Improv, Reunions and Collaborations: The Royal Family Affair Festival
Photos by Ali Kaukas
The first The Royal Family Affair festival festival took place this past weekend at Bondville, VT’s Stratton Mountain. Funk supergroup Lettuce were one of the evening’s headliners, performing a high-energy set on Friday before Chromeo took the stage. Soulive guitarist Eric Krasno kept fans dancing late into the the night with his DJ alias “Kraz,” where he spun a mix of funk and soul selections that referenced his recently released mixtape The Funky President.
Saturday kicked off with the aptly titled “Royal Family Academy,” which was a series of workshops that allowed fans to interact with the artists that they had traveled large distances to see. Medeski, Martin and Wood keyboardist John Medeski discussed the connection between music and spirituality, asking the fans in attendance to close their eyes and focus on all the sounds that surrounded them. Avant-garde saxophonist Skerik spoke shortly afterwards on “How to Avoid Smooth Jazz and Succeed at Life,” discussing topics such as “gear porn,” improvisational techniques and effect pedals, before engaging in a hands on healing process for a fan in the audience who stated that he was “stuck in a musical rut.” Soulive drummer Alan Evans also appeared at the Academy, giving eager fans advice on how to properly record an album in the studio, as well as sharing stories about his studio experiences as a member of Soulive.
The music from day two of the festival was marked by surprise performances and collaborations. John Medeski, Adam Deitch and Skerik played the main stage for an all improv set at dusk. Eric Krasno hopped on board with the trio for the final 20 minutes of their set. Big Gigantic performed to a packed crowd, playing a set that leaned heavily on the breakbeat/dubstep side of their catalogue. Festival headliners Soulive took the stage after Big Gigantic, playing a lengthy 2 hour set that featured fan favorite “Uncle Junior” as an opener, as well as “El Ron” and “Lenny.” Soulive surprised the audience by bringing out Jurassic 5’s Chali 2na and Jen Hartswick at different points in their set, the latter of which joined the group on vocals for “Rock Steady.” In addition, Skerik, Big Gigantic’s Dominic Lalli and Lettuce drummer Adam Deitch all took the stage for the encore as Soulive drummer Al Evans took a rare turn on lead vocals with the band. Following this performance, Deitch ventured over to the Base Lodge West Wing stage to perform a reunion set with his old hip-hop group The Formula. This incarnation group—a mainstay on the ‘90s Boston groove circuit—featured longtime members Adam Smirnoff and Erick Coomes as well as saxophonist Sam Kininger and DJ Mister Rourke. Rapper Chali 2na also sat in briefly with the group during their performance which lasted until 2:30 in the morning.
Although Krasno played late into the night, he showed no sign of fatigue as he kicked off the final day of the Royal Family Affair Academy with a discussion entitled “Expanding Your Musical Vocabulary & Improv.” Krasno’s mother who was in the audience joined the conversation at one point, telling those in attendance a story of how “baby Eric” had the ability to sing the melody of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony at a mere 8 months old.
After electric performances on day three by Caveman, John Brown’s Body, NEAL and Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, the festival’s finale performance by the Royal Family All-Stars (which included Royal Family mainstays Krasno, the Evans brothers and Deitch as well as Ivan and Ian Neville, Karl Denson, Jen Hartswick, Tony Hall, Nikki Glaspie and all the members of Lettuce) unfolded as the rain began to pour down, soaking the funk-loving fans in attendance.