Bella Terra

Stephentown NY

August 15-18 2013

I got to Bella Terra at around 8 PM or so on FRI night after a full work week, dreading what I thought might be an intense line to get in and park.  But there was not much traffic, and parking, getting my bracelet and inside all were relatively easy.  I got to see my Ziontific pal Shannon Mauro at the front gate, and my wife and I strolled onto the main concert field and to the merch booth which would serve as our HQ that weekend.
Angel had been there since set up day on Wednesday, so we caught up while the unique stylings of Zach Deputy drifted our way from the main stage.
I had missed quite a bit of music already, and I had to come to grips that my stay at the festival would be abbreviated for sure.  Just a glimpse at the schedule saw a variety of things that I wanted to see, but that had already come and gone at a festival whose dates open with full music on Thursday.  EOTO had headlined Thursday night and I have yet to see them, and some old friends of mine from the road, UV Hippo (playing on OCT 12 at Cicero’s in Saint Louis) had already played on Friday.
Alas, you can’t spend much time wondering about what you have missed at a music festival; that is precious time that can be spent planning on what you would like to see instead.
I caught up with an old friend, Lauren- who I hadn’t seen since Bella Terra 2011, and who was in town while road managing for Ghost Face Killah.  Predictably, the hip hop show was a bit late arriving, to the benefit of Zach Deputy and his adoring crowd, as Zach stretched his set over an hour to help cover time.  He was followed by a hip hop act, Milo B I think it was, that was fine but sadly not memorable for me personally.  That time was spent hanging in the booth, catching up with my friends who were all arriving, and scoping out the festival grounds.
This is the second time I have been to Bella Terra.  The first was in 2011, which I believe was the first time that the festival was at this particular location in Stephentown, NY- in a very large, flat field seemingly perfect for an event such as this.  While I missed last year’s BT, it is clear that they are growing both in terms of attendance and in general in how they envision this festival.  The promoters put a big emphasis on visual art, and it is all over the place.  There are cool installments, cut outs, and costumes walking around.  There is a large pyramid in the middle of vendor row, and had I wandered the grounds more than I did, I suspect I would have found more interesting things to see.  There were several people doing live painting murals, and you could see a few that had been done at festivals past on display, too.
Ghostface hit the stage after some hype time by his posse, and the headlining position of the main stage got going.  I’m not terribly familiar with the Wu Tang history, but I know that GFK is from that crew, and he had a full crew himself on stage.  There were two other rappers (hype men someone near me called them) and a DJ and I probably missed more folks, too.  Clearly I’m not a hip hop enthusiast as I’m still not positive which one of the three guys that were rapping was Ghostface himself.  You could tell that the crowd had been waiting for him though, as the main stage crowd filled up again after they had dispersed during the waiting period.
Those searching for music during that wait were rewarded though with a full set by jam band stunt men, The Breakfast.  Their appearance nowadays are really quite rare (they will be at Tammany Hall in Worcester MA the night before Thanksgiving) with the band members all in other touring bands.  But you could see that they have not lost their love of the intense and courageous jam- going out on a wire is something on which both lead guitarist Tim Palmieri and drummer Adrian Tramantolo have staked their musical reputations.  Psychedelic Breakfast was their first big band together that was a vehicle for those adventures.  Though I have seen them since their days as Psychedelic Breakfast, I’m not knowledgeable about their song titles.  I did notice easily however when they busted out the Living Color classic Cult of Personality.  (Living Color will be headlining Wimbash at Sully’s Pub in Hartford CT SEP 20 and 21, an event that will also feature a film screening and other artists including original members of the Sugar Hill Gang.)
Back to Ghostface-  their set comprised of songs that the crowd seemed to recognize-  in addition to GFK material old and new, it was clear that there was a sampling of old school hip hop- with shout outs to BIG and Michael Jackson among them.  Their show was I wouldn’t say brief, but about the hour or so you would expect from a hip hop headliner at a festival- and the crowd seemed to be completely rewarded and sated.
As I was losing my energy and helping to get the booth closed up (okay, maybe I wasn’t a big help) I could hear DPR (Danny Pease and the Regulators-who will be at Tammany Hall along with Boston’s Strange Machines in November for a CD release show) were getting going on that same stage that the Breakfast had recently vacated, and I added them to the list of bands I was disappointed to miss.
The next morning dawned bright, but I managed to sleep until almost 9 AM, an amazing accomplishment for me at a festival.  This is partly because Jeff and the Bella Terra perhaps know their crowd well- being late night partiers, there was no temptation to start the music early.  And since our booth was on the main concert field, and there was security keeping folks out of there until the stage fired up, we had plenty of time to get organized for the day, both personally and for the booth.
