Words by: David Shehi | Images by: Brad Kuntz
Amberland 2009 :: 05.22.09 - 05.24.09 :: Cherokee Farms :: La Fayette, GA
Amberland is like Olive Garden - when you are there, you are family. Amberland is not a festival. There is no shakedown. It is a self-described "ice cream social," where fans of Perpetual Groove flock to Cherokee Farms in La Fayette, GA each Memorial Day weekend to bask in the glory of the band they have come to know, but from which they never know what to expect. It is a time to relax and enjoy uniting with friends you may have never known you had with some grand music to accompany the vibe. Each year Perpetual Groove is able to do what few bands have ever achieved - attract fans to a remote location that are in search of nothing more than their sound. They do so with unique ideas, an encompassing atmosphere and enough music to quench the thirst of even the most parched soul. This year was no exception, as Perpetual Groove left those in attendance grinning in sync, writhing in dance, relaxing in trance and reeling in good times.
The event begins receiving guests on Friday afternoon. The vast empty fields slowly become filled with cars, buses, tents and the occasional RV. The Amberland dynamic begins almost immediately as you are greeted with Southern hospitality, smiles and welcoming warmness on staff faces. There are no car searches. One does not feel like they are entering a place of top secret clearance, which has become an all too frequent feeling when entering many similar events. When finally picking one of the many impeccable camping locations, there is a feeling of simple bliss and one knows that his troubles have been left behind for at least the next few days. The familiar smells of grills and the sight of frequent hugs abound. There is a heavenly and indescribable feeling of equality at this event in contrast to the "us and them" mentality common in society at large and unfortunately, the vast amount of the music scene of today.
Friday :: 05.22.09
This year, Perpetual Groove ivory tickler John Hruby kicked things off with his former band, Guest, who wowed the amped crowed as they twisted and turned through an array of original material and strategically placed covers, where Hruby maintained the typical dose of inside joke hilarity that Perps have come to know and love. This marked Hruby's inception into the annals of Amberland and he would prove himself worthy of the crown throughout the weekend.
Friday: Silent Headphone Event Debut of New Album
Following Guest's sets, headphones were distributed to the crowd at about 1:30 a.m. and PGroove guitarist-vocalist Brock Butler made his first official Amberland 2009 appearance alongside Hruby to introduce the band's yet-untitled forthcoming album. From the stage, Butler proclaimed his pride in the album and commented that it represents the "closest album yet to match the music that he hears in his head." Following his introduction, Butler put on a pair of headphones and humbly stepped down from the stage. He took a spot in the audience with his bandmates – drummer Albert Suttle, bassist Adam Perry and keyboardist John Hruby - to observe the audience's initial response to the recording. The experience was amazing. Taking my headphones off briefly, I was greeted by the a cappella sounds of the intensely pleased and committed crowd singing along to every lyric as they feverishly danced to what (without headphones) was a non-existent sound. In an effort to not be a spoiler, I hesitate to give a track listing but I will go as far as to say that this album is an emotional roller coaster. It is passionately lyrical and driven by a selfless group of musicians, where none takes a dominant role. When asked to comment about the experience of watching people listening to their album for the first time, Butler termed the experience as "reassuring," Perry as "unbelievable," Hruby as "emotional" and Suttle simply said it was "cool." I concur.
|Perpetual Groove :: Amberland 2009|
Continue reading for Saturday coverage of Amberland...
Saturday :: 05.23.09
Rain was in the forecast, but no one seemed to notice. The stage had been set the night before and smiling faces approached the gathering area in anticipation of what PGroove had in store for them. Had they tried they never would have guessed. Amberland has been known in the past to host chill day shows with the mind blowing taking place during the late night sets. While the bill remained close to form, PGroove came to get down early and fast. The set took us through the beautiful opening "Tu Sevun" and we all knew that "now things were better, 'cause we didn't have to wonder if tomorrow's gonna hurt or what we'll have to face." With this, the anthem of the weekend had been set as we strolled into the grandness that is Perpetual Groove, with everything from fan favorite Talking Heads cover "Naïve Melody" to an absolutely stellar rendition of "Crocket and Tubbs," where Perry's bass was showcased to a (personally) previously unseen extent. Later in the evening, Perry commented that he "is playing it a little higher" and shrugged that "it had just been a good weekend" for him.
|John Hruby - PG :: Amberland 2009|
Saturday night brought '80s Night, the first of two theme nights. From Ghostbusters to Jazzercise, one things Perps are known for is their campiness and willingness to get in the spirit, just as the band is. For a second, it appeared that Robert Palmer had arrived to take things over with his "Addicted to Love" gals but thankfully it was just more spirit shining though. PGroove began by again showcasing their new album in its entirety, which saw them play three of the album's tracks, "Honeycut, ""40 Roses" and "Up Again," for the first time. As Hruby walked off the stage, he pronounced his gladness to "finally be able to play those songs!"
