Las Tortugas II | 10.27 & 10.28

Words by: Dennis Cook

Las Tortugas II :: 10.27.07 & 10.28.07 :: Evergreen Lodge :: Yosemite, CA

We can all be together, forever and ever
When we make it to the promised land

Costume Contest - Las Tortugas II by Susan J. Weiand
In this world, we only catch glimpses of paradise. In the here and now, we only get fleeting flashes of a fully blessed existence but it's enough to make us chase that promise in whatever ways we can. On some level, when we pack up our cars with costumes, snacks and booze to head for a music festival we're acting on faith that we'll see this bright ribbon of promise unfurl. Removed from jobs and chores, we access parts of ourselves that out of necessity must remain tucked away during the working week. Dropped into a different, freedom infused context, moving with contented intoxication, we open up to joy and laughter, welcoming epiphanies, hugging complete strangers and feeling suddenly that the world's a touch brighter.

The second annual Las Tortugas - Dance of the Dead more than lived up to this innocent hope for pleasure and fresh experiences. Not unlike a miniature version of High Sierra, Las Tortugas – named in honor of festival hosts Blue Turtle Seduction - offered nearly round-the-clock amusement and an overriding sense of comradery that one would have to consciously resist in order to have a bad time. Held at one of California's great unsung venues, the Evergreen Lodge, it instantly had a leg up on the competition. Nestled in the middle of nowhere amongst tall trees and winding roads, Evergreen Lodge has well appointed cabins, tent camping, a fully stocked bar and restaurant, a general store and plenty of electricity to keep things going right up until the morning dew settles. One hesitates to use the word "oasis" but this locale was a significant part of Las Tortugas, where one wanted for nothing during their stay.

Steve Adams - ALO :: Las Tortugas II
By Susan J. Weiand
The program guide encouragingly announced, "We are thrilled to have you join us for this voyage. Feel free to freak freely. Be kind and have the time of your lives!" Though things had been rolling hard by all reports since Thursday night and a raucous late night set from ALO, I didn't arrive until Saturday afternoon. I stepped out into the temperate woodland air and immediately heard sweet string music flowing from the Big Top Terrapin Stage, one of three stages rounded out by medium size Tuloumne Hall and the barroom Tavern Stage. While most small festivals often have rinky dink sound systems and lighting gear, Las Tortugas was pro all the way and outside of a few late starts, largely caused by the swerving trek to the venue for musicians, everything ran like clockwork. While it may seem a small thing to some, the lack of interruption to one's party flow is crucial in achieving these glimpses of the Promised Land.

Speaking in broad terms, none of the bands here fit into neat, easily saleable categories. One would be hard pressed to say with certainty where their albums would be filed in a record store but that's not how musicians hear music, where rock, blues, jazz, etc. are one huge tapestry they're free to pull strands from. This wide-open sonic perspective begins with Blue Turtle Seduction, who conjured the flavors of Manu Chao, The Clash and The Specials on Saturday night only to come on like a good String Cheese or Yonder show at their festival closing Sunday late night. One picked up on this same sort of restless creativity in SF's Izabella, Florida's Buffalo Strange and many others. The musicianship was uniformly solid and your feet picked up on something buoyant and life affirming almost every set. The more cynical out there might lump many of the acts into the "hippie jam band" category but given as open a mind as the performers one quickly picked up on more than that backhanded description belies.

Now, to some of the standout musical moments from this weekend:

TLG w/ Feinstein - Las Tortugas II by Josh Miller
-Tea Leaf Green's roaring, hard edged Saturday late night set dipped deep into darkness and funky snarl, the notes dripping with pheromones and sweet sweat. Several times guitarist Josh Clark took the reins and brought down the hard rock hammer, singing choice he-man lines like, "You're an evil bitch but you taste so good." It was quality naughty fun to see TLG slather on power chord ugliness. Bonus points for funk-a-riffic guest spots from Sean Leahy and The Ritual's top hat sportin' keyboard maestro Jordan Feinstein.

-New Monsoon's Sunday night performance ranks amongst their very best and showcased the hungry focus and jaw dropping musical acumen at work in the new five-piece configuration. Opening with "Greenhouse" then swooping into "Help On The Way" > "Slipknot" instantly sent sparks flying. No nostalgia exercise, the heavy smack of "Slipknot" was driven at every loop by electric guitarist Jeff Miller, who continually reminded us what a goddamn tasty picker he was both on Sunday and their late night set Saturday. The New Monsoon of today forces us to go back to the instinctive openness rock & roll once demanded in the late '60s and early '70s, where all tangents are fair game as long as they've still got rock balls swinging them forward. Nice Rocky and Bullwinkle themed costumes on Saturday, too. And their Saturday encore of Neil Young's "Don't Let It Bring You Down" accomplished the rare feat of sounding nothing like Neil, especially the Freddie King pre-dawn electric blues flavor Miller gave the intro.

