Words by: Herschel Concepcion | Images by: Norman Sands
Strip Mines Music Festival :: 08.29.08 - 08.31.08 :: Shawnee Cave Amphitheater :: Murphysboro, IL
The Strip Mines Music Festival took place this year at the Shawnee Cave Amphitheater located in Murphysboro, IL. Originally mined for its rich deposits of saltpeter (also known as potassium nitrate, which is used to manufacture explosives and makes the cave an ideal setting for a rock and roll concert), the amphitheater sits in the middle of 50 acres of rock formations and hiking trails, and is slowly finding its niche as host to a variety of shows and festivals, as well as a good spot for a weekend camping trip.
|Backyard Tire Fire :: Strip Mines 2008|
The property itself is owned by Robert Goodale, who prefers the name Caveman Bob. He is also affectionately referred to as 'Santa' by festivalgoers due to his striking resemblance to the mythical gift giver, except Caveman Bob prefers shorts and an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt to expose his belly, as opposed to the traditional red coat and trousers. And instead of a sleigh he drives around wildly in a golf cart, slurring random words of wisdom at people.
"Caveman Bob has roots in Centralia, Illinois," says Zach Swinderman, one of the producers of the fest. "He was in the ice cream business, the coal business and currently sells firewood. I do know that he somehow saved the life of the previous owner of the cave and was able to purchase the property at a very reasonable price."
Swinderman got the idea for Strip Mines after doing a stint as backstage security for Summer Camp, as well as forays into stagehand and management work that gave him a better understanding of how festivals work. He eventually hooked up with Tim Roberts, the other producer of the fest, and the two began working out the logistics of the event. After negotiating for the use of the property with Caveman Bob, the boys were well on their way to having their party in a cave.
Friday, August 29
My story begins with a drive down to Murphysboro from Chicago. I had been to the amphitheater once before, back in April for Cavefest. Cornmeal had headlined, and I remember being enamored at the experience of watching a show in such a natural setting, with the stage situated under the large shelving of rock that forms the cave. Chicago is a great city for catching live music, but an urban environment doesn't afford one the opportunity to see a concert in a place like this.
|Caveman Bob :: Strip Mines 2008|
After hearing that the amphitheater would be the site of another music festival on Labor Day weekend, that it would be hosted by Family Groove Company and feature notable Midwestern artists such as Future Rock, Backyard Tire Fire, Chicago Farmer and Groovatron, and that tickets were only $30 and included camping, I had made my decision.
The drive took us five hours and we arrived at the festival gates at dusk. On the way down we spotted a good amount of police on the road and saw several people pulled over. An email from the Strip Mines website had warned us about an increased level of police activity, although I was unsure as to whether it was because of the festival or if it was just for Labor Day weekend in general. Either way, we were able to run the gauntlet without incident.
Once inside the gates and parked we began loading up our gear. Caveman Bob doesn't allow anyone aside from bands and vendors to bring vehicles inside the property, which is understandable considering the nature of the place and his desire to keep it looking as untouched by human presence as possible. So, we took as much of the essentials as we could carry - tent, sleeping bags, whiskey - and began our trek to find a suitable camping spot. We walked straight down a slightly descending trail from the main gate that led us to the vendors and first main camping area. This being a smaller festival (Swinderman estimates the number of attendees at around 550, plus 45 volunteers, 25 staff, 100 guests and one caveman) there were only a handful of vendors, consisting of a couple of merch tents, a food tent (the only one there but open late and serving great chili dogs and perhaps the best bratwurst I've ever eaten in my life), and, of course, the med tent for those who discover their limit the hard way.
|Strip Mines 2008|
After setting up we loaded the Jameson into a backpack and headed down towards the music. One of the great things about this fest is that it's BYOB, so instead of pre-gaming to save money you are allowed to bring whatever liquor you want down into the cave. You can even bring a cooler if you like, provided you have the strength for such a walk. Or if you're a big enough drunk, I guess.
