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Published: 2009/05/07
by Matt Houdek

Operation Adaptation: A Festival for a Healthy Planet, The Concord House, Sullivan, WI 4/24 & 4/25

Festival season is upon us and the time has come again to start wrapping hula hoops, saving money to buy tickets, shining our dancing shoes and working on those new moves to unveil amongst the dancing masses. In the Midwest, one of the first festivals of the season was the 2nd annual Operation Adaptation: A Festival for a Healthy Planet held on Earth Day weekend, April 24 25 at the Concord House in Sullivan, Wisconsin.

The Concord House, a huge building with two back-to-back full size stages and a full field for camping, is the perfect venue for an April festival in Wisconsin as it guarantees that whether it’s eighty degrees or snowing (both possibilities for this time of year in Wisco) that the music will go on uninterrupted and as planned. Ryan Peterson and Nate Kamsler, owners and promoters of the festival, brought in students from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) to help create a fun and festive atmosphere for both the artists and the festival attendees, including a Mario Brothers themed stage and a stage that seemed to come from a cross between a Dr. Seuss story and an MC Escher sketch.

Also unique to the festival and certainly one of the non-musical highlights was the Human-Powered Bicycle Stage created and brought in by Power by the People. The Bike Stage, which does not utilize “stored power” to power its lights, sound and backline, requires festival attendees to take part in generating the electricity in real time by riding on the stationary bikes that were set-up as a semi-circle facing the stage and surrounding the dance area. Bands that played on the bike stage included Stealin Strings, Pert Near Sandstone, Heatbox, a Super Duper Jam, and the new Family Groove Company side-project, Women’s Downhill, among others.

Highlights from this stage include a collaboration between the virtuosic, beat box guru Heatbox with the new timey string band, Pert Near Sandstone in an extended rendition of music featured on the original Mario Brothers game, including all of the sound effects (fire balls, coins, hopping on turtles, hitting question boxes, etc.) offered up by Heatbox to the string accompaniment. Other highlights include a stellar and diverse set by Stealin Strings, the Super Duper Jam (aka “the Overserved Band” featuring members of Fat Maw Rooney, Stealin Strings, among others) and both Pert Near Sandstone’s and Heatbox’s individual sets. Also, the debut of Women’s Downhill, featuring Jordan and Mattias of Family Groove Company, was a perfect afternoon set that was both chill and yet full of energy.

As many larger festivals have come to do in the past few years, Operation Adaptation implemented a completely sustainable festival design, including offsetting festival emissions through the purchase of carbon credits, planting one tree for every ticket sold, serving all food from vendors on corn based dishes and utensils, offering numerous recycling/compost/landfill bins throughout the site, setting up a Solar Powered acoustic stage in the camping area and the Bike Stage indoors, and offering incentives for carpoolers and bikers. Two lucky carpoolers even ended up with a pair of Fat Fest 2009 tickets, another Fat Maw Rooney hosted event, which had announced their initial artist line-up (Hot Buttered Rum, The Wood Brothers, Everyone Orchestra, EOTO, Cornmeal, That 1 Guy, Kyle Hollingsworth Band, Yo Mamma’s Big Fat Booty Band, Family Groove Company, Pert Near Sandstone & Charlie Parr) in accordance with the Operation Adaptation dates as a means of cross-promotion.

The Green Team was another element of Adaptation’s commitment to the greening of the fest’ as they hosted a variety of presentations, demonstrations, workshops and discussion groups focused on issues of sustainable living and green thinking and doing in general. They also were charged with maintaining power for the Bike Stage (12 bikes in total), recruiting and educating others to hop on and do the same, and helping to promote a positive vibe for everyone in attendance.

On the main stage, highlights included performances by the high-energy funk n groove group, Shoeless Revolution, Friday’s headlining set (and only 2009 show) by Chinese Fingertrap which included guest appearances by some of the top musicians in the area, the nearly completely improvised Willy Porter Trio set with Dave Adler (legendary drummer for James Brown) and Biff Blumfumgagne the alien fiddle virtuoso, and of course the festival closing set by the host band, Fat Maw Rooney which also included an bevy of special guests, new songs and dirty, dirty cover selections. Fat Maw’s two hour plus set was forced to an end as they played well over their allotted time forcing the venue to flip on the lights after one of their extended, deep pocket jams.

The only downside of the festival was the rainy weather that carried from Saturday morning through Sunday morning, a direct opposition to the beautiful day on Friday. Fortunately with the dual indoor stage at the festival, the weather actually helped push people indoors early in the afternoon giving each band that played nearly a full crowd and high-energy feedback. As only a second year festival, we can expect to see some great things in future years from Operation Adaptation.

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