Saturday April 17
Saturday morning now, and we're halfway through this thing. It feels like we've been here a year already, but I'd sign up for another tour of duty in a heartbeat. Many acts are featured in multiple sets over the four days, and as Saturday morning rolled into afternoon repeat performances by Turtle Island Dream, Garrett Tucker's 3-D Kaleidoscope, Project Mastana, and Randy Whitt & the Grits kept things bouncing. The aptly named Carnavalito brightened up the afternoon with their spicy Latin salsa, even landing at one point on Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va," the song popularized by Carlos Santana. Moontee Sinquah featured another take on Native American rock, while the Bluegrass Experience laid down their renowned newgrass sound to lead us into the evening.
While a poetry slam was boiling on the other side of the farm, one of the most unique acts of the weekend was preparing to appear. Hailing from Ithaca, NY, Galumpha isn't a musical act, but rather a comedic acrobatic dance troupe. Twisting and piling themselves on top of each other to form bizarre shapes and artistic entanglements, they entertained a huge crowd with physical manifestations of their absurd sense of humor. The Campbell Brothers were up next, and turned in one of the most blistering performances of the entire weekend. Featuring not one but two pedal steel guitarists, they ripped into a funky gospel jam that had the entire crowd reeling and gasping for breath. Legend has it they provided a young Robert Randolph with his very first pedal steel guitar, and it's immediately obvious how influential they were on his sound and stage presence.
They were followed by the sensational string work of Mali native Mamadou Diabate. His work on the 21-stringed harp-like kora has to be seen to be believed, and even then you're not really sure how he does it. Engaging the crowd in a solo set, he delivered a passionate, dynamic batch of songs to an audience that could barely absorb all the sound coming from just one person. Katherine Whalen's Jazz Squad was meanwhile playing on another stage, featuring the former Squirrel Nut Zippers leading lady with former Zippers bassist Stu Cole in a jazzier setting than the swing sensations they're known for. While the Horseflies hammered on across the field, Donna the Buffalo was setting up for their second set of the weekend.
Opening with the foot-pleasing "Funkyside," they invited Diabate onstage to join them for "Blue Skies." Ward Puryear, aka Tenesi, added rubboard to "Tides of Time" and "The Mill" before they closed the set with the triple tremors of "Family Picture," "Positive Friction," and "No Place Like the Right Time." While Donna was playing, their entire sidestage area filled up with dancing and twirling. It says a lot about a band that the people who see them the most--their crew, families and friends--are the ones dancing the hardest every time they play. No one sits backstage at Donna trying to look cool--all the action is onstage, watching the band and sharing in the sound. As the encore "Mystic Water" faded into the farmlands, the sounds of the late night shows began to reach our ears.
The bluesy Irish rock of Jump, Little Children was battling with Barefoot Manner for control of the after-midnight antics (Barefoot even opened with "After Midnight"). The Hula Cats late show featured a special sit-in by Acoustic Syndicate bassist Jay Sanders. But despite all the talent prevalent in these groups, they couldn't outlast the all-night zydeco dance party hosted by Keith Frank & the Soileau Zydeco Band. They attacked the crowd with everything they had, pumping out one of the happiest, grooviest, smilingest sets of music I've ever heard. Donna the Buffalo guitarist Jim Miller was seen dancing through the crowd before hopping onstage to lend backing vocals to their own raucous rendition of "Hey Ya." Miller mixed between the stage and dance floor all night, as people poured in through all hours of the morning, drawn to the sound of Louisiana boogie echoing through the campgrounds. How could you go to sleep when this is going on? The band was swaying together in time as the groove kept raging, welcoming more Donna members including Puryear and Nevins as the show blasted on until nearly 6:00 a.m. For myself and numerous compadres, this set was the undisputed highlight of the weekend.
Donna the Buffalo with Diabate