Note: all links are to shows, sets or songs on archive.org. They are freely distributable.
After a two year, 60 mile detour to the Gelston Castle Estate, the moe.down music festival made a triumphant return to its roots: Snow Ridge ski area, in Turin, New York. A date change was also in the cards, from the traditional Labor Day weekend to August 10 – 12. Generally, when strolling the festival grounds, the predominant topic of eavesdropped conversations is the music. This weekend however, the buzz was how everyone was soooo happy that we were all back in Turin: ‘home at last’ as some t-shirts proclaimed. GCE was a nice layout for a concert, provided you were in peak physical shape. The problem was the distances that needed to be negotiated – from the car-park to the campsites, from the campsite to the stage; they were better measured in terms of miles than yards. Add to that the fact that the stages were set at the base of one large hill, accessible only after climbing another large hill, and you get the idea; in my review of moe.down XII, I lamented the limited availability of Sherpas.
This year, however, there were no such issues. In reality, the only negative of the weekend was a fickle, at times vindictive, Mother Nature. What is the deal with summer music festivals and rainstorms? There must be a statistical correlation between the gathering of thousands of music lovers in an open area and the production of measurable precipitation. In my fifty plus years on this planet, I’ve yet to attend one of these events that was not marred by a substantial amount of rain. Of course, the inevitable result of 15,000 pairs of feet kneading the turf was an ankle-deep mire the consistency of peanut butter that left the 9,000 festival attendees muddy, but unbowed.
The boys from moe. – guitarists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey who alternate playing lead, bassist Rob Derhak, drummer Vinnie Amico, and percussionist Jim Loughlin – have been together twenty one years, and have now put on thirteen moe.downs. moe.down has always striven to be a family-friendly event with planned activities for kids all weekend. The crowd also featured a surprising number of older festival goers; at least a third of the crowd was over forty. moe. has developed a hugely loyal fan base; every show’s ‘Al.nouncements’ mention that it is someone’s 50th, 100th, even 200th anniversary. Perhaps the coolest thing about being a true fan, a genuine moe.ron, is the intimate familiarity with the band’s repertoire, the looks of understanding when we hear something great (or catch a not infrequent screw-up), the moments of recognition as the band segues from one song to another. It is membership in a happy extended ‘famoe.ly’.
moe.down 13 began Friday with a rainy afternoon, perfect conditions for setting up a campsite. After half a score of trips from the car to the tent, the rain, of course, let up. But it was just in time to catch the first act of the weekend on the Main Stage: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Potter has seemingly boundless energy and great enthusiasm on stage. Add to that a great voice, a tight band, and, dare I say it?, Potter’s undeniable sex-appeal, and it made for a thoroughly entertaining show. The musical highlight of her set was a hauntingly beautiful “Oasis”, which rose to a vibrant crescendo of guitar with Grace adding a wordless vocal accompaniment that had many in the audience swaying, eyes shut, caught up in the magic of the moment.
Between GPN and the first moe. set, the rain came back with a vengeance and our hosts took the stage in a steady, at times lashing rainfall. Rob Derhak, moe.’s bassist, apologized for the weather, which brought a loud cheer from the crowd, and the band broke into a hard-driving “Plane Crash.” After the always appreciated, and audience-sung “Okayallright,” Grace Potter joined the boys for a thoroughly unexpected rendition of “Gimme Shelter,” with Grace belting out the lyrics.
The evening became a test of endurance, one that this reporter sadly failed; after the first moe. set, I crawled into my tent, grateful to peel off sopping wet clothes and crawl into a sleeping bag, hoping for better weather the following day.
Saturday did turn out bright and sunny, much to the relief of the residents of the tent city of moe.ville. The day’s music began with Aqueous, a Buffalo quartet who put out a set of surprisingly (surprising only because the band members look barely old enough to shave) sophisticated and complex guitar driven jam-rock.
