'O' is for the "Odyssey"
Forgive the flashback to senior year high school Literature class for a second and hear this out. On Saturday afternoon, Umphrey's McGee unleashed another trademark "Jazz Odyssey" and unintentionally managed to create a dynamic and event-filled voyage reminiscent of Homer's tale of Ulysses. The classic Greek narrative, like the band's free-form improvisational exploration into sonic space, began with a bit of calypso. True, the beginning of Homer's Odyssey was situated on the island of the nymph Calypso while Umphrey's offering was accentuated with Andy Farag's calypso-infused beats, but the common element was certainly there. As the tale unfolded, several more coincidences arose; the music reached a crescendo that paralleled when Zeus sent two eagles down at Telemachus' request to slash and claw the necks of Penelope's suitors. In this case, the eagles arrived in the form of Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger, and their dueling guitars served as their talons. While the carnage was a less literal form of "ripping it up," the carnage was extensive. The underlying viciousness was apparent to all who witnessed this display of musical mastery (and lived to tell the tale). Several more similar surprises lurked around the corner, in the next chapter of the saga. For a second, keyboardist Joel Cummins even looked like blacksmith god Hephaestus as he pounded on his Moog as if it were molten metal (at any rate, the notes it produced were hot enough to melt most other musicians alive). The next universal undercurrent presented itself as drummer Kris Meyers switched and shuffled the swing of the song. Meyers always drums with passion, but there was an extra "oomph" in his playing that suggested a ferocity only surpassed when Poseidon shook the ocean with his trident. Poseidon's weapon had three points, while Meyers was bound to his two drumsticks – yet his speed and precision made it seem like he had an extra limb. Finally, Ryan Stasik rushed in with a grace and promptitude reminiscent of Apollo himself, dancing from bass fret to fret as if he had wings on his fingers. Granted, some of these comparisons may be a bit of a stretch, but both odysseys certainly have one thing in common – their legend will be revered and their tales told for a long time to come.
Brendan Bayliss - Umphrey's McGee
'P' is for "Passion"
MOFRO's front man John "JJ" Grey has more passion in his delivery than most folks can muster in a whole lifetime. The group's quick romp through the back bayous filled the humid late Sunday afternoon perfectly. The crowd wasn't as large as previous days, but the love for the Florida swamp sounds ran deep. Grey moved through songs slowly, picking his octaves with care as he commanded the attention of our ears during "Lochloosa." Judging from his demeanor, one gets the sense that MOFRO's front man likes a slower pace in life. His words crackled with a life of their own, causing the crowd to get the feeling that he knew something they didn't. Excitement rang through the performance as Grey sang about what he knows best: his life, food, and music. If one thing is clear, he loves performing. The only flaw in this heartfelt experience was that The Wailers had to sound check during their set, drowning out some of the emotion that typifies a MOFRO set.
All Good by Sam Friedman
'Q' is for meeting our "Quirk Quota"
Les Claypool is perhaps the most peculiar artist to emerge in popular music in quite some time. Although it's difficult to describe anyone or any artist with just one word, Claypool, the founder of Primus, Colonel of the Frog Brigade, pig-man of Oysterhead, and leader of the Fancy Band, is particularly difficult to summarize. "Eccentric" doesn't quite cut it, nor does "outlandish." "Idiosyncratic" could, but it just doesn't have enough punch or personality to do him justice. Perhaps the perfect word to describe Claypool is "quirky." In fact, I propose that from this point on, any illustrated dictionary contain a rendering of an open-mouthed Claypool playing his "whamola" bass-stick next to the word "quirk" (i.e., see the fancy freak in figure A). Lester Claypool and his band of merry misfits took the stage at the 10th annual All Good Festival to a huge roar, and they looked ready to drop knowledge in their black shirts with "Fancy" on the front, complemented by the backdrop from the cover of their new album, Whales and Woe. Kicking into things with "One Better," it was apparent that the "Fancies" were in good spirits. Percussionist Mike Dillon was grinning from ear to ear, and sitar-mastering mistress Gabby La La looked intriguing with her blue wig, complete with a gopher on top. Claypool took his trademark circular laps around the stage before diving in to slap after slap on his four-string. The set progressed with fan favorites like "David Makalaster 1" and hit a peak when Claypool left the stage for a second then returned with his pig mask. Observant fans had noticed an extra amp on stage near sax player/devil Skerik, and those really in the loop saw Trey's Paul Languedoc guitar getting tuned before the set. Those who didn't expect it were alerted to something special when Claypool told a tale and then referred to "Antipasto" as a familiar red-headed friend appeared onstage. Yes, Trey Anastasio himself had emerged for "Precipitation" and a "Mr. Oysterhead" jam. It was the stuff that legends are made of, and the music didn't disappoint. The "Big Nazo" characters joined the fun, and the stage and crowd became one giant freak show. This was Claypool in his element – wacky, funky, and oozing with quirk. A huge rendition of "D's Diner" closed out the set, and the Fancy Band left the stage, knowing full well that they had just completed one of the best performances of the festival.
