moe. or Les Music Festival & Campout, Marvins Mountaintop – Masontown, WV- 7/12 & 13</b.
The road to Masontown, Rt. 7 East, bends through the eastern part of Monongalia County, past Greer Limestone, and into Preston County. Masontown’s downtown area is small, one intersection really, marked simply with a piece of pink neon poster board sign reading “Festival” and an arrow. Ten minutes later we were there, looking out on an already thriving scene, cars being diverted to the left edge of the grounds for parking and camping. To the right, on the second highest elevation of the grounds (only the late night stage on the hill was higher), was the main stage, a gradual grassy slope leading away from the stage to a line of trees. A perfect natural amphitheatre. The usual array of food and crafts vendors lined the main stage area, which was connected to the campground and parking areas by a stretch of gravel road, with accompanying footpath.
We got the tent pitched and everything squared away as the sounds of Strangefolk drifted over from the main stage. I’ve seen them a couple of times, though none since the departure of Reid Genauer, and wanted to check them out. Needless to say, I missed their set, but didn’t worry because I knew that I could catch their late night set on the hill, and by that time, the party would really be jumping.
The next band on the bill was Lake Trout, out of Baltimore, MD. Having lived in Maryland for the past few years, I’d sent the Trout a few times, and been blown away more often than not. Drummer Matt Lowry is one of the jamband scene’s unsung heroes. He is the driving force behind the band’s “organica” drum n’ bass sound, and he can hit the skins with anybody. Lake Trout’s sound has evolved somewhat to include more of Woody Ranere’s vocals, which blend nicely with the electric soundscape that the band creates. They delivered an inspired set, feeding off of an audience that was thrilled to get their weekend underway. The sonic sounds of Lake Trout, combined with the beautiful scenery, gave many concert-goer another reason to cheer.moe.’s first set of the weekend was next, and the main stage area began to gather its first large crowd of the weekend. Folks were pumped and the energy was high as the band emerged to an energetic “Jazz Wank”. I was impressed with the audience’s anticipation of the tension and release of the tune, roaring each time Garvey and Schnier came back around to the tune’s signature lick. The energy built to a frenzied peak as every pair of feet was bouncin’ as the band brought it into the opening of “Buster”. moe. managed to tear through a first set, which included a rocking “Seat of My Pants” and a thunderous “Akimbo” set closer. Many of the faithful wandered back to the campground after the set to rest up for the insanity of the Frog Brigade that loomed. Friday we were provided with the perfect weather and many stopped at the edge of the natural rift etched into Marvin’s Mountaintop to take in a sublime sunset that might have been one of the festival’s highlights.
Just after the sun had gone down, Les Claypool emerged with his maniacal band of marauders which included no less than one devil, one knight, and one monster of a one-named guitar player in Eenor. Not familiar with Claypool’s music outside of Oysterhead and a few random Primus tunes, I didn’t know what to expect.
The band exquisitely throttled my body and brain. Claypool’s thunderous bass drives the group, while the beat is steadied by Tim Alexander, original drummer for Primus, and Mike Dillon of Critters Buggin’ on percussion. This leads to such a solid groove that it gives Eenor the freedom to chime in with blazing licks on a whim, while Skerik mischievously prances about dropping in on the sax. The Frog Brigade built intensity early in their set with “Angry Young Man”, and “Long in the Tooth”. Insanity unfolded with “Hendershot” as the jam turned spacey and totally deconstructed to Skerik’s rants and was then put back together again. Later on, Claypool busted out his crash-helmet mic with glowing frog-eyes for a spacey take on the Bowie classic “Space Oddity”. It would be the “2000 Light Years > Drumz > 2000 Light Years”, that followed that would prove to be the highlight of the set as the jam truly managed to make it light years away before the Brigade, led by Col. Claypool’s funky low end, crashed into the catchy and exceedingly danceable chorus.
After being physically and emotionally drained by the Frog Brigade, half dumbfounded by what I had seen, I used the set break to have a bite to eat and recharge. I sat and stared into a smoldering bonfire underneath a cloudless star filled West Virginia sky as moe. returned to the stage to comment on their last trip to West Virginia, the rain and mud saturated All Good Festival. Needless to say, I was transfixed by the stars and the fire, and it took me a bit to get off of the ground and amble over to the stage. As I finally succumbed to the music the band had segued into a slick version of “Recreational Chemistry”. By the time I had gotten my boogie back on the band dropped into Tori Amos’ “Cornflake Girl”. I must admit that, though I have seriously mixed feelings on Tori’s music, I thought that this was a great version turned in by moe. They make the song their own, and face it, Derhak couldn’t sing like Amos if he tried. However, he doesn’t try to and turned in a spirited rendition of the song, especially the, “this is not really, this-a-this-a-this is not really happening” line.