As you begin to get closer to the music, you pass under a large wooden sign with the cave's greeting:
Hello! WAITED OVER 1,000,000 YEARS TO SEE YOU
After passing the sign the trail continued to dip down until it reached a bowl area and the entrance of the cave, where we were just in time to catch Zmick.
Zmick – 8:00 - 9:00 P.M.
These guys were pretty solid. I would classify them as progressive jam rock with a taste of funk and a bit of psychedelia. Their bassist was laying it down pretty good, and had me groovin' from the start. I would definitely check Zmick again in the future.
|Garaj Mahal :: Strip Mines 2008|
Family Groove Company – 9:30 - 11:30 P.M.
The hosts of the fest. This was maybe the third or fourth time I'd seen Family Groove Company, and I'm beginning to get hooked. I like their style, which I would describe as rock fused with jazz and funk. Like their name suggests, these guys (and gal) definitely know how to groove. Janis Wallin got funky with her bass while lead guitarist Adam Lewis ripped it up on the six-string. With Mattias Blanck on drums and Jordan Wilkow tickling the keys, I definitely dug what I heard. Their setlist included "Little Walter Rides Again," "We Could" and an unexpected "Subterranean Homesick Blues" that was a nice little treat.
Chicago Farmer – 11:45 P.M. - 12:30 A.M.
I really like this guy. Born and raised in Delavan, IL, population 25, Chicago Farmer (aka Cody Diekhoff) is a small-town musician telling stories in the big city. His website describes him as a "folk-singer's folk-singer and a poet's poet." He reminds me of a younger Dylan but definitely has his own voice, and is passionate in his guitar playing and the delivery of his music. His songwriting is genuine and he can sing 'em, too.
Garaj Mahal – 12:30 - 2:30 A.M.
Playing what seemed like jazz fusion with funk undertones, Garaj Mahal closed out the first night with a two hour set. As a first time listener, my attention was focused on lead guitarist Fareed Haque, who kept me captivated as I watched his fingers dance across the fretboard, sending a flurry of notes out into the crowd while Alan Hertz kept time on drums, Eric Levy added color on keys and Kai Eckhardt laid it on thick with his bass. Good stuff.
Saturday, August 30
Raoul Duke – 12:00 - 1:00 P.M.
|Creek Road Ramblers :: Strip Mines 2008|
Raoul Duke was an unexpected treat. Their instrumental improvisation fuses funk, rock, jazz, hip-hop and electronica, which made for an interesting sound. Their song "Cuban B" was a rockin' jam with a heavy Latin flavor to it, while "The Crow" had more of a trance-y feeling to it with lead guitarist Ramsey Zabout taking a break from shredding so he could wow the crowd with his synth skills.
The They – 1:30 - 2:30 P.M.
The They explored the sounds of progressive rock and electronica (with a touch of psychedelia). Very experimental in their approach, it offered something different for my ears.
Creek Road Ramblers – 3:00 - 4:00 P.M.
From the small town of Peoria, Illinois, the Creek Road Ramblers gave me my first taste of bluegrass for the weekend. And I sure do love me some bluegrass. It was a nice break from electric instruments where we could dance to the rustic sounds.
The Station – 8:00 - 9:30 P.M.
The Station was pretty rockin'. Featuring dual lead guitar in their lineup, I enjoyed the soloing, which was melodic and not just a constant running up and down the pentatonic scale.
Groovatron – 10:15 P.M. - 12:30 A.M.
I dug these guys, too. Definitely not your every day rock band, Groovatron has a more progressive feel to them. Their music touched on funk and psychedelia with the saxophone adding a nice touch. Definitely a band worth seeing again.
|The Station :: Strip Mines 2008|
Jaik Willis – 12:45 - 1:30 A.M.
