Gathering of the Vibes, Mariaville, NY- 7/4-7/7
Due to a series of unfortunate events, GOTV 2001 won the title of the greatest festival that never happened. While strong performances opened and closed the weekend, dangerous storms that brought down trees and caused power outages in the surrounding community caused the cancellation of set after set on Saturday and Sunday. Strong bookends, but not much else on the shelf. Despite the weather, the Vibe Tribe carried on; they had come for a good time and if the lightning stopped the music, at least there was a great light show. As groove hound Topaz, who opened the festival, put it, "We were one of bands that actually got to play the whole time. And it was amazing to me that people just didn’t care; the vibes were still there man."
For the 2002 Gathering, festival organizers Terrapin Presents changed the venue to Mariaville, NY home to the Harley Davidson Reunion, Camp Creek and last August’s Summit festival, and in doing so cut the crowds in half. They also added a day to include Independence Day, and brought in the powerhouse quintet Phil Lesh and Friends, the band playing two full sets on both Friday and Saturday nights. Other acts included a number of old friends of the Tribe, such as The Zen Tricksters, Strangefolk, Reid Genauer (formerly of Strangefolk), Aaron Katz Band (of Percy Hill), Deep Banana Blackout and Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade, which was inaugurated at GOTV 2000. Of course, two members of what is widely known as the Phil Lesh Quintet are also Vibes alumni, Rob Barraco having played for many years as a Zen Trickster, and Warren Haynes having played both a solo acoustic set and with Gov’t Mule. Also on the docket were Soulive (third year) and SKB, both of whose sets were rained out last year. Is it clear yet? The Gathering of the Vibes is about family.
The venue was situated on a hill in New York’s Central Leather Stocking Region (hey, that’s what it’s called), weather passing by quickly. Despite some thoughtful planning (multiple check points compared to one at The Summit), traffic was bad. There were still large numbers of people arriving at 1 AM after SKB’s set, and an overflow lot was opened. Of course, such problems are just part of the festival scene; you, the attendee, must plan ahead. Another change, there was only one stage in use, compared to the last few years which have had two stages right next to each other. That always made for weird sound anywhere in front of the soundboard, whereas the single stage offered crisp, clean sound anywhere from a few feet beyond the speakers to well beyond the soundboard.
It’s Up to You, Tongue n Groove, Moon People, Sabertooth, Thing 1, 5 B4 Funk E: Avalon
Early in the day perennial Gathering favorites The Zen Tricksters really started the festival with an excellent set that drew in a large crowd of those not caught in traffic and showed off their musical range. Opening with the instrumental Light of Life > Just Another Storm, the set included tightly wrought compositions as well as lengthy cover jams, including Here Comes Sunshine and GDTRFB. To close an amazing, heartfelt Wharf Rat that snuck up from behind led into a crowd pleasing Summertime Blues, followed by Scarlet Begonias back into a vicious closing of Light of Life. By the end, it was clear that the vibe was just right.
It was nearly 10:30 when SKB began their set. The band members had been on stage since 10, but both Steve and Rodney Holmes were obsessively toying with their equipment. The pay off, however, was excellent, clear sound right from the first note of It’s Up to You. The band nailed the classic tune with lively, even effervescent playing. Celebratory red, white and blue lights raced around the backdrop as Steve’s first short lead elicited the first of many cheers from the crowd. The second outing headed into a darker, subterranean groove at Alphonso’s behest. Mitch colored the walls with fine rhythm work and Steve’s son, John Morgan, who sat in for the whole show on timbales and percussion, added some well-timed pops. The cavernous explorations eventually found an underground stream that raced over waterfalls and through chasms right to the end. A great opener.
A dramatic Tongue n Groove warmed through the first passage with Steve then alternating behind highs and lows to initiate the first jam. Alphonso was alongside, adding a deep, clean sound to the mix, and he and Mitch carried the song through the second passage to the next jam. Steve, meanwhile, took out a new (or at least different) lap slide guitar and sat down next to the drum riser, sliding right into the mix as though a space had been left for him. The music reached a certain level, and then trumped itself, and then did it again in a seemingly endless climb to a nonexistent apex. To close the song, Steve switched guitars again, and still crouched low, pushed the song to yet another level, the rest of the band flooding into the spaces left in his wake.
