Daddy, Where Do Hippie Festivals Come From?
(Padre’s Disclaimer#1): I’m late. Pathetically, hopelessly late. This column
is so late that Dean Budnick even wrote me a note asking if I had any plans
to turn anything in. If you have read my column before, then I’m sure you
have been aquatinted with the merciless Jon Schwartz and the fear he strikes
into my heart. Although he hasn’t called to tell me that my social security
number has been deleted from the files, thus erasing my status as an
American citizen, I know I’m doomed to a worse fate when I see him on the
lonely, cold streets of Manhattan. Lord, have mercy on this white boy from
Most of this column was written on the April/May East Coast tour. I wanted
to give a behind the scenes perspective to any of the festivals you, the
fun-loving reader who may attend a few shindigs this summer. I’m sure I was
about to finish it when my own festival, the Big Wu Family Reunion, required
the attention of yours truly. Then my friend and fellow musical confederate,
Chris Castino, went in for open-heart surgery. And then, and then, and then.
As it all turns out, the Family Reunion was a joy, Chris is recovering, and
I’m going to finish my column. Thank you, gentle reader; Dean I’m sorry for
being a flake; and please Mr. Schwartz, no more whippings! I just can’t bear
(Padre’s Disclaimer #2): While I’m not exactly feeling remorseful in raking
muck on certain promoters, agents, and other pieces of scum in this
confession, I want to state for the record that everyone I mention in this
article is free of any and all charges of wrong doing. Again; of the bands,
promoters, and stalwarts of our scene are free of all suggested
implications, indiscretions, infidelities, etc.
Except for one.
This disclaimer DOES NOT forgive a most unscrupulous loser that I call Mr.
Vanish. Jambands.com, Relix Magazine, nor anyone else connected to this
column is responsible for what I write. Mr. Vanish, if you would like to
contact me for any reason, I hope you have my check for $2500. Otherwise
call my lawyer, you dumb Fuck. Amen.
A HISTORY OF OUR SCENE
As far as the relative age of musicians in this scene goes, I’m still
relatively young. And at the grand old age of thirty-one years of age, I’d
like to pretend that I’m not too old to show up at a kegger and be mistaken
for the host’s parents. (And if there is a day when any one of you tykes
find me too long in the tooth to drink beer at four AM, please tell me to
take my Geritol and go to bed. But say it nice. I’m old and probably
When I was just getting into the scene, seven years ago, my humble band was
handing out flyers for a free impromptu gig/memorial gathering honoring that
Jerry Garcia guy. (If you don’t recognize the name, check a history book. He
played guitar in some band.) I had joined the Wu a few months before, seen
that Jerry guy a few times, and understood that something very important had
just happened when Mr. Garcia checked out permanently.
Outside of the Dead, Phish, and a handful of great stalwart bands and your
local jammers, there wasn’t the huge national circuit of jam bands that roam
the interstate highways twelve months a year like there is today. The spirit
of the scene was fresh. Many of the groups that have become country-crossing
theatre headlining acts were, at one time, your regional source for getting
something that you couldn’t get before. Spreading the music took a bit of
personal investment of your time: spinning tapes (better be Maxell or
nothing at all!), swapping blanks plus postage to get the goods on something
new, or just turning folks on by word of mouth made the discovery of new
music possible. It was something to be shared among friends, like passing a
In short, the whole scene was creating the vibe of community better than we
knew. New York’s premiere working band venue, the Wetlands, granted every
band ready to make the journey into Manhattan a stage to play. Great
festivals had popped up around the country, giving the scene a sonic
Disneyland for freaks. Roy Carter’s High Sierra anchored the West Coast
while Ken Hayes’ Gathering of the Vibes along with Andrew Stahl’s Berkshire
Music Fest gave compliment to the East. These shindigs solidified a growing
feeling that was brewing everywhere: ‘Jerry was gone, baby, gone, but the
thrill of honest music was quite alive’. Folks were encouraged to spend a
weekend with open ears and continue the simple joys of getting together and
New and exciting bands sprouted like weeds. The Disco Biscuits married
electronica with live musicians, SCI scooped bluegrass away from guys with
corn-cob pipes and Osh Gosh B’Gosh overalls. For good or evil, every member
of the Grateful Dead had a new project to reinterpret the past. Some bands,
such as Moon Boot Lover, got busy and then splintered into several great
bands while other musicians joined forces from one band to another to find
their niche. Changing, swapping, sitting in, dropping out, fucking around.
