July 24-28 2014
It was a bit of a ride from northern MA to Bath NH, as I stopped along the way to poster for the Old 78 Farm Fall festival in Hinsdale and Brattleboro, but I managed to get within a few minutes of the festival in the 9 PM range that I wanted. But just as I was on the cusp of entry, there was a bridge out and I had to take a 20 minute detour to get around that blockade. It wasn’t that big of a deal and worth it once I made it into Jerry Jam.
I was easily able to park, and find our vending booth (Old 78 Clothing) and connect with my beautiful lady. I was bummed to miss Girls Guns and Glory, but I had seen them recently at the Green River Festival. They do a great job though of sculpting their set to the Jerry Jam crowd, featuring the sounds of the cowboy songs that the Dead leaned on heavily mining from the rich vein of music coming from Merle Haggard, Marty Robbins and the like.
The Garcia Project featuring special guest Melvin Seals was on stage when I was able to settle in, and they were providing the good vibes you’d expect. They were both tight and loose in that Dead sort of way, and having Melvin onstage just made it feel like a festival for sure. I was glad to have seen them, and it was fun to be able to quickly meet Melvin back stage who was gracious and gregarious.
Friday night’s headliners were the Samples and I hadn’t seen them in about 15 years. They were still good, with that happy go lucky meets slightly contemplative melodic mood that they can create. Sean Kelly still has that distinctive somewhat quirky voice, and he is so comfortable up on stage. The band was tight, and I had been hearing that he had performed on Thursday night and was great then too, but I believe it was sitting in with Cats Under the Stars. I was bummed to have missed that.
The Samples had Zach Nugent from Cats Under the Stars sit in on electric guitar for what for me was the highlight of the set, a new song called Fukushima.. Despite not ever having heard the song before, nor ever having played with the Samples, they managed to rip it up together. Guitar licks were flying, and Kelly seemed to be enjoying himself extremely! They ended their set and illustrated that they really knew what the crowd wanted. They did a great version of the jam festival staple The Weight by the band and faded it into the Grateful Dead’s Franklin’s Tower. Once again they were joined by Nugent on lead guitar and you could just tell that everyone was having a fabulously good time. They either flirted with or outright went back into the Weight during the backend, but it gets a little hazy at that point for sure.
The crowd was vibrant and jubilant. Yep, seems like Jerry Jam to me!
Dead Undercover came on afterward, and were great. Their set relied heavily on the 1980s era Grateful Dead and when their second song was Brother Esau, one of my favorites, I knew I was in for a treat! They vaulted through a set filled with classics from that time frame and represented very well.
Saturday morning dawned bright and early for me as one of my camper mate’s cell phone alarm went off. I had to get up and you meet some interesting people at 7:30 AM wandering around a festival Because this is largely a family oriented festival, there were more than the normal amount of early risers. Kids don’t care how late you were up raging, they just wanna get up and get some cereal! It made for a nice morning and I helped to get the booth open nice and early.
Music started up in a casual way on the main stage with some acoustic oriented tunes. The first time I paid attention was when the acoustic band Cause and Effect took the stage. I expected some good times acoustic tunes, perhaps Cripple Creek or something.. But what unfolded was one of the biggest surprises I had for the weekend. The lead singer was both dynamic and gifted vocally and he captured my attention with a fun version of Lionel Ritchie’s Up All Night. Other songs were not surprising like Marley’s Could This Be Love but there were plenty more surprises including one of my favorite bands, Sonia Dada, who Cause and Effect did a great job of covering on their song Lover: You Don’t Treat Me No Good No More. Eddie Grant’s Electric Avenue gave way to some more traditional material like Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes.
The band was acoustic guitar and percussion, but random folks came in and lent support on vocals or harmonica or whatever. They were energetic and I felt the day start to really rev up.
Saturday afternoon unfolded with a cavalcade of tribute bands, The Wharf Rats doing Grateful Dead, Hurricane doing Neil Young, and eventually Fennario handling the Grateful Dead again. Regarding The Wharf Rats, though they weren’t youngsters the band felt fairly new. They were decent and had a happy vibe about them. Hurricane had both all that is good about Neil Young- the quirkiness, the great material, and those things that I have always found challenging about Neil Young- electric guitars that you aren’t sure are in tune, eclectic vocals, a casual approach to rhythm. But if you love Neil Young, these guys were great and covered the material you wanted for sure.
From the Bronx NY, the mid afternoon brought the band Rocky and the Pressers. They were a little more clean looking than you’d expect out of a Jerry Jam band for sure. But I wandered over and they were excellent. Reverb soaked vocals, and just a generally quality reggae vibe. I had never seen them before and it was a pleasant change to the Dead dominated scene (it is Jerry Jam after all, but breaking up the Deadness is a good thing, too.) Their set was compact but quite satisfying.