Monophonics - Las Tortugas II by Susan J. Weiand
-While it's the crisp, tough horn section that first snapped us to attention with SF's Monophonics it was the rough rock thread underneath that kept many of us planted during their multiple sets. Besides the usual funk foundations of The JB Horns, Stax/Volt, et al. these guys are also reminiscent of Chicago when late guitarist Terry Kath was driving them in the early '70s. Natural born showmen, the Monophonics showed a nice bit of range with their lightly gospel inflected Sunday performance. Tight, bold and eager for your approval, the Monophonics bear watching, especially if groove is your thing.

-Greensky Bluegrass had all the warmth and chops of better known string acts like Hot Buttered Rum and Chatham County Line but managed to differentiate themselves with their choice of material, seamless transitions and nicely melancholy originals. Greensky was able take covers as diverse as Prince's "When Doves Cry" and Pink Floyd's "Time" and remove any jokiness, diving down to the heart of the tunes to mine all the heartache and pathos. The looks of steely determination on their faces, especially when the changes came fast and furious, spoke of men dedicated to their craft. And it's always a good sign when violinist Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth likes a band well enough to guest on their records, as he does on Greensky's latest, Tuesday Letter.

Bo Carper - New Monsoon - Las Tortugas II by Susan J. Weiand
-Speaking of Pink Floyd, unconsciously they became the cover tune choice this weekend with New Monsoon nailing a massive, emotionally pulsating "Echoes," Tea Leaf smacking around the security guard blowjob anthem "Young Lust" and Buffalo Strange's Sunday set opening "Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2," which resonates painfully in brain dead 2007 America.

-Coming all the way from St. Petersburg, Florida, Buffalo Strange combined strong vocals, funky flute and a muscular rhythm team to create a winning mixture of bar band boogie, roots reggae, bubbling jazz and classic rock a la pre-Michael McDonald Doobie Brothers. If you walked into a club where they were laying it down you'd smile. Able to incite an audience to sing about what a beautiful world it is (despite all the evidence to the contrary) speaks to their positivity and ability to get it across to others. For the music dorks out there, a number of sections in their Sunday set reminded me in a great way of lost '70s rock-jazz fusioners Mark-Almond.

-Tea Leaf moptop Trevor Garrod started Sunday off with a solo afternoon display that was positively shiver inducing. Echoing Rufus Wainwright and the early Rod Stewart of "Mandolin Wind," Garrod sat alone at the piano, breaking our hearts in the nicest way with his sad, skyward leaning ditties. He's such a different creature outside of TLG, revealing genuine depths that suggest we're only just now seeing what this gifted player is capable of. The crowd sat penitent as kindergartners at story time, hushed except for the explosive applause at the finish of each tune. He wears his heart and innards on the outside in this setting, and thankfully all involved in the exchange appreciated the delicacy and beauty of the moment.

Christian Zupanic - BTS
Las Tortugas II by J. Miller
-What a pleasant surprise the Jerry Garcia Band's late Sunday afternoon set turned out to be. Until you're shuffling along, it's easy to forget the core level satisfaction of Garcia marvels like "Mission In The Rain." Led by the great, round mound of divine organ sound Melvin Seals, these self-proclaimed "keepers of the flame" delivered a vibrant, infectious set full of dancey-dance energy that gave everyone still at Las Tortugas the push we needed for the rest of the night. The rhythm team of Martin Holland and David Kemper drove everything with power and precision, shining brightly on a "Mystery Train" that rivaled The Band's best-ever version. Singer-guitarist Stu Allen has the unenviable position of filling in for Jerry Garcia on two fronts. He nailed those roles without being a mere replication. When he opens his mouth a sound very similar to Garcia comes out and his playing is clearly influenced by the bearded one but what makes it work so well is Allen's ability to constantly hit the right emotional timbre. And there's no band that wouldn't benefit from a pair of mocha songbirds like the ones in JGB. What a lucky tambourine to hit those hips!

-Other small delights: The two mariachis from Poor Man's Whiskey who stayed in character all weekend. They may have smelled like a hobo screwed a burro but they made my weekend in many ways. And the musician find of the weekend was superlative inducing bassist Jeroen Van Niel of SF jam band Tracorum, who continually made hardened festivarians like myself stand slackjawed at his four-string wizardry.

