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Published: 2007/10/26
by Mark Burnell

The Northeast Kingdom Music Festival Film

True Form Pictures

This documentary of last year’s Northeast Kingdom Festival in Vermont is a straightforward look at all aspects of what looks to be a pretty interesting festival with an appealingly low key, laid back hippy vibe, where music is only part of the attraction. The film’s aspirations are worthy, but there are some problems in the finished piece.

The festival itself seems very appealing. At a time when festivals seem to strive to get bigger (and more expensive), smaller gatherings, such as this one, are becoming fewer and farther between, and that’s a shame. Ticket prices for this event are kept rock bottom, it seems to be ridiculously kid-friendly, and apart from the diverse lineup of music, there’s fire twirling, belly dancers, late night communal bonfires and— no kidding here— a pair of appearances by people running for state senator. It’s an interesting place, Vermont, and in many ways, the Northeast Kingdom is a charming reflection of just how quirky this state can be. The music is just as diverse, as jambands and rappers jive with jugbands and the production of a satirical musical on the main stage. Well known names (Oteil Burbridge, the Spam Allstars) mix with the completely obscure (Maggi Piece & E.J., who are actually quite excellent), and the musical segments of the film are the most successful. Director Chris Pepino, who has previously made a quietly lauded film about the final Phish shows, is quite adept at capturing the atmosphere of the live songs, which is no small feat considering the wide range of music on display. The raucous footage of a late night Pogues-esque performance from Gogol Bordello is a long way from the shimmering, delicate blues of Abby Jenne and Stacy Starkweather (who deliver a wondrous performance that serves as my favorite moment of the entire film), but Pepino captures both the explosive and the intimate with equal aplomb.

Where the documentary stumbles a bit is with the footage of the non musical aspects of the festival. For starters, there are way too many shots of cute, long-haired kids running about in tie-dyes, and indeed there are times when the music is cut short to give way to another look at a veggie oil-powered bus that is used for vending pancakes or a seemingly random shot of people putting up tents. Considering how well Pepino captured the atmosphere of the music, it’s surprising how far off the mark the remainder of the film is, as there’s little feeling of connection to the people attending the festival. At 70 minutes, the film is not terribly wrong and would probably have benefited from more music footage.

That said, it’s a good effort from a young filmmaker and is probably a “must-have” if you’ve been (or are thinking of going) to the Northeast Kingdom Festival. Otherwise, this would be an enjoyable documentary to come across on the Independent Film Channel late at night. I do hope it attracts more people to what looks like a festival worth supporting.

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