Words by: Bruce Bellinger | Images by: Susan J. Weiand
Harmony Festival :: 06.10.11-06.11.11 :: Sonoma County Fairgrounds :: Santa Rosa, CA
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Excellent weather greeted tens of thousands to the Northern California city of Santa Rosa to celebrate music, art, ecology, healthy living and spirituality. The 2011 Harmony Festival at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds is now in its 33rd year. It has evolved and broadened its scope over the years to reach out to a more diverse audience while continuing to honor its roots as a festival that encourages the “green lifestyle.” There were more than 300 vendors offering hemp and cotton clothing, organic foods, drinks, and earth friendly botanicals, all to help make your journey through life a little more pleasant. “Rock Art by the Bay” by The Rock Poster Society, aka TRPS, at the Artist Pavilion featured vintage blotter paper from the collection of Mark McCloud and a wide variety of rock and poster artwork from Ryan Kerrigan, Dave Hunter, Stanley Mouse and others. While being fairly recent additions and somewhat hidden, The Eco Rally! skating exhibition and contests, Steampunk garage and Whiskydrome brought together elements of skate, circus sideshow and a bit of the playa to elicit smiles and cheers from participants and curious onlookers alike. With the Kids’s Zone stage dedicated to the youngest attendees, the festival is definitely reaching out to make it a great experience for all ages. Over the past five years, Harmony has expanded the music portion to become a popular destination for the note-following festival goers. That’s good for you and me because this year’s lineup was a harmonious mix of regional and national favorites that blended rock, jam, reggae, world fusion, techno-tribal and all points in between.
|Harmony Fest ’11 by Susan J. Weiand|
Friday, June 10
|David Nelson by Susan J. Weiand|
Even if you aren’t familiar with the jam band scene, you still might have seen Friday’s main stage opener Moonalice opening for U2 at the Oakland Coliseum the previous week. Fronted by Roger McNamee and his ever-smiling wife Ann McNamee, the band honors the music scene of times past while embracing the technology that allows it to connect with their ever-growing fanbase. The band has redefined the value of the concert experience by offering posters created by master artists commemorating each event, streaming their shows live around the world, and offering downloads of their performances - all for free! In addition to the talents of Roger (guitar, vocals) and Ann (keys, vocals), a roster of veteran backing musicians includes bassist Pete Sears (Jefferson Starship, Zero), lead guitar and pedal steel player Barry Sless (David Nelson Band, Phil Lesh & Friends), and drummer John Molo (Bruce Hornsby and the Range, Phil Lesh & Friends) created a set full of sweet melodies and warm jams. Their music was well received by fans who aptly described the Friday set as joyful, bubbly, cosmic and satisfying.
David Nelson Band
Didn’t get enough of Pete Sears, Barry Sless and John Molo? That’s a good thing because they are integral to the next act fronted by its headband wearing namesake, David Nelson. In addition to Pete, Barry and John, the David Nelson Band brings the keyboard, accordion and vocal talents of Mookie Siegel (Phil Lesh & Friends, Ratdog) to the stage for their special blend of original tunes and classic covers. Taking the stage a bit before 6 pm, they opened their set with Bill Monroe’s “Rocky Road Blues,” then continued with an original, “Fable of a Chosen One,” before segueing into “Different World” and “Ballad of Casey Jones.” Nelson demonstrated his ability to seamlessly mix up just the right quantities of country and psychedelic rock to keep things interesting. Highlighting that ability, Nelson welcomed bluegrass mandolin legend Jesse McReynolds, his grandson Garrett McReynolds (guitar) and Steve Thomas (fiddle) to sit in on three tunes from McReynold’s Songs of the Grateful Dead, released last year. Beginning with “Ripple,” then “Deep Elem Blues” and closing with “Franklin’s Tower,” it was just a sampling of things yet to come at Friday’s late night tribute.
|Railroad Earth by Susan J. Weiand|
Next up on the main stage was New Jersey’s Railroad Earth. They are hitting the summer festival circuit with performances at DelFest and Bonnaroo, to name just a few. Having spent nearly 10 years together, Todd Sheaffer (lead vocals, acoustic guitars), Tim Carbone (violin, vocals), John Skehan (mandolin, vocals), Andy Goessling (acoustic guitars, banjo, dobro, mandolin, flute, pennywhistle, saxophones and vocals), Carey Harmon (drums, hand percussion, vocals) and Andrew Altman (upright bass) delivered their brand of jamming Americana combined with elements of folk, bluegrass, Celtic and rock and roll, all played with passion. It was RRE’s first appearance at Harmony and after starting off with “Bird in a House” and ending with New Monsoon electric guitarist Jeff Miller joining them for a heated jam on “Elko,” we can only hope they’ll be coming back soon.
