StrangeCreek Campout, Camp Kee-Wanee, Greenfield, MA- 5/23/-26
Hidden in Western Massachusetts is one of the music festival world’s best kept secrets – Camp Kee-wanee. Home to a summer camp during the summer months, the grounds are host to two music festivals – StrangeCreek and Wormtown – that bookend the music festival season in New England. Produced by Mark Blanchette of Wormtown, StrangeCreek ushers in the start of summer in the region, becoming a destination for fans of acts small and large throughout the Northeast amid wooded camping and winding trails.
The 2014 installment of StrangeCreek marked the welcome of brand new stages, new lighting and a newly married couple – Mark and Debbie – who celebrated throughout the weekend with 5,000 of their closest friends.
Underrated and under wraps – that’s how StrangeCreek’s Worms like it. The camp and festival are intertwined, with the festivals generating revenue for the camp, which has led to the building of two large cabins that are used by the camp for a wide variety of activities, but also used during the festivals for day time activities and late night music. StrangeCreek, as well as its fall counterpart, Wormtown, are established festivals, with this year’s StrangeCreek down to a science where the only uncertainty was the weather.
With three stages set among the festival grounds, it is easy to see music within a short stroll from your campsite, but occasionally if you take a wander through the woods, you’ll find bands like BA Dario from Western Mass, performing “Girlfriend is Better” at the refurbished River Worm Stage, only 50 feet from the banks of the Green River. In the woods, the air is damp and muggy but not unbearable; welcome to summer in Western New England! Primate Fiasco would later draw a growing crowd with a banjo-led “Let’s Dance”, with tuba providing the bass line. The hidden gems were at River Worm Stage throughout the weekend.
On the main stage, Wild Adriatic from Saratoga Springs brought straight indie rock with a cover of “Ophelia” and their original “Supernova” as a closer to their well received set. Turkuaz, making waves over the past year for their high octane funk, wrapped up just as the rain began to fall on the crowd, who were thrilled by “Honky Tonk Woman”. After the showers passed, Donna the Buffalo’s zydeco roused the crowd, playing tracks off 2013’s Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday. The funky one man soul of Zach Deputy headlined the evening, with a full field of Worms in attendance for his set, more so that past years when the woods were the retreat for most. Even a little rain and dampness kept the focus on the music, notably Zach’s performance of “Twisty Twisty.”
Late night in the cabins was for the first of two Max Creek shows this weekend, as well as William Thompson Funk Experiment, featuring members of The Hornitz, a successful experiment needing further trials to ensure similar results. Silent (Jeff) Bujak provided a headphone-clad gyrating crowd with deep organ techno accented by Jen Dulong’s illuminated hoop accompaniment. A day of great music with a little rain was capped with a stellar late night and bonfire that brought the community together.
A sunny Saturday had families out to the main stage field to listen to The Kind Buds acoustic duo perform originals and covers, including Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You”. With things drying out, The Party Band wandered the campgrounds throughout the day, playing impromptu sets in a way that made sure everyone caught this 10-25 piece band from Lowell, MA. Playing The Beatles “Happy Birthday,” Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” “I’ll Fly Away” and a handful of originals like “Booty Buggaloo,” this cousin to Goosepimp Orchestra plays music that comes to you, special delivery.
For the first time in many years at StrangeCreek, Jiggle the Handle reunited, with guitarist Gary Backstrom, Jr. fronting the band that showed no signs of rust amid their return to StrangeCreek. Playing “Walk Right Out Your Door,” “Salty Dog” and Paul Simon’s “I Know What I Know,” the band seemed as though they were in form and performed their set fluidly, with some seeing them for the first time, while others relived the glory days of the 1990s.
Domino Theory welcomed Max Creek guitarist Scott Murawski to the stage to sit in on “Secrets” and “Geeked Out,” while Way Up South performed a stellar rendition of “Whipping Post”. This is a prime example why small festivals have an advantage over larger festivals – you will see bands that may otherwise be unheard of, but in time, these bands will be playing and headlining small festivals in the region in five years time. Dopapod, Kung Fu, Turkuaz, Zach Deputy and Ryan Montbleau all have graduated to bigger festivals as a result of the buzz created at a festival such as StrangeCreek. These small festivals are the breeding grounds for the next wave of festival bands.
Out in Vernville, with its family feel and fresh fruit distributed throughout the course of the day, played host to bands throughout the day, including Upstate New York’s Hot Day at the Zoo who performed back to back “Cumberland Blues” and “Foxy Lady” on the grand new stage that expanded the appeal of the setting. In between sets, Strangefolk was played on the PA, giving the namesake of the festival a presence in a year when the band was not on the lineup, a notable loss among diehard fans still attending StrangeCreek.
The soul of The Lee Boys was present on the main stage during a churning “Orange Blossom Special,” “Testify” with Roosevelt Collier on lapboard and a rousing “Voodoo Chile” to cap their set. The rain held off on Saturday, at least until The Alchemistyics jinxed it by praising the lack of rain during this day. Roots reggae permeated the campgrounds during a rainstorm that cooled the grounds for the evening.
Max Creek, packing the field once again, performed their classic “You’re the Only One for Me,” plus a crowd-interacting encore of “Will the Circle be Unbroken?”, a sing-along that stretched on past the 11pm outdoor curfew. Late night in the cabins started out with Shakedown playing a show full of rocked out Grateful Dead covers, including “Viola Lee Blues” and “Cumberland Blues” with Scott Murawski sitting in. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong took the stage shortly after, playing an impressive “Birds of a Feather” to a packed crowd, well past 4am.
Over near the Green River, a late night crowd chilled quietly as the sun slowly rose in an eerie haze, the sound of the water lulling some to sleep, while others wandered the trails in the woods in search of continued late night revelry.
What better way to start a Sunday at a music festival than with a celebration, in this case, in the form of a wedding reception for Mark Blanchette and Debbie Lee, including catered food for all who were at the main stage during the daytime sets. The message inside the fortune cookie dessert – ‘One good worm deserves another’ – was fitting, not only for Mark and Debbie, but for the bond between those attending the festival with friends old and new.
Z3, a Frank Zappa tribute band, featuring Tim Palmieri on guitar, Beau Sasser on organ/keys and Bill Carbone on drums, played one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend, performing a variety of obscure Zappa songs, as well as classics “Willie the Pimp,” The Turtles “So Happy Together” and “Joe’s Garage,” all with former Zappa band member Ed Mann on xylophone for the entire set. Z3 might be one of those small bands who make the leap on festivals lineups in coming years based on word of mouth from this and other sets alone.
Out in Vernville, The Juicy Grapes played a worthy “2001” while the funk power trio of Playonbrother tore into Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” followed by original “Eyes Make Cosmic Hazeldust.” The Cream set that Playonbrother is performing at Catskill Chill stands to be a treat if their version of “Sunshine” is any indication.
On the main stage, Rusted Root closed the festival out with “Martyr,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Cat Turned Blue,” a stripped down version of “Send me on my Way” (with a little girl named Lola on drums), and a finale of “Drum Trip > Ecstasy.” Late night in the cabins brought out Goosepimp Orchestra and Zach Deputy to keep the Worms going until the bonfire faded to ashes.
When it comes to music festivals to get your summer started, Memorial Day weekend has plenty of options for you. If you are anywhere in the Northeast and prefer to camp in the woods among friends new and old, and see the next wave of great music arising from music festivals, StrangeCreek is your destination.