Words by: Jesse Borrell & Kevin Schwartzbach | Images by: Dave Vann & Chad Smith
Rothbury Music Festival :: 07.02.09 - 07.05.09 :: Rothbury, MI
Life is and should be epic. Blowing through the common breeze is an animated spirit that needs to be shared by every soul on this planet. While converse shades of reality can paint a different picture, pulling into the grassy vistas of upper Michigan one couldn't help but feel fortunate to be in this special place. Passing under the front festival banner on a brisk summer afternoon, it was comforting to think about all the festival folk converging from varied distances with similar motives. The time was now, and a wealth of music and life-tuning knowledge lay before the adventurous and open-minded.
|Rothbury 2009 by Vann|
A surprisingly short wait for a festival of this magnitude (only about an hour) got us into the campgrounds. A chill lingered in the air as we set up camp before heading out to the main festival area for the first time. Recycling, compost, and landfill bins dotted the grounds every few feet, each with a specific attendant present to help make the correct decision. After a decent trek to the closest stage, one could sense that the festival grounds reached far and wide. Though the shortest day of music, Thursday was sure to pack a punch with some of the most anticipated sets of the festival. (JB)
African rhythms came beating through the trees as I approached the Ranch Arena for the first time. I arrived to find all five members of Toubab Krewe beating away at their respective percussion instruments, combining the music of the western African plains with good ole' American roots music. Relinquishing their djembes, Drew Heller (guitar, soku, percussion) and David Pransky (bass, percussion) started picking away at their more conventional western stringed instruments. Heller served up fleeting, bluesy licks with a raunchy distortion while the percussive force of Teal Brown (drums), Luke Quaranta, (percussion) and Justin Perkins (guitar, kora, percussion) pounded away behind him. Their set took an interesting turn when Perkins donned his kora – a 21 stringed instrument from western Africa. Perkins tinkered away at his kora during "Secu Ba" producing a harp-like sound only much twangier almost like a sitar. Switching back over to their djembes, the set closed with another bout of percussive madness, which didn't quite end with a bang like a good set should. (KS)
Keller Williams began his set like many times before, hunched over an acoustic guitar with hair massed in simple disarray. A small drum kit was visible on stage and probably enticed many to stick around instead of venturing off to other sights and sounds. Switching from various instruments and highlighted by a vocal didgeridoo loop, Keller easily built up a mellow beat and seemed to tease the track "Cadillac" without ever fully committing to the theme. From the slight hill in front of the sound booth at the Ranch Arena stage, an animated female sign language interpreter attempted to depict the lyrics for Keller's "Doobie In My Pocket" which inspired much laughter. This laid-back evening set was perfect to break in our festival legs. Throughout the sprawling lawn during "Cadillac" > "Birds of A Feather," those standing upright seemed to have just as much fun as those taking a short nap on a blanket or relaxing against a tree. Eventually inviting members of The String Cheese Incident on stage, all instruments were put to use during the set-ender "Breathe." With Keller taking a final bow standing next to SCI's Keith Moseley, Jason Hann, and Kyle Hollingsworth, we were all optimistic that this special musical friendship would reveal itself once again before the weekend was over. (JB)
|Keller Williams :: Rothbury 2009 by Smith|
Venturing over towards the Tripolee Tent, a party hosted by digital rockers Future Rock was underway caused by the backbreaking thumps of "FM 1000." This Chicago-based band has come a long way over the last couple years, escalating a unique sound that is heavy on electronics and very appealing upon execution. Winding a repetitious keyboard siren phase, Mickey Kellerman brought the track to a final peak just before welcoming the crowd to the Tripolee Tent's first set. Throughout bigger anthems like "New Anxiety" and "Reaching New Heitz," the production level of lights and various video screens really took off; further reinforcing the notion that this venue was going to host some wild parties in the nights to come. (JB)
Cold War Kids
Heading towards the furthest festival stages, Sherwood Court and The Odeum, one must wander through the enchanted Sherwood Forest. This place truly is a spectacle to behold, particularly at night. Trees stood authoritatively rigid in rows with ominous light cast upon them, making the whole forest a constant morphing of colors. Glow in the dark forms specked the vast canopy overhead. The "Reincarnation" art exhibit was made up of recycled metals and natural goods such as rocks and pinecones, in continuation of the green theme of the festival. While looking at a giant earthy dream-catcher made mostly from moss, shouts of "Carl" erupted – an ode to last year's yeoman hero - as we emerged at the Sherwood Court for Cold War Kids.
