I’d been hearing about Ziontific for years but this was the first year I was able to attend. My wife went up on Thursday to set up vending for the Old 78 Clothing, while I worked on Friday. After a nice dinner at home, I packed the girls, ages 8 and almost 11, into the car and we made the 2.5 hour trek up to Vermont. The drive was gorgeous and the mountains and sunset were worth the time we spent in the car together.
We pulled into Ziontific, which was easy to find, no traffic, and checked in with Shannon and her crew. It didn’t take much time, we found the booth, dropped the stuff out of the car and in short order were ready to start partying. My lady related that there wasn’t much of a crowd on Friday afternoon, and that most of the acts were hip hop mcs and that perhaps I had arrived just in time. Audio Influx had just hit the stage and I was grooving on their sound, a mix of soul, funk and hip hop from central NY.
The festival was set up well, and was a very manageable size. One of the biggest selling points to me was the emphasis that the festival had put on family both in terms of the “festival family vibes” and actually being appropriate for families with children. I let the children wander a bit, as they are festival veterans, but by 11 PM they were letting us know that they were ready for bed. So we settled them down easily and returned to the booth and the music.
One of my faves, Roots of Creation, were getting ready to go on and I got a second to hang with Brett Wilson, Mike C, Tal, and the crew.
It had been something like over two years since I had seen them at a wedding, oddly enough, and I don’t know, three or four years since I had seen them at the first Big Up festival. So when the band walked on stage as a full seven piece band, replete with percussion, horn and what seemed like a million other players, I was surprised but happy. Wilson and the boys were on point big time, firing up the energy level quite a bit. They were tight and filled with the solstice vibe, firing through material both old and new. Tal in particular brings the festival presence, with his what seems to be seven feet of height working his keyboards, able to summon up the dub sounds with a wave of his hand or a tap of his fingers. Rock solid as ever, Mike was laying down the grooves on the drum set, and his ability to hold down any band was evident throughout the weekend as he seemed to be the drummer for half the bands on the roster!
During the RoC set, the fire dancers were alight and really establishing a hugely positive vibe. This was a different crew than I had seen before, and they were impressive, utilitizing staff, poi, and BMX into the routines. There was even some fire stunt BMX jumping, with some of the dancers laying down so that the bike could jump over them and do tricks with their fire and his, very cool stuff especially as the crowd really started to get into both the band and the fire show.
After Roots of Creation, it was my first time seeing Cosmic Dustbunnies. They did a great cover of a Flock of Seagull’s I Ran but other than that, I was starting to get tired and spun out a bit, and it was time for me to start settling down. I made my way backstage to hang out with the RoC guys, and one thing led to another, and the next thing I knew it was 3:30 A and I was in the silent disco, my first ever.
It was in a smallish room off of the patio by the main building, and someone put headphones on me as I walked into the room. The DJ, which I think was DJ Benny Black, was really great, at least for me. I got down hard for about ten minutes, long enough for him to mix in one of my favorite older hip hop songs, Too Short’s I Was Taller..
I got real used to the vibe, so much so that after the ten minutes I was wearing headphones, it was totally shocking to take them off and be in a silent room. The experience is really spectacular, sounds in your head, major dancing, people getting down, lights, sweat, heat- all very intense, but totally silent!
I continued to wander around a bit and I was expecting to see the sun starting to come up when I finally settled into the camper for some sleep. Day one, complete and satisfying.
Dawn came too soon, but the girls were nice and let me sleep til mid morning. The whole weekend alternated between sunny and hot and occasional rain. Saturday was no different. Rhythmic Circus opened the main stage bright and early, and it was a quick succession of bands. Hannah’s Field is a duo with Hannah on acoustic guitar and vocals and a fellow on percussion. Wolfman’s Conspiracy came on after noon and brought some funk and jam into the mix with horns.
But it didn’t really feel like things started until Satellite Rockers took the stage. The band hails from Worcester MA and brings the reggae to the super old school. They felt more like The Skatalites than anything really, with sparse but meaningful reggae and ska deliveries. Their patient approach and delivery were perfect for an early afternoon set.
Political Animals brought the hip hop and the political discourse to the stage. The Juicy Grapes were next with their straight ahead funk jams. They split vocals between a male and female lead singer, and it’s easy to draw the comparisons to Deep Banana Blackout.
