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Published: 2002/05/06
by Greg Serensits

Area 51 Soundtest 2.0, Indian Springs Casino, Indian Springs, NV- 4/19-21</b.

Well, All I can say is – I passed the AREA 51 SOUNDTEST 2.0! Certificates were handed to the crowd at the end of Southern Nevada's only day music, camp & dance festival. A rather large contingency of like-minded individuals convened on the campus of Indian Springs Casino – Indian Springs, NV. The weekend of 4/20 The certificate simply reads, “YOU PASSED THE SOUNDTEST.”

The Las Vegas Jamband Society hosted it’s second annual AREA 51 SOUNDTEST 2.0 this last April 19,20,21 – 2002. Launch Time was set for 10:30 pm on Friday night April 19th- with the music of Santa Cruz’s newest spaceship Netwerk: Electric blasting off the weekend festivities inside Dirty Moe’s (the indoor venue at Indian Springs Casino). Jason Concepcion continues to evolve as a guitar player as he wove tight jazz signatures with blazingly fast precision to heart-felt solos that seemed to fit right in with the mood of the tune. Meanwhile, the band more than keeps up with its conductor. David “Sweets” Menez (bass) Michael Jaramillo (drums) Justin Fagnani-Bell (keys) and Kevin DiNoto (percussion) eased everyone into orbit during the early AM hours as they finished their 3rd set around 4:20 AM. Netwerk: mixes a combination of primarily jazz-funk, Latin offbeats, and straightforward rock’n’roll, weaving it all together to make it a sound all their own. Do not miss this band, as they will surely be in your area soon.

Saturday morning came very quickly as the early morning sun slowly crept its way through the trees into the tents and RV’s set up in “Tent City." As the sand was cleared from the bleary eyes who had just laid down a couple hours before, the sounds of radio’s playing the Dead, SCI, Stone Temple Pilots, YMSB, and the faint sounds of an early forming drum circles started to swirl around the camping area. Smells of breakfast filled the air as well as other familiar smells surrounding a 4:20 festival. MonkeyGrass relative newcomers to the Jamband scene hit the main stage promptly at 10 AM; with a good crowd of the bluegrass faithful. The Bounders were next on the bill, a long-time Vegas tradition mixing country, blues, jazz, with a rock edge to create a very dynamic sound all their own. Founders Jim Cressy (bass,vocals) and Pete Sheridan (guitar,vocals) have been making music together for the last 25 years.Ed Bigalow (guitar) and Jeff Dugan (drums) round out this powerful foursome.Their set was filled with some very large sounds. The mid-afternoon set saw the return of the Tijuana Shredder, Martin Santos Ortega (lead guitar) – dubbed that by the Ominous Seapods, Dana Monteith, after last year’s guitar showdown between Martin and Todd Pasternak of the Seapods at the SOUNDTEST; and his two brothers Zenon (bass) and Jose Antino (drums). Los Hijos de Sancho (the sons of Sancho) is a constant state of transition. This trio of brothers from Tijuana, Mexico continuously pushes the envelope of musical parameters. The influences of Carlos Santana to Van Halen to P-Funk – are ever-present in their music. The smiles on the faces of the crowd and band members showed that music is a universal language, as everyone continued to feed off each other’s energy. Mood Food was the next band on the mainstage. By this time a good portion of the festival goers had made their way to the venue. Mood Food holds a special place in the hearts of the Las Vegas Jamband Society as they played the “Brokedown Palace Ball” with special guest Vince Welnick of the Grateful Dead (which was supposed to be Legends Lounge final shows in Jan.) They played right into the theme of AREA 51 with a very sci-fi oriented set which included a blend of jazzy improvisational sound with some good ol’ funk and soul to create a tasty dish. They finished their set with a fitting tune titled, “Alien and the Walk of George Jefferson” Motion for Alliance was decided on by the members of the Las Vegas Jamband Society to be the outdoor main stage headliner. This Boulder based band did not leave a pair of feet motionless. During load-in, I happened to overhear two sound techs quipping, “I’ve never seen equipment like this! Where do I plug this into? What is that?” suggesting that this band is way ahead of the curve, both technologically and musically. Since its inception, MFA has been dedicated to the evolution of dance music. It combines elements of jazz improvisation in conjunction with songwriting theory. Throw in some progressive dance idioms such as Jungle and Drum n’ Bass, and there you have it- Motion For Alliance. MFA delivered songs that are the definition of upbeat dance melodies combined with tight breaks and weaving DJ fills (only when necessary and always right in tune).

Boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen do yourself a favor please. If you haven’t seen Particle yet, go see them, now. The boys from Los Angele are one of the most tireless bands you will ever see creating energy-laden, infectious dance grooves. Halfway thru the first set I found myself moving with the frenzy of a moth trying to get inside a light bulb. AREA 51 became taken overrun by PARTICLE PEOPLE. There were aliens hanging from the ceiling, super heroes donning their capes, sparkles, antennae, oh and an outdoor Crash Site (a relaxation area complete with live sound and video which was perfect for the 18+ crowd or to get some fresh air.) Charlie Hitchcock delivered an incredible performance, crafting new phrases from his jazz guitar vocabulary. Steve Molitz (keys-synth.), Eric Gould (bass) and Darren Pujalet (drums) contributed mightily as well. They dropped a new one on us at the AREA 51. “Metropolis," Particle’s new work in progress clocked in at a little under 37 minutes. We got a great "Kneeknocker" (complete with "Smooth Criminal" tease), "Girth of a Nation", "Golden Gator" (complete with reprise) and "Idepinga," amongst others. Particle’s 1st set started at 11:30 PM on Saturday night. The last note was struck at 6:42 AM Sunday morning completing the band's 3rd set. This was followed by a group photo outside in the daylight, with the confirmation that anyone who made it for all 3 sets definitely PASSED THE SOUNDTEST.

Once again the sun was up early, reminding me why I should go to bed before the sun rises. A couple winks and a shower later I was ready to go. The outdoor main stage had been busy all morning. Sound techs and stagehands were preparing for the day's activities. Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, out of Tulsa, OK opened Sunday afternoon with their selection, “Thelonius Monk is my Grandmother” setting the perfect tone for this eye opener, of sorts. I also remember “The Muppet Babies Get Lost at the State Fair" during which Brian Haas (Rhodes) explained, “If you’ve ever been to the OK. State Fair, you know why it’s very easy and equally as scary to get lost there.” The trio continues to morph its sound in new, unanticipated ways. I got to speak with Dark Star Orchestra keyboardist Scott Larned backstage during JFJO, and he stated, “I love these guys, – straightforward jazz, and you've got to love the names of their songs. He [Brian] will explain this song was written about walking along a beautiful green river in OHIO.” Then he made this sound like Brian makes when he’s trying to kill his Rhodes electric piano. From 2:30 to 3:00 pm. The outdoor venue really started filling up. It was obvious that the crowd had swelled in anticipation of Vegas’ 2nd Dark Star Orchestra show. People in the crowd were all trying to figure out what era show the DSO might pull out this gorgeous spring afternoon in the colorful desert surrounding Indian Springs, NV. At exactly 3:00 PM the band took the stage. After about 3-4 minutes of tuning and giving the band a chance to soak in the beautiful snow-capped mountains, and the U.S Air Force Base just on the other side of the venue wall they broke into the familiar first notes of "Promised Land." Let’s just say, and this coming from someone who still sorely misses Jerry Garcia, I was in heaven. To set the record straight – Dark Star Orchestra is NOT a cover band.They delve into the music of the Grateful Dead. They are students of the magic that was created by the amalgam of 6 musicians (7 including Donna) and what can be accomplished by truly paying attention to the details. These musicians know their Dead tapes in and out I guarantee it. You ask them for a 6:32 second Scarlet sped up to time. They will pull the tape of the show and rewind it to where that Scarlet Begonias starts. Similar to a DJ knowing where a particular song is on a particular album in his/her stack of vinyl. It is truly amazing. The second set of this 1976 ripper opened with "Might as Well> Samson" and featured a double encore, "US Blues" and "Sugar Magnolia." Followed by the announcement that DSO had just performed August 2nd 1976 from Colt Park – Hartford, Connecticut, the band added some beautiful filler, "Uncle John’s Band," while the sun went down in honey and finally disappeared somewhere into the southern Sierras of California.

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