Camp Keewanee in Greenfield MA hosted one of New England’s favorite festivals and the Saturday marathon was one for the books.
Settle in dear reader- there are hours of audio to listen to within this article- check out the tunes, relax and relive one of our favorite festivals of the year.
Day two, or day three of you are an early Worm, dawned bright and warm with the familiar sounds of Stevie Wonders’ Superstition warming up the sound system. My daughters and I took to the main concert field to catch the first act of the day, Liz Bills and the Change.
Hailing from the north shore of MA and in the Boston music scene, Bills is a singer songwriter and vocal coach who is making waves with her evocative material and strong vocals. This is the first time that I’ve seen Bills on a Worm bill but she was not uncomfortable onstage, bringing a baker’s dozen songs to the audience which was new to her. It says something that my teen daughters not only really liked it, but called Bills one of their favorites of the weekend.
Nearly full show audio, use the arrows to toggle between songs.
Next up was bi-coastal groove funk guitarist Will Bernard. I’ve known about Bernard for a good decade or so, but I had never seen him and his presence at Strangecreek was a new treat for music fans. His music is mostly instrumental and runs the border between jazz, funk and jam. The band was tight and was that Bill Carbone I saw on drums? Did Hayley Jane sit in on vocals at some point or was I imagining things? All told Bernard took advantage of his visit and showed off his unique point of view when it comes to jam music in a fun filled set of quality playing.
Full set audio, use the arrows to cruise between songs:
Up next on the main stage were eastern New England Grateful tribute faves Playin Dead. I’ve seen them before in Worcester and caught guitarist singer Jimbo Harris sit in with John Kadlecik band once in Quincy MA, so I know that the band brings what you want out of a Dead tribute. The set list opened with Jack Straw and ran an efficient and exploratory hour of Grateful Dead music including: Terrapin Station, Black Throated Wind, Help on the Way into Slipknot into Dancin in the Streets (?!?!?) into Franklin’s Tower, Alligator and the set closer Morning Dew. Just this set list will tell you a lot: Playin Dead are not afraid to bust out classics to rarities, and even mix and match material that is far from the expected. Easy Wind was impressive and the deftness required to do the four song suite that runs from Help on the Way through Dancin in the Streets and eventually landing on Franklin’s Tower takes a deftness and dexterity with the Dead’s music that not all tribute bands have.
Full show audio of Playin Dead:
As the day was heating up, we took a walk into the woods to visit the Riverworm stage. One of my favorites, Long Arm Rex were taking the stage. I am biased to be sure, as I was the judge of the Northampton Strangecreek battle of the bands in 2018 from which Long Arm Rex rose up and earned their place among the Worm bands. It was great to see that not only have they grown in the year since, but so too has their audience. The area in front of the Riverworm stage was quite busy and you could see quite a few faces that are known in the family circles of other Worm bands from Rebel Alliance to the Alchemystics and more.
Long Arm Rex unfolded a great set of reggae and jam music. They now also have a rap component with Ferris who sits in with the band a few songs per set spitting out lyrics. Alexa holds down serious bottom end on the bass, and Aaron Darter brings the songs into a jammier space on guitar. Lead singer CC brings in a variety of influences from dance hall and dub reggae to alternative rock influences that seem to come from the Gorrilaz and the Flaming Lips. They illustrated this with the final song of the set,Clint Eastwood by Gorillaz. All in all, it’s a great show, and Long Arm Rex continue to develop into a fine festival band.
Full set audio:
Wandering back to the main stage area I got to catch Maine’s Americana export, the Mallett Brothers Band. Combining elements of rock, country, Americana and alt country (are these really different genres or just different ways of describing the same sounds) the Mallett Brothers band have been gaining a faithful following for years now. And it is easy to see why. With an emphasis on songs over jamming, with vocals and guitar licks up front- the band fires through a great show. I was only familiar with the band by reputation prior to this and I could see that they are worth a listen. The vocal style is interestingly reminiscent of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder but the accompanying instrumentation is more Nashville than Seattle, the songs are direct and accessible. Fans of Outlaw country and No Depression modern country will be pleased with their sound and style.
Use the arrows to toggle between songs:
SET LIST: 1) Long Black Braid 2) Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down 3) Late Night in Austin 4) Rockin’ Chair 5) No Rules 6) Good With the Better 7) Too Much Trouble 8) Powderfinger (Neil Young) 9) Last Man Standing 10) Headed Home
Up next on the main stage were Northampton’s own purveyors of Gypsy folk punk, Bella’s Bartok. I haven’t seen the band in a while so I wanted to see how the band would play to a late afternoon main stage crowd. The last few years of touring have tightened up the band’s sound. And the proximity of the festival’s Greenfield location to their Northampton home base is definitely to the band’s advantage as their fans packed the area in front of the stage. Most of the material was tried and true- as the band fed their fans exactly what they craved, high energy creativity within a song book that inspires sing alongs and pogoing all at the same time. A mosh pit at Strangecreek? It’s possible during the Bella’s set. At one point what appeared to be a hundred pool noodles were waiving above the heads of audience members. Yep, that’s exactly what you’d expect.
