FIRST ANNUAL MID-X FESTIVAL | LEWISBURG, WV

The Mid-Atlantic Music Experience was truly a great festival. Great music, great people, and great weather (for the most part). With the fest's stellar lineup including Widespread Panic, moe., MMW, Steel Pulse, and The Disco Biscuits (to name a few), I had very high expectations going into this inaugural festival. Fortunately, I was not let down.

While professionally-run, Mid-X seemed to have been organized by people who were music fans themselves. Being the same folks who put on the highly popular Berkshire Music Festival, these people know how to produce an event with all of the trappings that appeal to both fans and musicians alike. The laissez-faire mood of the weekend really added to everyone’s enjoyment.

And, I cannot say enough about how great the venue was. The small town of Fairlea, located in Lewisburg, West Virginia, was ideal for this festival. Since it's the home of the West Virginia State Fair, as well as many other events, there are permanent stages, vending areas, bathrooms, and other features that made it a comfortable setting for the weekend.

Friday


By Rob Katz
Things began rather early on Friday, July 11th, but I wasn't able to make it in until around 5:00pm that day. Fortunately, I got settled in and made it to the Grandstand stage just in time for my one of my longtime favorite bands, Indecision. The Grandstand stage was set in the infield of a horse racing track and allowed fans the option of either watching the band from up close on the track or sitting on the stands under the shade. This stage was geared towards smaller crowds and it resulted in a generally relaxed vibe for the sets played there. There were plenty of 30-somethings (including myself) who were glad to be there to see a band that they remembered watching many years ago. Indecision toured the East Coast college circuit heavily in the late-80s and early-90s but disbanded around '93. Fortunately, they reunite to play several shows each year. They sound better than ever and are still writing new songs. This set was laid-back and enjoyable, with the great weather adding a nice touch. Highlights of the set included one of the band's oldest songs, "Humanoid Boogie," a spot-on cover of Steely Dan’s "Kid Charlemagne," and a great new song called "Little Black Cat." Of course, they also brought out some signature songs like "Song of the Itinerant Bible Salesman," "She Ain’t No Betty" and "Take It All In." The band finished the hour-long set with the rarely-played classic "Ponder Yonder," which seemed a fitting way to end the set with its great lyrics and soaring guitar solos. Keep an eye on Indecision because they will be playing again soon...

After such an auspicious beginning, I was really excited to see some more music. The next on the lineup was Medeski Martin & Wood on the Main Stage. The festival's scheduling included a 10-15 minute break between each band's set so that there would be no overlap between bands and one could conceivably see every band perform. For added convenience, the three stages (the Grandstand, Main Stage, and Late Night hall) were all located within a short walk of each other.


By Rob Katz
So, after making the short jaunt over to the Main Stage, I prepared for a long set of the always entertaining MMW. They began the set with a loose jazz shuffle to ease into things as the sun slowly began to set. There were a lot of people there to see the band and there was a relatively large amount of tapers there as well. For the first time I noticed the security, which turned out to be very relaxed and unobstructive all weekend. In fact, I spoke to a few of the workers who were genuinely getting into the music. As the set progressed, I was amazed at the ability of John Medeski to coax seemingly any sound out of his arsenal of keyboards. The songs seemed to get increasingly energetic as the band continued to play. As they worked the crowd into one frenzy after another, it became obvious that MMW have become masters of the deep groove. The highlight of their set for me was the jam-filled "Chubb Sub," during which they seemed to have the entire crowd bouncing along. All in all, I would say that it was a very enjoyable set that suited the atmosphere. Definitely not as "out there" as I've seen the band get, but they certainly pleased those in attendance. Backstage after their set, the band chatted away merrily and seemed satisfied with their performance.


