Green Apple Grooves
Throughout the weekend, over 35 New York and New Jersey venues participated in the first annual Green Apple Music and Arts Festival. The world’s largest music-based Earth Day celebration, Green Apple grew out of The Wetlands, an environmentally conscious music club which served as an incubator for such noted bands as Phish, Blues Traveler, Ben Harper and the Dave Matthews Band. While the weekend’s music ranged from symphonies to dance parties, each Green Apple venue featured literature on a number of environmental causes. A ‘no impact festival,’ the festival ‘greened’ certain venues through corn-based recycled paper products and will offset its own CO2 emissions through investment in wind-energy bills and forest bonds.
The Green Apple Music and Arts Festival was officially kicked off at the sixth annual Jammy Awards Thursday followed by a pair of post-parties at ROTHKO and B.B. King Blues Club. At ROTHKO, Blues Traveler offered its most intimate New York appearance in a number of years, playing until near down in the Lower East Side. B.B. King Blues Club’s also continued late into the night, with extended sets from Zappa on Zappa and U-Melt who invited Deep Banana Blackout saxophonist Rob Sommervile onstage for ‘Missed’ and ‘Air.’
Friday afternoon the festivities kicked-off early with free performances from Grace Potter, Umphrey’s McGee and Mickey Hart, among others, outside Grand Central Station as part New York’s Earth Day fair. Hart recruited a high-profile backing band for his drum session, including Phish bassist Mike Gordon, Steve Kimock, The Mutaytor, Baaba Maal and Angelique Kidjo, who led the crowd through an inspired version of ‘Iko Iko.’ For the grand finale, Hart and Gordon came into the street with drums, leading the crowd in an extended percussion jam based around ‘Not Fade Away.’ During his performance, Hart also brought out old friend Walter Cronkite to play percussion with his all-star ensemble. Soon after, Hart ventured downtown to see his Hydra bandmates perform in Particle at the Bowery Ballroom. After joining Hyrda on kalimba for the band’s ‘Wavemaker,’ Hart took a cab across town to perform with the choice ensemble of Steve Kimock, Stephen Perkins, bassist Reed Mathis and trumpeter Willie Waldman for its second set at the Canal Room.
Recalling the collaborative spirit of the Jammys, a number of venues offered unique pairings throughout Green Apple. Reggae icons Toots & the Maytals shared a bill with Jammy winner Grace Potter and Soulive, the latter of whom invited out both Reggie Watts and a horn section during its set. Across the river in Brooklyn, Global Rhythm World Music Award winner Babba Maal joined Antibalas throughout its set at the intimate Southpaw. Martin Sexton and the Assembly of Dust bridged their individual sets at the Cutting Room with a series of joint covers including Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock,’ The Beatles’ ‘Dear Prudence’ and ‘Turn on Your Lovelight.’ At the Lion’s Den, Grateful Dead archivist David Lemieux spun rare material from the Dead’s primal late-1960s/early-1970s period between sets by Strangefolk and The Brakes. During Strangefolk’s set, U-Melt’s Zac Lasher also played keyboards on ‘Lost Soul.’
On Friday, a number of bands also crammed into tiny clubs they had long outgrown. Richie Havens, who opened the original Woodstock, performed his first shows at the seminal folk club the Bitter End in a number of years. Uptown, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones played to a sit-down crowd at the relatively tiny B.B. King Blues Club, as Relix recording artist Jonah Smith also celebrated the release of his third album at Pianos. Returning to its club roots, Guster performed ‘Happy Frappy,’ a track from its debut Parachute, for the first time in six years at the Hiro Ballroom.
Perhaps the weekend’s most highly anticipated event, Umphrey’s McGee performed two sets at punk-breeding ground CBGB Friday night. The fastest sellout in CBGB’s history, Umphrey’s McGee’s performance left a line of ticket-less fans outside the Bowery venue and scalped tickets in the triple digits. The group celebrated the club’s roots by performing material by two of the venue’s most jam-friendly veterans: Television (‘Marquee Moon’ with former OM Trio keyboardist Brian Felix) and the Talking Heads (‘Making Flippy Floppy’ with help from Addison Groove Project keyboardist Rob Marshcer). The band also invited out, oddly enough, veteran booking agent Jonathan Levine on percussion (‘Uncle Wally’). A night later, Tea Leaf Green came close to Umphrey’s McGee record, selling out the club in a matter of minutes. Despite CBGB’s unofficial no covers policy, Tea Leaf Green also paid tribute to some of the venue’s former stars as they nodded to The Ramones with ‘Teenage Lobotomy’ and ‘Sheena is a Punk Rocker.’ Tea Leaf Green offered 35 songs over a five hour period including its Jammy winning ‘Taught to be Proud.’
Saturday’s entertainment remained eclectic with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Assembly of Dust and Ben Taylor each performing free shows outside Grand Central in the early afternoon (angry neighbors protested Earth Fair by posting George W. Bush bumper stickers in their windows). As the afternoon segued into evening, cutting edge artists like Islands, Scissor Sisters and Mike Doughty each offered sets throughout New York (and Teaneck, NJ). Unique pairings included emerging singer/songwriter icons Dan Bern and Kaki King at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall, The Slip and Ryan Montbleau at CODA and Ron Carter and Karrin Allyson at The Blue Note. During Bela Fleck’s performance at Irving Plaza, Baaba Maal stopped by to perform a handful of numbers before offering his own set at S.O.B.s. Though previously announced guest Mickey Hart went MIA, The Mutaytor brought out Jeff Coffin during its set at B.B. King Blues Club. Meanwhile, Kimock and Perkins recruited Assembly of Dust’s Nate Wilson for its performance at The Blue Note. A traveling power-jam of sorts, the Everyone Orchestra weaved a ministry of musicians into its set including moe.‘s Vinnie Amico, beatboxer Taylor Mcferrin, Deep Banana Blackout’s Jen Durkin and Fuzz, Reed Mathis, Yo Yo Ma percussionist Joseph Gramley, bassist Jason Fraticelli, downtown jazz horn player Peter Apfelbaum and conductor Matt Butler. Almost seven years after Fuzz led the house band at the inaugural Jammys, Durkin led a ‘Green Apple vocal centric jam’ amidst a number of instrumental interludes. DJs Gabriel and Dresden likely ended the evening’s festivities at trendy nightspot B.E.D. spinning till the wee hours.
Sunday’s activities focused on family. Throughout the afternoon, kid-friendly acts like Milkshake, the Deedle Deedle Dees and the Fab Faux offered daylight sets at music venues and museums throughout New York. An entirely different definition of family, old-friends the Zen Tricksters and Max Creek shared the stage aboard the Rocks Off boat cruise. During the Zen Tricksters’ set, Max Creek’s Mark Mercier played piano on Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues,’ while Wendy Lanter added auxiliary vocals throughout the evening. The Zen Tricksters’ Jeff Mattson and Tom Circosta also played guitar with Max Creek at the Temptress docked.
A fitting close as any, the Green Apple Music and Arts Festival concluded with the premier of Wetlands Preserved: The Story of an Activist Club. Directed by Relix senior editor/Jambands.com founder Dean Budnick and produced by Pete Shapiro, the film tracked the club’s history though interviews, archival film, animation and music by a number of the club’s most famous alumni including Blues Traveler, Phish and Pearl Jam. As the film drew to a close, Green Apple producer Peter Shapiro skirted off to the hospital where he prepared for the birth of his first child, continuing the cycle of life which seeded the Green Apple in the first place.