The opening licks of China Cat Sunflower signaled the start of the set by New England’s Fennario. They let unfurl a great tribute set to the Dead, and they are clearly skilled at it. The vibe was great and heading into dusk Jerry Jam was continuing to be just an awesome experience.
As darkness fell Moonalice took the stage. I’ve known about these cats for quite some time but I had yet to see them live myself. Barry Sless on lead guitar and John Molo on drums are two players that I have seen and followed for years and I truly admire and love their skills. Their website listed Pete Sears as bass / keyboards, but I can’t be sure myself if he was there that night. The list of bands that these players come from is certainly impressive (Sless was in the David Nelson Band, Kingfish and Phil Lesh and Friends; John Molo is/was in the Phil Lesh Quintet, Bruce Hornsby and the Range and has played with Dylan, Fogerty and even Jemimah Puddleduck. Sears has credits with Garcia, Jefferson Starship, The David Nelson Band, Rod Stewart and others.)
The band was decent, covering both some Grateful Dead and peripheral music, and doing some of their own material. Roger McNamee is the rhythm guitarist, vocalist, and principle songwriter of their original material. The band is decent, and with such great players it is no surprise. They are trying very hard to position themselves as a headliner for Dead oriented festivals, and while the vibes are good, I’m not sure that they have fully tapped into the box and gotten the golden nuggets out yet. They may yet, but so far the essentials truths, the core material, has eluded them. They are quite good and any time you can see players of this quality you should not hesitate to go.
Melvin Seals and JGB took the stage to headline the night and they showed us all why early and often. Great cuts from the JGB era of Garcia’s career were in full effect including an early set rendition of Get Out of My Life Woman. Dave Hebert is the lead vocalist and guitar player, Melvin on keys, two great backing vocalists in Shirley Starks and Cheryl Rucker, Pete Lavezzoli on drums and John-Paul McLean on bass.
The band easily captures the full band sound of the Jerry Garcia Band. Their instrumental breaks are perfect. My only critique is that while Hebert is a fantastic guitar player, his vocals don’t have the strength to lead the band as I wished they had. But this crowd, like all Dead crowds, is a vastly forgiving one and the JGB showed why they are the Saturday night headliners of this festival. Their set was lengthy and fun and included great JGB classics like Cats Down Under the Stars, I’ll Be With Thee, Sugaree, and more.
Saturday night really saw the crowd come to life and help with their own contributions to the vibe. I sat and watched for a really long time and took tons of pictures of LED hoopers that came out very psychadelic. There were folks with cool light machines that supplied ambient lighting and of course the requisite fire dancers! All in all, folks really had their party on!
At this point I was pretty toasted myself. It was after midnight and as you may recall, I was up at 7 something AM.
We partied in the booth a bit, and then I hit the camper while the Van Burens were taking the stage. I heard the first two tunes which were great, and I could hear them as I occasionally drifted in and out of sleep. They had a horn section who guested, and other folks like Hayley Jane who came in on vocals. My wife saw most of the set and said that they were stellar, in particular a great version of the Beatles’ Dear Prudence. Our friend stuck with them to the very end, at apparently 4:30 AM.
Sunday morning had me up a bit later but still early, probably 8:30 when someone had the clever idea of busting out and amplifying a theramin on the main stage. He did a picture perfect Ave Maria on it, and then let a bunch of kids play with it. Y’know, that spacy metal instrument that makes Star Wars sounds. As I felt mostly rested I didn’t mind so much, but I think a lot of folks didn’t take perfectly to the concept.
As the morning progressed, coffee and potatoes were consumed, and the day was starting off in a nice mellow way. The theramin dude played with an acoustic guy on stage who sang mellow tunes like Somewhere Over the Rainbow and other standards which was a nice start. A bluegrass band was setting up on stage when the skies opened up and a good inch of water fell to earth. After a while, the lightning and thunder started too.
Almost immediately, the power went out, and the main stage sound folks packed up. The bluegrass band that was coming together on stage moved to the tent near the sound board and went for it without a problem. They went totally acoustic, and a crowd gathered there to appreciate them.
I saw the next band, Parker Hill Road who were a great traditional bluegrass band, and as it turns out they are from the neighborhood. They were great, and a perfect Sunday afternoon band! The rain had let up by then but caused many of the folks who were at the festival to head for their cars. We’re hard core though, and we stuck around.
A great little mud pit was established in front of our booth and kids took great pleasure in getting totally muddy! Since there is a great stream just minutes from the main concert field, there was little risk. And this being a family event, it was good seeing the kids having a real good time.
Most of the people at the fest were gone by mid afternoon, so we lazed around a bit. I got to have a nice long chat with Daniel Webb and Julia, the team promoting the event. They were happy, said that the crowd was great, there were almost no problems, and that they were already looking forward to next year. I have to say, I am too!
The quote of the weekend is at the end of this video, btw: “Mama, I have brown boogers!!”
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