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Published: 2011/05/24
by Randy Ray

The Essence of Amberland with Brock Butler

Perpetual Groove has several festivals coming up on its summer tour schedule, including Wakarusa in early June, Riverbend in mid-June, and ECO over the July 4 weekend. But none of these festivals are as near and dear to the mighty P Groove heart as their own. 2011 marks the 10th Annual Amberland Music & Arts Festival, held at its current home at Cherokee Farms, Georgia after an initial series of festivals at different locales. The event kicks off this Friday, May 27 and sat down with front man/guitarist/vocalist Brock Butler for a pre-festival discussion about the significance of this event, the evolution of the festival, and, yes, the “essence of Amberland” according to Butler as he reflects back on P Groove’s impact on its audience and himself—past, present, and future.

RR: I’m glad we got a chance to catch up pre-Amberland festival.

BB: Actually, today I’ve got a day off and I’m going to see Paul Simon with one of my best friends. He’s doing the Hangout Fest tomorrow night, and tonight, he’s playing the Chastain Park in Atlanta. The friend that I have with me—Paul Simon has been our type of music for ten to twelve years, and it’s the first time he’s getting to see him. That’s as much fun as going to see the show itself.

RR: It’s interesting because in recent years your solo work is starting to get attention by those who may have known of the seven or eight colors that you bring to P Groove. But with your solo material, you also cover a lot of other artists, so when you speak of Paul Simon’s influence on you, it doesn’t surprise me. Are you more open these days to new colors, or have you always been that way?

BB: I’ve always had a wide-varied taste across the spectrum. Even when I was young, when I started to live primarily with my father, he was a very big Steely Dan and Harry Chapin fan. I was into Metallica, the Deftones and Pantera—heavier stuff. He would never put it on and I’d have any kind of feeling like “Oh, man—why do you have to be so uncool playing this stuff?” I’ve always enjoyed a very wide range of things.

RR: What I always loved about Steely Dan songs is that their lyrics were always so wide open that they could be about so many different things.

BB: That illustrates the point perfectly. On road trips or whenever, Dad and I would listen to a song, and he’d ask “What do you think they mean by that?” It was convoluted 70s slang. The last show that he and I caught together was Steely Dan playing at Constitution Hall in D.C. and they played The Royal Scam album start to finish. I’ve always wanted to hear “Haitian Divorce” live so when they played The Royal Scam start to finish that was pretty much a guarantee I would get to see that song. I generally go back to that album, and to see it—in all places—in the capital of our country, which is as much about the message of the “Royal Scam” really.

RR: This is the tenth annual Amberland Music & Arts Festival, so I would like you to take our readers back to its humble origins.

BB: It begins like this…We were still based in Savannah at the time. Interest from people was happening very much so in the Atlanta/Athens area. There was a married couple that was coming to shows of ours. One night, this fellow comes up to me and says he’s got a bit of property, and every Memorial Day, he’s got a big barbeque party. His wife’s name is Amberly; hence, he calls their property Amberland in honor of her.

Initially, it started as us being invited to play at a party with someone else planning it. After the third one of those, the popularity of the band had become enough where—and he was most happy about this—it started to focus on the music, and he would still serve his barbeque. As a few years passed, the grounds, the property, didn’t provide the infrastructure that we really needed to put on a—albeit, relatively small—festival. So we moved it, with his blessing, and he still brings his barbeque to the festivals.

Each year, a few more people would come each year, necessitated us to go to different properties. We tried it in a couple of different places. Now, we’ve found an area that we liked and it’s a nice one to do the tenth one and have a blast out there.

RR: Does Cherokee Farms hold any other special meaning for you?

BB: It does. Smokey is the owner of the property, and he’s hosted other festivals for a couple of years, but, ultimately, they went the way of a lot of festivals. We’ve always kept our sights and our desires to keep it slightly more intimate. This is the first year that we’ve brought other bands to have dedicated time slots other than Perpetual Groove. Normally, we’ve put it on ourselves to just play and play. I’ve very much looking forward to that, too—to walk around the grounds and enjoy the music of other bands with very much our core group of Perpetual Groove fans. I’ve started calling them “sympathizers to the cause.” They come out, and it’ll be a chance to actually get to hang, and spend some time with them. I’ve calculated that last year I physically played somewhere in the ballpark of 20 to 22 hours [at Amberland]—where I physically had a guitar in my hand from Friday until late Sunday night.

RR: How did you select the other bands that are on the Amberland bill—Zoogma, The Mantras, Under the Porch, Former Champions, and Noise[ORG]?

BB: When we were initially making the list, we were going through some transitions with a new management company and trying to figure out the whole system and who is in charge of which position and things like that, and that has been slightly tricky on us this year just because we have had so many variables and inconsistent things. That is all the unglamorous business part of it, which, unfortunately, has to happen on occasion. Initially, we had to make a decision of whether we might want to bring in one other act, a national act like someone like Umphrey’s McGee, or another band that would headline
other festivals. We just got the feeling that these bands [on the 2011 Amberland bill] are all a shade younger than us, both in their actual age and the age of their group. We’ve done gigs with each of these groups in some form or way over the past year or two, and we wanted to pick up and coming people who would be really excited to be there, and that we liked and who we’ve worked with over the past couple of years.

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