First up on the main stage was Lion Bird Sound System.  I got a chance to meet with Higha Seeka, one of the members of the two man team that composes LBSS.  He described the band as an old school Jamaican sound system, which while I am not previously familiar with the concept seems to be a DJ concept the brings for the most cutting edge releases in reggae music, and mixes in commentary and rap and vocal performance.  They were a good and mellow start to the day.  
My attention was split next between the two bands that were in close proximity in so many ways.  On the side stage was Outer Stylie, helmed by Nathan Martel on vocals and guitar.  On the main stage was the band Orange Television, the band from which Nate is known to most Northeastern jam band fans originally, but now on his own.  I was able to catch some time with both bands, and the experience was rewarding.  Both bands are birthed from a concept of melding the improvisational freedom of the jam scene with a healthy respect and reverence for hard rock and heavy metal.  Parts of Black Sabbath, Van Halen, Radiohead, and Tenacious D are visible with both bands- Outer Stylie tends to be more of a fun loving band, bent on having a good time while rocking hard; Orange Television seems to set out to project a purposeful artistic vision, with Howie Feibusch on guitar and vocals, and I believe he is also the principal songwriter.  Their music tends to be dark and at times trippy (I’m reminded of an early Pink Floyd, but with a nod toward heavier music), with an extremely solid rhythm section supplied by Monte on drums and Miles on bass.  Every time I have seen them, they have improved drastically, and you can tell that there really is something there to explore.
Next up on the main stage was a band called Shlang.  Apparently they are a collective of musicians and djs from a variety of well-known acts in that world, about which I know very little.  I ran into the festival promoter Jeff and I asked where the band was from, and he said from all over and that they were members of many named acts in the more electronic leaning live electronic world.  There were several bands that I have seen over the years t Shlang reminded me of, though their spirit is their own clearly.  A combination of live music instruments with sampling, computer generated rhythms coupled with a live drum set, thumping, at times primitive and at times futuristic, but more often both at the same time.  I got a new millennial tribal vibe off of their sound, but I’m certain that I am using those terms incorrectly!  So far as under the radar bands that I have seen, both K’Chung of Seattle in the mid-90s and Ka’Nal of California in the mid-2000s both sprung to mind.  The easy comparison is to bands like Ozric Tentacles who are specializing in live electronic music with flair.
There was a really tough hip hop act on the main stage next, and I won’t call out the performer, but sadly their voice was completely shot. And given that the act was just a DJ and a rapper, and with the rapper’s voice sounding like he’d been shouting for the last 10 years, the resultant sound was really rough.  Happily, I saw the Alchemystics setting up on the adjacent main stage and I got ready to catch their set.  I wandered back to the booth and heard what sounded like live music, so I picked into the VIP  area where there was a band playing.  A tight little unit with keys, drums and bass- all unfolding for the VIP area.  I’m guessing that the band was called the Chive from the t-shirts I saw walking around, but I’m not sure-  they were fun and a pleasant surprise.
The Alchemystics have been hitting the festival scene hard for years, and this summer is no exception- after killing it at Strangecreek in MA in May, and Ziontific in June, and Kind Roots in July, Bella Terra was the obvious next step in their summer festival sweep- and Wormtown is just around the corner!  You can tell that they are very comfortable with their current lineup which now features a breath of fresh air on the bass, new guy Mike!  They cruised through a set of great material including some vintage material (Fire from their first album), and newer material Thinkin’ bout You  from their current release and a brand new song premiered at Bella Terra I think that was named Sparkle Pimp that their MC Force indicated was going to be on their next release.  It was good to see some different material in their set, and they proved why they are a staple in the northeast festival scene.  Catch them at Tammany Hall on SAT September 7th for their return to that home away from home for them.
Sadly, I had to leave Bella Terra at that point for some significant travel.  But what I saw there was a festival that I think is in their fourth year, is carefully trying to evolve and grow, while remembering who they are and why they started this festival in the first place.  While many festivals tout a varied lineup, Bella Terra really delivers in the diversity department.  Significant time was spent on jam, hip hop, electronica, and even hard rock and reggae- all in the mere 22 hours that I was on site.  From my chat with the promoter and his family, I know that this was a high priority for the festival.  I had a long list of bands that I missed and wished I hadn’t including music that is getting ready to happen the  afternoon that I write this including my favorite tribute band Start Making Sense- a tribute to Talking Heads (who will be at the Old 78 Farm Fall Festival in Warwick MA on SEP 28th) who will then be followed by one of my favorite bands of all time, Max Creek (who will be playing at the Waterhole in Saranac Lake NY and then the Harvest celebration in Pulaski NY on the first weekend of October.)  I guess it’s okay to walk away with a little bit of anticipation for next year.  Right?