“That Chuck Song” followed, which is one of my favorite of the newer moe. tunes. I think it showcases their new space-groove style of jamming, and the beat is right on the mark. The delivery of the lyrics really pumps one up to dance really hard, while at the same time being catchy, I found myself unconsciously singing “We are all waiting. For the main event,” over and over in the week following the festival. “That Chuck Song” segued into “Kyle” and then into “Brent Black” which would serve as the high energy all out rock closer, complete with Metallica tease. The “Blister in the Sun” encore was done with enthusiasm and camp, with Rob Derhak mimicking the song’s inspiration on his bass. As most of the crowd filtered back to the camp ground to continue the party, or just to sleep. I, with a small collection of others, hiked up the steeper-than-it-looked route to the late night stage. A shallow bandstand, the stage was lit with simple lights and was perched precariously on the edge of a steep embankment. The crowd of less than a hundred that had gathered was entirely seated, pooped from the trek up the hill, as Strangefolk took the stage to their reclining audience. After the first tune the crowd was up and dancing resembling a more conventional show. The crowed cheered when, after a few songs, Al Schnier took the stage at the request of the band. Schnier sat in, first on the Folk original “Water” and then the Dead staple “Cumberland Blues”, most folks coming to the festival from the east coast, could relate as they passed through Cumberland on the way. Reportedly the band ended their set at sunrise with “’Til the Morning Comes”, but don’t take my word on it. By that time I was tucked away in the tent resting up for the mayhem that would be unleashed the following day.
I awoke the next morning around noon, thanks in part to overcast skies that kept the temperature cool, and the sun mostly hidden. Anytime you can sleep in until noon in a tent it really is saying something. After the night I had the rest was needed. As Townhall played the day’s inaugural set, I spent my time wiping the cobwebs from my brain, and milling about the campground. I enjoyed bagel and a beer for breakfast in full-on festival style. My campground malaise continued as Ike Willis and Project Object took the stage to tear it up on some classic Frank Zappa tunes. By the end of their set I had wandered over to the main stage area, just in time to catch the tail end of the set. Ike Willis waved a T-Shirt featuring the famous Zappa-yawning photo around as he exited the stage to join the party for the rest of the weekend. Seriously. You couldn’t kick an errant hacky-sack anywhere in the festival grounds the rest of the day without hitting Ike Willis.
All Mighty Senators were up next, encouraging the audience to dance, despite the daylight. Most in attendance were unable to refuse the Senators’ demands. It is my opinion that not all bands need to push the music envelope, as long as I can boogie. And dance the crowd did, as the Senators delivered their quirky space funk to an energized festival crowd. Led by Landis Expandis’ funky drumbeats, the Senators’ sound rests solidly on the funky bass lines delivered by Jack Denning, creating a potent and highly motivating rhythm section. Guitarist Warren Boes, as well as a tight horn section, are just icing on the cake adding a flourish to the funky groove. The set consisted mostly of Senators’ standards, opening with “Giant Steps” and including “Power Generator”, “Culture Shock”, as well as a funkafied version of “Rocky Top”.
Yonder Mountain String Band followed with their wailing acoustic sound. I spent this set again relaxing at the campground. The band’s name seemed very fitting because they were, in fact, the string band playing on the yonder mountain. Their set was good from a distance, and included a cover of the Jesse Fuller standard “You’re No Good”, which appeared on Bob Dylan’s first album. I packed up the campsite as the Recipe took the stage, preparing to make the 20min trek back to Morgantown after the night’s festivities had come to a close. By the time the Recipe was in the tail end of their set I had meandered back to the concert area and set up shop with some fellow live music lovers from the Morgantown area, as we relaxed in the temperate weather, hoped the rain would hold off, and waited for moe.
moe. emerged about a half an hour later, and the concert area instantly swelled with bodies and intensity. The band tore into “Okayalright” which was rocking, but reserved. “Waiting For the Punchline” allowed the band to stretch it’s legs a bit, though the solos were short and to the point. “Spine of A Dog” followed to the delight of the audience, obviously one of moe.’s most recognizable songs. The set had started with three songs, none of which featured any “outside the box” jamming. As I thought to myself that it was about time for this set to get crazy, moe. answered my thoughts by easing into “Mexico”. Always one of my favorite moe. tunes, the jam out of the song was where the band, led by Schnier, delivered their first impressive jam of the evening, weaving back and forth with reckless abandon. The jam then slowed and morphed into my other favorite moe. song, “Happy Hour Hero”. I was ecstatic, moe. read my mind and dropped my two favorite tunes into a set that had yet to get me going. Not stopping there, the song quickly worked it’s way into a set-closing “Bring It Back Home”. This song was new a few years ago, the last time I was seeing moe. consistently. Since then, it has evolved into a fan favorite, with everyone in attendance hardily clapping and singing along to the song’s infectious melody. After over a half an hour the blazing “Mexico > Happy Hour Hero > Bring It Back Home” was brought to a close, along with the set, leaving the crowd chattering excitedly to each other that they had just witnessed a definite festival highlight.
