Saturday dawned bright and beautiful. We didn’t have quite the urgency that we used to have on festival mornings, as we are no longer running a vending booth so we can get up, have coffee, and be more leisurely. So we greeted the day, as Erin Harpe was opening the main stage with a set of blues that mixes elements of the Mississippi Delta with elements of country blues and more- accompanied by Jim Countryman on the bass. (Photo gallery by Vinny Natale here.)

After that we wandered over to Vernville where WAKE up and RAGE was about to happen. It may have been an odd decision to have a Rage Against the Machine tribute band start the program in the woods at 11 AM on Saturday. Or it may have been brilliant- New England Rage tribute BOMBTRACK performed an amazing set and a crowd of hundreds quickly grew out of nowhere. The band consists of Kyle Heon on drums, Matt Mondell on bass, John Duffy on guitar, and Anders Warringer on vocals. They were more than sufficient, they were a great tribute to a band that demands real specific skill. I’m no expert, but they raged the Rage with one bomb track after another.


Gallery of photos of Bombtrack by Vinny Natale here.

There was music happening at Riverworm and the main stage but I happened to stick around the Vernville stage for most of that day. Up next on the Vernville stage was rice an American Band. The band had Kyle Heon who played drums with Bombtrack stay up to be joined by his ricemates Tobey LaRoche on percussion and vocals, Steve Benson on bass and vocals, Phil Simon on guitar and vocals, and Brian DiMartino on lead guitar. The band just release their first album, a seven song collection that was featured throughout their set. (SPOTIFY or PANDORA.)

The set opened with the opening track of the band’s self-titled album, “Twenty Five Years” and rolled through a total of thirteen songs ending with the album’s closing track “Just a Name.” In between were mostly originals written by Steve Benson and Phil Simon, along with some covers that included Mike Doughty’s “Looking at the World from the Bottom of a Well” as well as Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers Guns and Money.” The lead vocals were also shared around the band with Simon and Benson taking the lead on most tracks, and even LaRoche getting a turn with the song “Only a Dream.”

Tobey LaRoche and Brian DiMartino by Vinny Natale

Here is a full gallery of photos of the rice set, with lots of fan shots, too. CHECK IT OUT. Photos by Vinny Natale.

There was so much music to be had at any given moment. While I was over at Vernville there were bands on other stages including things I would have loved to see like Kendall Street Company or Caylin Costello. (Photo gallery of Caylin Costello by Vinny Natale.) Mundo’s Crazy Circus took it to the Riverworm stage for instance, but one can’t be everywhere at once. Choices, Choices!

It was an easy choice for me to stay at Vernville (while hydrating and snacking- remember people, it’s a marathon, not a sprint) as Kofi Baker’s Cream Faith was taking the stage. Kofi is the son of legendary drummer Ginger Baker, who is on the one hand list of best drummers in classic rock hisotry. This legacy band pays tribute to Baker’s most famous projects in Cream and Blind Faith- but also takes the music into the new age with explorations and interpretations that are in the able and appropriate hands of Kofi Baker.

On bass, an incredible character in Kris Lohn who kept the crowd mesmerized with an energetic triumverate of insane bass playing, great comlimentary and lead vocals, and an amazing array of facial expressions that the whole range from insane to comical.

Now let’s talk about Bobby Messano for a minute. He is one of those guys who has been on hundreds of albums, and is one of the thousand person army who provided the backbone for the entire catalog of rock and roll. He produced Peter Criss’ first album, he wrote a song with Clapton, he was in Steve Winwood’s band for a tour, he is connected and recorded and performed with Lou Gramm and a zillion other accomplishments. He plays guitar and sings most of the set for Kofi Baker’s Cream Faith. The work order? Would you mind doing the guitar parts of Clapton, and the vocal parts of Jack Bruce and Steve Winwood for this band? Sure, Bobby can hold it down. His singing was filled with the skill, nuance, and emotion required of both bands, and his guitar playing is excellent. Along with Baker, he is a rich trove of rock and roll historical knowledge. Be sure to catch him around the country performing with this band, his solo show, and any number of different projects. Bobby’s Website.

