Far Out Fridays & Jammin’ like Jerry with Mac Demarco at Green Man Festival
Situated in the lush Brecon Beacon mountains of South Wales, Green Man festival was as much an experience of natural beauty as it was of discovering great music from a multitude of genres. Acts included Beirut, Mac Demarco, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Melodic, as well as several other rising artists from all over the globe. ‘Green’ was a theme for the fest for its aims of environmental awareness, the lush surrounding landscapes, and the large Green Man statue built of flowers and trees. The central icon of the festival, the structure was filled with handwritten notes of festival patrons, young and old, with special wishes ranging from ‘happiness for all’ to more specific desires. At the finale of the weekend the Green Man was set ablaze in a ceremonial manner, bringing to mind Burning Man, though the grounds were quite the antipode of an endless Nevada desert.
The festival boasted many stages, art installations, and areas of discovery including the main Mountain stage, an area for rising artists, a quaint Walled Garden stage, an extensive Welsh Beer & Cider Festival onsite, and an unexpected amount of global groove at the Chai Wallahs stage. Rock and alternative sounds filled the Far Out stage, ensuring that vibes were never in short supply at Green Man.
On Saturday at the Walled Garden, solo artist Julie Byrne of Seattle was a pleasant surprise—an enchanting female vocalist with soothing electric riffs. Later in the evening at the garden, Jeffrey Lewis and the Jrams kept it interesting with the straight-forward lyrics and gentle melodies of “When You’re By Yourself” to the more comical and liberal historical documentary songs complete with homemade projection slides. Throughout the weekend the Chai Wallahs stage was a true hidden gem, which brought some real jams-funk, bluegrass, reggae, even Celtic sounds. One such act was Bristol’s Sheelanagig. Described as a ‘Balkan jazz-folk mayhem’, Sheelanagig boasted insane energy and uniqueness with a flute as a focal instrument. It was these European ‘gypsy’, and worldly musical influences that added a totally different (and incredible) dimension to the sounds customary of jamgrass bands. Included in this array was South London’s ‘Afro-folk’ groove act, The Melodic, planting modern roots with instruments like the Chilean Charango, auto harp, and melodica. The ensemble’s joyful sounds and groovy ‘folk-drops’ soothed many souls as the end of a long musical weekend came to a close.
Yet one of the most memorable acts of the whole weekend was night one-Friday at the Far Out stage with Mac Demarco. It was a wild performance filled with crowd-surfing, beam-climbing, and serenading. Security and audience alike were surprised to see Mac dive into the crowd, surf over to the support beam of the tent, and climb 20 feet, falling straight back into the waiting arms of his fans. Mac’s onstage charisma affected all members of the audience as he introduced his song ‘I’m A Man’ with dedication to all the guys, and as the pace slowed and serenade kicked in, ’Still Together’ for “all the ladies”. After the show Mac sat down for a quick chat about the Grateful Dead, classic rock inspirations, and keepin’ it real.
Mac: You can pretend I’m Phish if you want (laughs).
You like the Grateful Dead, right?
Mac: Yeah, yeah.
How have they inspired you with your music?
Mac: Well I didn’t get really into them until the past half of year, maybe a year I guess, but I have been listening to them for quite awhile. I’ve just gotten into looking up all the weird live shit lately, but the main thing for me I think, is that because of listening to Jerry’s guitar work It makes me want to play my guitar again. I’ve got these couple tricks I’ve been doing since I’ve been playing the guitar for years, but Jerry uses this other scale, the Mixolydian scale. So I looked that up, and you just learn that scale and you’re jamming like Jerry! It’s amazing! Before we went on this tour a couple hours out of the day I would put on a “Fire on the Mountain” backing track…
And just jam with it?
Mac: Yeah, it was pretty fun actually.
Do you have a favorite Grateful Dead song?
I really love “Unbroken Chain.” [He sings “Unbroken Chain*] What else is great? “Touch of Grey” is great. I love “Shakedown Street.” The great thing about that band is there are so many different recordings of every song, so you find one song you’re into and it’ll take you like three months to listen to it because there’s so many versions of it. It’s pretty cool.
What are some other inspirational bands for you?
I went into that phase where it’s classic rock. Beatles. Led Zeppelin. But bands like Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, even The Doors, and I still like The Doors a lot actually, but a lot of them faded away. But then The Beatles, The Kinks, Harry Nilsson, shit like that, I can still listen to today and be like, “wow this is fucking amazing”. Maybe it’s less cheesy to me or something. I just really like pop songs.
What inspires you to write music?
It depends on what’s going on in my life. Right now I got a lot of weird shit going on so I have plenty to write about. Other times I write about stuff that happened before, but I got a couple rules about that too. I don’t want to tell anyone what to do, and I don’t want to write about anything I don’t know about. So pretty much all that is left is my life, and I don’t feel like an asshole writing about that because I’m the one living it.
What do you like about the Green Man vibe?
I like that everybody speaks English, that’s a lot easier for me than other places. It’s not super duper huge, and it’s environmentally conscious, which is nice at festivals. Walking around there are a lot of young children here, which I think keeps the vibe a little better than just guys who want to fight each other and do MDMA all day. I think it’s pretty pleasant.
Do you have a favorite festival you like to play?
Mac: We just played this one outside of Portland in Oregon in Happy Valley called Pickathon. It was on a farm kind of like this…really, really just easy breezy. They just book whatever bands they want to book. Everybody’s having a good time. That was really cool. We ended up camping there two nights. The other festival I really love, we did it maybe last year, is outside Melbourne. It’s called Meredith-same sort of vibe. Everybody camps. That one’s cool because it has one stage so you can’t miss anything and no one is overlapping. If you wanna watch the music why the fuck would we make it hard for everyone? Let’s make it easy.
You’ve been touring pretty successfully for awhile. What made that happen for you?
Mac: I’ve been touring a lot pretty much since I finished high school, but in the end one thing leads to another I guess. The way it started…we were touring through the states, and played at this place called Lexington, Kentucky. I meet this kid. He moves to New York a couple years later. I put this album out on the internet, and he’s playing it in this record store he got a job at. The guy that owns my record label now also owned the record store. He walks in, says, “what the fuck is this?” Then I get a weird email. So it all works out in the end.
What advice would you give to young musicians?
Mac: A lot of kids ask me that question nowadays because they’re like, “How did it work for you?” But the whole point of doing it is not to make it work, it’s to enjoy doing it. So if you want to be immediately on a record label and have your shit, maybe it’ll happen, but it’s not why you should be doing it. So just enjoy it and do it if you like doing it. If you got friends that like doing it, that’s great, play with them, but don’t try to. Especially those kids that get together and say, “Our band’s gotta look this _this_”. Well, your band’s gonna look like shit so you better check yourself. “Real recognize real” as my good friend Juan says. And that’s it.