As noted earlier, the theme nights are not only for the fans, evidenced by Butler proudly sporting a bandana that would make Mark Knopfler proud as the second late set began with Big Audio Dynamite's "The Globe." Then, Hruby took us back to the days of Jefferson Starship as he mockingly donned a big, blonde wig in homage to The Outfield's John Spinks as PGroove's "Free Ride to the Show" segued into "Your Love" and left everyone from the back of the field to the actual stage not knowing whether to scratch their head or just cave and writhe in gut busting laughter. I did both.
The night was not all eighties, however. There were familiar Groove sounds with a continually progressing, funk infused and key driven "Three Weeks," the first appearance of the now Amberland staple. Then, bassist Perry's brother and Red Giant frontman Damien Perry blistered the stage as only he can with a brilliant rendition of PGroove's "Mayday." Nearing the end of the set, Butler had somehow stumbled upon a black wig that possibly could have belonged to one of the Jazzercise gals and informed us, as only "The Reverend" can, that he was about to give us "some fucking truth," as he whimsically took us through "Walking In Place." The band tried their best to wrap the set with a "Mr. Transistor" that teased and eventually segued into Starship's "We Built This City," but they would not allow themselves to stop playing and returned after a cigarette break for the actual set closer, "Sundog."
|Damien Perry w/ PG :: Amberland 2009|
However, the night was not over. After a couple of equipment moves, the band again took the stage in the second tent, where they proved once again that they are a band who loves to experiment with the new as they did a late night silent headphone jam where again the crowd danced and grooved into the wee hours of the morning in trance and glowing rhythm.
Continue reading for Sunday coverage of Amberland...
Sunday :: 05.24.09
Sunday began in keeping with Amberland tradition, where many of us, myself included, awoke to the crisp, beautiful sounds of Brock Butler's solo set, which included a guest appearance by Gary Paulo on sax. The day progressed and the first true rain came during the day set, which was more on par with previous years with PGroove favorites including "TSMM" and "So Much As Goodbye." The notion that rain would dampen spirits was officially put to rest as Butler got soaked as he took front and center during "53 More Things to Do In Zero Gravity" and Hruby tickled keys under the cover of a self-elevated tarp as they threw back to the previous night's "We Built This City." Following this, the art of Hippie-Engineering took place as Hruby's keys were covered by fan donated umbrellas. It truly was a sight to behold - tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment under a couple of golf umbrellas - priceless.
|Brock Butler (solo) :: Amberland 2009|
Following the set came the annual roasting of a pig by Mark "Uncledaddy" Day, who was responsible for holding the first Amberland many moons ago. This is an experience like no other, as there is nothing like breaking bread with your fellows to leave one with the sure feeling that they are definitely in the midst of family.
Sunday night brought theme night number two, Good vs. Evil. Mr. Butler apparently is a fan of evil as he came out dressed in most likely the best Joker costume ever, with makeup credit going to Caroline DeCelles, who also introduced us to her new foundation, We're Hear for You, out of Athens, GA, which provides free earplugs at shows in an effort to stem the tinnitus that the many regular concertgoers have come to know and hate.
|Brock Butler - PG :: Amberland 2009|
Sunday night also brought the torrential downpour that we all knew would come. The once green fields of Cherokee Farms became quasi-swamps. Again, no one seemed to notice and if they did, they sure didn't seem to care.
The Amberland state of mind was in full swing. After the band broke due to the rain, they triumphantly returned stating that they were happy to oblige our need for more, which included one of the nastiest rendition of "Teakwood Betz" to date, and the set wrapped with Damien Perry back in his guest guitar slot for an intensely heavy "Speed Queen" into "Clap for the Killers" and back into "Speed Queen" that literally pulled you into the speaker as though you were in some sort of enjoyable mind blender. It was truly a force to be reckoned with.
Overall, this Amberland will go down as yet another perpetually groove-licious time. There is absolutely no experience like it on the planet. Perpetual Groove has claimed their place in the scene, and I for one plan to continue to be there as they shed light, cast shadows and pierce my soul in their uniquely cleansing manner. It is still a year away, and I am already counting down the days until next year's venture to that remote location where the sound is pure and no one really cares if it rains.
Continue reading for more pics of Amberland 2009...
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