And the band is anchored of course by Kofi Baker. If I dropped you into a show, in the middle of his drum solo, and said “Who is this playing the drums?” Your answer would likely be that it better be the son of Ginger Baker. His combined Nurture and Nature acquisition of this unique to his family, drumming style is impressive and uncanny. He is a much more jovial figure than this father is purported to have been, and he regaled the crowd with stories about drugs, fame, and a likely legally negligent upbringing as the son of one of classic rock’s most notorious figures.

The band is amazing, adeptly recreating and reinventing the material. From classics to deep cuts, they are handling it all. The stories put it into context and overall this is a corner of the classic rock kingdom that while recognized as being highly influential and among the best rock of all time. Nobody else is utilizing this song book in the way that Kofi Baker is.

Extensive photo galleries of the band and crowd by Vinny Natale are here. And here.

In between the rice set and the Kofi set, we wandered down to the river. On the Riverworm stage Mark Mercier and Mark Paradis were finishing their set as the Marks Brothers (full quartet with drums and bass.) You see, the thing about an event like Strangecreek is that it becomes a village, a small city in which many folks know each other. Like any other place there are birthdays and celebrations, and on this day, a wedding! Beth and Dan chose Strangecreek as the place where they would tie the knot! Festival promoter Mark Blanchette came and performed the wedding ceremony and hundreds of people gathered around and in the river to witness this blessed event. As folks were heading toward the river to observe Mark Mercier was playing a wedding waltz over the PA as their set ended.

While I was doing these things there was music all over the place. And since nobody can be everywhere at once, it is through the power of pictures that we can see what else is happening. Joel Shover took an incredible amount of photos from all over the festival on Saturday from John Spignesi to Terra Funk, Bella’s Bartok, Max Creek, and everything in between. Check out his photos here. Heck, if you were there you are probably in one of them!

Terra Funk Nicole by Joel Shover Strangecreek 2023
Strangecreek 2023 by Joel Shover

Just like with weddings, this community also experiences the loss that all communities experience. I remember years ago being at Strangecreek when the Alchemystics conducted a public memorial for fallen comrades Demse and Budzy and it was a cathartic event allowing the band and community to embrace and mourn. Sadly this year is no different, and the band Start Making Sense suffered a loss in their community and couldn’t make their scheduled performance for the festival. But fear not, as this community pulls together like no other: Max Creek, despite being scheduled for three hours later that night, took their stage early and played an extra set for the late afternoon crowd.

Early Set:
Life During Wartime
Big Boat
Dark Water
Cruel World
Chevy Van (Nude Party cover)
Speed of the Sound of Loneliness
Gypsy Blue

Setlist from Mark Koolesza (spotted at the Max Creek International FB group.)

BOTH SETS recording by Koolesza

John Rider Max Creek Strangecreek 2023 by Joel Shover

So I made the tough choice at this point to wander back to the Riverworm stage for the set by Dave Gutter and the ______. This is the first StrangeCreek appearance by this band, but Dave has been to Wormtown and StrangeCreek with his prior bands Paranoid Social Club and Rustic Overtones. This is his latest project which is a five piece with Dave Gutter on guitar and vocals plus keyboards, drums, bass and another guitar. Each show Dave renames the band and it was a point of collective contribution to try to settle the band’s name that day.

The first 8-10 songs were new Dave Gutter originals, mostly from a visual album called I’ve Been Here Awhile that he has posted on youtube that showcases his song writing and unique world view. In addition to the above named bands, Dave has written songs for Eric Krasno, Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Aaron Neville. His collaboration with Neville, Eric Krasno and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band was just nominated for and won the Grammy for Best American Roots Performance. The material that unfolded for the first hour of the set was challenging for a festival crowd at a stage in the woods. While many bands are tempted to come and play some Grateful Dead cover, or jam their songs- Gutter did not bow to temptation, rather played his music his way. It was emotional, contemplative, slo-fi songs. This was not ‘capture people walking by with your sick guitar solos’ kinda music. It demanded your attention, to slowly bathe in the tones and thoughts created by this songsmith and his new band. At times it was tongue-in-cheek, like the new song “Artsy Fartsy” in which the narrator seemed to poke fun of himself, and perhaps the band itself, for being judgmental and overly enamored with their own creative scene.