Anticipation was frenzied as the crew began to set up for Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade. I was anxious for this set, after nearly losing my mind to their show the night prior. As with any exceedingly high expectations there is bound to be some disappointment, and Claypool delivered a tight and spirited set, though I felt it could not hold a candle to their Friday night set. That being said, it was by no means without its merit, and further cemented my opinion that Claypool is one of the most creative and unique musicians going today, and the jamband scene should feel honored to have him. “Highball with the Devil” and a fiery “Moby Dick > Drums > Moby Dick” were set standouts. Another festival highlight occurred when Claypool instructed Eenor to lay down his guitar and make way for Ike Willis, who sat in on “Calling Kyle” and the Beatles’ “Taxman”. Watching Willis and Claypool together on stage was a treat, though musically, I felt that Willis couldn’t compete with Eenor in the guitar department.
During the end of Claypool’s set, and the following set break the inevitable happened, and the sky finally opened, after threatening all day long. The rain dampened the crowd’s moods somewhat, but those of us who attended the All Good Festival knew what Mother Nature could unleash, and could take anything. moe. emerged for their final set of the evening and tore into a short but rocking “Not Coming Down”. “Plane Crash” was up next, a fan favorite, the crowd responded at the opening guitar line and shouted along with the chorus, all the while the band began to jump off into the deep end, extending the song with their blazing improvisation.
“Moth” was up next and the crowd roared, as Claypool emerged from the wings, bass in hand. Claypool and Derhak provided a heavy low end for a few minutes, until Claypool explained that he couldn’t hear himself due to technical difficulties. This prompted Derhak to head offstage, leaving Claypool steering the ship that already was roaring out of control. One by one, the other members of the Frog Brigade stepped out and began adding to the insanity that should be referred to as the “moe. or Les Jam”, because they quickly left the constraints of “Moth” behind. Derhak then reemerged to play along on Claypool’s bass, two bassists, one bass. At this point, all members of both bands are on stage and the jam is absolutely destroying all who can hear it. An upbeat and funky jam, featuring dark layered space sounds courtesy of Schnier’s keyboards, which he had begun playing after he handed his axe to Eenor, the jam absolutely roared like a ferocious beast out for blood. All told, this epic jam seemed to go on forever much to the delight of the audience and the band members (save for Chuck Garvey, who seemed utterly lost, or dumbfounded the whole time). Claypool then waved to the crowd and handed the reins back over to Derhak as his Frog Brigade cohorts followed shortly thereafter.
Unable to bring the runaway jam to a close, moe. segued into “Lazarus” and then melted into a psychedelic version of “Four”. Garvey took the reins on this one and led the band through an epic rendition of the tune, featuring great sing-soloing which always entertains. “Four” quickly morphed into the long-time moe. blow out “Rebubula” which most dedicated moe.ron’s that I talked to cited as their absolute favorite moe. jam. This one was nothing less than huge and by the time the band had left the stage, most of the crowd had forgotten that it was raining anything other than good times. The band began it’s encore with “Tambourine” a short and catchy, but for the most part, unexciting song that led me to believe that the boys had one more in store. I was right when they followed with a rousing version of the 1980s classic “In a Big Country”. As with the other cover songs moe. did that weekend “In A Big Country” was delivered in full-on moe. style, not a faithful reproduction of the original, which to me is important. A smile was on everyone’s face.
Drained of energy, and at this point, thoroughly drenched, I had hoped to catch Lake Trout’s late night set, but instead opted to call it a weekend and head back to Morgantown to process what I had seen. If the question of the festival was, in fact, “moe. or Les?” I would have to say Les took Friday night, but moe. earned their headliner status back on Saturday. Marvin’s Mountaintop proved to be the big winner though. A perfect and peaceful setting for a festival, Walther made sure to remind everyone that he would be making the trip back to the West Virginia hills for a return engagement over Labor Day weekend for the Summer of Love 35 Years Later Festival. I’ll be there too.