MUSIC JUST SOUNDS BETTER IN THE MTNS

Michigan Mike knows how to put together a festival. Beyond a great jazz, world music line-up (Black Frames, The Motet, Garaj Mahal, Vinyl, Single Malt Band, The Big Wu, Tony Furtado & The American Gypsies, Noam Pikelny and Robert Walter's 20th Congress, to name a few), Nedfest is in a beautiful place nestled by the water in the mountains, 'tweener sets play all weekend on the front corner of the stage between main acts, the port-a-potties smell like fresh roasted coffee (smart vendor placement), the stage is powered partly by bio-diesel, folks from Indian Peaks Natural Spring Water supply everyone with free water all weekend, and local breweries, meaderies, music publications, and food vendors line the periphery of the field. This is a music festival though and all these fine amenities don't distract from some bad sound problems during a good chunk of Saturday. Sound problems aside, the weekend is an orgy of good music in a beautiful setting.

Saturday

High energy, reggae infused funk raps, accelerate on a wave of Wookiefoot's momentum to start Nedfest on Saturday August 2nd. A circus of dancers compete for attention with a stage full of colorful, over-sized, felt pants--not taking themselves too seriously, they share good energy.

Powerful energy continues, though I don't think I can call it good (and thank goodness, I imagine that would be among the greatest insults to Skerik and Black Frames I could offer). Psychotic, eerie, creative, maniacal energy may be more appropriate. I'd like to clarify that excavating the word "good" from my description in no way reflects quality--it implies my previous desire to twirl around on the grass in glitter and sunshine with Wookiefoot is squashed by awe watching these guys play something outside any lines where music presently exists. Calling it music is perhaps limiting; how about we call it their interpretation of dungeon torture cells creating music after a few beers? Skerik splits his time fairly evenly between saxes and pounding tunes on the marimba with Mike Dillon on vibes, marimba, tabla and percussion, and the drummer, Earl Harvin, grabbing some mallets and joining Skerik on the marimba and vibes at times. I've never seen musicians build this sort of powerful percussion explosion with mallets on xylophone-type instruments. It's like elementary school kids playing Christmas songs with bells and chimes while hooked to electric shock cables. "Where are we? What just happened? I don't know. What's he building in there?" Skerik asks in a coarse monotone smoky ghoulish narrator-of-horror-theatre tone, describing the music perfectly. A cymbal flies in slow motion circles before clamoring on the stage while Mike Dillon's already playing a new toy: rubbing the inside of a metal drum with his hand wrapped in his t-shirt like cleaning windows.

"Nedfest is all about The Motet," announces Michigan Mike as Dave Watts, on drums, and the rest play some eclectic South American, West African funk. A few of them dive into the audience with pieces of their dismantled drum sets to join Samba Dende in a roaming drum circle gathering dancers like the Pied Pipers of percussion. The Motet does this every year, but adds an additional mid-set samba while the sound problems are fixed; it cuts their time on stage considerably--an unfortunate thing for a band with their talent for creating and molding momentum. Their intoxicating rhythms lure festive dancers around the field and my legs join this moving amoeba as if it were pants they had lost. They'll surely continue out the gates and into the Rocky Mountains like a gypsy caravan pulling in unsuspecting passerby's with their infectious rhythms to step on the world as if it were made of marshmallows. I don't have warm enough clothes for that sort of exploration so I dive to the ground, dig my fingers into the soil and hold on as my feet kick and lurch toward the drums--they put up a good fight and eventually accept a promise of no shoes for a week in exchange for their cooperation.

Having persuaded all of my limbs to remain at the festival I relax and enjoy the funny funk talent of Garaj Mahal. "You come up with some fucked up shit when you spend as much time in a van as we do," claims Fareed Haque, and they've got the songs to prove it. I've seen a lot of shows this summer and have become a little desensitized with the rivers of good music; Garaj Mahal is the first band in a while that's just wowed me. Fareed Haque on the guitar, Kai Ekhardt on the bass, Alan Hertz on the drums, Eric Levy on the keys--these guys are masters, and together they are phenomenal. I find myself looking for the source of sounds that have no business coming from a stage with those instruments; I scan each musician, usually finding the source at the last place I look.

Time to fill my belly with a little food. It's nice sitting and listening to Victor Wooten, but I can't see him. Is that one man? It must be at least two. I know he's a bass player, but I swear I hear a guitar also. There must be at least one other person. My body sufficiently nourished, I stand up to find one man playing one bass. He loops beats, plays frets all along the bass' arm, thwomps, strums with precision, and sings cute conscientious songs. This is one valuable man; I'm glad he didn't get drawn into the hills on the Motet's percussion caravan.