The Love Metal of Moon People was seemingly made for a festival audience, with its soothing bookends and cataclysmically destructive center. Interestingly, the power chords were not as overwhelming as they are in clubs and small theaters, despite the superior sound system. The pseudo-techno Sabertooth maintained the aggressive vibe, and predictably, many of the younger fans danced hard. In mid-song, Alphonso set up a badass disco beat over which Steve slid and danced. Toward the end of the song, a series of white fireworks shot up behind the stage, and the band played along by hitting the one. Between tunes Mitch made huge gestures, laughing and explaining to Rodney what had happened behind his back.
Each member of the band added to a nice rhythmic vibe heralding Thing One. A new song, it has already won accolades from Kimock fans for its catchy groove. As part of its ongoing evolution, a new section has been added after Steve’s first display of upside down, anti-gravity guitar. It has more than a passing resemblance to NFA, or a Quicksilver Who Do You Love, but actually references Zero performances of Mona. It features some good old rock and roll guitar work and driving rhythm, but this version was subtler and more interesting than the previous night’s. A rhythm grind developed, the band chugging along as a unit before Alphonso stepped up with a solo. One of his best attributes is that he does not hesitate to grab a solo spot and stretch it out. With Alphonso, the bass is another lead instrument, capable of all the flexibility and range of any other instrument; it’s there to be played. His fingers flew across strings plucking and popping with incredible speed. His band mates added varying degrees of color as the sounds flowed from the stage, Alphonso now slip sliding over the frets and giving a grin.
If there was a tune to call, it had to be 5 B4 Funk as the closer. Audience involvement is festival gold, and even those who had never heard SKB or KVHW before could get the "Wooo!" (Although for future reference, it’s only on the first in a series; there are fills on the rest.) After a lengthy introduction from Rodney, his hands a blur as they bounced around the kit and sent shocks through the crowd, the band plowed through first verse and set out on the first jam. Light and noodly to start, the addition of piercing Wa effects and dexterous maneuvers brought the song to a beautiful, bright plateau. Rodney’s easier, less bombastic hand spread the borders, and John’s percussion varied the soundscape. A funky new path materialized, leading back to the song, and then out on a second trip, this one sharp and focused with excellent interplay between Steve and Mitch.
Encores are a rarity for SKB, or at least uncommon, so I was surprised to see Steve talk to the stage manager and the band head back to their instruments. Alphonso wished Mitch a happy birthday (the guy next to me howled "What about America?"), before launching into Avalon. Soaring through the canyon, passing icy smooth cliffs and tenuous arches, the joyous voyage eventually settled at the bottom, and the band began its slow climb out. Deftly bounding from narrow ledges to craggy outcroppings, avoiding landslides of bass and drums, crumbling leads and sheer electricity, they finally reached the end of the song with a confident, uplifting stride. Avalon is a song that exemplifies SKB’s ability to construct a most expressive song, a song that affects the listener, and that ability involves a willingness to lay it all on the table and see what can be done.
Set I: Jam > Crazy Fingers > Jam > Midnight Train > Rider, Welcome to the Underground > Jam > New Potato Caboose > Just a Little Light
Set II: Night of 1000 Stars > St. Stephen > Dark Star > Again and Again > Dark Star > 11 > Other One > Sugaree
E: Keep On Rockin’, Liberty
Warren Haynes had a solo acoustic set just before PLQ played, and as always it was breathtaking. At an hour it was longer than most such sets, offering dose after dose of that insanely powerful voice and emotive guitar- a taste to be savored. With the extra time, Warren was able to stretch out the songs, not in a jammy way, but able to take his time singing, able to really get to the core of the music. The set included The Real Thing, U2’s One, It Hurts Me Too, Patchwork Quilt (!), Elvis Costello’s Alison, among others, and To Lay Me Down and Soulshine with Rob Barraco. Usually when Warren plays an acoustic set, it outshines anything that follows, but tonight the Quintet shone just as brightly.
Energy was the theme of the first set, even in the opening jam. No orbital wandering here, Jimmy grabbing a speedy lead with accents from Warren, followed by Warren moving above broad rhythm strokes from Herring. The movement spread and settled under heavy, dramatic piano and tumbled into a heady version of Crazy Fingers. Rob’s vocals (in fact the entire mix) were crisp and clear, and there seemed to be some poignancy in the line, "Something new is waiting to be born." Jimmy played along with Rob’s piano, and Rob added similar support when Jimmy took the lead, and while it’s nothing new, it was splendid. They spent the whole weekend staring at each other, working together to illustrate the sound.
