Analog Brother.
The band encored with a number from the Uninvisible record harkening to the beat from “The PJs” track from the comedic and crunked out Prince Paul and Dan the Automator collaboration “Handsome Boy Modeling School.” Although most of the set’s other points were quite high, the encore selection was of no great significance. If anything, it was somewhat soft compared to what we have come to expect from this trio over the years.
As MMW finished it was hard to conceal the emotions. The festival was near over, most of the people were packing it in and hitting the road somewhat signifying the end of the summer season. The events of this weekend were the perfect punctuation mark, everything had been wonderful, but there was a little more to do before we called it quits.
Somehow I managed to summon just enough energy to check my boys Lettuce for the final late night hoedown at the Lower Lodge. For an nearly two hours, this all-star line-up, which includes Deitch, Krasno, Zoidis, Kinninger, and this evening Casey Benjamin (along with a host of other lesser known crunk monsters) dropped breakbeats, Thrust-era Herbie Hancock styled workouts, just relentless hard edged funk and more funk to you nearly collapsed.
Exploring songs off their recently released banger Outta Here with ridiculous classic teases and riddles, Lettuce put a resounding exclamation point on this festival of mammoth proportions, a fitting over the top finale to a weekend nearly beyond description. They just assaulted the audience, getting down for the funk of it, and silencing all those who profile and front.
If one were to look up the definition of “holding it down,” they would find a glossy photo of Mr. Adam Deitch, all bboy, headphones and octopus flailing fury, with a shit eating grin. This young man is straight destined for greatness. Check him out. Immediately.
Unable to catch Particle and Lake Trout in the Upper Lodge, we soon found the pop-lock-doc Ian Perry and partner in crime NYC playboy Johnny Beach who let us know with their sweaty shirts and big fat grins that things got pretty hot up there.
And just when you think it’s all over, something comes along to whack you upside the head.
Outside the realms of the normal festival experience, it was interesting to watch and learn from both the backstage craziness and the general population’s utter madness and debauchery. Highlights from the former include Steve Kimock humbly introducing himself to John Scofield, or Radioactive offering veg-heads STS9 pepperoni pizza.
The really balls out humor and intrigue could be found out in the woods, near the sometimes hairy but always entertaining ‘Shakedown.’ Late Sunday evening, as I was preparing for departure I came upon one of the craziest scenes I may have ever witnessed.
About two hundred people crammed into a small area on ‘Shakedown’ were taking part in what can only be described as a titty contest! It was ridiculous, shameful, humorous and appalling all in one, but the crowd just got larger and larger and the stakes higher.
Two Mounties rolled in on horses and watched in horror/amazement from afar; I think they feared the repercussions if they intervened but had to watch to make sure no girls were assaulted. The prize: THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS!! Pooled together from the people who stumbled upon the scene dumbfounded. For the record, a red-dreaded pig-tailed starlet from Vermont took home the cheese. Definitely an absurd way to close out Berkfest, and made for some laughter as we drove home through daybreak.
One word: Success. All in all this gathering brought out the best both in the music and in the people. After four hard weekends, the fifth became the charm and the Berkfest experience drew the blueprint for future festivals. A few mishaps and lots of laughter made this festival one for the ages, and the challenge mammalian protuberances may have brought a completely new dimension to the summer festival agenda.
Big up to the people at Gamelan and all the musicians, artists and friends we met and shared with at Berkfest. See you there again next year.