The first night of the festival kicks things off for early Worms. May 23 2019 Camp Keewanee Greenfield MA.
As I approached Camp Keewanee from the South, I was met with a little more traffic than is usual for a Thursday afternoon approach, with cars neatly and patiently stacked waiting to turn into the festival. A short wait that might ordinarily fray the nerves of the crew and attendees alike didn’t result in that at all as calls of “Welcome Home” filled the air and people were preparing for an amazing weekend.
Strangecreek is great because it represents the true start of festival season for many in New England. Falling on Memorial Day weekend each year, Strangecreek Campout brings together what feels like and might be a hundred bands appearing on 4 stages and two late night cabins with nearly constant music. Several years ago responding to the aching need for Worms to get inside the event and stake their camping claim, Wormtown Trading Company, the promoters of the festival, began a Thursday night opening and started to include music. Solely in the two late night cabins, Thursday’s program is generally five or six bands familiar to Worms who are appetizing the throngs, an amuse bouche meant to get the juices flowing and the ears warmed up for a marathon weekend.
Slack Tide kicked off the entire festival’s music program in the larger Wormtown cabin (capacity tops off at around 200 people but many people come and go sampling the music rather than staking a claim and the open windows and doors quality of the cabin makes it a big speaker to anyone within earshot.) Me personally, I was getting situated, settling into the Old 78 Clothing booth where my wife vends festival clothing alongside the folks from Headstash (also great clothiers and creators of the finest lids you’ve ever seen) alongside Rei Dyes (hand made tie dye by Reiner.)
First up in the Keewanee Cabine (sic) was rice an American Band. On this night the band was six members with Kyle Heon on drums, Brian DiMartino on guitar, Lauryn Winiarski on bass and vocals, Phil Simon guitar and vocals, Emily Jones on vocals, and Steve Benson on, well- everything (vocals, mandolin, pedal steel and harmonica.) The band presented a full two hour show mixing originals and covers to a crowd that packed the smaller cabin and its surrounds.
After an opener of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb, the show included some five new songs not played before by the band over the course of the lengthy set. Warren Zevon’s Lawyers, Guns and Money, Blondie’s Dreaming, an old original of Simon’s titled Love of Life, Blues Traveler’s Hook, and a song called Soul Oasis which while it is not an original by rice themselves, is a song by a west coast band from twenty five years ago called International Anthem. Benson took the lead vocals on both Hook and Lawyers Guns and Money while Emily Jones handled Dreaming.
The rest of the show was a flurry of originals and covers by the band hailing, well- essentially from this very spot itself. Vocals, solos and individual spotlight was passed around from member to member- showcasing the talents of each individual while highlighting the particular stew that is created with their combined sounds.
Full show audio below, use the arrows to toggle between songs:
While rice was steaming up their set, Gratefully Yours performed in the other cabin. The bands were stacked in a manner so that you could theoretically catch some of each band if you merely wandered the one hundred yards between the two cabins. This band, as their name would indicate, is a tribute to the Dead that lovingly recreates the sounds of the band that essentially lead this entire movement of jambands and music festivals. Strangecreek Campout featured bands that paid tribute to the Dead throughout the weekend, both with fully deadicated sets to those who merely made passing reference to the San Francisco scene’s touring giants.
As night was truly setting in and the fire was crackling and the festival was filling, Worcester’s bluegrass and rock prognosticators August First took the Keewanee Cabine stage. I first discovered? noticed? was made aware? of this band a few years ago at Jerry Jam and have since seen them at several festivals. Anchored by the versatile and strong voice of Nicole D’Amico the band also includes a nice handful of pickers to create a rocking bluegrass sound. Not a pickin and grinnin band as much as a rock band wearing the uniform of bluegrass instrumentation- August First has really come a long way.
The band has released an album that includes original music but became known initially as a band that performed the music of Jerry Garcia (their band name is Garcia’s birthday.) Now, several years into their band history they are covering music by numerous bands of that era from Airplane to Zeppelin and of course the Dead. They are also mixing in their own songs and their appeal is strong as they fed a hungry crowd.
August First of course is doing staples from the Dead’s acoustic catalog but the deftness with which they do songs like Ramble On and Rock and Roll by Zeppelin and White Rabbit by Airplane shows the band’s diverse influences. They also played for a good two hours and really captured the crowd who were enthralled by their sound. Don’t expect a Sunday afternoon bluegrass set of the band, better come ready to rage and dance the night away with August First.
Full show audio, use the arrows to toggle between songs.
Closing out the opening night was Particle, the long time mixologists who have combined the elements of jam and electronic music for what seems like more than a decade. This night was no different with a good long set that showcased their unique musical take. Steve Molitz anchors the band on keys and his band of creative innovators unfolded song after song that challenged and mesmerized the audience.
Myself, my energy was flagging but my perfect positioning between the two cabins where I lay my head each night gave me the opportunity to listen for hours without having to exert the incredible energy required to stand… So like every night of this weekend, I was able to drift and snooze while taking the somnambulist’s journey through Particle’s musical universe. Conservation on a weekend as long and adventurous as this is a must- an early morning would see me rise and be ready for an Odyssey of music and adventure that only a festival as awesome as this can provide.