Oakley Farm | Spotsylvania, VA | 10.04.02 – 10.05.02

The Haymaker Music Festival was held in the rolling Civil War countryside of Spotsylvania, Virginia. Though just an hour South of DC, it felt a world away from contemporary society. Oakley Farm, the site of the festival, has been in the same family for generations but is now in danger of falling victim to the times. The Haymaker Festival was conceived as a benefit to help save it. The farm itself is a wonderful site, with more than enough dancing and camping room for everyone to spread out. Whereas most festivals mix all the forms of music together, Haymaker chose to focus on bluegrass for Friday and jambands on Saturday, giving it the feel of two separate festivals pasted together. They also made sure to feature many Virginia-based musicians, bringing a hometown feel to the weekend.

The music got started early Friday afternoon with Old School Freight Train, followed by the frantic bluegrass of the Larry Keel Experience. Up next was David Via & Corn Tornado, and then the Hackensaw Boys. A reunion of Magraw Gap then took the stage. Although they broke up a few years ago, Larry Keel, Danny Knicely and the boys proved they still have an undeniable chemistry together, running through such classics as Old & in the Way's "The Hobo Song."

The Del McCoury Band was up next, and they never fail to prove why they're still the boys to beat. The sun had just gone down, and they lit up the early evening with such classics as the Lovin' Spoonful's "Nashville Cats" and Del's own "Beauty of My Dreams." Del was in the mood to take a lot of requests, even ones as silly as "The Orange Blossom Special." They even ran through "Cold Rain and Snow" before the two-song encore ended with the old standard "Working on a Building." In a day full of great bluegrass played by younger musicians, with ever-lengthening solos, the Del McCoury Band taught them all just how tight and powerful a band can sound, even when your “frontman” is going into his ‘60s. With each song featuring clean, taut vocals and amazing, concise solo work, they showed that you don't have to play ten-minute solos in order to jam.

Leftover Salmon was the Friday night headliner, and provided quite a jumpstart after the traditional leanings of Del McCoury. Normally these guys take all of bluegrass history and cram it through a particle accelerator. This set, however, showcased a different side of the band than I'd heard before. The set's emphasis was on songcraft, with blues, rock and funk rearing their heads almost as much as bluegrass. At times mellow and endearing, it seemed to catch lots of people off guard, although the band was certainly well received by the crowd.

They got everyone singing along with covers of Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue," and the old classic "Ain't No Use." Larry Keel came on stage to join in the fun, and later in the set some of the guys from Magraw Gap, plus Fiddlin' Dave from Corn Tornado, took Larry's place on stage, helping Salmon swim through the end of their show and a five-song encore. They finally wrapped things up around 1:30 am with John Hartford's "Steam Powered Aero Plane."

At this point, the giant gearshift in the sky got slammed into high gear. The festival instantly switched from bluegrass to jambands as the Disco Biscuits hit the stage. Located just a short walk from the main stage was the Nature Stage, which was to feature the Disco Biscuits late night Friday and Saturday. No other bands were playing on this side stage - it belonged to the Biscuits alone. They didn't come on until 2:30 am, but that didn't stop them from cranking the music up as loud as they could. Their set crackled and gleamed with deep funky jams and tasty flavors, running through songs including "King of the World," "Home Again," "Rock Candy" and "Story of the World."

A friend described their music by saying that whereas most bands build up to a peak in their jam, the Disco Biscuits are simply all peak all the time. They definitely proved his point at this show, and by the time intermission came at 4:00 am, your loyal reviewer was ready to crawl off to bed. It turns out, however, that my tent was right next to an impromptu late night backstage jam session led by David Via & Corn Tornado. A crowd had gathered around as the band and their friends wailed through hours of bluegrass classics underneath the stars. I fell asleep as the Disco Biscuits came back on stage, and as I lay there at 5:00 am, I could hear Corn Tornado in my left ear and the Disco Biscuits in my right. I fell asleep wondering whether this unholy alliance should be called Disco Tornado or Corn Biscuits. Legend has it the Disco Biscuits played 'tll 6:00 am. No one knows how late Corn Tornado played.

After only a five-hour break in the music, and even less sleep, Homemade Bread hit the stage Saturday morning at 11:00 am. Their mellow, deep funk may have been better received at midnight, but then what funk band wouldn't be? They served as a great opener for the day's music though, and were followed by Mclaws Drive and the screaming guitar blues of Joanne Shaw Taylor. This 17-year-old British guitar sensation had never played in America before. She put together a raucous set, including "Born Under a Bad Sign," alternating her English accent-tinged soulful blues with her blazing guitar pyrotechnics. She's not a musician likely to be unheard of for long.

Dr. Didg was next on stage, laying down some didgirigroove for the crowd to dance to. With a multitude of samplers and loop machines, the good doctor kept himself busy bouncing between different instruments, trying to see how much sound he could make at the same time. He took the band through such psychedelic instrumental romps as "Bound Z," "Cobra" and "Street Music," often leaving the didgiridoo to jump on keyboards or melodica to add even more layers to the sound.

The ever-changing Jazz Mandolin Project appeared next. Jamie Masefield's companions in this latest incarnation include Ben Rubin on bass and Greg Gonzalez on drums. This newest version of JMP shows no signs of holding anything back, making music that's at equal times jazz, rock, bluegrass, classical and chamber music. They took the audience through their full range of emotions, at times funky and noisy, at others peacefully serene. They wrapped up their set with one of their oldest and catchiest tunes, "The Country Open."

