Catskill Chill 2012 @ Camp Minglewood – September 7-9
Words: Chadbyrne R. Dickens
Photos: Vernon Webb
Chill is not the first word that comes to mind when recalling an experience at a magical festival nestled among the Catskill Mountains in Hancock, New York over the September 7th-9th weekend. A non-stop bombardment of relentless musical fury left many with endless positive memories of the laughing, raging and dancing that delivered exquisite musical memories across three stages.
[All Photos by Vernon Webb]
With a festival pass for only $125, Catskill Chill presented varied offerings apt to wet attendees’ appetites and satiate anyone’s palette: Livetronica lovers spinned out to Lotus, Break Science and Conspirator. Funk fans jived out with Lettuce, EOTO and Soulive while jam aficionados were fortunate to have plenty of opportunities to consistently groove with offerings like The Heavy Pets, JGB with Melvin Seals, Yarn, and Kung Fu. Jamgrass fans cut a rug with Cornmeal and headliners Yonder Mountain String Band. The list of over 40 infectiously fun bands who performed on the festival’s three stages also included hard-to-categorize acts Particle, Kick Rocks, Rubblebucket, Wyllys and the Jennifer Hartswick Band.
In its third year, Catskill Chill has exponentially increased in size and popularity. With last year’s attendance number of 2,700 jumping to a plateau this year, the promoters placed a cap on further ticket sales in order to maintain the integrity of the intimate festival they started because “everyone feels like part of the Family at Catskill Chill.” The family vibe was shared immediately as members from the amazing up and coming bands FiKus and ShwizZ greeted guests upon arrival. Fans were delighted to meet the band members over the weekend as they actually shared the “Shwikus” cabin on the grounds and provided an assortment of intimate and adventurous jam sessions throughout the weekend.
Inexplicably, much has been made of the horrific storm that hit the Camp on Saturday with 60 mph winds. When one is at a festival, they should anticipate rain, mud and sometimes even freezing temperatures as it’s a festival – expect the unexpected and roll with it. For those huddled in a comfortable cabin with dear friends, the hour that the storm came through provided an opportunity to recharge batteries and afforded the chance to relish how fortunate they were to be back and witnessing a spectacular event. The storm one was more apt to be euphorically crushed by was the one brewing amongst Acoustic Junction, the Main, B and Club Chill Stages. Below I share some of the memorable musical moments.
Saturday’s Musical Highlights
Rubblebucket / 5:30pm-7:00pm / Main Stage
After my first experience with Rubblebucket at Bonnaroo this year, I reviewed the group’s sound and style as “reminiscent of Feist>Company of Thieves>Bjork.” However, with more exposure to the unusual band from Burlington, Vermont, the greater respect one must garner for front woman Kalmia Traver as a rare talent, who admires Patti Smith and the creativity of Lady Gaga, yet possesses a vision and a flair all her own.
As the band makes a name for themselves, quickly amassing new fans at festivals and venues across the land, it’s good to be Rubblebucket. It is also good to be a Rubblebucket fan and tell friends they must attend a show, knowing one is witnessing a band before they break out in monster fashion. Wearing a leopard leotard, Kalmia Traver pranced about the stage with an edgy, creative effervescence that is as contagious as the party music the band creates. Band leader Alex Toth and Traver formed the band in Burlington attempting to break boundaries and a mission to ultimately become a huge stadium show headliner.
Again, Rubblebucket proved adept at sparking a dance party that provided a powerful punchy blast where everyone is invited, complete with dancing robots in the crowd. With a strong rendition of their most known song, She Came Out of a Lady, the band non too subtlety showcased why they are an ensemble so easily addictive to many. A very intense performer, I asked Traver where she goes when she goes to “that place.” She stated, “I have not done my job if I don’t go to that place.” She did a great job of taking us there with her at Catskill Chill.