Adeem (pronounced A Dee Em) with High Fiedlity Sound System were great. Chris, who used to be the bass player for Roots of Creation was joined by his old RoC partner Mike C on drum set, with singers and other players. The mix was hip hop and electronic music done in a live setting with some funk and jam thrown in there. Adeem was cool, most easily described as Moby who can sing. Not only does he share Moby’s shining pate, but his skill in arrangments and songsmanship. The band was tight and in particular the vocals were much better than I had expected.
Sophistafunk ushered in the evening, and their jams are significant funk. Adam Gold was working the keyboards and the rhythm section is beyond tight. Hailing from Syracuse, the band is now touring consistently throughout the Northeast and is worth a listen any time you get a chance.
Dub Apocalypse helped to bring the music into the after dark portion of day #2 at Ziontific. Like Satellite Rockers, their arrangements are more on the sparse side but instead of old school its of course on the Dub end of the spectrum. Johnny Trama (also of Ghosts of Jupiter and 50 other bands) tag teamed on searing guitar with Van Gordon Martin (also of Van Gordon Martin Band, formerly of Spiritual Rez and Club D’Elf and more.) Van’s on stage presence is always a joy, seeing him hop from foot to foot and sling his guitar to and fro. I’m not sure that personally I’m down with the Dub scene myself, but the crowd was transported and Dub Apocalypse won them over with ease.
But the weekend belonged to the Alchemystics for sure. They took the stage and killed it. This was their festival, playing main stage SAT night headliner, and they were scheduled to return on Sunday as well. They fired through their classics as well as a few new tunes. The fire dancers were up and running, and the crowd was totally ready to join in the fun that is the family of the Alchemystics. I’ve seen quite a few Alchemystics sets over the last three years, and I have to say that beyond doubt this one was their best I have ever seen. Great show, well done guys!
Viral Sound came after but I was a bit spent already at that point. We were chilling booth side, and enjoying the Viral Sounds for sure, but I wasn’t up stage side. But the band is good and you can easily see why they are taking the Northeast by storm right now.
Because of my super late night on Friday I didn’t stay up for Bujak though I wished I had. the late night silent discos were again in full effect as I drifted off myself.
We spent much of Sunday in the river. Our two girls loved it, despite the intense cold of the water.
The rains that had come throughout the weekend occasionally was clearly melting the Vermont snow and resulting in basically liquid snow running through the beautiful river area that is only a 3 minute walk from the main field. We met all sorts of cool people around the river, and the kids made fast friends with several other youngsters. Somehow I learned the family history of all of those around me, and it wasn’t long before Ziontific feels like a family reunion instead of a music festival. Due in part to the smaller
nature of the crowd and site, you don’t get overwhelmed at all. You recognize most everyone by the second or third day, and that familiarity breeds a sense of secuirty and openness.
Bay Road opened things up on the main stage, with Demse Zullo of the Alchemystics on bass guitar, not his normal drum position. They were followed by the Romano Project who take the good time easy going Jack Johnson flavor into the jam space with good results. People with Instruments really surprised me when they played their set. I expected a jam band, and certainly they are, but the vocals were strong, the interplay between the main instruments of guitar and keys was strong, and the interplay with the bass and drums rhythm section was also strong. Overall, much better than I expected, go see them if you have a chance.
Samily Man continued the Roots of Creation tree with nearly every member of that band and what seemed like a dozen other folks doing dub, jam, and dubstep. Lynguistic Civilians brought some great energy, hip hop and even dancing to the stage. I love it when acts can bring in real dancers to what they are doing at the jam fests.
We were spending a lot of time in the river, and I could feel the energy draining from the girls. So late afternoon we packed up a bunch of our stuff, bade Mama adieu and headed back home. Mama kept the booth open throughout Sunday and returned on Monday, but being only about 2 hours from our place it was good to get the youngsters into a bed that night.
As a family man, I was super appreciative of all of the activities that were there for the kids, from the bouncy house to the river, soap carving to arts and crafts tent. While I didn’t take part in the numerous activities for the mind and spirit that were available including yoga and other cool workshops, I was very glad that they were available and perhaps I’ll do them next year!
I am guessing that Ziontific is going to become a permanent stop on festival tour for the families that experience it. The site is gorgeous, the people running the show are doing it right, and are extremely mellow. I’m going to try not to miss it anymore myself, I know that.