2015 Catskill Chill
September 18 – 20 2015
by Miles Hurley
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I might’ve had some reserve in saying that this Catskill Chill, which was the fifth annual and a blow-out celebration in being their last at the Minglewood Camp, was personally my first. But, over the course of this unpredictably awesome weekend, I met lots of others that were joining the party for this first time as well. There is definitely something special in keeping to the tight, intimate family that started out such a party, but I was glad and thankful to experience a general feeling of welcoming as a newcomer. It didn’t hurt, of course, that for their old and new family alike, the Chill crafted a list of the most unbelievable performances of this year, or any. I can tell you about what pieces of the magic I saw.
Consider The Source Acoustic
Consider the Source really got the spirit of the festival going first for me, with actually one of the most special sets all weekend-their acoustic performance, something that has only ever happened at Catskill Chill. It rang way higher for me than their later electric set. There was nothing wrong with the latter, of course, but it couldn’t beat the earthy, folky brilliance of their morning jamming. The crowd for this was a small combination of Chillfam members that knew about this amazing secret from previous years and lucky folks like me that just happened to stumble upon it.
Lettuce was the first really giant group of the weekend, and they started off things with an absolute throwdown of a set. The band, at least to me, sounds more badass in the funk than ever. Many people I talked with had the opinion that this Lettuce set was, at points, was surprisingly spacey and explorative, and I agree with that too. About midway through, the jamming of all band members scaled back into a jazz more psychedelic, and it was something to hear. This show, like many lately, feautured Eric Krasno on guitar and I couldn’t have been happier for that. The soloing work he was able to play out front shined above all for me. Then, in true Chill fashion, the band invited Nigel Hall to belt out the last several tunes, and things turned back toward the monster funk, for a full on dance party to close out the set.
After this I skirted right over to Club Chill and experienced its rustic luxury when Love Canon took their set there a little later on. This was the first of many throwback sets, as this band is a bluegrass tribute to oldies hits. And this band is some kind of impressive-whereas other, later throwback sets would amp up the original funk of old tunes, this band turned songs like “Highway to The Dangerzone” and “Don’t You Want Me” into breathtakingly pretty bluegrass compositions. It’s something you have to hear to believe, but trust me. On top of this they played a strange but knockout version of the Dead’s “Touch of Grey.”
There was much other pretty folk for the weekend to be found, in a few other bluegrass groups like the Brummy Brothers and the Breakneck Boys. I caught a good amount of the latter during their set, and discovered some unique singer-songwriter type acoustic stuff. The Ballroom Thieves are a folk trio on the rise that I missed but that I know, thanks to the nifty internet, brings some real beauty to the genre.
As heavy as Lettuce’s performance was, Lotus matched it next in beauty. I showed up late in staying for all of Love Canon, but walked into the middle of one of Lotus’ fiery dancing numbers. But Lotus’ creation of music is one that mutates mid-set, mid-song and mid-air, going from something wild and raging to pristinely gorgeous right around the bend. I stayed for the whole thing and was missing it as soon as it was over.
The band dropped Umbilical Moonrise towards the end, and took the vocally grateful crowd with them into a soaring jam. After the last note of this one rang out, I confirmed for myself the idea that if any one single tune articulated the feeling of bittersweet bliss that longtime and newcoming Chillfam members were sharing this weekend, it was this one.
Twiddle, one group that has exploded onto the scene of late, found a lot to do this weekend, starting with their late night dead set, which must have been anticipated because the crowd surrounded and filled every standing space of Club Chill. Lots of people had differing opinions, and I agree that it was very Twiddle-sounding treatment of the Dead. But you had to at least appreciate the double surprise that happened here. Kung Fu guitarist Tim Palmeri sat in for the whole show, and it was very interesting to hear him try his hand at channeling Jerry, and I think he did pretty well. But then former Kung Fu member Todd Stoops to join him on stage, something that would sound awkward on paper, but instead manifested as one of many very special collaborative moments that this Chill weekend gave to us.
Dopakuaz Plays Studio 54
To wrap up the success of Catskill night one was probably the most generally anticipated performance, Dopakuz playing Hits from Studio 54. If there’s anywhere to hear a list of those old, sort of flashy hits like “Le Freak” and “Ring My Bell” played, it’s in a superjam of two bands like Dopapod and Turkuaz. What a rich, wholesome sound they managed to achieve, especially with so many players on stage at once. Of particular fire was the fast jam that oozed into “You Should Be Dancing,” with all members contributing to the controlled madness in some way, and by madness I mean the frenzy they turned the main stage hall crowd into.
Schwikus Plays The 80s
There was a lot of throwback at this show, between Love Canon, Dopakuaz’s set, and the set from Schwikus, the get-together of bands Fikus and Schwizz. This one deserves mentioning as it was really equally as fun, and the band did it all up really well: both band members and festival goers dressing in full 80s getup, and the band managed to get a, 80s, hard-rock band sound. So with the visible and audial nostalgia, inside the space of Club Chill lounge it felt like a raging theme-party in someone’s basement.