Set List: Breatherez, Worker, Silly Fathers, Pain, Bikes, Caverns, Ooh, Oversaturated, L’Homme, Came Out of a Lady, November
Soulive / 11:20pm-12:40pm / Main Stage
Any aficionado of powerful soul music, certainly in the New York area, is well-versed with these cats. Having seen many of their shows at the annual 10-night run at Brooklyn Bowl in recent years dubbed Bowlive, there were those in the crowd who were surprised that Soulive’s performance at Catskill Chill was where they chose to deliver one of the their and the weekend’s best. Set for a prime Saturday night party slot, they blew many in attendance away with a deep set of seemingly limitless scope. The trademark sound of Krasno’s guitar with Neal “Octopus” Evans coolly plotting down notes on his keys transfixed a packed and enlightened crowd to rage.
With the addition of a brass section including The Shady Horns of Ryan Zoidis (sax) and Eric Blue (trumpet), the building bounced and nearly burst. Fan favorite Beatles cover Eleanor Rigby was crackling with energy as Kraz quickly leaped up the instrumental chorus on his guitar ala Mr. Garcia. The stellar rendition of Hendrix’s Third Stone from the Sun could only be trumped by their ability to win a crowd over with a Tears For Fears cover as Everybody Wants to Rule the World featured Nigel Hall taking over deeply passionate and soulful vocals and effectively the show.
Set List: Hat Trick, El Ron, Eleanor Rigby, Third Stone from the Sun, Lenny, Too Much> Everybody Wants to Rule the World, James Brown Medley
Wyllys / 3:00am-5:00am / Club Chill
Having played to so many festival crowds and having delivered gigs across the countr, Wyllys (Wade Ellis Wilby), continues to make such a mark on the scene as a re-edit and nu disco spinster that most barely recall his long tenure as an important member of the crew for Umphrey’s McGee. Wyllys performed the first two nights but his late night Saturday show with the Philadelphia Hustler Ensemble was one to remember for the relatively modest crowd wise enough to enter the party at Club Chill.
Different from the brass-laden sounds when he performs with the New York Hustler Ensemble incarnation, this outfit consists of the stellar guitar and bass duo of Damn Right and DVS. No one mixes vinyl and a live band like Wyllys. While improvising over 75% of the gig, house classics were dropped including Tony Senghore’s Signs of Love and Blockhead’s People Get Up. Highlights included a Wyllys-conducted section of improvisation as well as a remix of the New York Hustler Ensemble’s original song Comin’ For Your Money. Wyllys has often been on the bill at a festival or venue this year that I attended and I have never missed him. If you like to get your swerve on proper, I suggest you don’t either.
Other exciting acts on Saturday included: Consider the Source, The Alchemystics, lespecial, Alan Evans Trio, The Indobox, Schwizz, On the Spot Trio, Headtronics, Yonder Mountain String Band, KRAX, Derek VanScoten, Zoogma, DJ Logic, Break Science and Particle.
Sunday’s Musical Highlights
Jennifer Hartswick Band / 3:00pm-4:30pm / Main Stage
Too often when one has established some mainstream success, they are pigeon-holed with the label derived from that exposure. Well, to only know the multi-talented Jennifer Hartswick as a “member of Big Red’s horn section” is not only slighting her, but yourself, as one will not be privy to the full and multi-dimensional live show she delivers. As a woman, Jennifer is a role-model for many of her peers from mentoring Natalie Cressman, composing songs, a band leader in numerous outfits and the personification of a multi-threat talent.
There is nothing this woman can’t do and she demonstrated it again on the Main Stage Sunday afternoon. Hartswick has a layered and soulful sound that makes one only sit back, watch and take it all in with amazement. From the intensely passionate way she delivers her horn to the plentiful pouring of emotion out of her pipes, a Jennifer Hartswick show is reminiscent of the glory days of rock and roll when the entertainment actually entertained in various ways. She impressed a crowd with her intensely soulful cover of Stevie Wonder’s You Haven’t Done Nothing while simultaneously pleasing Phish fans by including a First Tube tease. Jennifer demonstrated her vocal chops further by tackling a cover of How Long Do I Have to Wait by Sharon Jones. She was not the only talented female on the stage as her friend, and very well-respected drummer, Nikki Glaspie (Dumpstaphunk, Beyonce) banged away with style behind the kit.