Blue Turtle Seduction throws a hell of a party, and the spirit of the whole thing begins with them. Both sets I saw were as diverse, technically savvy and pumpingly engaging as anything out there. From their frequent costume changes to the swerving, breeze blown nature of their compositions, it's clear they want to entertain folks. It's only a complete lack of familiarity with their catalog that keeps me from saying much more. The fact that things were still going strong at midnight on Sunday when they took the main stage to close out the festival speaks to the deep affection of their fans. And de facto MC for the weekend guitarist Jay Seals is one of the most musically literate, no bullshit guys I've ever sat down with. If only a fraction of the enthusiasm and enormous range of sounds in our conversations makes it onto the stage then folks are in for a treat. It might not be an easy sell being that diverse, giving lead instrumental spots to violin and harmonica and viewing Manu Chao, particularly his first group Mano Negra, as primary influences, but BTS tours like possessed men (Sunday was their 156 show of 2007) and the dividend of that single-minded kind of work is a following that's only going to grow.

Las Tortugas – Dance of the Dead is a wonderful little festival, one that I'll return to next year and the ones that follow. We have a dearth of band curated festivals on the West Coast, no moe.downs or Camp Biscos to look forward to. Blue Turtle has found a glorious spot for what one hopes becomes a real tradition in the days ahead, a respite from the daily grind that renews and delights in many, many ways.

This world is not our home
We are only passing through
Our trail is all made up
Way beyond the blue

(Opening and closing quotes from Charles Johnson's "My Brothers and Sisters," the Garcia Band staple.)

JamBase | Yosemite
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[Published on: 11/1/07]

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Andy starstarstarstarstar Thu 11/1/2007 12:35PM
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"welcoming epiphanies"

truer words have never been spoken -- well done, Mr. Cook, well done...

Joshtafari starstarstarstarstar Thu 11/1/2007 12:38PM
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What a great article. The first paragraph struck a cord. I have tried to explane that very feeling. Even had my lady read it so she could get some insite. Peace, Love, Unity, Respect

flanders starstarstarstarstar Thu 11/1/2007 12:41PM
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This event could not have been better.

Thank you SD and everyone else involved including the Evergreen Lodge folk and all the fans.

sunnbear starstarstarstarstar Thu 11/1/2007 12:50PM
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Wow! I can't believe I passed this up. Sounds wonderful! I will have to check it out next year. Great article.

flanders starstarstarstarstar Thu 11/1/2007 01:01PM
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This event could not have been better.

Thank you SD and everyone else involved including the Evergreen Lodge folk and all the fans.

playitleo Thu 11/1/2007 01:13PM
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Looks like it was a great time. Pretty sad I missed it, but there is always next year!

Also, I am a bit muffed that Izabella didnt get more say in the article. I heard they were a big highlight.

androckguitar starstarstarstar Thu 11/1/2007 03:44PM
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Great Review!

I couldn't make it but...I heard great things about this festival/party

I heard Tea Leaf threw down an amazing set on sat.,

and New Monsoon's set was absolutely amazing

snappy Thu 11/1/2007 04:07PM
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Writer of this review here...The reason I didn't say more about Izabella was I couldn't get a bead on what they're about. They play a lot of styles solidly but there's nothing that identifies them as "Izabella" and not another band with similar skills. I adore their rhythm section (Murph and Lucas Carlton) who used to play with Bizaar Bazaar at the Boom Boom Room. I find that if I can't say something cogent or insightful I'd usually rather keep my mouth shut. Offered for some background to his piece. Will say that Izabella did a ton of great between-main-stage sets that included fun covers from Prince and Marvin Gaye on Sunday.

flanders starstarstarstarstar Thu 11/1/2007 04:33PM
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Hey snappy: great article. I think you did the event justice. Too bad you didn't catch Guitarmageddon and the rest on Friday night.

OaksterDan starstarstarstar Thu 11/1/2007 04:58PM
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I left Saturday morning so let me review the first 2 nights of ALO. Thursday nights midnight set lasted until 4:35am friday. I arrived 30 minutes late due to Yahoo's crappy point to point directions. I got there just in time for ALO third song Daddy Decides, Wasting Time->Nacho Monkey, Reality Police ,All Alone, Hot Tub. What a first set closing with ALO fan favorite Hot Tub was Sweeeeeeeeeeet!