everyone always looking for the thing that shakes the all mighty ass. What
Of course, the scene grew. Tapes gave way to CD burners, internet downloads
did away with mailing blanks plus postage. Someone’s local fave hit the road
and showed up tired and hungry in your town. Maybe you went to check ‘em
out. Why not? You liked what you heard on the CDR, so how can you afford
not to risk a whopping four dollars at the door? At least we weren’t
watching ‘NBC: Must See Thursday’ after Seinfeld went south.
As with everything, ‘where there’s fire, there’s bound to be smoke’, (or in
our case, ‘where there’s smoke, there must be something fun going on.’). The
popularity of the jam-band scene began to get noticed by the folks who turn
the wheels of the music business. The earliest attempts to break bands into
million-selling stars hit the skids. The record executives at Sony 550 must
have had several small heart attacks trying to market moe.‘s terrific No Doy
album to people. They tried everything, except for the way the band had
originally found success getting their music to the fans: by word of mouth
and good ol’ underground momentum.
Other record companies attempted to scale back the over-the-top promotion of
the majors. These upstarts tried to synthesize more efficient marketing
schemes with volunteer street teams to get bands off the ground. Instead of
advancing tons of dough to make records that won’t sell 1.5 million copies
the first month of release, some of these companies substituted recording
budgets (read: no money to use good studios) with ‘expert assistance’ (read:
professionals without jobs at major record companies). Predictably, when
this business plan failed to produce favorable results, some of these
companies reverted to the tried and true method of ruining musician’s
careers: they instituted the ethics and practices of major labels. As an
example, imagine a pyramid scheme where instead of money, musician’s
royalties are criminally distributed up the corporate ladder for a most
inequitable profit sharing of the sinister corporate kind. Usually, this
happened before these ‘professionals’ retired their filthy lucre behind the
safe confines of bankruptcy court.
Oh well. As long as musicians still had their instruments, they could play
live for rent money. And play we did. As the economy took a dump from 2000
on, bands of all stripes toured all the more. ‘Have gas card, will travel!’
And yet, this didn’t go unnoticed by folks with deep pockets. You see, no
matter which way the economic wind blows, people need to be entertained.
While the regular working Joe may have to wait until the NASDAQ turns around
to lease that new VW, concert tickets are still relatively cheap. Perhaps
CSN&Y couldn’t move as many $125 gold circle seats as before, especially
when the same dough buys a weekend at Bonnaroo with a hundred fine bands,
none of them singing yet another rendition of ‘Our House’. But it won’t
break the average freak’s bank to lay out fifteen bucks to see Karl Denson
at the local club.
It was during this time that our scene started to get, for lack of a better
word, professional. But let me take you back to the good ‘ol days for a
HOW TO NURTURE A SCENE-
When the Big Wu threw the first Family Reunions, the plan was simple: Take
the best aspects of all the festivals we’ve played (great music, the best
sound system money can buy, backstage beer and catering that made one forget
about home) and make it all happen in one place. While we were at it, we
felt it would be prudent to eliminate the crap; a lack of clean
Port-O-Potties and a plethora of bone-headed security goons come to mind.
These weekend-long music festivals are really just a giant party. Like any
host worth their salt, we find it imperative to invite the closest of our
personal friends. Since good manners and talent are bred into the fine
people of Minnesota, friends of the Wu have been gracious enough to pair
their polite and helpful manners with their considerable talents. Thus, the
Reunion has always relied upon our friends, year after year, to cook food
that inspires jams, direct parking, help garbage find its way to a dumpster
and to execute a gazillion other tasks with zest. It is these folks, who
selflessly give their time and talent, that make the party something to
We also felt that we ought to pay bands more than they would be worth, and
schedule nice fat two-hour time slots to give the audience a thrill. Don’t
get me wrong when I say ‘more than they would be worth’. I live on the road,
and getting shafted in the paycheck is as inevitable as taxes and death. We
paid bands what we wanted to get paid if we played at any festival. Really,
it was quite a revelation, to treat musicians as humans, not like the
over-worked, under-fed, wandering minstrels we are. Simply, we set the stage
for bands to show up, play like somebody cared, and go home with something
in their pockets.