Around the third song of the set, a small child appeared on stage with a mini ukelele and basically just took his spot between the bass player and the lead guitar player. He met the band, was introduced to the crowd as Neko, and stayed up the entire set, strumming along. After songs he would fist bump the other players, or say “Good song, good song- good job!” Gutter and the band welcomed him, and while he was 5 parts cute and 1 part Children of the Corn- his presence managed to humanize and soften the mood in a way that was very positive. Gutter eventually named the band Dave Gutter and the Nekos.

Particularly compelling in this set was an original called “Dogs.” This is a song that shares the narrator experience of having and losing dogs over the years, and the experience of being a person with a dog. Gutter came down off of the stage and into the onlooking crowd, summoning up the song from the dirt and leaves and spinning before us a compelling emotional work. The lyrics are classic Dave Gutter- clever, sarcastic, emotional, and strangely touching. He has the ability to speak for ‘us’, his fans and friends- in a way that we find it difficult to speak for ourselves. He somehow incorporated the typical melody of a dog howling into the chorus, and I was touched by a song in a way that I have not been in years.

The set closed out with three songs by Rustic Overtones: “Bossa Nova,” “Gas on Skin,” and “Light at the End.” These songs attracted a bigger crowd and the set ended on a high note. It was a brave flex to come out and purposefully play an hour of new material before feeding the crowd songs that the band knew would be more easily accepted in a new environment. I was very impressed by the set, and can’t wait til my next opportunity to see Dave Gutter and the _____.

Back at the main stage Creek had finished their afternoon set, and Bella’s Bartok took the main stage for their second show of the weekend. Every time I see them they have new band members, but they manage to keep their sound completely intact. The only members I recognize from prior times seeing the band were Crisco on drums and Asher leading this merry band of misfits through their Balkan Jam Rage dance party.

Photo by Joel Shover

Max Creek took the main stage back (the main stage is bisected so that one side can set up while the other side plays. This results in continuous music from one band to the next, with no interruptions or pauses.) They played for another three hours to headline and close the main stage.

Gone at Last
Summer Sun
Cool it Down – (Velvet Underground, Loaded Album)
Sweet Wanomi
Blood Red Roses
Down on the Farm
The Other One
Peaceful Warrior
Emerald Eyes (with story time)
Late in the Evening
You Angel You

Setlist from Mark Koolesza (spotted at the Max Creek International FB group.)

This recording is mostly the last hour or two of the late show:

WHEW!!! We made it, a complete day at Strangecreek. BUT WAIT! There’s more. The cabin sets started… holy cow, can we do more? YES!

Outer Stylie took to the KeeWanee cabin and blew the doors off!! On drums Monte Arnstam, John Duffy (from the aforementioned Bombtrack) on guitar, Tom Schack on bass, and Nate Martel on guitar and vocals. The band is heavy and jammy- the jamband version of Black Sabbath or something. Their set was mostly originals but also covers including some Nirvana and Zappa event. I only caught about an hour of it on audio before passing out for the evening. Luckily, Outer Stylie will be back at Wormtown for everyone to catch!

We at LMNR got in touch with Nate Martel and asked for his reaction to Stylie finally getting a cabin set; here’s what he had to say:

“[Playing the cabin was] was amazing for Stylie. That was actually the last stage for me [completing the Worm Cycle, as Phil Simon and rice: an American Band also did that day!]

Played them all now! But basically the cabin was super lit. Felt great for me n’ the boyz to get in there and offer what we do. Not too many psychedelic grunge/hard rock acts at Creek and I feel like people felt that we were definitely something different yet familiar. It was outstanding and we were pumped to do it.”

Check out the extensive gallery of photos by Joel Shover here.

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