By Rob Katz
After darkness had set in and a cool breeze had descended, moe. took the Main Stage for the headlining set of the day. After a warm introduction by the mayor in which he welcomed everyone to Lewisburg, moe. lit into an extended jam to warm up a bit. After a short while, it led into an interesting dub-like version of "Seat of My Pants." While this is not one of my favorites, it worked well as the opener and was played with a good deal of energy so it came off better than most versions that I've heard. Plus, it got the crowd into a whimsical mood to enjoy the music of moe. The set continued with a frenzied version of "Spaz Medicine" which always showcases the guitar skills of Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey. This was followed by a mellow version of "Hi and Lo," a favorite of mine off of the Tin Cans and Car Tires disc. "Happy Hour Hero" —another great song off of Tin Cans — followed. This song really reminds me of the early-70s Steely Dan sound with its clean guitar riffs and its cynical lyrics. Just when I thought I couldn't be more delighted with the set, they busted out a respectable cover of "Powderfinger," one of Neil Young's most underrated songs. Michael Glabicki (lead singer of Rusted Root) added vocals.


By Rob Katz
While I am not as familiar with some of the newer material (such as the songs off of the latest disc Wormwood), I have been impressed with the new songs that I’ve heard at the recent shows I've seen. "Kyle" is one of those songs that really gets your attention with its interesting melody and memorable vocals. They followed this with "Kids," another strong new song that was just plain fun to hear. After a rocker called "Water" that seemed unmistakably influenced by the Allman Brothers, the band closed the long set with an extremely energetic version of "Plane Crash." This song always gets the crowd going full blast and it was quite a site to see everyone in the crowd going nuts for this one while singing along to the chorus: "Too f*&king high!!" The crowd absolutely loved this version and responded with thunderous cheering. The band came back for an encore of "Spine of a Dog," another one in their seemingly endless repertoire of songs that have great rhythms, weird lyrics, and the uncanny ability to make you smile as you dance along. I couldn’t help but wonder how they could top this set on Saturday...


By Rob Katz
After all of the great music I had already heard so far on this opening night of the festival, I had rather low expectations going to the Late Night hall where Karl Denson's Tiny Universe wrapped things up with a long set which began at 12:15am. Boy was I surprised. Although I must admit I know very little about this band, I was so impressed with them that I have to say it was one of the best sets of the festival. Not only is every musician in the band very proficient, especially Karl and the amazing lead guitarist Brian Jordan, but the band also has a sound that is an appealing mixture of jazz, soul, funk, and rock. In the jamband scene, the word "jazz" is thrown around all too much, but these guys aren't just influenced by jazz - they can play straight jazz the way it's supposed to be played. In other words, they aren't rock musicians playing jazz, they're jazz musicians playing jazz fusion. Also, although I am not a big fan of soul, I found myself drawn to the smooth grooves that the band laid down, all of which were accentuated by the intense horns and by guitar solos that would make George Benson proud. Needless to say, I really enjoyed the band’s set, and I will keep an eye out for these guys in the future (as should you).

Saturday

Waking up in a tent in which the temperature has reached 100 degrees due to hours of direct sunlight was not the ideal way to wake up after a late night with little sleep, but I made the trek to get a refreshing shower and was ready for the second day of great music.


By Rob Katz
The band Topaz got things started just past noon on the Main Stage by bringing some heavy sounds to wake people up. The audience — including many who were still recovering from Friday night — started to get moving as this band from New York laid down a style of music that they call "soul-trance," which can only be described as a mixture of hardcore funk and acid jazz. While the guitar and sax playing were very respectable and listenable, it was the rhythm section that really held the band's music together. The drummer had a very tight and precise style (as he showed during his extended solo during the set) while the bassist held down a rock-solid groove that didn't stop. Another great piece of the band's sound was the keyboardist who used all vintage '70s keyboards to evoke the sound of Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis. Although it was a little odd to hear this music around lunchtime in an outdoor setting when it seemed more suited to nighttime in a crowded downtown bar, I enjoyed the set anyway.

After a good-sized break (I skipped the Grandstand set to conserve energy), I was ready for some reggae from the legendary Steel Pulse.