As a general rule, we always invited bands to the Reunion that we had played
with on the road. There was no doubt that our home crowd needed to hear all
this great music. And what good stuff came our way! The Biscuits, Yonder
Mountain, STS9, All Mighty Senators, Dave Nelson, Leftover and so many more,
all good shit.
Times change, some bands faded, other grew in popularity. Quite fairly,
booking agents asked for more money as their bands discovered success by
working hard and playing great shows. Some bands needed more than our paltry
budget could afford, which is a good thing, in my opinion. Others found a
way to squeeze into a slot out of their own good nature. Thus, by hook or
crook, the Family Reunion goes on. However, this is where the fun starts.
If you haven’t noticed, the number of music festivals has grown
exponentially over the last few years. There’s a festival for everything
under the sun: Honoring seasons (Equinox Fest), attitudes (Allgood Fest),
altitudes (all the various Mountain Festivals), praising flowers (Magnolia
Fest), roaming circus’ (Further, Ozzfest). There are so many festivals that
we’re bound to run out of reasonable names for our beloved beer and bong
bashes. (I don’t know where it is, but you can bet someone on the cover of
Relix will be headlining the 1st Annual Stamp Day Fest this summer.)
This is all good and fine by me. Nothing beats playing outside in the
summer. The stars are out, the bodies have less clothes to encumber crazy
dancing. Everyone smiles and wears sunglasses at 11:30 PM. Yahoo! And fun it
is. However, have you ever wondered when your brain is reeking and your body
is spinning: Who’s the clown running this circus?
PROMOTERS- WHO ARE THEY, AND WHY DON’T THEY EVER COME OUT AND ENJOY THE MUSIC?
Promoters are the risk takers, the bankroll, the folks who inspire the
gathering and pay for the garbage man to clean it up. They don’t mind
negotiating with booking agents. They seem to have an affinity for pressing
flesh with members of the county seat and chat with the local sheriff on a
first name basis. A promoter is that friend you had that could butter up
your mom while you’re both on acid and convince her to fork over the car
keys at midnight. A promoter gets a band to play at a party and intends to
pay them with cash they don’t have.
However, the more parties that get thrown, the thinner the talent pool
spreads. And I don’t mean the music. There are plenty of good bands to go
around. I’m talking about the talent of the host of the party, the promoter.
I’ve mentioned a couple of great festival promoters a few paragraphs ago,
but I would be remiss if I didn’t recount any of the follies I’ve fallen
Let’s face it, all festivals aren’t created equal. For example, I’ve played
too many festivals where the sound system, the very lifeblood of the party,
is a piece of shit. And that is just a shame. After packing up all the
camping gear, food, liquids, and everything else one might need for a
weekend, folks show up and find that great music is being played out of a PA
that has all the fidelity of my ass. The idiots behind this sonic crime
figure that once they have your dollars, there’s nothing you can do, except
make the best of it.
Last summer, we played an atrocity of a festival in Ohio, aptly named the
‘Vanish Fest’. We were slated to headline two nights, but I can’t conjure
any excuse why we didn’t turn tale and drive back to Minnesota the second we
arrived. The promoter, whom I’ll call ‘Mr. Vanish’, co-wrote the one-hit
wonder ‘Green Tambourine’ while playing drums for whatever phony-baloney
psychedelic band hit the pop-lottery in the late-sixties. This should have
been ample warning to run fast, but no one has ever accused me of being
We played the first night to a whopping crowd of fifty or so. By 2:30 the
next afternoon, the sound company, most of the food vendors and all of his
staff picked up and left after it became clear that Mr. Tambourine had
vanished with all the money and wasn’t coming back for an encore.