After set break they started the 2nd set with my Favorite ALO tune Possibly Drown, then here's the rest of set 2 ...The Fez, Valentine's Day, Shapeshifter, Machine Gun (w Sean Leahy guitar)->Jam->Plastic Bubble {w/ Layla jam} (Leahy, Jordan Feinstein), Narwal the Unicorn->Pirates of Rock->Immigrant Song, Time is of the Essence! "Shapeshifter" & "Plastic Bubble" were some of my 2nd set favorites. The big ending with "Pirates of Rock" into "Immigrant Song" brought energy to the crowd at 4am when it was needed most. ALO really knows how to kick off a party!

Friday nights ALO set...Walls of Jericho, Rotting Pumpkin->Ophelia, BBQ, Chilly Chile, Try, Sangre, Evil Girl, Roses and Clover->Gardener, Lady Loop, Maria, Into the Mystic! What a set! Halloween favorite "Evil Girl" made it's annual appearance. For those of you that don't know "Evil Girl" is a version of "Girl, I wanna lay you down" with sinister immplications. Other favs include the "BBQ" & "Chile Chile". Then the ending with Van Morrisons "Into the Mystic" which is favorite of mine since i grew up in the Boston area some people say Van Morrison wrote that song while living in Cambridge, MA and taking strolls along the Mystic River (were I used to go fishing years ago). Unfortunetly, I didn't make it back saturday night and that's a shame because I really wanted to meet up with some new friends I hade met friday night Pennisula girl & Pacifica girl (yes I'm bad with names) who were attending the the festival with the Bosses wife. I hope I run into you ladies again since you both are good people. If you haven't seen ALO you are missing out, big time!! That concludes my ALO first 2 nights review!

RedHeaven starstarstarstarstar Thu 11/1/2007 05:11PM
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From the words of promoter Shaun Dolan, "Schwippin' the schwapp!" and we did ride that fine line between....Oh glorious tall quote New Monsoon (my fave song of the weekend):

"Morning skies opens eyes wide

To catch the rays to keep the light inside

With a belly full of stars I need

The planet's moons, the seven seas agree

If I could melt into the sky I would adore you

Melt into the sky would I adore you?

To get my mind to wrap around

To touch the colors of the sounds I hear

But the day will soon be done

The shadows soon will come

Leave me up here on the sun

Well, the shadows grow so long

Before the day is done

Leave me up here on the sun

The night has only just begun

And the light is sure to fade

Just before the night is made

Leave me out here having fun

Leave me up here on the sun"

Being one of Jay Seals of BTS's biggest fans, I was very happy to read this article and find some amazing words on the true vibe the writer got from his whole schwappidy schwipp. Awesome! Its so great to see this event rise up to what happened this year.

To avoid being overly critical, I chocked my fave performances up to this:

ALO: Heavy flirting

TLG: Doin the diggity

Monsoon: falling in love

Izabella: The whole relationshp

Blue Turtle: wait, what planet are we on again? (alien love orgy?)

I think the point of Izabella, and to get their full magic, we must drop the idea that origiinality lies more in just different styles of playing. I always say with Izzy: Soulful, emotional, groovy, and inspiring, Doin' it for the love. An ensemble ready to take over Bella Nation to keep the dance floor to a gimmick minimum and a spiritual all time high.

Thats what makes them Izabella. Its a heart thing. Like a lot of music, once you get familiar with their originals, it starts to become more clear as to who they really are....unlike Blue Turtle Seduction that just come atcha from a whole different angle. Speaking of, thaks to the writer for understanding this oddity BTS, giving em a chance....these guys have changed my musical existence and music life hasnt been the same since. The old punk rocker in me gets satisfaction, as they envelop so many musical dreams of mine. Oh yeah, AND they know how to lovingly party and treat their fans to a combo of grass roots bliss and heartfelt angst.

Thanks to this community for helping the wild west shine on in the freshest of ways. This fest was a combo of community spirit and shredding music lesson (part 642) hehehe yes like a mini HSMF. It was great to discover new tidbits and grow closer to ones I had already come to know. I also saw a new side to New Monsoon that completely threw me off guard. Feels so good!

Happy LOUD CAMP everyone!