Midwest favorites ekoostik hookah took their turn on stage to blast pure rock music out to the audience, diverting into the funk long enough for a quick run through the "Sanford & Son Theme." They were followed by festival stalwart Keller Williams and his one-man band. Keller brought with him not just his guitar but also his loop/sampler imaginary-band machine. This allows him to loop his guitar, voice, bass, midi-triggered guitar (sounding like piano, flute, trumpet or anything else) all on top of each other until it sounds like a whole band is jamming. He sometimes creates deep grooves that go on for several minutes, while other times using the loops to thicken up just the solo portion of the song before diving right back into solo acoustic guitar (occasionally using his nose to drop the volume level of the loop while still playing guitar).

Keller got things rolling right away with "Molly Malloy," which featured a jam into Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough." On "Freeker By the Speaker," Keller's ode to the dancing fans, he mentioned how honored he was to be playing on the same bill as Bruce Hornsby, and then proceeded to do an impression of what he thought Hornsby would sound like if he played guitar. He triggered his electric guitar to sound like a piano, and burst into truly Hornsby-esque lines that were simultaneously flattering and amusing. "Love Handles," Keller's pronouncement that there is simply more of him to love, was followed by "Fuel for the Road," "Victory Song," and that quaint story of life on the road, "Kidney in a Cooler." He came back to encore "Stay Human" before yielding the stage.

The act that followed was for many folks, myself included, the highlight of the weekend. Momentum has certainly been building nationwide for the sacred steel sound sensations of Robert Randolph & the Family Band, and once you see them live, you'll understand why. It's simply the happiest, foot-stompingest, hip-shakingest good vibes sound to come around in a long time. Imagine an old Allman Brothers record cranked up on 78 speed, or a Southern tent revival with a kicking live band. I had the chance to meet Robert once, and he's truly a very nice guy who's absolutely blown away with everything that's been happening to him. His excitement and love of the music is matched by the energy he brings to the scene and his appreciation for how warmly the fans have embraced him and his band.

He wasted no time getting down to business, teaching the crowd how to do "The March," and advising them to "Press On" when life puts barriers in your way. His pedal steel guitar rang loud through the countryside as he threw in teases to "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" and J.J. Cale's "Ride Me High" along the way. Then it was time for some covers, as he laid down "Shake Your Hips," an old blues song by Slim Harpo made famous when the Rolling Stones covered it on their Exile on Main Street album. As he implored the crowd to "do the hip shake baby," he might have noticed several thousand people were already ahead of him. He took the jam into, believe it or not, the "Sanford & Son Theme," the second time that afternoon the crowd had heard it. It's unclear whether Randolph and ekoostik hookah were conspiring backstage to make it the theme of the weekend, or if it was simply a serendipitous coincidence.

Coming out of TV land, Randolph launched into Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile," a tune I'd heard him do several times, but I'd never before heard what came next. The band slid into a jam of Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla" and then into a rousing combo of not just one but two Black Sabbath tunes, first the classic "Iron Man" and then a moment later morphing into "War Pigs." Watching them go from gospel to classic rock to metal and back again left everyone speechless, especially because it was not only rare and unusual, but because they actually pulled it off quite well. They jammed those Sabbath tunes in a way they'd never been jammed before - thick, heavy and juicy. Perhaps we'd just witnessed the birth of the world's first gospel metal band.

Following an act like that is not what most bands have in mind. Fortunately Bruce Hornsby has been around long enough to know he had nothing to fear. His band was particularly interesting due to the inclusion of Steve Kimock on guitar, formerly of Zero and Phil Lesh & Friends. The combo of Hornsby and Kimock had folks intrigued all weekend, and they surely didn't disappoint. Bruce opened with "Cartoons and Candy" and then "The Valley Road." He wasted no time joining Kimock in laying down thick grooves, with a second keyboardist and second guitarist providing tight layers of background energy. They ran through Kimock's "Tongue 'n' Groove" and then brought out a birthday cake for him and led the crowd in a rendition of "Happy Birthday Steve." They threw in a jam on Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke" in the middle of "Rainbow's Cadillac" and wrapped up the set with the Grateful Dead's "Jack Straw.” They came back onstage and encored with the song that started it all for Bruce, "The Way it is," wrapping up the music on the main stage for the weekend around 1:30 am.

Over on the Nature Stage, however, the Disco Biscuits were still going strong, laying down the late night grooves for the second night in a row. Local authorities were apparently none too pleased about music still pumping at 6:00 am the night before, so the Biscuits got started a bit earlier on Saturday night, launching the discoship around midnight. They opened with "Hot Air Balloon" and also blasted through "Aceetobee," "Helicopters," "The Very Moon" and Pink Floyd's "Run Like Hell." As folks made their way into the woods to drain every last drop of music out of the night, the roadies began packing up the main stage. The Biscuits played till about 3:00 am, and then the Haymaker Festival was over. Hopefully enough money was raised to help save the farm, and allow festivals to continue being hosted on this beautiful patch of land for years to come. It might sound strange, but I actually had trouble falling asleep that night. After the Disco Tornado of the night before, the crickets just seemed a little too quiet.

Paul Kerr
JamBase | Northeast
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[Published on: 10/18/02]

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