As the song finished the sound grew bloated and large, but Jimmy sliced effortlessly through the thick morass, focused and moving. There were GDTRFB and Mountain Jam hints before the movement went lax and began to puddle. Phil’s meaty bass line pulled the jam together again, Molo riding in for support as the band hit a hot rhythm section and slipped smoothly into a tight Midnight Train. But the instant it was done, they dropped right back into the soup, the scale growing larger and larger as Warren’s guitar called out in the night, all alone. A now fevered jam tried to leak out the sides, but Jimmy had a scent and stayed with it. Warren joined the prowl and suddenly the two were crisscrossing and flying ever forward. The jam calmed to an ecstatic rendition of the 74 China > Rider transition (the Mind Left Body or 59th Street Bridge section, depending on who you talk to). The Rider shined brilliantly, just a happy, happy song to close the first suite.
Welcome to the Underground was slick and aggressive, the biting early line "You look like you could you a friend. I’ve used a few myself my friend," summing up the tone. A long, classic Warren solo preceded a great interaction between Phil and Jimmy, and a short, flailing jam. Again the balloon deflated, this time tripping into the psychedelic masterpiece New Potato Caboose. The final, booming "Graceful!" shot the tune into the stratosphere, broad swaths of land and sea visible here and there through the clouds below. Looking forward again, the energy jam that opened and flowed through the set resurfaced, the band becoming grounded and racing and weaving patterns. Then suddenly the sounds were sucked back to the heavens like rain recalled to the clouds, and Caboose came to an end. Just a Little Light closed the second suite and the first set with passion and precision, capping off a very strong start to a long weekend of Phil and Friends.
The second set started with a straight ahead Night of a Thousand Stars; really they’re all straight ahead, but it was still enjoyable, which speaks of its quality as a song. A splice transition dropped into St. Stephen, a succinct and relatively uninteresting version that soon enough spliced into Dark Star. This was certainly the centerpiece, literally and figuratively, of the second set. Warren immediately burst forth in a solar flare, and began to settle amongst sweet piano cascades when Phil, like some celestial directive, created an idea that everyone instantly followed. Now faster, now slower, now floating, now fixed, textures ebbed and flowed at an alarming rate, before finally the island of the first verse could be seen through the tumult. But no sooner was the word "diamonds" broken into three syllables than the group was off on another, funkier tangent, riding on the back of Molo’s enormous drums. The inventive energy of set I returned as the music slid under arching buttresses and over cathedral spires, and eventually collapsed in on itself. Metallic insects chewed on the wreckage, but gradually around them grew the grasses and flowers of pretty, bucolic glen. Piano strands floated through the air, and following them led to the harmonies of Again and Again. Wonderfully placed, the tune functioned as Mountains of the Moon, Days Between or Attics might. Warren’s searing guitar took the band back into the field, to a blue shining alcove. A jazzy stroll now became loud and wild, and again calmed its wanderings- a fantastic, lengthy passage that slowly crept back to variations on the Dark Star theme, and finally to the second verse. Exiting the song, an Other One tease formed, but Phil knocked it aside, and the group stumbled, off kilter, toward The Eleven.
Like St. Stephen, it was not a great version- just odd in its rendering. The strength of this set was in the mystical meandering, and the rockers should’ve been abandoned all together. Nevertheless, a seriously spacey interlude eventually did grant access to the Other One, and it was a fine version all around. There were cool echo effects on Phil’s vocals, nothing like Bobby’s stuff from the early 90s, but a nice addition. The jam began with Warren and Jimmy gunning at each other, Rob switching from organ to piano but getting lost in the mix. By the end, a sweet riverside road recalled earlier moments.
Aaron Katz Band had the honor of taking Percy Hill’s regular GOTV wake and bake set while that band is on hiatus. Aaron was one of many singer/songwriter acts at the festival, but like Strangefolk, he combines his songs and lyrical focus with intricate musicianship and room to jam. His music certainly differs from the Vermonters’ in tone, usually having a very critical, outsider’s point of view. But Saturday morning’s set, which included many new songs, along with Percy Hill standards and material from AKB’s CD Simplest Warrior had a different theme. Many of the songs were about discovery; not just discovery of new places or events, but of ways of seeing and interpreting the world. And each new discovery seemed fresh, like it was happening right then and there.
Over the course of the hour long set, the crowd grew larger and larger, people rested from the previous night’s festivities and eager for music. The band played well on all fronts, as regular drummer Dave DiCenso was on hand. Bassist Pat Dole is also increasingly confident, and playing with greater variety every show. Highlights included The Now early in the set, with its odd juxtaposition of gritty vocals from Aaron and smooth sax from Andy Gallagher; Ammonium Maze, which stretched out along a curving road through hills and valleys; and Simplest Warrior, also lengthened and perforated with instrumentation, not to mention excellent echo effects on the "Rise up!" sections. This was easily one of my two favorite AKB sets, the other being an opening set for Reid Genauer in December, a set which opened with lost PH numbers Masterful Reminder and Mural.