The guys from Garaj Mahal, the Motet's guitarist, and another percussion player join Victor on stage for Saturday's culminating act: Nederland Acid Jazz, an improvisational jazz performance that happens with a new roster of musicians week to week. They take turns juggling the music and passing it on. Fareed Haque seems to conduct things toward the end, playing some Garaj Mahal songs with a new intensity. Kai Eckhardt ends the night by sharing something Victor Wooten said to him when they first met, "If you want something, start by giving it away." It's a great philosophy and clearly these guys want some damn fine funky music and good energy.


Sunday

Lighting strikes hills in the distance and the Matt Flinner/Ross Martin band conducts the coming storm with bluegrass. Raindrops creep in playfully on the mandolin like water bugs skipping across a pond. The guitar rises and crumbles mountains in muted echoes. The music speaks the eerie conversations of dark grey clouds, sending messages to a sunny day with Kimock-like tunes, before plunging into heavy metal bluegrass. Wind swirls the music into the mountains, where the high sound of the mandolin belongs--telling a story of longing, sadness and great beauty from the mountaintop.

"No more background music," rumbles the storm and I make a mad dash for my truck as the downpour releases. At least these storms pass quickly, and as Shanti Groove points out: it's not bluegrass if there ain't mud to dance in. Well this is certainly bluegrass then, or is it? There are a lot of the right instruments, playing very fast, but they move into non-bluegrass jams where these instruments mutate and change before my ears. Ross Martin and Chris Castino both join the band at different times, adding to their spry dance tunes.

Jason Scroggins, on guitar with Shanti Groove, then takes his turn bringing energetic enthusiasm to another band by joining The Big Wu to play "House of Wu." It makes me want to be as ridiculous as possible. I want to throw my limbs at goofy angles, out of time. I want to hunch over while my feet run in place kicking up dirt like an old hermit with a knobby cane rejoicing and yodeling when he thinks everyone's gone. I want to twirl and jump and run across the field like Fred Flintstone bowling on his tiptoes. I wish I had a bright blue wheelbarrow. I don't know why exactly, but I imagine I'd run around scooping people up until they pile up above the trees flailing and laughing and wiggling in their fleshy totem pole until I stop short and they sprinkle the grassy field softly and bouncing. Big Wu fans listen closely, Andy Miller has just revealed one of his greatest kept secrets: he loves beer. Well, perhaps it's not that well kept. He continues to purge these pent up feelings in a long-winded cheers. "I would like to do something that I look forward to every day because this is the time of the day that I look forward to most when I get up. It is the time of the day that makes me say yes, I have arrived and I am here. This is the time of day I grab an icy cold frosty Twisted Pine lager and I raise my glass to you and I say Chee-eeers!" Following this revelation comes a song about committing innocent, almost victimless, crimes, while drinking beer, on a pontoon where Andy sneaks in a customized line about being "with my friends on a beautiful afternoon in August in Nederland, Colorado at Nedfest sitting by the lake under God's... mixed skies," all in a single breath until the last two words.

Mixed skies continue into Tony Furtado and the American Gypsies's set and I dance with my arms umbrella'ed at my sides like a Pooh Bear splashing back and forth. Tony's pinky finger glides over the arm of his slide guitar wrapped in the neck of a wine bottle. He streams enigmatic sounds that leap from his slide guitar, guitar and banjo while the rest of the band weaves in their talent. The bass player has some amazing solos and the electric guitarist reaches sounds I had thought impossible; then, not satisfied with the reach alone, he plays tunes at these knew levels. They build and ride their momentum then shift, not bursting or stopping; they just play a completely different thing at a different pace, but still the same song.

Robert Walter's 20th Congress closes the festival while night falls. While night falls? It's only 7PM. I don't see a moon. Come to think of it, I don't see a sky; I see a churning grey mass digesting rich cheese. No rain though, we must be fine. Robert Walter's arms stretch wide, rising and falling on the organ as if he's Dracula throwing off a cape. Cheme, on the sax, switches to a tweetie bird flute tease--playing around the microphone so the bird's muffled song travels around us in circles. All of Will Bernard's fingers pluck the strings of his guitar at once, in different times, and he dives into an amazing fast solo, his face wincing with the extremity of his sounds. Everyone in front of the stage bursts into joyful jelly-bodied dancing, without knowing it. 8:30 nears (the curfew for Sunday night) and the forgotten storm approaches. They're not playing a soundtrack to this one, like the Matt Flinner/Ross Martin Band earlier, this is the scene in the Hollywood movie where the happy oblivious hippies get blown right off the ground yelling stereotyped phrases into the wind like, "Wow, that must have been good shit!" and "I can't feel my legs, man!" One person would be left in the middle of the field at the end, having slept through it all, only to wake up, look around at the empty festival grounds, and say, "Where’d everybody go?" I’ve seen too many horror movies to stick around for that scripted ending.

Words by: Reanna Feinberg
Images by: Zach Ehlert
JamBase | Colorado
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[Published on: 8/20/03]

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