Northeast Kingdom Music Festival

by Bethany M. Dunbar, August 21, 2010

There’s a sort of joke among journalists of a certain age.  In the old days, older ladies used to write town columns about who visited whom around town.  A few papers still carry some of these social notes from all over.  Often they would end with the line, “A good time was had by all.”

It’s never really true, of course, and there is absolutely no way for a reporter to know how many of the people at a given event are having a good time.

Still I found myself rolling that phrase around in my head after this year’s Northeast Kingdom Music Festival because in this case, it sure did seem to be the case.

The festival was beautiful, the weather was exactly perfect, the music was unbelievable.  I will post here my review for the Chronicle, in which I didn’t say that clichéd phrase.  But oops, I said it here.  I can get away with more here it turns out.

I also have more space here so I’m going to post a bunch more pictures.  If you were there, you might enjoy them.  If you weren’t, well, you can become inspired to go next time.  Until then you will have to be satisfied by another common cliché (in certain baseball circles):  Wait ‘til next year.

O'Death. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

NEKMF — it’s all about the music

by Bethany M. Dunbar, the Chronicle, August 11, 2010

ALBANY — It’s hard to know what to expect from a band called O’Death.

That is, if you have never heard of them, which I had not.  In fact I had never heard of any of the bands performing at the Northeast Kingdom Music Festival this year and really didn’t have a clue what they might do.

I did notice on the festival’s web site that that many of the bands mentioned banjos and bluegrass or bluegrass rock.  It’s the kind of dance music I grew up with — intensified a notch or two.  Or seventeen.

Listening to O’Death on Saturday night, August 7, swathed in pink revolving light from the incredible lighting system at the festival, I had a thought of how to describe them — Charlie Daniels meets Metallica.

This band was really, really good.  They screamed at times, and it was a bit loud and screamie for me, but the music was fantastic and great for dancing.  They really got people pumped up.

The fiddle player, Bob Pycior, was particularly amazing and shredded his bow almost completely before the show was over.  High energy doesn’t even begin to describe this guy or this band.

“I don’t want to impale anyone, but here,” he said and tossed the bow out to the crowd at the end of their show.

At some point in the concert, band members from another band at the festival came up to join O’Death on the main stage.  That band, called Hoots and Hellmouth, is based in Philadelphia.

Whoever wrote the description for their web site did a wonderful job:  “New music for old souls…acoustic mayhem” it says.

“At once fresh and vibrant, yet somehow strangely familiar.”

Hoots and Hellmouth had played earlier on Saturday in the tent stage, and their music was wicked lively and well done — a little less hard-edged than O’Death’s.

In my mind one of the best bands of the day was another bluegrass-type dance band.  Called the Holy Ghost Tent Revival, the band is based in Greensboro, North Carolina.  They sang in harmony and had an irresistible foot-stomping dance beat, and a trombone among other instruments.  They played twice in the tent but could have been a main stage event easily.

Shakazoba played something they call Afrofunk, which was funky and fun.  The Low Anthem played in the midafternoon — sweet, low, soothing music that you might play at home on Sunday morning.  Their instruments included harmonica, xylophone, saw, and bottles of leftover prescription pills used for percussion in a song about the apothecary.

“I met her down at the apothecary…  With her saccharin luster she’s a hard little pill.”

The less rambunctious tone of this band was fine because after all, it’s not that easy to dance from 4 in the afternoon to midnight without stopping.

We had brought a tent, and after O’Death played we turned in.  But we could hear the Pimps of Joytime from there.  Even in the quiet campground we could tell by the crowd’s reactions they were having a great time.

One of the most entertaining acts of all on Saturday was a two-piece band and comedy routine in the tent Called the Two Man Gentleman Band, they were from New York City.  The music was ragtime, the suits were roaring ‘20s, and lyrics were stuff like this:

“Oh Man.  Oh Man.  Oh when I get you into my minivan.”

One song called “Fancy Beer” went over really well.

And the duo really got everyone laughing and singing along with their rendition of the Ghostbusters theme.

Suffice it to say that these bands might not be on the cover of the Rolling Stone just yet, but the level of talent at the Chilly Ranch this year was huge.

At least three or four of these bands are groups I would drive some distance to see again now that I know they exist.

The crowd was larger than the only other time I had been to this festival, which was the first year, eight years ago.  But it was not too big at all.  In fact, there was plenty of room.

The weather was spectacular, there was plenty of water, tent sites, parking, toilets, a couple of nice food booths including a wood-fired pizza oven, emergency workers were standing by, and the crowd was mellow.  Kids were everywhere, and people seemed to be really there for the music.

It’s a lovely festival, a beautiful spot, well organized and lots of fun.

Congratulations to Bill Pearce, Ed DuFresne who found the talent, and all the volunteers who made it such a pleasure to be there.

If you are thinking about going next year and are wondering whether the bands will be something you might like, you can always listen to samples online.  The NEKMF web site has links to each band’s web site.

My sweetheart, Jim Bowes, and me at the Northeast Kingdom Music Festival.

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