Words by: Bill Clifford :: Images by: Robert Chapman
moe.down 8 :: 08.31.07 - 09.02.07 :: Snowridge Ski Area :: Turin, NY
The lineup at the eighth annual moe.down, held over the Labor Day weekend, was a source of debate amongst moe.rons leading up to the festival. Amongst the missing from this year's schedule were notable names in the jam community - no Umphrey's McGee, Keller Williams, Page McConnell or Mike Gordon. Instead, this year's acts diverged from the traditional and included The Roots and country-oriented roots rocker Ryan Adams - who two weeks prior to the festival pulled out of his performance. His spot was filled by an equally well-known name, though one whose latest incarnation came in with considerably less publicity.
| moe.down 8|
Despite the different slant to the schedule, the festival none-the-less drew typical numbers, as close to 8,000 attended the upstate New York holiday jamboree. While moe.down 7 was disrupted by Hurricane Ernesto, this year's festival was graced with perfect weather, crystal blue, cloudless skies and sensational sunshine over Snow Ridge Ski resort throughout the weekend and cooler temps to chill spirited souls in the evenings.
The musical fare on Friday was light, as Acoustic Forum, a collective of former local musicians, including moe.'s drummer Vinnie Amico, reunited under the tent. While their three sets of cover songs were all sparsely attended, Ha Ha The Moose, drew better. A moe. side project made up of Rob Derhak, Chuck Garvey and Jim Loughlin, all donned Flintstone-like moose lodge headgear, masks and capes. This outlet gives its members the chance to go in a heavier and odder direction with moe. songs as well as select covers.
The first act to take the main stage on Friday was Connecticut's pop-rockers, Rolla. Indeed, far from the open ended improvisational jams many have come to expect of moe.down, this husband and wife duo, along with a bassist and drummer, performed concise pop nuggets with the perfectly pitched dual vocal harmonies of Fuzz (Deep Banana Blackout) and Carrie Ernst, whose voices were meant to be together. The duo was playful throughout, singing while looking in each other's eyes, jumping in rhythm on "Real To Me" and then pausing for effect before the chorus, "Tell me I'm not dreaming because you don't seem real to me."
| Rolla :: moe.down 8|
Late in its set, Fuzz announced special guests; pedal steel guitarist Gordon Stone replaced bassist David Shuman and moe. drummer Vinnie Amico replaced drummer Phil Pitts on hand percussion. This quartet ran through a bluegrass take on The Beatles' "Rocky Raccoon," lead by the sweet, soprano vocals of Carrie Ernst. Here, the appreciative and growing crowd of about 200 rose to its feet, and added its own handclaps. The crowd remained standing as Shuman and Pitts came back, and the band ran through its own recently written "Messed Up" that included opportunities for all six musicians to solo, then affectionately closed its set, sans Stone and Amico, with the love ballad "Salvation," the two vocalists obviously singing to each other.
Also on the main stage on Friday was Philadelphia hip-hop act The Roots. The legendary Roots Crew paraded onstage Mardi Gras style, lead by a four-piece horn section that included a sousaphone. Not familiar with The Roots, I went into this set with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised. The energy poured out by the band was returned in full measure by the crowd. The first glow stick war of the weekend broke out and prompted MC Black Thought to add, "There's a whole lot of shit coming up here on stage. I know its all in good fun, but let's try to be careful."
| The Roots :: moe.down 8|
There were lots of time changes and improvising, and all were clearly in high spirits, bounding from one side of the stage to the other and getting off on each other's performances. Late in the set, the entire band came to the front of the stage and drummer ?uestlove offered a champagne toast, handing two bottles to the mob in front to honor departing bassist Leonard Nelson Hubbard, announcing that this would be his final performance with the band.
Guitarist Kirk Douglas, ?uestlove and the sousaphone player - introduced as Tuba Gooding Jr. - took a turn onstage as a trio and ran through their interpretation of Bob Dylan's "Masters Of War," which had a mid-song tease of "America, The Beautiful." In the four years I've attended moe.down, this performance from The Roots ranks among the best I've seen.
After The Roots, moe.'s one Friday performance was nearly anti-climatic. With a simple welcome to the crowd from Derhak, the band was off into a simple opener, "Stranger Than Fiction." They began to warm-up on "Bearsong," with Al Schnier opening up the jamming, his guitar drenched in effects. The energy level given off by the band, and returned from the crowd, seemed mild at first but picked up with "Tailspin" and the dual guitar intro on crowd favorite "Kyle's Song."
| moe. :: moe.down 8|
"Opium" was given an especially sweet delivery, slowed in tempo but sung with fervor by Derhak. Garvey's slide guitar wailed and cried, and the eerie backdrop of an endless desert blue sky floating by made the song all that more hallucinogenic. The crowd seemed clueless and indifferent to moe.'s choice to cover The Band's "Don't Do It," which admittedly was somewhat of a dry rendition even considering that it was the first time moe. has played the song. A short "She Sends Me" brought the first night's festivities to a close.