Set I: Celebration > Jam > Uncle John’s Band > Jam Cumberland Blues, Fire > Jam > China Cat > No More Do I
Set II: Jam > Shakedown > Leave Me Out of This, Terrapin > Jam > NFA > LSD > Jam > FOTD > Golden Road
E: The Wheel > Unbroken Chain
If energy was the key to Friday’s first set, quirkiness was the key to Saturday’s. During the day, Phil was out walking around the scene by himself, and spent some time signing organ donor cards as a witness, and before doing band intros he commented that the Vibes had the best energy of any festival he has ever played. He was certainly tapped into the mood, as was the whole band, and that fact really came out in the odd, playful nature of the whole set. Tempo changes and split second shifts in tone and approach marked the post-Celebration and Uncle John’s Band jams, although nothing really came of either- just a lot of toying around. There was a gorgeous passage before Cumberland. All light and airy and utterly pleasing, it was somewhat cartoony with puckish piano and short guitar licks. The place was so fine that the band lingered there for some time before teasing Cumberland and Smokestack, and deciding on the former. Between the second and third verse the tempo and style shifts returned; the music was up, down, inside and out, and finally could do little else than surrender to a minor meltdown.
Fire on the Mountain was also filled with a wealth of textures: forests and waterfalls and fields, all glanced from a bird’s eye view as the Latin-influenced version rolled on and on. Personally, I favor clean GD versions of both Fire and Uncle John’s Band to the Quintet’s arrangements. That being said, Phil played the bridges all alone, the band only helping on the one, and it sounded great. No More Do I offered a stylish close to the set, similar to that of Just a Little Light the previous night. Straight, focused guitar from Jimmy, rising bass lines, piano slides and excellent cymbal crashes all added to the song, but the whole set, interesting as it was, lacked seriousness.
The second set was a different story. While still flexible and imaginative, there was more passion and electricity in both suites. Actually it made a perfect bookend to complement Friday’s first set. The opening jam was very short, but lively and distinct and slammed into Shakedown with colossal bass and swollen drums. While placing layer upon layer of vocals during the poke around, Jimmy stuck to his rhythm work, then initiated a roaming jam. He and Warren traded squirming squiggles, playing with the elastic space and creating room for the rolling energy of Uncle John’s Band and Fire on the Mountain to return. Again, temporal and tonal shifts shuddered through the progression, spacey and sharpened and furious in turns, and finally gave way to Leave Me Out of This.
Phil and Rob played a fun Happy Trails tuning before the group set its sights on Terrapin Station. Phil’s vocals were strong, although he mistakenly repeated, "strategy was his strength, not disaster," when he meant to sing, "his job is to shed light, not to master," laughing as he did so. Warren directed the first jam with precise, meaningful leads. An Other One theme arose and Phil was so very smooth in reigning it back in to finish Lady with a Fan. With heads dizzy from the altitude, the band charged at Terrapin and leapt off the precipice behind, soaring out, gliding down and landing back in the rolling jam from earlier in the set.
The loose shimmy-shake of Not Fade Away won big cheers from the audience, and featured a vague Mountain Jam tease, as well as the expected guitar fireworks. The exiting jam began with more incendiaries from the leads, but gave way to a pretty, starlit spaceway that hinted at Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds well before the Beatles’ cover came to be. The anthem was short and thrilling; had it been longer, it might have overwhelmed the field of listeners. Returning to the NFA jam, more teases abounded, including GDTRFB and the China > Rider transition, before the band shambled into Friend of the Devil. Molo was loose and grooving along with Rob and the rhythmic guitars through the first verse. Warren handed off a nice slide solo to Jimmy, who finished it neatly, and returned the song to the second verse. The second jam picked up speed with Phil sounding deep and clear at the center of a swarm of blips and beeps. It was ripe with potential when it burst into Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion. "Take off your shoes, child, take off your hat, try on your wings and find out where it’s at."
After Phil’s accolades, during which he thanked Ken Hays and Terrapin Presents (how many times does an artist thank a promoter?), the band drifted through a warm rendition of The Wheel and into a smooth, spiraling version of Unbroken Chain. As I mentioned before, as Phil mentioned, as most everyone in attendance noted, there was simply a great energy present for these shows. While the opening and closing sets were certainly the strongest, as one long voyage, the shows covered vast amounts of territory, and offered glimpses of places just beyond the range of senses.