'R' is for the "Reggae that Roars"
We happily caught the set by Soldiers of Jah Army, excited to see a band so "en fuego" you would swear they had hot coals smoldering underneath them. They were all over the stage in a mêlée of dreads and kicking legs. Their "Bad Brains meets Bob Marley" sound created a blend of conscious roots music tangled in the time-honored cadence of reggae. The sound permeated the skin, sending beads of sweat rolling down our brows. The Washington D.C. group plugged through five tracks off their 2006 release Get Wiser, the third album from the group's own Innerloop label. "9-1-1" capped the spirited performance that saw the pair of lead singers, Jacob Hemphill and Bob Jefferson, leave everything they had on the Magic Hat side stage.
Soldiers of Jah Army by Jake Krolick
'S' is for "Surfer-Soul Power"
Although his name brings up images of the love child of an angry green monster and a squirrelly, tunic-clad minstrel divulging his love for laid-back lemon, Donavon Frankenreiter would more fittingly serve as the spawn of Chi Light and Bill A. Bong. The extremely underrated singer/surfer/songwriter took the stage on Saturday and proceeded to ooze with a delivery as smooth as a glass pebble in a vase on Sade's bedside table. A certain highlight was "The Way it Is," which sounded like it could have been a Studio 54 anthem, or at the very least, overheard pumping out of the back of Jay Kay from Jamiroquai's purple velvet-trimmed love van in the parking lot of Pimpstock. Frankenreiter put on one of the most silky, intense, and commendable performances of the weekend and proved that his unique sound is here to stay, sex wax and all.
'T' is for the "Talented & Tenacious Tea Leaf Green"
The sky early Saturday was as gray as they come, but that didn't matter; light was brightly emerging from the Main Stage performance of Tea Leaf Green. Their rock and roll echoed around the camps, from the tents sitting slanted on the hills to the RVs six lanes deep and 56 lanes wide in the valley. Notes snuck off Trevor Garrod's keys and wandered into the tents of those late to wake, prodding them to get up and head down to the Main Stage. The persuasive "Two Chairs" pulled us from the laziness of the morning and sent us in through the cattle round-up look-alike fences leading into the Main Stage area. We arrived to witness the lighter, airier, cousin of the Funk 'N' Jam house show at High Sierra. "Devils Pay" and "Dragonfly" took their cue from the classics and reminded us exactly why we trek from all sides of the earth to these festivals in the first place. Our ears were caught by the same feeling evoked from bands like The Slip or ALO – that sensation of witnessing true innovators creating without mimicking their predecessors in any way. Hot off recent stops in packed houses all around the country, the band effortlessly traded the feeling of a cramped, smoky venue for the wide-open expanse of the festival field. And like their revered show at High Sierra, their fan-favorite song "Sex in the 70's" was a spectacular culmination, complete with some awesome hard-rock riffs and jams that grandly echoed off the mountainside back to the big stage. On a small, yet crucial side note, guitarist Josh Clark's 20-30 minute appearance with DJ Logic on the Ropeadope Stage was also truly special.
Josh Clark - Tea Leaf Green