Samantha Gorsky

pganzer starstarstarstarstar Thu 11/1/2007 06:31PM
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All I can Say is Thank You. This was one of the most memorable weekends of my Life! I can't put into words how glorious this event was. SD and the crew obviously know how to throw a party. And Dan and his crew at the Evergreen added the most open arm, come on in and let loose atmosphere of any festival I have ever attended. Easily my best festival experience yet. Job well done fellas. Oh ya, next year I will bring alot more beer. Cheers!!!

moephishH2O starstarstarstarstar Fri 11/2/2007 09:02AM
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Great review, Dennis! Too bad you missed Guitarmageddon!! THAT show was just plain sick! Las Tortugas TOTALLY exceeded my expectations. Great people, great music, and a BEAUTIFUL setting! We'll definitely be back next year!!!

flanders starstarstarstarstar Fri 11/2/2007 10:00AM
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Could someone delete the double/triple posts please?

jude1 starstarstarstarstar Fri 11/2/2007 03:01PM
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who was that guy in guitarmageddon (and all over sittin-in) w/ the red guitar? He rocked it.....

trini. starstarstarstarstar Fri 11/2/2007 04:56PM
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Sean Leahy? I think. Yeah, he rocked. Great, great weekend.

RedHeaven starstarstarstarstar Sat 11/3/2007 11:03AM
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There were 2 Guitar Sean's at this festival: Sean Leahy, which is the guitarist in Guitarmageddon, and also Sean Lehe, which is the guitarist of Izabella, which is IMO the undiscovered west coast guitar hero! He did his fair share of sitting in, too and was a huge part of the festival for me. If what Lehe has done with Izabella at Bobolink and Tortugas is any indication of what he'll do at High Sierra next summer (yse Im predicting) then were in for a heartfelt TREAT. Thank you TORTUGAS for celebrating 21st century ROCK N ROLL PSYCHEDELIA!! and thanks again JAMBASE for being with us there and writing about it so well!

mojohan starstarstarstar Sat 11/3/2007 01:54PM
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Anyone know the name of TLG's last song on Sat. night?

(sat. alone was more fun than I've had all year!!)

jude1 starstarstarstarstar Sat 11/3/2007 02:54PM
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Nah, I found out it was TONY B. (the guy w/the afro in guitarmageddon) & rocking it with BTS....both Sean's rocked it too!!

BoboJeffie starstarstarstarstar Sun 11/4/2007 03:42PM
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Saturday night was a night of the ages I agree! Izabella > BTS > TLG > Monsoon in the big top til the wee hours....that was quite the soundscape journey and was definitely one of my highlights of the year for me as well. Best halloween ever! (I mean it, mom!) There was only one point of the weekend where a jam band geek friend started going off about how another years halloween (some vegoose) was the best, but he was the only person I talked to that wasnt just being at Tortuga here and now. Most people had a general vibe that this must be the place, it became so magical that comparing to anything else was frivolous. Big props to the community for bringing great intentions, thanks to the Evergreen and the BTS crew and the bands.....and thanks jambase for writing a really nice article that does capture the spirit of Las Tortugas.

RedMule starstarstarstarstar Mon 11/5/2007 03:51PM
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Wanna give a HUGE shout out to SD, Hafty, Tistrya, Justin, Thaddius, and all of the BTS guys! It was a stellar weekend and it was a pleasure to be a part of it! Keep up the good work guys! Much Love!

Funkyryan starstarstarstarstar Mon 11/5/2007 08:38PM
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Awesome article! Thank you for the kind words Dennis, I play trumpet in Monophonics. We had a great weekend and hope to run into you again. Thanks again for kind words.

Donnap starstarstarstarstar Tue 11/6/2007 01:19PM
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Magical ! Is all I can say. The music was amazing guitarmaggedon (spelling) was a highlight BTS,Izabella, New Monsoon, ALO ,a new fav for me Buffalo Strange. Evergreen Lodge is just an amazing venue it has everything you need in and incredibly beautiful setting. I got to hang out with old friends and meet some amazing new friends too. The costumes were awesome the bands really got into it too. I will be back for sure.

RedHeaven starstarstarstarstar Wed 11/7/2007 07:37PM
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I also want to add that the man in the Crown Royal costume in the costume contest pic, all the way to the left is Eric. Its sooooo awesome that theres a pic of him in this article He is old skool BTS community, and has been coming to Evergreen for halloween for 3 years now, so its nice to have a pic of him with the article. BTS opened for Hot BUttered Rum in 05 at the Harvest Meltdown here, and last year was the premiere Tortugas 1. YEAH ERIC! Good photo choice for representing roots!

Liz starstarstarstarstar Thu 11/8/2007 07:35AM
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Tortugas II was sooo amazing, I'm already planning for part III! (I hope I'm lucky enough to see a bear!) What was I doing wasing my time at Vegoose last year? There is no doubt IMO that Tortugas II totally kicked Vegoose's ass!!