Michael Franti & Spearhead
The ever upbeat and energetic Michael Franti and his band Spearhead headlined the Main Stage on Friday night. A long time denizen of music festivals, including his self-produced “Power to the Peaceful” gathering, the socially conscience and often political Oakland native has begun to receive commercial success in the mainstream with movie soundtracks and advertising licensing. The barefoot Franti prefers to lead by example, and interspersed his signature “How you feelin’?” along with “JUMP!, JUMP!, JUMP!” throughout his set, the crowd responding enthusiastically to every sway and turn. Always looking to reach out and connect to the people, Franti left the stage and entered the audience during his performance and capped the evening by inviting children to the stage to dance along with his first top 20 hit single, “Say Hey (I Love You).”
Friday Late Night
|Steve Kimock by Susan J. Weiand|
The Friday late night performance brought the masses indoors along with some of the best players in the jam scene for a big flashback to the past, A Tribute to the Life of Owsley “Bear” Stanley and the Musical Spirit of Jerry Garcia,” which featured Steve Kimock, the David Nelson Band, Jesse McReynolds as well as members of Railroad Earth and Moonalice.
Harmony is more than just the music and the late night did not disappoint in that regard. The ambience for the indoor stage was great and included live painting by Stanley Mouse and Mark Henson. Computer generated visuals (courtesy of Johnathan Singer) provided a colorful and always changing backdrop for the David Nelson Band as they took the stage again. Over the next several hours the band morphed and at various times included Steve Kimock, Jesse McReynolds, Barry Sless, Mookie Siegel, Pete Sears, John Molo, Steve Thomas, Garrett McReynolds , Tim Carbone, John Skehan, Andy Goessling, Andrew Altman and Roger McNamee. The ensemble, initially led by McReynolds, delivered many crowd pleasing favorites including “Alabama Getaway” and “Standing on the Moon.” After an equipment change, Steve Kimock, Bobby Vega, Greg Anton, Mookie Siegel and Barry Sless took the stage together to play a few Zero classics such as “Rigamortis” and “Golden Road,” and also featured a particularly moving rendition of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” sung by Mookie. The evening concluded with incredibly soulful instrumental version of “Stella Blue” with Steve playing lap steel and Barry on pedal steel.
Saturday, June 11
José Neto Band
|Grace Potter by Susan J. Weiand|
Originally from Sao Paulo, José Neto continues to honor his Brazilian roots while integrating different styles from around the world. With 20 years of playing with Harry Belafonte and over 10 years of touring and collaborating with Steve Winwood, Neto is no stranger to making beautiful music. His smooth guitar work was accented with the influences of Brazilian bolstered by the Latin and African percussion of drummer Celso Alberti and percussionist Café, aka Edson Silva. Along with impressive the keyboard work of Frank Martin and the incredibly talented Gary Brown on bass, the José Neto Band is in a class by itself. Steve Kimock sat in to add his expressionist take on the Bob Marley classic “Redemption Song.” Neto now lives and plays locally with the band when he is not touring, so if you haven’t seen the José Neto Band before, do yourself a favor and go see them.
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Named the Best New Act of 2010 by Rolling Stone, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals have actually been performing for years, but she and her band have been gaining more exposure in recent years. Through heavy touring and the release of their latest album last summer, their fan base has continued to grow. The talented and beautiful Potter and her band performed an energetic set even after having played at Bonnaroo just the day before. From the trippy 60s classic “White Rabbit” to her popish “Paris (Ooh La La),” Potter kept the crowd moving and grooving throughout her set. Backing Potter were longtime bandmates Scott Tournet (guitar) and Matt Burr (drums), along with Benny Yurco (guitar) and Catherine “Cat” Popper (bass).
The Flaming Lips
|The Flaming Lips by Susan J. Weiand|
The three time Grammy winning group The Flaming Lips took the stage in a cloud of smoke and dazzling lights. Theatrics are key ingredients to their performance and there was no lack of stage props, costumes, confetti cannons, strobe and laser lighting, a huge spinning mirror ball and multichannel sound enhancements on hand to make the experience appeal to more than just one’s sense of sound. Recruiting audience members before the show, the newfound performers were dressed in Wizard of Oz costumes complete with perhaps a dozen “Dorothys” to become a part of the show and dance onstage. Predictably ending the show with Wayne Coyne donning his plastic bubble to make his way through the enthusiastic crowd, the Lips put on an excellent show guaranteed to make you wide-eyed and smiling no matter what was on (or in) your mind.
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