To this day, February’s Old Style zealot, Potzy Porter, loves to call me at
inappropriate times of the night screaming: ‘Listen while I PLAY-PLAY-PLAY,
my Green Tambourine!’ He laughs maniacally and hangs up. This is all good
and fine by me. I just hope his parent’s pastor appreciates the twenty-three
video volumes of ‘Herpes Girls Gone Wild’ I charged to his mother’s Visa
card and donated to the parish.
LET’S BE CAREFUL OUT THERE!
Since I’m so tardy in submitting my column to Jambands.com, and I don’t
think I could endure anymore whippings from Herr Budnick or the stern (but
fair!) Jon Schwartz, I will do something a little out of character: I’ll get
to the point.
These days, money and time are tight. With so many festivals to choose from,
you don’t want to get yourself set up for a Bonnaroo and find yourself
getting skinned at Vanish Fest 2003.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have performed at some of the kindest
festivals this fair country has had to offer. I will even be so bold as to
claim that I’ve thrown a few good ones myself. As you now know, I’ve been
party to a couple of worst as well. With every yahoo fancying himself a
promoter in need of an event, there is a pernicious shadow of
bullshit-for-money that is creeping over our scene. I just hope that you all
see great bands that sound like a million bucks through quality sound
systems, enjoy your good times without being harassed by knuckleheads with
badges, and meet new & fascinating folks around the campfire.
Oh, and I pray that all of your midnight Port-O-Potty encounters are clean
The recipe of the month isn’t an entr You’ve had enough of those, so I
won’t tell you how to make another dish you won’t cook. Instead, I’m sharing
the blueprint for more than just a condiment; it’s a secret weapon.
If you peek at the recipe, you’ll notice there’s enough garlic for this to
qualify as a Weapon of Mass Destruction. Unlike Saddam’s phantom stash of
said WMD, there won’t be any trouble finding you in a crowd, a city, or even
a dessert. This shit will transform you into a fragrant, yet distinct,
culinary terrorist: blowing up bland food, undermining white toast, toppling
the vast powers of Listerine. Yes! You will rock! And may God strike down
the poor fool who thinks you should consider of other people’s personal
preferences when you VASTLY IMPROVE everything you eat when you accent your
meal with ROULLIE! (Pronounced: Roo-Wee)
Basically, rouille is a French garlic/peppered mayo. Made frsh, it beats the
shit out of anything in the fridge. Its uses are almost limitless: Dip your
bread, slather pork chops, dab any vegetable… It just works.
Even better, it’s easy to make.
Gather the ingredients below:
6 CLOVE GARLIC
1 TEASPOON SALT
12 LARGE BASIL LEAVES
1/3 CUP RED POMENTO or) ROASTED RED PEPPER
1/3 CUP PACKED BREAD CRUMS
1 EGG YOLK
1 CUP OLIVE OIL
FRESH PEPPER (to taste)
HOT SAUCE (as you like it, you dirty sinner!)
Okee-Dokee- In a food processor, (use your Mom’s if you have to) add and
process each ingredient, in order, one-by-one, i.e.; Add garlic, then
process while taking a swig of Old Style. Add salt, process while taking a
swig of Old Style. Add basil, process while taking a swig of Old Style. And
so on until you run out of thinks to stick in the chopper. When everything
has been added and processed, hold the chop/puree/whatever button a little
longer. The rouille will thicken (a little) after a minute. The final result
will have the consistency of a good salad dressing. Did I tell you that you
can dress salads with rouille?
One final note: Due to the wonders of using raw egg yolks, rouille will
remain fresh for about one week if refrigerated. Try to remember the date
that you make this, food poisoning sucks ass. But I doubt that past-due
rouille will be a problem- you won’t have any left after a few days. It’s
just too damn good.
This month’s Old Style Zealot is the one and only Lacy Patoch. Lacy is the
magician behind the Big Wu Family Reunion kitchen. Few people can squeeze a
modest budget and rock the appetites of twenty bands, dozens of festival
crew personal, and everyone else that sneaks backstage. A well deserved Old
Style indeed, Lacy- Cheers!