"This band is one of the best things to happen to moe.down as far as I'm concerned," said a euphoric Schnier introducing Saturday's main stage openers, The Meat Puppets. "They changed my life in 1983," he added, referencing how this band's early work influenced him. The Meat Puppets ran through a set the included several new cuts as well as the band's early hits. The crowd seemed indifferent, barely moving or dancing, half-heartedly applauding on tunes such as "Plateau" and the set closer, "Lake of Fire." Perhaps after so many years, many fans just weren't aware of The Meat Puppets, and the moe.rons were just reserving their spot for moe.'s afternoon set.
2007 is the Chinese Year of the Pig, and over in the kid's tent events were "Buster" themed. Wearing pig masks, a troupe of kids marched to the main stage for the early afternoon set from moe., which opened with the kids onstage dancing to "Buster." The kid troupe hung around the side of the stage dancing for several songs, and their enthusiasm seemed to rub off on the band.
| moe.down 8|
On "The Road" the tempo and energy was immediately affecting, firing up the crowd whose fists pumped above their heads. Jim Loughlin plunked away on the MalletKAT, then bounced back on percussion, while out front Garvey and Schneir traded impassioned, rhythmic solos. Derhak pulled out an upright bass on what was otherwise a standard rendition of "Shoot First," while on "Down Boy" Garvey's talk box brought a group of fascinated kids back out front from the side stage. "The Ghost Of Rob's Mom" provided the first opportunity for a drum-percussion solo from Loughlin and Amico, with the crowd adding intuitive handclaps. Schnier picked up an acoustic and gave his most impassioned vocal delivery yet on "So Long," ad-libbing about being at moe.down on "such a beautiful day." Then, on set closer "Mexico," he invited Meat Puppet Kirk Kirkwood to join the band. While it was clear Kirkwood wasn't familiar with the song, he eventually did find his own groove, and together with Schnier and Garvey, laid down some wailing guitar work.
New England songwriter Ryan Montbleau has been a fixture on the summer festival circuit, and at moe.down, the Ryan Montbleau Band fans showed up in force, drawing the largest crowd of the weekend under the Saranac Tent. They funked things up right away with "Summertime Feeling," as Jason Cohen leaned on the Hammond and synthesizer. There was lots of room for improvisation on the upbeat and often played "You Crazy U," while "Draw The Line" from a forthcoming CD was delivered a bit more traditionally. Juiced by the crowd, Montbleau enticed, "Make some noise, moe.down!" and they responded with gusto.
| Derhak & K. Kirkwood :: moe.down 8|
Throughout, the tempo shifted from high-energy funk rave-ups to mellow, elegant ditties such as "One Fine Color," which spotlighted Montbleau's sultry and subtle vocals. The lyrically lovely "Grain Of Sand" built to an energetic crescendo where he urged the crowd to "let me hear ya scream," and then brought it back down, pleading, "Take a look around. This is all we have," referring to the planet and the theme of the song. Montbleau's set was certainly the festival highlight under the tent for this critic, and he's certainly deserving of a return performance on the main stage in future years.
Also under the tent between main stage acts was Philadelphia-based instrumental dance rockers Lotus. Surprisingly, none of Lotus' three sets were as crowded as Montbleau's one. But this young band - utilizing traditional guitars, bass, keys and drums in combination with sampled electronic beats and percussion - nonetheless were an excellent choice to get the crowd fired up. I bounced in and out of the tent during their sets, and took in most of the final set prior to moe. when the lighting was as much a part of the band's set as the frenetic pace of the music.
Ryan Adams last minute withdrawal left a major void. However, promoters managed to land Satellite Party just prior to the event. A charismatic frontman, Perry Farrell was obviously excited to be performing in front of such a large crowd. Satellite Party, which also includes a drummer and bassist, as well as his wife and backing vocalist, Lau Farrell, certainly took the award for the best dressed band of the weekend, with Farrell in a white jacket with long laces falling from the sleeves, his wife in short shorts and a black and white leopard print top and Nick Perri in tight fitting white denim pants, and sporting a flying-V style electric guitar. The Satellite Party songs delivered Farrell's eco-friendly message via rock music blended with upbeat dance tempos.
| Perry Farrell :: moe.down 8|
An eccentric and compelling performer, Farrell had something to say between each song. "I knew this was going to be a great party. They told me, 'Ya just gotta come on up!' We're from Venice, California, and we swam here underneath the 'Tahitian Moon'," he said introducing a song. The energy and enthusiasm Farrell put forth was infectious, and the crowd got more into it with each song. Several songs, such as "Only Love, Let's Celebrate" and "Insanity Rains" had Perris head-banging metal guitar stamped all over them.