By Rob Katz
I've seen Steel Pulse, a few times over the last ten years or so, but this was definitely the most noteworthy performance I've ever seen them put on. Led by founding members David Hinds (vocals, guitar) and Selwyn Brown (keyboards), the band has assembled a fabulously tight group of musicians to help them deliver their distinctive reggae style that is very danceable. Not only is the music polished and ultra-rhythmic (without the preoccupation with bass that burdens most reggae bands), but Hinds's vocals and lyrics combine to make the music very appealing. The band played a healthy set (about an hour and a half) chock full of the songs everyone wanted to hear. Plus, they added some surprisingly good new songs. Highlights of the set included "Rally Round," "Chant a Psalm," "Tightrope," "Wild Goose Chase," and "Earth Crisis." These songs were played very true to the album but the band added a lot of instrumentation — especially guitar parts — to beef them up a bit. The two new songs were called "Build a World" and "Back to My Roots," the latter being a great ballad. Hearing great reggae in the afternoon with the sun shining — this set really set the tone for a wonderful day of music.

There were several bands that put on great sets in the afternoon (according to others' accounts); however, I was only to hear parts of them as I took the time to explore the large vending area and some of the outer regions of the campsites. Before I knew it, it was time for moe. to come back for the second day and their last long set of the festival.

This set started at 5:00pm — much earlier than Friday's set — so I was excited not only because I was really happy with their Friday set, but also because I like to experience bands' music at different times and settings. It often has an effect on the band's and the audience's approach to the music. In any case, moe. took the stage after a brief rainstorm that cooled things off a bit. They chose to open with the defiant rocker "Not Coming Down," which led into a mellow jam in which the band found a comfortable pocket before building into a raucous version of "St. Augustine" that the crowd absolutely loved. Then, they broke into a furious version of "32 Things" in which the band was hitting on all cylinders. "Brent Black" was epic with an extended percussion/drum jam with Jim Donovan of Rusted Root sitting in. This song really encapsulates what moe.'s music is all about, in my opinion. After a very long jam, they seamlessly transitioned into "Moth" by which time the sky had become beautifully clear. After more experimental jamming, they managed to segue into the very appropriately chosen "Buster" to close the set. This was a great set closer and a great ending to a very successful two days from moe. After a couple of years in which I had thought the band had sounded a little stagnant, they have really brought things back (perhaps inspired by the great new material?), and honestly sound as good if not better than ever.


By Brent Fraim
With Widespread Panic and The Disco Biscuits yet to come, I was really excited for the remainder of the evening. Widespread Panic, the headliners of the festival, finally made it to the stage around 7:45pm. They opened with the crowd-pleasing "Greta" and followed with "Swamp," presumably an homage to the swamp-like humidity of Lewisburg. Next, was a great version of "Imitation Leather Shows" — a song from the disc Don’t Tell the Band that has really grown on me. This was followed by a spirited "Climb to Safety." Towards the end of this number, George McConnell (the "new" guitarist for the band) appeared to be getting warmed up. With the urging of John "JB" Bell, he played a great lead solo to finish the song. "Meeting of the Waters" — the much-maligned new song from the band's latest disc Ball — followed. I happen to like this song, but this song is still rather new to me and the version seemed an average one. The band got things rocking again with a phenomenal version of "Pleas." The crowd really was getting into this, and the band responded with some inspired playing that included a scorching solo by McConnell. They closed the set with a hyper and fun version of "Flat Foot Flewzy."

The second set began with "Let’s Get Down to Business" which kept the energy high. After another new tune called "Thin Air" came a strong "Pigeons." I must point out that all of the musicians were in top form, but Dave Schools' bass playing was sounding particularly good so far in the show. The band next brought out the soulful "Me and the Devil Blues," which is a nice, rarely-played number. Then, the band began bringing some acoustic guitars into the mix, as they played a couple more new ones from Ball, one of which featured McConnell on vocals. However, these new ones haven't really grabbed my attention yet. Unfortunately, they chose to follow them up with "Low Rider," a song that seemingly every band covers at one point or another. I've always thought this song to be rather cheesy and really have to be in the mood to enjoy it. Thankfully, they jammed into a splendid version of "Papa's Home" to get the set back on track. But, it wasn't until after a standard "Drums" from the amazing Sunny Ortiz, that the second set really took off. A simply intense "Goin' Out West" was just the type of song many were waiting to hear and it did not disappoint. They also added a "Papa Johnny Road" to fill out the set. For the encore, the band began with a thunderous cover of Neil Young's "Mr. Soul," possibly their best cover song. Lastly came a triumphant "City of Dreams." All in all, this was a fun show with lots of energy but I knew that it wasn't the band's best performance.