King Worm Zach Deputy came next and fed the Worms exactly what they wanted, from Chicken Pot Pie to meandering medleys of originals into classic rock and funk and back again. Deputy is a staple at Wormtown events, and it just wouldn’t be the same without him. The fans soaked it up and rained their adulation upon Deputy who knows exactly how to massage it. The free flow of energy from stage to audience and back again is the hallmark of both a Zach Deputy show and of everything that fans crave about Strangecreek, no matter who the performer is.
Full show audio:
Strangecreek earns its moniker for a reason, and that reason took the main stage for a two set show on Saturday night, Max Creek. Nobody pleases the Worm crowd as thoroughly as Max Creek, and you could see the joy written across the faces of the Worms that filled the main concert field more fully than at any other point in the entire festival.
At times nostalgic, Max Creek fired through hours of material from throughout their career weaving in unusual covers. Every single member of the band took their turn leading the band vocally, giving the audience a great variety within their show. At one point the band took the time to praise each other, to describe their origins as band mates, and to really emote the feeling of home and welcome that are the hallmark of the Strangecreek Campout.
At the end of the set festival promoter Wormtown Mark took the stage and praised the band and requested a lengthy encore which the band had no troubles delivering, the Dead’s Playin in the Band rolling off of the band with such ease and effortlessness, illustrating just why this band is the headliner of this entire weekend.
SET LIST: Blood Red Roses, Mozambique, Thoughts, Sweet Wanomi, Peaceful Warrior, Who Do you Love? (with a Lovelite tease), Windows, Into the Ocean, Baby Please Don’t Go, Twist and Shout, Heartbeat, Rolling in My Sweet Baby’s Arms, Bees, You’re the Only One for Me, King of California, Just a Rose. E: Playin in the Band.
Full Show Audio:
While the main stage closes down just after 11 PM, the festival is far from done for the night. The late night cabins come to life and fans flood the woods and bonfire area and continue the party all the way until dawn. Walking through the woods is one part fun house romp and one part nature walk.
Up first in the Wormtown cabin was the band Fiction. Coming out of New Haven, the band’s influences are all over the map from the Ramones to classic rock, Dropkick Murphys, and more. Filled with energy they got it back from the cabin crowd too, and a new band was introduced to the Strangecreek family. I spent some time checking out Fiction, and some time running around catching the after dark magic that is a Strangecreek Saturday night.
.Up last in the Wormtown cabin was the band I had been anticipating all weekend, Philadelphia’s Swift Technique. This band is a funk collective featuring Jake Leschinsky on bass and Johnny Perry on drums- and an ever revolving evolving cast of characters everywhere else. At times they have had a consistent lineup, and at other times it’s been a wide variety of horns, guitars, keys and others rallying around a sound and a song book that is the definition of modern Philly Funk. On this night they had New England keyboard king Beau Sasser on the boards (a first for the Swift crew.)
I watched as they loaded in, and I saw Johnny and Jake, and then a whole line of characters with whom I was not familiar. And with a band this large, to have 75% of them be folks I hadn’t seen in the prior two viewings of the band wrinkled my brow. But within about 10 seconds of the band’s opening notes all the confidence I could muster prior to a concert was restored to me and the band showed me the way.
Over the next two hours the band put on a clinic of technique (hence the name) and vibe. After a few songs Morgane Fouse took the mic and I heard her for the first time- and she absolutely crushes on vocals. Like ‘Holy Smokes, Girl!’ level crushing on the vocals. Like she could walk right onto any television singing contest and in the first episode convince everyone that the contest was over.
The band fired through mostly instrumental funk songs, but when Morgane was on stage they hit both originals and covers like Elton John’s Benny and the Jets which had the late night cabin calling and responding to her like she was the master and the audience was the puppet. My jaw constantly dropping as the band displayed instrumental prowess that I have not seen in a band in a long time. I could even see my friends in different parts of the audience pointing at me and laughing like “Check him out, he’s stunned!”
Beau Sasser absolutely slayed as you might expect from him. At one point Force from the Alchemystics could not be held back anymore and he vaulted on the stage to through down some rappery and the band rallied around him as if he had always played with him.
At around four in the morning the band took their final song, Chicago’s 25 or 6 to 4. What could have been a tired, stale ending to a set continued their uproarious progression by turning up the tempo by about twenty percent and the band peaked with a sweat inducing version of the classic that sent the crowd into the night exhausted and sated.
Run, I repeat Run- do not walk- to the next possible Swift Technique show.
Thus an absolutely epic day at Strangecreek Campout ended and I tried to catch a few hours of sleep before getting it up and doing it all over again. Keep an eye out for the Sunday review with more recorded live music to come.