Farrell went above and beyond by fervently performing Jane's Addiction's "Mountain Song," the first of several Jane's tunes. Noting that he looks forward to summer every year, "because I get to sing this song" as "Summertime Rolls" began with a slow, psychedelic ambiance that built to a magnificent peak and then descended again. Farrell closed his set with a two song encore that included their debut's title track and "Jane Says" with Perri on acoustic guitar. Much like The Roots the night before, Satellite Party set a standard with an ambitious, impassioned set for moe. to follow.
moe. was certainly up to the challenge. Bathed in blue light, the band began the second set with an extended, highly improvised "Lazarus" > "Skrunk." This song combination would prove to be the most improvisational and open ended of the weekend, the two tracks seamlessly moving from one to the other. Further, lighting director Jeff Waful was as much a member of the band during this set as anyone. Colors bled into one another and then spread to the entire slope in dense textures, the trees that walled in the slopes lit up with spiraling designs.
| Robert Derhak :: moe.down 8|
Derhak re-introduced Farrell as a moe.ville mayoral candidate. Farrell stated, "I promise, if I'm mayor of moe.ville, I'll clean up the oceans. Sound Good?" It was a fitting introduction to Jane's Addiction's "Ocean Size." Played for the first time together in the true spirit of collaboration, it was psychedelic, blissful abandon with wailing guitar solos from Schnier, who looked as though he was having the time of his life. The set wound down with Garvey delivering as elegant a vocal run as he had all weekend on a well received "Wind It Up." Then Derhak brought it all crashing back down on the fan favorite "Plane Crash."
moe. had more surprises up their proverbial sleeve for their third late night set. Derhak ad-libbed about the way moe. became a jamband, noting they used to play without stopping because they were scared people would leave the bar. "We found out if we just kept playing people would stick around, drink at the bar, and then we'd get hired to play again." That comment led into an extended, highly improvised jam on "Big World." Mid-song, moe. traded instruments with the Meat Puppets, and things got weird and psychedelically dark and experimental. Then, moe. found their way back to the stage and back into "Big World."
The impulsive and impromptu extended jams continued on "McBain," which featured all kinds of effects drenched guitars from Schnier colored by Loughlin's fluent MalletKAT fluctuations. At another seamless segue into "George," Waful had another chance to shine. From behind the lighting board, a six-foot diameter mirrored ball was elevated, oblivious to most fans until lasers illuminated it and reflected colorful rotating flashes of light around the entire mountainside. It was a unique and amazing technical display that brought the crowd, lost in musical bliss, to another pinnacle.
| Farrell with moe. :: moe.down 8|
The mood lulled on the achingly beautiful "Faker" - an odd song to follow the previous jams - but the energy rebounded on a smooth transition, so smooth it went almost unnoticed into the live staple and fan favorite "Timmy Tucker." Though somewhat anti-climatic after this set, the two song encore of "Spine Of A Dog" and "Spaz Medicine" had the moe.rons singing loud and proud. For any trader of live moe. recordings, Saturday nights set two and three are must haves.
Unlike other festivals, which usually end early on Sunday afternoon, moe.down strategically takes place over a holiday weekend, giving fans one more day to rock out and return to the working world on Tuesday. After a late Saturday night, Sunday's mid-afternoon wake up was the blues flavored folk of Amos Lee. A crowd of over 200 gathered at the main stage to take in the Philadelphia troubadour's set. The bluesy "Bottom Of The Barrel" featured Michael Bellar leaning into the keys, while the lovely acoustic shuffle "Supply And Demand" got the crowd moving, and a newly written song, "Listen," came across as a political call for action.
Later, Lee noted, "I like to do songs about the day. So we're gonna do 'Easy (Like Sunday Morning)' since it's Sunday." On The Commodores cover, he enticed the crowd to sing along. Lee invited a guest named Mulu, a fellow Philadelphian, to sing with him. They ran through a sensual, r&b inflected "Caramel," trading off verses then singing the chorus together. Midway through, they broke it down and did soulful but comical impersonations that included Rick Astley, Billy Ocean and others. Lee was the perfect Sunday afternoon come around set after a late night.
| Strangefolk :: moe.down 8|
Also hailing from Philadelphia, The Brakes made a stop at moe.down under the tent. A crowd of about 75 had gathered to take in the band's brand of acoustic roots rock. Schnier joined the young band for a mid-set cover of Traffic's "Empty Pages." Schnier joked, "I think they're all like 13 years old and write great songs. I'm jealous of every one of you." Not surprisingly, it got a bit of notice when he joined the band, and the tent got a bit more crowded. The soulful "Into The Ground" featured a moving trumpet solo, while the pop oriented "Younger Days" got the crowd on their feet. It was a bit of a disappointment that a larger audience didn't hear this deserving band.