By Rob Katz
Only about 15 minutes later, The Disco Biscuits were ready to shake things up in the Late Night hall with their brand of space-age "trancefusion." It was a little after midnight when the band finally began to deafening applause from the large crowd that had filled the indoor, gym-like hall. Although the venue was boxy and a little unusual, '’d seen the Biscuits in many settings, including a casino ballroom and a small restaurant, and knew that they find a way to make their sound work in any environment. They began with the surefire crowd-pleaser "Little Shimmy in a Conga Line." This version included a jam that had a strong Spanish flavor — not unlike the jams that the Grateful Dead were fond of playing. This was one of the more unusual and interesting versions of this song that I've heard. Definitely a more mature sound than when they started playing the song years ago. A rowdy version of "M.E.M.P.H.I.S." followed with some melodic playing that build into a nice crescendo before slipping into an ambient jam that led into a very heavy version of "Rock Candy." Many people who I know have commented that the band seems to sound like heavy metal at times. Although I see it as just another trick in their bag of musical styles, I could see where people get this impression after hearing this song. Nonetheless, the band was really delivering to an appreciative crowd by this time. All of the band members — particularly bassist Marc Brownstein — were animated and seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as the audience. The band followed this one with "The Very Moon," a song from their rock opera titled "Hot Air Balloon." This song is simply exquisite and it was a good way to mellow things out a bit for the crowd, most of which was weary after a long day. However, lest the band let things get too slow, they decided to work their way into the great new Brownstein song called "42." This song, with its catchy melody and singable chorus, is a great set-closer if there ever was one.


By Rob Katz
After a lengthy setbreak that weeded out the less hearty music fans and allowed them to head home to their tents, the band was ready to play a second set in which they could really stretch out musically. Fortunately, they chose to start out with the always-welcome sci-fi nightmare rocker "Save the Robots." This long song (usually around 30 minutes) has a lot of different musical styles built into its sections and this version had an unusual jam sandwiched in between verses. After this well-executed beginning to the second set, the band followed with "Little Lai." This version was a little sloppy but the song is always a fun one to hear with its great musical hook and its catchy lyrics. Next, the band showed its versatility once again by playing a structured techno-heavy song called "I Remember When." The band was really able to have fun with this song and played an extended version. Next came one of my personal favorites, "7-11." I was really hoping to hear this one, so I was very happy when the opening riffs began. This song is really a pastiche of several styles including heavy metal and reggae and it makes for some great contrasts within the song's sections. This version contained some beautiful ambient jams. Using a transition I had never heard them play, the band finished with the lyrics of "7-11" while beginning to play the music from another epic song, "Floes." Although I consider this one of the band's weaker songs, this had some spacey jams that were incredibly beautiful and it seemed to be a great way to close the set, judging by the reaction of the crowd. After an encore break that allowed everyone to catch their breath, the band finished with "Hope" — a mellow song which has some uplifting lyrics and which ended with some great singing by the band members to finish the day's music around 3:15am.

Always seemingly able to outdo themselves, The Disco Biscuits had put on another very impressive show. They have several more tour dates ahead in the near future, so I recommend checking them out (if you haven’t already) so that you can judge for yourself.

Sunday

Most people were feeling a little weary by Sunday, yet there was still much left to come. I skipped most of it, though. But, there was no way I was going to miss the set from the Les Claypool's Frog Brigade. Not that I'm a big fan or anything — it’s just that it's always a spectacle when Les in on stage. This set was no different.

