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ROTHBURY, Rothbury, Michigan- 7/3-6

Conscious Alliance recycled can art

With my tent set up along the main walkway from the campsites to the ROTHBURY Festival entrance, I regularly heard snippets of conversations as I battled the heat of the early morning sun in order to catch a few extra minutes of rest.

Then a female voice pierced through my sleep-deprived haze. “Oh, I can’t wait to see what’s in store today.” In one sentence, she encompassed not only the sensation of each unfolding moment during ROTHBURY’s debut, but of the festival-going experience.

The Conduit Vibrational Sound Journey in Sherwood Forest

Not surprisingly, ROTHBURY experienced a few bumps i.e. not enough volunteers to guide campsite parking, lack of nighttime lighting, a number of sets that did not run on schedule but credit goes to its staff for efforts to improve matters. The lighting situation improved following Thursday’s opening and it did a good job adjusting after the grounds received a massive downpour on Wednesday. Credit also goes to the more than 35,000 who attended and adapted to the situation.

The strange thing about ROTHBURY was that it seemed to consist of several factions Dave Matthews Band, Phish and Phil Lesh/Widespread Panic that occasionally found common ground in some of the alternative rock acts such as Modest Mouse, hip-hop artists (Snoop Dogg) and electronica acts (STS9, Crystal Method, EOTO, Lotus). Unlike the open-minded interests found at Bonnaroo, worthwhile acts such as Sam Beam (of Iron & Wine), Beth Orton and A3 played to several hundred or less as the majority of the crowd moved on to something else. Beam, downplaying his role before he played a note, commented to those who stuck around, “Looks like everyone’s leaving to go see Snoop Dogg. That’s okay. I know who my friends are.” Obviously clueless to who Trey Anastasio is, and the relevance of his Sunday performance, Orton made several pointed barbs in his direction, while A3 simply gave it their all for the small late night audience.


But, on the positive side for this music addict, there was so much to discover and enjoy during the brief timeframe. While I write about music, my schedule doesn’t always allow me to attend live performances. So, I was more than pleased to find ROTHBURY giving me the opportunity to see blues legend Taj Mahal, the Emmitt Nershi Band, Mickey Hart Band, Of Montreal, the Black Keys, Tea Leaf Green, Widespread Panic, Phil Lesh & Friends, Primus (!), EOTO, Lotus, Railroad Earth, Disco Biscuits, Yonder Mountain String Band…

Jon Fishman with Yonder Mountain String Band

And it was palpable how much the artists were inspired by the surroundings, particularly the tree-lined Ranch Arena and calm-by-day-trippy-by-night Sherwood Forest, and the environmentally-focused approach. Recycling was encouraged to the nth degree with workers manning compost/recycling/landfill stations. With its attention to incorporating art among the festivities, we were treated to Conscious Alliance’s world record canned good sculpture, the Junk Gardenand you just had to see the Swinging Monkeys a marvel of flipbook-like sculpture with well-timed strobelights.


For some such as Michael Franti and Amanda Palmer of Dresden Dolls, ROTHBURY provided an opportunity to indulge in other interests. Both provided musical accompaniment during Spiritual Gangster yoga sessions. For others such as John Bell, Michael Kang, Drew Emmitt, Sam Beam and Citizen Cope, the panels on the background, need and approach to sustaining a green way of life.

Widespread Panic

Of course, I cannot complete this without commenting on the three-quarters of a Phish reunion. After 17 months away from a full performance, Anastasio took the vulnerable route of playing solo acoustic. Despite the sound barely being loud enough to reach the back of the Odeum Stage area, the scene felt like one big smile. Early on, he commented, “It feels real good to be back. Thanks very much.” Of course, as was anticipated he was joined by Mike Gordon for several numbers including two new ones and “Chalkdust Torture.” Gordon’s set with his new band would have been good enough, but his kindness was rewarded when Anastasio joined him, once a guitar was found. Then, Jon Fishman, who played with Yonder Mountain two days earlier, stuck around and played on a cover of the Beatles’ “She Said, She Said.”

Trey and Mike

As raindrops returned during the fest’s final set (Lesh & Friends), dreams of a Phish reunion dancing through many heads and just as many looking forward to the festival’s next act in 2009. Still, for the organizers of ROTHBURY, as satisfied as they should be for getting all the parts in sync, their main desire remained influencing concertgoers to go forth and create a better tomorrow. Hopefully, the enthusiastic thoughts from Taj Mahal become more of a reality than a blissed-out moment.

Commenting on all the young people in his audience he said, “I used to wonder what’s going to happen in the future. Now, we know, and it’s in good hands.”

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