F.U.N.K. Festival :: 8.27 & 8.18 :: Bill Monroe Memorial Bluegrass Park :: Morgantown, IN
By: Brian Heisler
With only about a month of promotion, the first ever F.U.N.K. Festival finished off the summer festival scene just as Summer Camp began it. The idea for the festival was spawned at Summer Camp, when festival promoter Ian Goldberg finalized years of ideas with bass genius Victor Wooten. Goldberg had attended Wooten's Bass Nature Camp in the past and wanted to further the idea into a festival. The result was a very unique atmosphere, expressing, just as the title suggests, music, nature, and knowledge.
Early arriving campers found themselves deep in the darkness of the woods of Central Indiana Friday night for some extra free sounds created by Muzaic, Family Groove Company, and Shadyside All Stars. If there is no way around setting up a tent in the dark, the best thing one can do is groove to some live tunes in the process.
Set just a few miles north of the tourist town of Nashville, Indiana (not Wooten's home of Nashville, Tennessee), the park made the early morning perfect for a quick trip to some souvenir shops and cheap food. At noon the festivities began on all three stages, starting with the Max Allen Band on the Monroe Stage and a fire-making demonstration on the Porch Stage, followed by the urban sounds of Treologic on the Main Stage. The smaller Monroe Stage, seamlessly sewn into the woods with plenty of viewing area, allowed for a weekend of relaxed shows. Sitting atop the hill of the Monroe Stage soaking up the smooth feeling of Sativa Gumbo, I sipped a cool beer that I wisely bought before entering the park. It was then that I realized the combination of the great weather, the physical beauty of the park, the small crowds, and the euphoric music in the woods was going to make for a great weekend.
Without a doubt, the most unique part of the weekend revolved around the Porch Stage, just as the promoters had intended, with the overhauling theme of nature. Here, environmentalists and friends of Victor Wooten, such as Richard Cleveland and Doniga Murdoch, led fire-making demonstrations, plant walks, nature awareness exercises, and environment issue lectures and discussions. Even the bass master himself got into the act, stretching the imagination through many conversations and bass clinics throughout the weekend, among them challenging whether or not the wood of his bass is actually alive or not. A usually slim chance to walk up and talk to the great musicians of Victor Wooten Band or even Umphrey's McGee became a casual event via the demonstrations on the Porch Stage.
When the sun began to break each night, the Main Stage swelled with dancers as the headliners took the stage. MOFRO warmed up the crowd for Keller Williams to take over. Tornado-like conditions earlier in the day set the mood for Keller's set as he jammed into the Dead's "Looks Like Rain," followed by a choppy version of "Box of Rain" and a crowd-pleasing "Best Feeling." Making light of the festival's title, many artists commented on the word "Uv" in F.U.N.K. Midstream in one of Keller's self-created jams, he mentioned what most people in attendance had been thinking, "Don't forget it's 'of' with a...'U'." Adding Victor Wooten to the stage, Keller finished his set with "Novelty Song," bouncing to the appropriate lyrics "focus on the bass." Victor remained on stage and welcomed his band. The first installment of Victor Wooten with a band brought forth not only arguably the best bass player in the world, but also "The Teacher," legendary guitar player and maestro, Victor's brother, Reggie Wooten. Later, Roy (Futureman) and Rudy Wooten joined the band on drums and saxophone respectively, and Robert Provine, Guitar Center's Guitarmageddon 2005 winner and student of Reggie Wooten, dealt a ripping guitar performance.
Day Two was filled with more nature connections, with lectures on converting cars to use vegetable oil and biodiesel fuels. Groovatron opened the Main stage in the great heat and humidity of the afternoon, leaving the crowd with a taste of things to come for their midnight set. For those who chose to catch some shade, another band from the area, The Elect from Indianapolis, entertained the Monroe Stage with lead singer Michael Weir's Joe Cocker-like, spastic mannerisms. Victor Wooten's friends and family got their chance to shine as the female bass player and lyricist MC Divinity owned the Main Stage, Futureman took his set to the Monroe Stage.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band kicked off the evening, joined at the end of their set by what was deemed "The Victor Wooten F.U.N.K. All-Stars" - a star-studded cast of rotating musicians including the Wootens, Robert Provine, Jake Cinninger and Kris Myers of Umphrey's McGee, and festival promoter Ian Goldberg. The concoction turned out to be too much for the power systems to handle, and the entire stage lost power. This created the most memorable part of the weekend as the Dirty Dozen kept playing in the dark without amplification. It seemed only fitting that the nature festival was cut down to the roots of simple brass sounds in the dark night of the forest.
Once power was restored, Umphrey's McGee claimed the stage for the remainder of the night. "This might be the last time we get to hang out together outside this year," guitar player and lead singer Brendan Bayliss said to the crowd early in the set. Definitely holding the key to the Midwest jam scene, Umphrey's was supported by the strongest crowd of the weekend. Favorites such as "Roulette," "A 5th of Beethoven," and "In the Kitchen" closed the main stage of the first ever F.U.N.K. Festival. Those left to camp Sunday night found their way over to the final set by Groovatron at the Monroe Stage and were treated to late night versions of "MacBeth," "Star Biscuit," and "Erodic," among others.
The first F.U.N.K. Festival will be remembered for its uniqueness and its courage to revolve so heavily around the concept of nature, as well as for its intimacy and the ability to approach Victor Wooten and his friends for a conversation.
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