First up on the Main Stage Saturday was SOJA, who played their solid, if somewhat preachy, DC-based reggae. They were followed by the Wood Brothers. Whatever quality it is that sets apart the competent from the truly great, the kind of talent that wins Grammy Awards (ok, maybe that’s not the best example), the Wood Brothers have it. Chris Wood (of Modeski Martin & Wood) and his brother Oliver have lately added Zac Brown Band percussionist Clay Cook to their act to form a trio. With Oliver’s high, reedy voice, Chris’ upright bass fiddle, and vocal harmonies that seem lifted directly from the hollows of West Virginia, their 75 minute roots-rock set was a thing of musical beauty, which inspired much admiring buzz among the crowd.
Aside from our weekend hosts, there were two acts that most jam-music fans counted as must-see. The first, Galactic, played Saturday evening. New Orleans based
Galactic has been a fixture on the jam circuit for almost twenty years now. This weekend, the band added Corey Clover, of Living Color fame, on vocals. One way to gauge the success of a band’s set is to look around and observe the percentage of people in the crowd who are not merely swaying to the music, but actually dancing. By that (and any other) standard, Galactic’s set was a rousing success. I have only one thing to say about Corey Glover’s voice: Holy shit! The man has a range that seems impossible, and the ability to drop four octaves from a high scream to a deep bass almost without effort. On several occasions during his part of Galactic’s performance, my daughter and I locked eyes and just shook our heads in wordless amazement.
moe.’s Saturday night was good, not great, but definitely did have its moments. Highlight of the first show was a lovely set-closing “Faker” -> “Moth,” which was the predominate topic of conversation in the 30 minute queue for a Sunday morning shower. The second set featured a band switch with Galactic. Cripple Creek as the opening salvo and then Galactic stayed on stage for “How Many More Years?” moe. followed with a very nice “George.” The evenings climax, “Recreational Chemistry” was a bit of a disappointment, with the band wandering off in unpredictable, but not necessarily pleasing, directions. “Rec Chem” is one of those songs that can leave you in a state of stunned amazement or scratching your head. Saturday’s was the latter
Sticking to the weather theme, Sunday alternated between blazing sun and drenching rain. Ponchos went on, were peeled off in relief, thrown back on in disgust. The music for the day began with the North Mississippi All Star Duo of Luther and Cody Dickinson. Until hearing these guys, I’d never have believed that a mere two people could produce such a huge and complete sound. Luther plays a bass line on the E string of his guitar, rhythm and lead with the remaining five, while Cody beats out a vibrant percussion. Check out “Shake What Your Mama Gave You” to get an idea of the versatility of this band. At one point, Cody played an electrified washboard on “Psychedelic Sex Machine” that produced a simply astonishing range of sounds. All in all, it was one of the weekend’s best sets.
moe. always plays an afternoon set so the kids can get up on stage and participate, and Sunday was the day. It was also moe.’s finest day of music. Right before the kids came up, the boys played a constantly shifting “Downward Facing Dog”, which is the featured song on the band’s website. But the best moe.ment of the entire festival came at the close of the afternoon set with the two perennial favorites “Spine of a Dog” which flowed into a wonderful “Buster”.
The festival’s second must-see band, Umphrey’s McGee played Sunday evening. What more can be said about UM? They are one of the top five acts in the jam-music world; attract a huge, loyal following; play ever-changing, shifting music; and almost never disappoint. Their best offering came when they got on stage with the guys from moe, to play Pink Floyd’s monster “Time.” moe. then left the stage and Umphrey’s went into “Breathe,” another Dark Side of the Moon classic.
As moe. took the stage for their festival-closing set, the moe.rons in the audience knew what was coming: we were owed a “Rebubula” and some “Meat,” and the boys paid that debt in epic fashion. The hot and sizzling “Meat” ran close to twenty five minutes and featured some simply amazing guitar lead by Al.
Overall, moe.down 13 was a great musical experience. As we headed out for home after the fireworks show, my 20 year old daughter gushed “Wow. That was SO good. I’m hooked.”, one more new member of our extended famoe.ly.