Jaik Willis was a solo acoustic act with an interesting sound, sort of like folk but different. He had a more aggressive style of playing and I enjoyed his songwriting, which had me chuckling at the witticisms in his lyrics several times.
Future Rock – 1:30 – 4:30 A.M.
One of the highlights of the weekend for me, Future Rock was the last set of the night. Their sound was intense and their light show overwhelming. They reminded me of STS9 a bit, though not a cheap imitation by any means. I was impressed at how powerful of a sound could be produced by only three guys. Perfect choice for a late night closer – they ended up playing until 4:30 and had me groovin' the entire time.
Sunday, August 31
The Giving Tree Band – 1:30 – 2:30 P.M.
These guys were great. Playing a mixture of folk and Americana, The Giving Tree Band was a great way to start the day. Their harmonies were spot on and reminiscent of The Band or CSNY. Their singing, songwriting and delivery were genuine and uplifting. I was a little ashamed when I found out they were from Chicago because this was my first time seeing them – although it certainly won't be the last.
|The Giving Tree Band :: Strip Mines 2008|
The Hue – 3:00 - 4:00 P.M.
The Hue is a four-piece instrumental progressive rock outfit from Chicago. They jammed it out pretty well, delivering some nice lead guitar work during their hour long set.
Hunab – 4:30 - 5:30 P.M.
A good mix of jam rock, funk and reggae, Hunab laid down some solid grooves that never got stale.
Jobu – 6:00 - 7:30 P.M.
Originally formed at Southern Illinois University, Jobu's guitar-driven sound and vocal harmonies kept the party goin' with their high energy music. Very nice jams from these guys.
Alabaster Brown – 8:00 - 9:30 P.M.
Alabaster Brown was tight. They had a unique sound, which was primarily rock and roll with a slight bluegrass influence. Their style reminded me of The Band mixed with a bit of Leftover Salmon. It was also nice to hear some electric slide guitar as well. Definitely check them out.
|Family Groove Company :: Strip Mines 2008|
Backyard Tire Fire – 10:15 P.M. - 12:30 A.M.
Backyard Tire Fire is always a good show. Solid rock AND roll and a very tight sound – I enjoyed every minute. For just three guys they certainly know how to rock it and their songwriting is impeccable.
Family Groove Company – 1:30 - 3:00 A.M.
Taking the stage for the final set of the festival, Family Groove Company set out to close the event proper. They started things off with a first time cover of Stephen Stills' "Love the One You're With," followed by the second part of "The World Is Watching" (part one was played on the first night of the festival). The set continued to heat up with a "Guns of Ticonderoga" that they jammed into "Falling Off the Fence." The extended encore included a lovely rendition of Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of The Bay" right into "Tutear," followed by "The Charmer." I was completely floored by the performance, and as I trudged back to the campsite my body was about ready to shut down, although my spirit had been recharged.
The Strip Mines Music Festival had given me what I get from any other good fest: a sense of having been a part of something special, something that you wish you could share with the rest of the world. I had witnessed a burgeoning festival, still in its infant stages, and saw bands that reinforced my belief that the jam scene is still going strong, that the music is evolving and progressing. Maybe that's the purpose of these things, to confirm that we are not alone in our struggles, that we are in it together on a mass scale, that people really do care about each other and, most importantly, that this is only the beginning of something that will continue to grow for generations to come. And if that's the case, Strip Mines did it right – and all it took was a cave and a little music.
Footage of the cave during the day
Family Groove Company – Strip Mines Fest – 8/31/08
Chicago Farmer – Strip Mines Fest – 8/29/08
Garaj Mahal – Strip Mines Fest – 8/29/08
Creek Road Ramblers – Strip Mines Fest – 8/30/08
The Station – Strip Mines Fest – 8/30/08
Groovatron – Strip Mines Fest – 8/30/08
Future Rock – Strip Mines Fest – 8/30/08
Backyard Tire Fire – Strip Mines Fest – 8/31/08
JamBase | In The Rock
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