|Sherwood Forest :: Rothbury 2009 by Smith|
This Californian quintet is an indie rock band that's true to its rock 'n' roll roots, while certain novel timbres and chord progressions still make this band unmistakably "indie." Lead singer Nathan Willett appropriately belted out "Careless in our summer clothes/ splashing around in the muck and the mire" during the hit "Hang Me Up to Dry." Willett's voice isn't anything special, but it certainly fits the bill, with just enough raw emotion to make up for what his voice lacks in sheer virtuosity. Jonnie Russell's guitar tone was the quintessential piece for this set, sounding just a little bit off, but in an intentional way. Their music had an earnest simplicity to it that made it very translatable even to those who weren't familiar with their repertoire.
Lotus has a tendency to throw down dirty sets at festivals such as these, and Thursday night's show was no exception. "Shimmer and Out" kicked things off with a jubilant ignition. The song took on a post-rock feel before taking an ominous turn. An oozing synthetic bass came from Luke Miller's keyboards just as "Juggernaut" was starting. Mike Rempel's crisp jazzy guitar brought us into a down-tempo jam that gradually accrued more energy until it erupted in a rocky peak. Returning to its jovial beginnings, the ending of "Shimmer" gloriously made its reprise. "It's All Clear to Me Now" featured a Nintendo-like swirling melody that burst into an enormous explosion before seguing into a "Sunrain." Luke's ethereal synthesizer combined with his brother Jesse Miller's plasmatic bass lines during set closer "Spiritualize." Though an enjoyable set, I've learned over the years that Lotus is a band best served indoors. Previously, every Lotus show I attended was exponentially better than the ones before it, but they seemed to have hit a plateau of late. It just so happens that plateau has a ridiculously high altitude. (KS)
The Disco Biscuits
"I can't believe this is only the first night," shouted Marc Brownstein as The Disco Biscuits got in place at the Ranch Arena, "but next year we're going to be on the main stage!"
|The Disco Biscuits :: Rothbury 2009 by Vann|
On this night they started off with a monster "MEMPHIS," and a high level of cohesion going through the motions of this epic was apparent in the full sounds. Guitarist Jon Gutwillig seemed very pumped singing the song's first verse, fingers exhibiting an itch to them while filling the measures on his Gibson guitar. The artist LEBO, hardly taking a moment between strokes to furiously dance on his own, was already well into another canvassed concept piece at the foot of the stage. Coming out of the second verse of "MEMPHIS" can be a pivotal moment to gauge what type of Bisco will show up on any given night. Approaching this change, Gutwillig pumped himself up further by jumping up and down as if on a trampoline.
Eventually the overall sound mellowed after the crescendo, but just around reasonable levels of sanity this time. Drummer Allen Aucoin's staggered progression took hold of an idea and forced the others to follow through sideways glances, eventually forming "Cyclone" over the relatively intense sequence. Sweeping sonic washes brought the spacey jam to another peak before the crowd, now in the thick of a chaotic glow stick war. Every so often, continuous collections of glow sticks would burst from below in perfect timing. After the repetitious cycle of "Cyclone" disappeared, Brownstein's repeating bass lines telegraphed the foundation of Conspirator's "Liquid Handcuffs" to the keen ear minutes before the entire band committed fully.
Almost 30 minutes into a fiery set, a few questionable song choices were made that unfortunately brought the overall energy down. "You and I" > "Minions," two of Bisco's brand new tracks, seem to have a split personality to them. As the strange lyrics and imagery wrap up, interesting and powerful musical themes emerge but leave the overall compositions unresolved. While there were many who were obviously rejoicing in the moments, others were kicking around terms like "Festi Set" with unenthused emotions. During "Caves of The East" > "Basis For A Day," there were two odd instances where the jam would lull and all band members but Aucoin would drop out, leaving the drummer to fill in the weightless measures on his own. While the "Mr. Don" encore finally traveled down intense, darker themed excursions, it all ended up sounding repetitive for one of my favorite bands as our first day at Rothbury came to a close. (JB)
|Sherwood Forest :: Rothbury 2009 by Smith|
Continue reading for Friday's coverage of Rothbury...