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Published: 2008/07/09


The inaugural ROTHBURY festival took place over July 4th weekend at Michigan’s Double JJ Ranch. Finding a happy medium between mega-fests like the nearby Lollapalooza and more boutique West Coast gatherings, ROTHBURY fleshed out its musical lineup with a number of other offerings, including an Enchanted Forest which was colorfully lit throughout the night.
Billing itself as a ‘party with a purpose,’ ROTHBURY placed particular emphasis on its educational and greening initiatives, including an informative Think Tank featuring progressive minds like Nobel Peace Prize winning climate scientist Dr. Stephen Schneider. Co-produced by the Colorado-based Madison House Presents, ROTHBURY also hosted the popular Mountain Region radio show eTown, who taped episodes with the likes of Citizen Cope and Michael Franti. By stationing attendants at each garbage receptacle and an emphasis on recycled goods, ROTHBURY ensured its greening efforts continued off paper.
Musically ROTHBURY was also a success, full heartedly embracing its improvisational-roots. Kyle Hollingsworth, whose band String Cheese Incident has worked with Madison House since the beginning, kicked off the weekend’s festivities on Thursday night with a spirited set by his solo band, while rising Los Angeles jam-rockers Underground Orchestra performed in the venue’s most unique space, the outdoor, Tripolee Domes. Nodding to his current gig with the Mickey Hart Band, Hollingsworth invited both George Porter Jr. and Jen Durkin onstage to sing with his solo project, before joining Hart and company for calypso-like versions of ‘Fire on the Mountain.’ Meanwhile, Perpetual Groove officially welcomed former Guest keyboardist John Hruby into the fold, and he helped maneuver the group into a more rock-centric direction. With the exception of a late night set from Railroad Earth, the rest of the evening focused on electric music: Lotus and their recent collaborator The Juan Maclean offered back to back sets, the String Cheese offshoot EOTO played until well after 2 AM and the Disco Biscuits played a marathon set from 11:15-2:30 AM, bolstered by STS9’s David Murphy on keyboards for ‘Run Like Hell’ and ‘Digital Buddha.’
ROTHBURY really kicked into gear Friday with no less than six stages of music, panels and workshops. Perpetual Groove’s Brock Butler and Underground Orchestra percussionist Ben Baruch also played a stealth show on a secret stage located in the Enchanted Forest (State Radio also played the hidden stage later that weekend). In addition, Dresden Dolls diva Amanda Palmer served as curator for The Establishment, a vaudevillian endeavor which featured performances by the Yard Dog Road Show, Project Jenny Project Jan and a variety of Dresden Dolls side-projects. Musically, the day’s offerings ran the gamut, from an early afternoon set by the Wailers to a hard-edged early evening performance by Modest Mouse to a late night set by Primus, the trio’s first gig since 2006. Snoop Dogg also made his grand entry into jamband realms, offering a number of his early hits and celebrating July 4th with a toast during ‘Gin & Juice.’ In the collaboration department, Betty Lavette sat in with Drive-By Truckers on a tune the pair recently recorded, ‘Jealousy,’ Jon Fishman played an entire set with Yonder Mountain String Band while Michael Kang appeared with his current project, the world music outfit Panjea. After his set, Kang emphasized that in addition to performing at the festival, he also helped design and build a number of ROTHBURY’s art installations and oversaw the gathering’s greening efforts.
Widespread Panic closed out the day’s main stage festivities with a full-two set performance that saw current Keller Williams collaborator Jeff Sipe sit in on both ‘Sewing Machine’ and a cover of Talking Heads’ ‘Life During Wartime.’ In addition, fiddler Ann Marie Calhoun sat in on such chestnuts as ‘Surprise Valley,’ ‘Arleen,’ ‘The Take Out’ and ‘Porch Song.’ Backstage Calhoun told Relix/ that Jimmy Herring would gently coach her onstage during the group’s more exploratory jams. 311 guitarist Tim Mahoney also discussed his affinity for Herring, mentioning that he was more excited to see the guitarist than any performer all weekend.
Saturday afternoon’s lineup might have been the festival’s most eclectic, from the southern indie-rock of Dead Confederate to British electro-rockers A3 (the authors of The Sopranos theme) to the politically-charged jam-pop of State Radio to the garage-rock of the Black Keys to house legends Crystal Method to the theatrical styles of Dresden Dolls. A number of festival mainstays also performed, including Emmitt-Nershi Band, DJ Harry and Michael Franti & Spearhead, who brought out a number of his friends—-including Dave Matthews—-to dance at the end of his set. Col. Bruce Hampton also stopped in for a surprise appearance, joining Medeski, Martin & Wood for an improv vocal jam and Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi’s Soul Stew Revival for a cover of ‘Don’t Cry No More.’
Dave Matthews Band made a rare U.S. festival appearance on the main stage, offering a three-hour set bolstered by covers of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’ and Sly & the Family Stone’s ‘Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again).’ With saxophonist LeRoi Moore on the injured list and keyboardist Butch Taylor sitting out the tour, the core members of Dave Matthews Band were backed by the impressive trio of guitarist Tim Reynolds, Lettuce trumpeter Rashawn Ross and Flecktones saxophonist Jeff Coffin. Before his set, Coffin admitted to Relix/ that he agreed to sub for Moore less than 24 hours before taking the stage and still has to read charts and watch Ross’ hand to groove with the band. He stole the show at several points, however, including an extended ‘#41’ that included pieces of the Flecktones’ ‘Sojourn of Arjuna.’ Matthews seemed to enjoy his time at ROTHBURY, commenting on the festival’s Enchanted Forest onstage, and Palmer’s makeup backstage.
As we previously reported, many of Sunday’s highlights revolved around the possibility of a Phish reunion. However, the day’s offerings spanned from blues-legend Taj Mahal to rising singer/songwriter Brett Dennen to hip-hip sensations Atmosphere and Brother Ali to pop-star John Mayer, who covered ‘Crossroads’ while his girlfriend Jennifer Aniston watched side-stage. Oddly enough, as the Mike Gordon Band ended its cover of the Beatles’ ‘She Said She Said’ with special guests Trey Anastasio and Jon Fishman, Gov’t Mule opened their cover of the same song, before sliding into ‘Tomorrow Never Knows.’ Michigan guitarist Larry McCray then took the stage with the group for a run through ‘Get Out Of My Life Woman.’
Phil Lesh closed things out with an extended performance with his current group of Friends. Guitarist Larry Campbell’s wife sang with the group at various points throughout the night, most notably on a cover of ‘Dancin’ In The Streets,’ while Warren Haynes sat in on ‘Here Comes Sunshine,’ ‘Althea,’ ‘China Cat Sunflower’ and Jackie Greene’s ‘Mexican Girl.’ As the group kicked into ‘Help on the Way’ at the start of its second set, a hug glow-stick war emerged and Lesh responded by breaking out a glow-in-the-dark bass.
ROTHBURY’s promoters have confirmed that the festival will return to the same site next year. A number of interviews and performances will be available on later this week.

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