Camp Kee Wanee in Greenfield MA welcomed back the Strangecreek Campout on May 27 2022
Three years is a long time. You have to go back to May 2019 to find the last Strangecreek Campout, and fans, bands, and even the staff were itching to return HOME. The anticipation built for weeks, but fans were almost timid in their exuberance, afraid like so much else in the past two plus years that verbalizing our excitement could only lead to disappointment. In a way I didn’t even believe it until I was standing on the grounds of Camp Keewanee, on a hot and humid overcast day- waiting for the first band of the day to start.
And just past noon the Equalites took the stage. A bit of an understated regionally legendary outfit, the Equalites have been quietly playing thousands of gigs over the last three decades in bars, barns, house parties, and small town concert series. Helmed by former Loose Caboose member David Boatwright, the Equalites brought a quintet to the main stage to open the show. They deftly weaved their way through fifteen songs of mostly reggae, but infused in elements of jazz and blues as is their wont. I unabashedly approached several band members after their set and proclaimed it easily the best set I had heard them play. Their song choices were mostly originals, with a Bob Marley classic “No More Trouble” done in a dance hall fashion, integrating a rare performance version that only a reggae expert like David Boatwright would know and try. Accompanied by Peter Kim on bass, Edward El Rojo on lead guitar, Lesley Smith on vocals, and a new drummer who was rock steady and rock solid, the Equalites really opened the show right. Smith’s turn on classics from “Sugar Sugar” (I know this song through the Skatalites) to “Fever” provided a nice counterpoint to Boatwright’s vocal delivery. All in all, a perfect start to the weekend.
Whole show audio, use the arrows to toggle between songs:
There is a binary stage in the main concert field which allows for nearly no time off between bands. One band is playing and another band is setting up in the connected, adjacent stage. So there is around twelve hours of continuous music all day long all weekend long, which is great! So without nearly any pause, the next band fired up, and make their premier at Strangecreek- from Connecticut, Jelly.
This band is very similar to the band Zillawatt which had played Strangecreek before. Sadly their guitarist passed during our break from each other, and being an integral part of the band it appears as if Zillawatt morphed into this new band, Jelly. They brought their spirit and honored their friend with a great ninety minute set. They also brought a great crowd with them who were enthusiastic to see the band and supported them wildly.
We caught up with Nate Lawson, Jelly’s drummer to see what they thought of their premier performance. ““We were just incredibly grateful to be on the lineup as Jelly. Individually we’ve all been on the Wormtown stage in other bands and it just felt so damn good to be back! Jelly started during the pandemic in the wake of a great loss, and our set consisted of eleven original songs we’ve written largely together over the past year. We are currently ramping up the tour schedule and writing our asses off. Much more to come! Visit www.jellytheband.com for all things Jelly.”
Setlist: Poison Mind, Behave, Soundtrack to a Dream, And It’s Gone, Untitled, Tangled, Eatin’ Cheese, Maniac Inside, Unwind > Houston We Have a Solution, Slow Cooker
Up next on the main stage came rice – an American Band. On this day the band consisted of Kyle Heon on drums, Tobey Sol LaRoche making his first Strangecreek appearance with rice on percussion and vocals, Lauryn Winiarski on bass and vocals, Phil Simon on guitar and vocals, Brian DiMartino on guitar, and Steve Benson on pedal steel, keyboards, harmonica, mandolin, and vocals. The band played fourteen songs, mostly originals with a cover or three thrown in there. Much of the set consisted of songs from their upcoming album, the band’s first. Most of the vocals were handled by Simon, with Winiarski and Benson each taking the lead vocal on two songs- Winiarski doing “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” by Cage the Elephant and original “Only a Dream.” Benson took the vocal mic on original “Down” and Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers Guns and Money.” After several more originals, the band finished the set with Simon setting his guitar down and taking the microphone off the stand for a rousing, if not expected, version of Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re an American Band.”
Whole show audio, use the arrows to toggle between songs.
After a full afternoon of music, three bands playing ninety minutes each, it was time to grab some grub and socialize. I hung out backstage some, at the Old 78 Clothing booth some, and saw friends and ate. A weekend like this is a lengthy affair, and you have to pace yourself.
As day was turning into evening, Tauk took the stage. This precision quartet has been building momentum for over a decade and really flexed their musical muscles during this set. Elements of prog, hard rock, jazzy riffs and assertive beats. The crowd took it all in and the feedback loop between audience and band reached a new level. It’s a testament to the musically hungry nature of the Worm crowd that bands like Tauk tonight, or in the past bands like Garaj Mahal or Scofield or Consider the Source- are not only accepted in all of their instrumental compositional glory, but embraced. Sure, there are plenty of jam band standards played throughout the weekend, but bands like Tauk stretch out and exhibit a level of creativity and technical mastery that illustrate their prowess to an accepting and adoring audience.
The rain that had been holding off all afternoon finally came, but did not dampen the spirit of either the crowd thirsting for some New Orleans funk, or the band that hit the stage ready to deliver: Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk. At times the water poured from the sky, while Dumpstaphunk poured out serving after serving of deep funk, showing why they are one of the premier providers of Cajun jams in the nation. This band is fast becoming a favorite of the Worms.
To finish the main stage that night, Prescott Arizona’s Spafford made their Strangecreek / Worm premier. Like Twiddle here in the East, the last five years saw Spafford explode on the West coast, developing a huge fanbase out West and still being introduced to east coast jammers. Over the next ninety minutes they showed why they have become a band to follow.
On the jam scale they are definitely compositional jammers, leaning more on the 90s to 00s Phish style jams. They dabble in electronic beats from an organic place; but stay rooted in group improvisation. The lights reinforced the set considerably, and the band illustrated their abilities quite deftly. I wasn’t familiar with their original material, but the band made sure to reach out to the audience with a couple of tasty covers. Just one song into their set they paid homage to Greg Allman on the anniversary of his passing with a thoroughly executed “Whipping Post.” A few original songs followed before an oddly placed “Catfish John” (originally by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band but popularized to this crowd by Jerry Garcia Band) unfurled. It was perfectly executed but seemed to be a bit of an odd fit for this band- the folky vocal tune was easily executed but Spafford’s wheelhouse is more in second generation jamming than in story telling. When Mark Blanchette came onstage to signal the end of the main stage set for the night, he granted one more song and Spafford took advantage with a seemingly thirty minute encore that returned the band to their sonic safe space as they jammed out the remainder of the night with excellence.
Side note: I hung out with Brian back stage before the show and he could not have been nicer. The band seemed to revel in the Worm atmosphere, and declared Strangecreek one of their favorite festivals that they’ve played.
With the main stage finished, the cabins fired up and did so with heat. I mostly was hanging out by the bonfire, while the social aspect of Strangecreek really came to life. Everyone was so happy to see each other after a three year layoff. Old friendships re-established, and new friends quickly made, the Worm family was getting reacquainted. I caught a few minutes of Beau Sasser trio at around 2 AM in the Keewanee cabin and I could tell that the hard funk was going to flow heavily from Northampton’s favorite trio. But my energy was waning and this is a long weekend, so I retreated to our bus to get some shuteye and to be able to grab Saturday by the horns.
More to come!
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