There’s a reason that everyone greets the arrival of Strangecreek with a “Welcome Home.” For this area, central New England, the annual spring event in Greenfield MA is a gigantic family reunion of live music scenesters. Most people have been many times, and we have been coming for some twenty years, since our kids were just little babies.
We had arrived the previous night as a part of the early-Worm crew, and braved temperatures that dipped into the high 30s late night. But the day dawned with warmth that would sore throughout the day. We spent the morning getting up and out of the bus (the best way to festival!) and greeting the day. The first band up on the stage was Secret Sage- who I had remembered as a bit of a bluegrass band but that memory was dashed when they produced a rock set that included special guests and emcees and more.
Next up on main stage was King Saison. The band is led by Jeff King of The Kings, and Noelle Saison. They pass around instrument responsibilities sharing duties between them on guitar, bass and mandolin, with a backing band that is equally adept and adjustable. Their sound ranges between americana, country rock, jam and even some Celtic influences. Their original music showcases their eclectic talents and world view, with harmonies and a bit of humor sprinkled throughout the set.
As the afternoon progressed the temperatures were starting to sore. The main stage continued to get hotter with the premier of the CT Grateful Dead tribute band Mystic Dead who were making their premier at Strangecreek. The band played a set of good ol Grateful Dead focusing on classics aside from the tasty rarety “I’m a Hog for You, Baby.” Highlights included an exploratory “Help on the Way -> Slipknot -> Franklin’s Tower.” You could tell the band really enjoyed being included and that joy really translated into their set.
Let the Good Times Roll, Bertha, Jack Straw, Help on the Way, Slipknot, Franklin’s Tower, Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again, I’m a Hog for you, Babe, Big River, Cumberland Blues, Touch of Grey.
Up next on the main stage was Marble Eyes but I took this opportunity to instead wander into the woods and check out the Vernville stage. About a five minues walk from the main stage area, Vernville is its own place for sure. The stage has gotten to the point of being top notch with great sound and lights and plenty of room for dancing and gathering among the Strangecreek festivarians.
We went out to see Shira Elias, the singer that many of us learned about through her stint with Turkuaz before that band imploded. She’s continued on with Adrian Belew and Jerry Harrison on the Remain in Light Tour, and has been releasing her own music and hitting the stage. She was accompanied by a keyboard player, drummer, bassist, and a producer/dj. The sound is not funk or jam at all, much more of an r&b soul pop sound. The show of course showcased Elias’ voice and her musical sensibilities and the crowd was soaking in her energy. The sound is more ‘urban’ if you will, including samples and a drummer whose beats were rich and complex.
Elias reached out to the Worm crowd by playing the Otis Redding classic “Hard to Handle” while reminding everyone that the Grateful Dead had played that same song (followed famously by the Black Crowes, too, of course.) Earlier in the set the band played a cover by funkster Thundercat.
We wandered back to the main stage area to catch Roots of Creation and their Grateful Dub set. The usual suspects of Tal Pearson on keys, Andrew Riordan on sax and vocals, and Brett Wilson on guitar and vocals were joined by some new players that I did not recognize on drums, bass and guitar. The relative newness of this version of the band was no deterrent as they were tight and executed their set with precision and energy. Midway through the set Caylin Costello joined the band to supply vocals for “They Love Each Other.” The band is on a tear showcasing their reggae and dub takes on the Grateful Dead catalog, while also releasing their own new music all the time.
I am likely one of the few that recognized the Miles Davis classic “So What” that appeared late in the set. I was lucky enough to catch a 2 min version of that song with the Grateful Dead back in 1988 (Hampton VA I think it was) and this was a nice extended take on the jammified jazz classic. I asked Wilson about it later after his set, and he indicated that Roots of Creation has learned a whole set of ‘The Pizza Tapes,’ an early album with Tony Rice, Jerry Garcia, and David Grisman that is known much more for it’s bluegrass perspective. Wilson indicated that they learned the album to be included in a cool event that was more bluegrass oriented than their reggae feel. The band’s devotion to both the traditions of the Grateful Dead, modern reggae and jam, and improvisation are all evident in their current format, style and execution.
We spent the early evening hanging out with friends and relaxing a bit after a busy day. The ability to reconnect with friends from all over the scene is one of the great joys of Strangecreek, Wormtown, and all events like this. To do so in a sunny, warm and happy environment after a long winter is the hallmark of Strangecreek. While there may be a few events prior to this in New England, Strangecreek really seems to welcome in the summer festival season as the first major event on the calendar for many people. I am lucky enough to share it with my family- my eldest worked stage crew this night, his twin was in and out all weekend with their fiance, and my youngest, freshly turned eighteen, was camping in the woods with all of their friends. We’ve been bringing the kids since the youngest was 10 days old so this is an annual family excursion for us. It’s not lost on me that our ability to do this together may not last forever so it is all the more valuable.
The Friday night main stage headliner was The Machine and the production crew worked through the extensive load in and prepared for the massive light show. The band fired out hours of amazing music by Pink Floyd and the light show was visible from all over the main stage area. The band is anchored by Ryan Ball on guitar, lap steel, and vocals and Scott Chasolen on keys and vocals. Newest addition Chris DeAngelis is on bass and vocals and more than held his own. On this night Randy Schroeger was the sub on drums and his spirit and assertiveness were evident despite it being his first night on the drums with the band.
I have been seeing The Machine for over a decade and I have known Scott Chasolen for over twenty years. We have talked about the challenges of being in a Pink Floyd tribute band, with a fan base that expects very faithful renditions of time honored classics. Scott is a creative force, having been in seminal jazz funk jamband ulu, and in tons of other bands over the years. My favorite moments in the past have been when the band veers slightly from the strit script of Pink Floyd’s catalog and the band really becomes their own entity. More than any show prior, this night the band was more able to flex their creativity with extended sections in songs like “Money” which featured a lengthy bass interlude by DeAngelis.
The show strethed for hours with all kinds of Pink Floyd classics from all eras of the band’s career. There was even the rarety of Syd Barret’s Lucifer Sam before the hits package that finished the night including “Comfortably Numb” and an encore that included “Run Like Hell’ before the ultimate closer of “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse.”
While the main stage finished up, the night was hardly over for the gathered Worms. The late night cabins opened up and the music continued along with the revelry of all of the fans, who were just plain excited to be out and about, enjoying the fesitval. The woods light up, moods are enhanced, and everyone just has the best time.
I made my way to the Wormtown cabin to see Bob Marley tribute band Duppy Conquerors. The band fired through the material beautifully while people soaked up the positive vibrations. Like The Machine, they were able to sneak in a smidge of their own personality into the songbook. After opening with “Natural Mystic” they played “Stir it Up.” Toward the end of that song they teased in a verse and chorus of “Hey Yah” by Outkast. It’s this type of creativity that allows bands who are paying tribute to the classics to maintain their own creative spirit. I stuck around for about an hour of their set before I figured it was time to call it a night.
Just because I called it a night didn’t mean that the festival was over by any stretch. The late night cabins continued until the wee hours of the morning and as is our normal procedure, we could hear the music as we slipped into slumber, and throughout our dream filled night. But Strangecreek is a marathon, and you can’t burn yourself out on Friday! There are still days to go.
Keep your eyes peeled here as we continue to report on the rest of the weekend at Strangecreek!
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