I have seen Les perform before, but I really made a concerted effort to listen closely this time. I sat down in my folding chair and was pretty close to the stage. By the way, there was a huge crowd for this set (many of whom were presumably settling in early for the last Widespread show of the festival). As expected, there was a lot of demented lyrics and heavy basslines. While Les's music is good for putting a smile — or grimace, depending who you are — on the faces of audience members, the music has never been my cup of tea. The lyrics are not exactly meaningful and the music is rather self-indulgent. However, I have to give credit to Les and his band for putting on an energetic set that kept things funky and lively for the audience.


By Brent Fraim
Next, it was time for the festival's finale with Widespread Panic. To my delight, the roadies had set up acoustic instruments and chairs for the band to start the show with an acoustic set. Sure enough, the band gave us a treat by playing an all-acoustic first set. "Traveling Light" seems more appropriate as an electric rocker, but, interestingly, it worked well as an acoustic opener for the set. JB seemed to put more emphasis on the vocals for this set — perhaps due to the softer guitars. This was especially true on the next song, "Makes Sense to Me," which was sung well with a sly smile (as opposed to the mean sneer you'd normally see from JB during this number). With the band clearly enjoying themselves, they next chose to play a slower, almost country version of "Travelin' Man." Keeping the focus on the vocals, the band then played a poignant version of "Mercy," which was sung plaintively and which contained some solid keyboards from JoJo Hermann as well. After a standard version of "Henry Parsons Died," they brought out another gem from Everyday by playing "Pilgrims." This one seems made for acoustic instruments. It worked especially well with the picturesque scenery of the sun setting in the background. Next came a fun version of "Bayou Lena" to get the crowd in a Southern mood. Then came the Van Morrison cover "It Stoned Me," which also seems best-suited to the acoustic format. The crowd really had fun singing along with the band on this classic. Surprisingly, "All Time Low" also worked as an acoustic number, although it is known more as a hard-edged tune. Lastly, came a mellow, jangly version of the classic "Space Wrangler" that sounded almost like a country tune but which was nevertheless a great way to end this treat of a set. Despite how good it sounded, the set seemed like more of a warm-up for what was to come.

To change the sound drastically, the electric set began with a heavy version of "Give." After its big jam that slowed down, "Give" led into "Nebulous," which featured some mean guitar from John Bell and some great percussion from Sunny. A short classical-sounding piano solo from JoJo led into a great version of "Love Tractor" as a cool breeze cam in and it started to sprinkle lightly. This song has one of the best basslines in rock 'n' roll and it combines well with JB's grimy lyrics. Another new song, "Don’t Wanna Lose You," followed. Then, after some more quality guitar work from McConnell, the song led wonderfully into "Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys." This was the highlight of the second set, featuring some great mandolin playing from Leftover Salmon's Drew Emmitt throughout. This was simply a powerful version of the Traffic anthem, and the crowd ate it up — even while a rainstorm was soaking them by this point. JoJo then took over with a rollicking version of "Chunk of Coal" and the fun "Daisy Mae," which followed "Drums." On top of all this, came a better-than-average version of "Sometimes" to mix things up even more. At this point, it was raining very hard and the band took the cue to break into an explosive "Chilly Water" as a very appropriate way to close the set. After leaving the stage briefly, the band came back and JB thanked everyone and told us that we "felt wonderful." The encore featured a standard playing of the song "Down," only to be followed by a smoking version of "Red Beans Cookin’" to close the show out strong and finish on a rocking note, as the band is apt to do. Anyone who has wondered whether Widespread Panic can still do their thing needs to check them out before their scheduled hiatus begins in November of this year. If these shows were any indication, they are still sounding amazing and are still enjoying themselves doing it.

Some of the other bands at the festival deserve mention as well. Notable performances were put in by Particle, Echo, The Recipe, and Leftover Salmon with Cracker. Also, if you like bluegrass delivered in a humorous manner, check out the Hackensaw Boys for a rollicking good time.

This was a great festival all the way around. Fortunately, it appears that there is a good likelihood that it will be back in the same location next year. Hopefully, the organizers will be able to duplicate the same good vibes and great music in Lewisburg next year.

Words by Brent Fraim
JamBase | Northeast
Go See Live Music!

http://www.midxmusic.com

[Published on: 8/6/03]

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