Further On* > Hurry Up, Church > Turn It Out, 1 in 7, Azucar, Tuesday Night Squad
- backing Peter Prince
Easily half of the Tribe had left by the time Soulive played, plenty satisfied with the musical fare up to that point. Sunday’s line up was a bit out of synch with the previous three days, dropping the GD family ties in favor of some serious groove. Early on the crowd was treated to the down home and dirty swamp funk of Mofro. Hailing from Florida, this quintet had some serious style, the guitarists sitting back on vinyl cover kitchen chairs, circa 1978, while slinking and sliding through song after song about the countryside and corn bread. They opened for KDTU at the Bowery in NYC on the Fourth and it must’ve been a nice fit. Incidentally, they are June’s New Groove of the Month here at Jambands.com, so check em out.
Their set was followed by Peter Prince playing acoustic. I learned a few years ago not to miss a Peter Prince set, especially at a festival. His vitality and humor always bring a smile to my face, an often he has a friend or two to help out. In this case, a few songs into the set, he brought out Kraz. Soulive’s guitarist played on three songs, including That’s Life, adding light color and certainly not showboating. During this Al and Sam were in front of the stage watching. It should be pointed out that Neal and Alan Evans were original members of Peter Prince’s band Moon Boot Lover, so big cheers came from the crowd when Peter brought both on stage, along with Soulive’s Sam Kininger. Peter switched to electric, donned his moon boots and led the band through Further On Up the Road, literally snapping every string on his guitar along the way. At points he was on the drum riser or cheering on Neal’s funky left hand. Yet again the vibes were right there on stage.
As the tune flourished and closed, Prince screamed out an introduction of Soulive and the groove quartet launched right into Hurry Up and Wait, Sam leading the intro over Neal’s clean synth bass. Kraz was like a different player than just moments before, playing sharp, bubbly lines and really digging in. A nice jamlet by just Al and Sam led to a short, potent layer of sustain from Neal to end the tune. As Alan introduced the band, Neal grooved out on the keys. He would do this many times throughout the set, but on the first occasion it actually developed into a little jam, a minute or two in length, that involved all the band members. Surprisingly the jam was followed by Church > Turn It Out, which was a standard Soulive closer for two years, before the Oteil Burbridge joint was replaced by the Stevie Ray Vaughn tribute Lenny, and finally Turn It Out lost its spot to Tuesday Night Squad. Be that as it may, the jam, which just begs to be pushed over the top, produces a lot of energy for so early in a set. Church was actually rather short, slipping smoothly into TIO. Neal played brief showers of high notes seemingly off his own bass line, before finding that note to hold and not letting go. Eventually he also settled on a bass riff that was heavy on the one, and led the band with his whole body as he slowed the music in long stages- fantastic! Al brought in the second half of TIO was a series of shout backs and "Hell Yeahs!" as the others grinded the music to a fine powder. The song closed by speeding up and slowing down to ones and two before a big flourish. I figured the set was over.
Alan asked for requests and got so many that he threw out a drumstick, the person catching it choosing 1 in 7. There was almost no bass intro, and the band took a few bars to bring the song up to speed- a very slick effect. Alan really showed off his mastery of tempo and style here, with quick switches and jungle drums. Azucar followed, fogging the stage with a blissful haze. Kraz played so sweet, and so soft, like candied liquid, and Neal’s keys were no less expressive. A fine, long version.
A Tuesday Night Squad, almost exactly thirty minutes in length, closed the set. Kraz grooved hard early on with a mix of lead licks and rhythm clicks, followed by Neal riding a wave. Sliding in and out of the tube of sound, he eventually rode into a swinging little groove with his brother, Sam on the tambourine, as Kraz switched guitars. Sam’s solo, with Neal’s bass riffs and supporting fills, was nothing but super funk. Soon after, Alan left the stage, followed by Kraz in the twenty-third minute. Sam and Neal then jammed on a number of ideas, including a Prince tune, actually coming to a complete stop four or five times, each time restarting on a new tangent- a huge variety of texture and sound. Sam left just moments after Neal; he must have been exhausted.
The set was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, the best Soulive show I’ve seen in over a year. It was also interesting to see many of the musicians still on site, including all of Mofro, John Leccese (Reid Genauer Band, Percy Hill), Aaron Katz, and members of Third World, gathered around the stage to see these young superstars of the jam and jazz worlds.