Set List: You Got the Love, If You Don’t Want to Wait, Tangled, On + On, You Haven’t Done Nothing, Liar, Let Me In, Drown in My Tears, How Long Do I Have to Wait, Blame It on the Boogie
Lotus / 8:00pm-10:00pm / Main Stage
As expected, the strongest buzz amongst the brethren at Chill was the fervent anticipation for the Sunday headlining set from the intense innovators who have consistently proven to dominate any festival they are a part of. Having written the band as a highlight at both the All Good and Mountain Jam Festivals, due to intricate and mesmerizing late night sets, I knew this was a “can’t miss” showcase.
Fresh off a strong performance at the crown jewel for musicians, a gig at Red Rocks in Colorado, the boys from Indiana again proved that they are a tour de force in the live arena through delivery of yet another smashing two-hour set. Mike Rempel (guitar), Jesse Miller (bass), Mike Greenfield (drums), Luke Miller (keyboards) and Chuck Morris (percussion) are quickly taking status as the masters of an unusual and boundary breaking multi-genre experience. Lotus delighted their fan base through sharing a rare look at Caywood off the live Germination record, an exploration in ascending guitar shredding with Livingston Storm before seguing into the danceable ditty Down.
Set List: Suitcases, The Surf, Livingston Storm> Down, Nematode, Break Build Burn, Behind Midwest Storefronts, Tip of the Tongue, The Oaks, Grayrigg, Caywood, It’s All Clear to Me Now>128
Yarn / 12:30am-1:25am / B Stage
With a plethora of impressive up and coming bands at Chill, none made a statement like this jam outfit from Brooklyn. Coming at you with a fresh take on an old-school tradition, this band is often lumped in with Cornmeal and Railroad Earth, but is much more in the “Grateful Dead and Widespread Panic” tradition than rooted solely in jamgrass. Boasting an intense country-rock sound, singer/songwriter Blake Christiana led a talented lineup including Trevor MacArthur (Vocals, Guitar), Andrew Hendryx (Mandolin, Harmonica), Rod Hohl (Guitar), Rick Bugel (bass) and Robert Bonhomme (Drums).
Formed in 2007, the band has remained in the same incarnation with the exception of the replacement behind the drum kit which Christiana states, “completely changed the sound almost like we are a brand new band.” The lesser known band relished the opportunity to win over new fans at Chill after afforded the chance to play two sets. A band full of veteran Dead Heads, they first delivered one of the stronger sets of Grateful Dead covers one can witness. Despite a performance that ran concurrently with Lotus’ set, the intimate Club Chill venue was packed, one couldn’t hear a pin drop during the poignant and moving Brokedown Palace encore.
After initially sharing a successful Dead set at Floyd Fest two years ago somewhat as a fluke, it has proven to display their prowess in the process. A well-received set of original material followed, with members of Lotus in attendance cheering them on, as the band offered a number of selections from their most recent album, Almost Home. The multi-Grammy Award nominated outfit shared their contagious hit, the one with a video on CMT called Annie as well as a memorable Lights Off which started with an infectious drum beat only to segue into a groove that flows from there and ignited folks to move. The band continues to tour heavily, with a New York City stop in the works for December, a 3-song EP Dark Skies that was released last month on iTunes and an acoustic record release is imminent. This is a band one may not know yet, but they soon will.
Other performances on Sunday included: Timbre Coup, Folkadelics, McLovins, Cornmeal, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, FiKus, Damn Right!, Horizon Wireless, The Heavy Pets and Kick Rocks.
One can easily outline the plethora of reasons why Catskill Chill is quickly earning a reputation as one of the most satisfying festivals on the circuit. However, it may be easier to make a case for it by sharing the reasons why not to go to next year: None. Catskill Chill is located at Camp Minglewood, leaving one to recall Bob Weir belting out, “a couple more shots of whiskey, I’m going down to Minglewood.” Many of us will be going down again, as we discovered that although the festival affords many opportunities to Chill, a more apropos moniker, as most in attendance would confirm, is Catskill Thrill.
Here’s a full gallery of Catskill Chill photos by Vernon Webb…