Chillfam Tribute to Herbie Hancock
I didn’t know if I wanted to give time to the Herbie Hancock set, only because this is an artist that I just haven’t happened to listen to at all before. But if this goal of this group-which consisted of Lotus drummer Mike Greenfield, Particle keyboardist Steve Molitz, Pink Talking Fish bassist Eric Gould, and On The Spot Trio member Danny Mayer on saxophone-was to turn people on to this man’s music, I think they succeeded. Here, I had my first dose of Steve Molitz for the weekend, and he is some kind of genius, not only in his ceaselessly great playing but in the different kinds of melodic tricks he manages to get through his different keyboards. And Danny Mayer brought some extremely true emotional playing through his sax, in that even without knowing Herbie I could feel his spirit. But there was no star player here that reached Hancock any more than another player-they achieved that together, through what was some unbelievably tight playing, and so this set was especially imbued with the sense of both celebration and togetherness that Catskill Chill seems to really instill all around.
With a set that sent Saturday night over the moon for me, moe. solidified the choice of their place as headliners of this year’s Chill, although there was never any doubt. The all-too-welcome “Spine Of A Dog>Buster” featured, so I was told afterwards, teases of YYZ and Dreamtheater. And one of the coolest collaborations of the weekend came in inviting Moon Hooch horn players Wenzl McGowen and Mike Wilbur up to jam out on Dr. Gaffenberg. It must have been pretty incredible for these two rising young musicians, that’s for sure. But they weren’t out of place at all-the ska oriented funk-out grew into an awesome jam, with cool spots of improve these two threw into the mix.
The Stratosphere All-Stars
The performance I was personally anticipating the most was the other supergroup, The Stratosphere All-Stars, with Molitz and Greenfield again, and this time with David Murphy of STS9 on bass and Marcus Rezak of Digital Tape Machine on guitar. I think they had the most energetic crowd of the late-night sets, and this group delivered to match that energy. I know Rezak stood out for lots of people, as he did for me, because he absolutely shredded at the hotter points of the Stratosphere’s grooves, and then played some really nice bluesier stuff when the band reigned it in. Then, when guitarist Rob Compa of Dopapod came up for the last couple of jams, he held perfect ground with Rezak-at some points soloing simultaneously off of the Tape Machine guitarist which was neat. Haley Jane, of Haley Jane and The Primates, also came up and chimed out Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” She looked pretty humbled to be up there with such a group, but she couldn’t have sung it any better for the band.
Sunday afternoon the main stage got a double dose of some of the best funk going around today, in Turkuaz and The Motet. I didn’t catch Turkuaz, but from previous shows and their throwdown with Dopopad, I knew they were in prime form.
The Motet had an impressively massive crowd for so early in the day, but there’s no surprise there, for they have well established their stamp on the scene with, as lead singer Jans Ingber put it, “their own unique brand of Colorado funk.” The band blazed through a number of their most recent tunes, including the monster dancer of “Keep On Don’t Stopping,” which basically describes in its title what they managed to do on stage. One thing I have to mention is Ingber’s bongo playing, because it was actually quite a cool in the center of their dance grooves. He’d sit back down every once in a while and insert the bongos into the build-up of his bands playing, and you’d actually notice it apart from everything else.
When guitarist isn’t busy leading supergroups like JRAD or Electron (as he did with the latter later on), Tom Hamilton is invested with one of his own projects, American Babies. And it’s quite the cool project, as they have a good sound going for them: I’d call it almost-indie americana work that knows how and when to jam really hard. This outlet definitely showcases Hamilton’s songwriting, which is something to experience alongside his more known, top-rate guitar playing. The original “Old Time Religion,” a song as feel-good as it is fast-rocking, would’ve been the highlight, if not for the following cover of “New Speedway Boogie” that stretched into a wildly groovy jam-owing probably to Hamilton’s extensive recent Dead work-and into an even heavier finisher of their own “Where Do We Go.”
You couldn’t pick a greatest set out of all that went down this year’s Chill, but if you could believe it, Dopapod’s own set late Sunday afternoon was a serious contender. What I saw in this show was a band that has become progressively more fantastic over the past few years, and one that could deliver on cue a perfect display of all they’ve amassed together creatively. They’re another group blowing up fast, and after this show I realize for good reason. The Picture In A Picture jam that bled into the instrumental reprise treats of Funkytown and Le Freak brought the best of old school groove and hard-rage rock together for another one of the best jams of the weekend.
I hung around the music stages all weekend like a barfly at a 3am dive, but even in that mode, it’s impossible at a festival to get around to everything. Especially at one with a lineup of dimensions such Catskill Chill put together this year. I caught, for example, brief glimpses of bands, such as Motet alter-ego group Juno-What, at the very end of my festival stay. If you think The Motet is danceable, take a gander at a show from this other group, which is Motet funk work that has been electronified through serious sonic power.
I also briefly caught power jammers The Werks, and wish I had been around for more. But I did manage to walk in during the swing-out with Twiddle members, which sounded as cool it’d look on paper. I remember hearing a particularly nasty guitar solo and looking up in surprise to see Mihali Savoulidis behind it. Beyond this, I heard from friendly conversation about plenty of other talented artists that graced stages this weekend, such as Govinda and Ex Mag-so take a look at this lineup and you might find something cool and new.
And I say with some shame that I started out on my drive home before Electron, Pink Talking Fish, and the Particle and Family sets even went down. But, if you know these groups, then you know that the amazing, blow-out-at-Minglewood of Catskill Chill V got its proper, deserving ending.
Moon Hooch with Anna O’Connor at Catskill Chill 2015
Horizon Wireless w/ Wiley Griffin – Catskill Chill 2015
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