Strangefolk put on, what was for many, Sunday's highlight. John Trafton's electric country jaunt "Fallin" got things started with an upbeat tempo and great mix of his electric guitar and a drum solo. By the time this song had finished, a crowd of well over 500 had assembled, pulled in by the music. While the slope felt full, there was more than enough individual space for dancing. Acoustic guitarist Luke Montgomery took over on "Entitled." His vocals are a bit sultrier, but no less energetic or passionately sung. Don Scott's sinuous piano was the centerpiece here, along with lush three part vocal harmonies. The sun was shining and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Though we were in upstate New York, Montgomery's haunting lovelorn scorcher "Sweet New England" had a stark relevance. Given a 90-minute set, Strangefolk had lots of room to improvise on their nine songs. Bassist Erik Glockler took the lead on "Anchor" with richly textured, resonating tenor vocals accentuated by soulful piano. Kirk Juhas, who plays keys in Al & the Transamericans along with Glocker, joined Strangefolk on the funky piano ditty "Rather Go Fishin'."
| John Medeski :: moe.down 8|
Not long after this, I found myself standing in front of five gals with southern accents holding stringed instruments such as a mandolin, a banjo and a fiddle. I awoke as one of the five asked the crowd, "Have any of ya'll ever been to church in the south?" Uncle Earl then blew me away with the traditional gospel ditty "Warfare." Though these five musicians were far from their home, they nonetheless felt right at home kickin' up the dry earth with the so called "dust kickers." Indeed, their set drew one of the largest crowds under the tent on Sunday.
I found my way back to the main stage for a mellow, funky and jazzy set from Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood. Having recently released a sophomore recording together - the first since 1998 and also the first to bring the avant-jazz trio back to more traditional jazz leanings - this quartet performed an instrumental set that had the moe.rons shaking their asses. The groove oriented "Little Walter Rides Again" led off with a rhythmic drum solo and densely layered organ swells. Scofield opened up a bit on guitar on "Tequila and Chocolate," while Medeski's keys were tense. The mood mellowed way down on a lovely, almost sacred take on John Lennon's ballad "Julia," which emerged drenched in thick church organ. While not everyone's cup of tea, this set was a mark of what a diverse and eclectic festival moe.down has become.
| Derhak & Schnier :: moe.down 8|
Though neither of moe.'s two sets on Sunday matched Saturday night in intensity, they did begin with a bang - a boom boom boom and a bang bang bang to be precise. "Crab Eyes" opened the first set with Loughlin shining on the MalletKAT as Garvey's guitar cried, Amico holding it all together on the back end. The band really didn't take any risks till well into "Kids." Schnier's vocals however were worn out, dry and hoarse, the beautiful, dry weather having kicked up tons of dust. Where moe. excels is at filling the space between things, something clear on the heavier, funky delivery of "The Pit" and "Meat," on which Garvey's guitar seemed to find new nooks and crannies to delve into. Here, they seemed to be opening up and letting the moment get a hold of them for the first time that day. Closing set one, moe. welcomed up Uncle Earl, as well as Zach Djanikian of The Brakes to sing on The Band's "The Weight." Rayna Gellert added sweet fiddle and the fans sang along to the chorus.
Loughlin plugged the gaps nicely with bongos on "Blue Jean Pizza," and Garvey laid down a long, fluent guitar solo with lots of room to breath to start the second set. Schneir found all kinds of room to noodle on the synthesizer on "Recreational Chemistry," though the tempo was slowed quite a bit perhaps due to Schnier's shot vocals. Musically, they were very playful. Band members swapped instruments with crew members mid-set, giving them their moment to shine. Waful, whose voice wasn't exactly bad but wasn't a real singing voice, lead the crew through a solid rendition of Neil Young's "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere." Other highlights of the second set were the high-energy delivery of "Rebubula" the encore of "Akimbo" and the mellow "Letter Home," which closed the festival.
| Uncle Earl, Djanikian with moe. on "The Weight"|
While moe.down 8 may have lacked some of the bigger jam names of past years, the lineup was indeed a tell tale sign of the diversity that moe.rons have come to expect. There were plenty of pleasant surprises this year like The Roots and Perry Farrell; and first time acts like the Ryan Montbleau Band and Strangefolk proved welcome additions to the moe. family. The fans behaved themselves and the mountain staff welcomed us with open arms. Graciously, Mother Nature provided glorious, warm sunshine throughout the weekend. Really, by all accounts, moe.down 8 was a wonderful festival experience.
JamBase | New York
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