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Published: 2003/04/15
by Aaron Hawley

Treehugger’s Ball, Sunshine Daydream, Terra Alta WV- 4/12

A cool but beautiful April day was all I needed to head for the hills and catch the second night of the Treehugger's Ball, the first festival of the season at Terra Alta's Sunshine Daydream campground. I arrived as the sun was beginning to dip behind the lush green hills of the surrounding countryside. Numerous tents of various colors dotted the descending hillside as I strolled through a festival grounds with about five hundred other people, many bundling up for the chilly spring night that lay ahead. As I entered the barn, Northern Virginia's The Ordinary Way had the stage, and were entertaining a crowded dance floor with their psychedelic sounds.

The barn was in much better shape than the last time I'd been there, and packed with a mix of all sorts. Those in attendance included your usual blend of hippies and festival-types, but also a large number of families complete with small children running throughout the crowd at the lip of the stage, dancing harder than their parents. The soundboard has been moved to the balcony freeing up a great deal of dancing room down below. A computerized light system is in place, blanketing the stage area in a constantly morphing wash of color and design, setting the vibe right where it ought to be. The Ordinary Way's sound is reminiscent of the Allman Brothers crossed with the Grateful Dead with a soul drenched female vocalist thrown in just for good measure. The crowd in the barn responded with gusto as the band dropped into a long a winding "Dark Star" complete with a long drum segment dropped right in the middle. Lead guitarist Austin Mendelhall propelled the jam with his guitar leads dripping in psychedelic tones. Jesse Hooper's keys provided the band with much of their oomph, in this jam and others. "Come Alive", an Ordinary original, was top notch as Chris Stringfellow's bass built the song to a furious climax, brought over the top by a wash of Hooper's screaming organ and vocalist Fabienne Gustave's frenetic wailings. An impassioned cover of Bob Marley's "War" closed the set with a topical rant from Gordon Sterling, about the current Iraq situation. I had a chance to catch up with the band after their set and talk about the war for a few minutes, each band member having differing but equally passionate thoughts about the current situation.

The Davisson Brothers band was up next, providing their foot-stomping bluegrass rock sound to an enthusiastic West Virginia crowd. The brothers, sporting a pair of acoustic guitars are held down by an extremely tight and on point rhythm combo giving the band a very rollicking feel, with Hannah Ross's energetic fiddle playing leading the way. The band can be described as a veritable "hippie jukebox" and play songs that people really want to hear and get down to. Their set included standards like "Rolling in My Sweet Baby's Arms" and closed with an uplifting take on "Will the Circle Be Unbroken". Gordon and Fabienne, from the Ordinary Way, were invited onstage to share vocals on "Franklin's Tower" delivered with blistering intensity not usually associated with the bluegrass genre. All told, the crowd ate every bit of it up as the Davisson Brothers proved once again why they are one of this region's most popular local acts.

Jazz Mandolin Project closed the show, and when I say closed, I mean they slammed it shut. Unlike any other JMP show that I've taken in, this one featured a jar of moonshine being passed onstage and gave the performance and inspired and edgy tone. Jamie Masefield's mandolin ripped with an electric edge, and much of the softness that I had heard in their music previously was gone. Instead it was replaced with the energy of a party and the performance of a band playing without a safety net. Masefield and company obviously loved playing in the barn, in a much less formal setting than most of their other shows, they were here to have a good time, and it showed. With fingers of blazing speed, eyes half shut, hair a frazzle, and a demented smile on his lips, JMP's leader looked like he was someone who was in on something, that you, the listener, were just not yet ready to find out. The jams ripped back and forth, Masefield trading licks with veteran bassist Danton Boller like raging gunfighters. Drummer Danny Weiss added a comedic edge as he proved an answer to Jamie's moonshine-influenced rantings, often chiming in with such non-sequiters as "Jaleco Baseball! 1993! Mike Piazza!". The crowd loved every minute of it, many people commenting on how they didn't realize that the headliners were going to rock as hard as they did.

All told, the show was absolutely ripping, everyone left happy and the band played long and loudly into the starry West Virginia night. The vibe this weekend got most in attendance excited about the upcoming festival season, just around the bend. Kind folks from all around are ready. The weather is starting to turn, and summer's just around the bend. Best get out the dancing shoes. Or at least take the shoes off of your dancing feet.

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