Words by: Chadbyrne R. Dickens :: Images by: Suzy Perler
Mighty High Mountain Festival :: 05.18.12-05.20.12 :: Tuxedo Ridge :: Tuxedo, NY
Photo gallery below review!
Up on a ridge, I experienced a recurring dream. I am not referring to the usual male Kournikova fantasy but rather a more tangible one, the kind when one is challenged later deciphering if it was reality or simply related to a state of REM sleep bliss. This ideal dream naturally consists of achieving a euphoric state of being and an absolute feeling of contentment and copasetic homeostasis. Folks attain happiness in a myriad of ways: some get high from sex, shopping, gambling, recreational substances, or by practicing altruistic acts. In a scene that could seemingly come to fruition only through a dream, last weekend while I danced on a retired ski mountain in rural Tuxedo, New York, I was musically stoned out of my mind. I have found nothing comparable to sweet melodies in fueling a natural high – and sometimes reaching the pinnacle of a mighty one.
|New Riders of the Purple Sage w/ John Popper by Suzy Perler|
For many, the demarcation line indicating the commencement of summer is by the season’s initial music festival. Having been circled on my May calendar for months, I was as ready for kick-off as Adam Vinatieri at the Super Bowl. The Mighty High Festival promised an incendiary send off as we head into a busy summer of shows and sunscreen. With so many options for the avid music aficionado on this mid-May weekend, including the inaugural Booga Mooga in Brooklyn, I was steadfast in attending a festival nestled in New York’s rural woods, straddling the NJ border just one hour from NYC, made up of a variety of 15 quality musical outfits including the three headlining nights showcasing the tremendously talented Grateful Dead tribute group and arguably greatest cover band ever, Dark Star Orchestra.
Cabinet: 8:30 PM – 9:40 PM :: Tent Stage
After hearing accolades from some friends about Cabinet, I was fortunate to spend some time with them on the phone before the show. A very modest group of bluegrass boys from Pennsylvania, the six man outfit were very laid back, jovial and excited to be sharing the venue with the other impressive acts. It was the first festival stop this year for the quickly up-and-coming band, who are currently touring across the country in a variety of festival including the Peach Festival headlined by the Allman Brothers. After having so much fun commiserating about their music on the phone, I was eager to hear them live. It was similar to a blind date when you think the girl is so sweet on the phone but hope she is hot in person. Cabinet was musically hot!
|Cabinet by Suzy Perler|
Cabinet contains a group of seasoned musicians diligently striving to achieve the next level of recognition. They did their best with the opportunity afforded to them on this night. For over an hour perched high on the side stage, in front of less than a full crowd, they pranced through one deep-grooved bluegrass tinged jam number into another. When one knows an outcome based on experience, it can lead to complacency. Thus, it was very rewarding to experience the delight in so many eyes at the power Cabinet brings and the joy it shares through their intense outpouring of emotion through song. I was unfamiliar with their catalog and learning song names proved futile. It didn’t matter. Cabinet is the Steely Dan of live shows – just put it on and relax, knowing each song will deliver satisfactorily. Although Cornmeal and the highly-anticipated DSO proved strong on Friday, it was definitely the word ‘Cabinet’ that could be heard whispering throughout the windy narrow passages between campers, tents and trees throughout the unseasonably frigid night.
Dark Star Orchestra :: 7:30 PM – 11:30 PM :: Main Stage
Following solid performances from six different quality performers on Saturday, it was finally time for the main event. Many people had not arrived for Friday night’s festivities, but rather chose a more leisurely drive up on this sunny Saturday, and the more amply filled audience demonstrated that. Dark Star had already surprised the night before with a superior set of acoustic music that opened with “Aiko Aiko” and included the moving “Sitting in Limbo” and a touching “Bird Song > Ripple.” The boys clearly relished the opportunity to spark the Saturday night groove in a festival they were headlining, their energy apparent to all.
|Dark Star Orchestra by Suzy Perler|
After opening with the ho-hum, dark Weir/Barlow “Hell in a Bucket,” they segued into an energetic and tight “Bertha” that fully buoyed the audience to participate. They dug in for a slew of tunes including the bouncy “BIODTL” and poetic “Ramble on Rose.” The standout was the “Let It Grow” first set closer. Rob Eaton sang it with the authority and passion it deserves, and the jam included at the end indicated to me it had been recreated from only a few options - they were replaying a show I had fortuitously attended: MSG 9/12/91.
Energy was crackling as the first familiar notes of “Sugar Magnolia” permeated the clear mountain air. The vast majority who didn’t know they were replaying a set playlist were surprised when it abruptly ended before parlaying into the usual “Sunshine Daydream” but rather directly segued into a very fresh, eruptive “Foolish Heart.” After happily jamming along to the chorus - “When you give your love my friend…” - I turned to tell some strangers, “Jerry would be proud.” They concurred. The boys were on tonight and the energy amped to 11. After the requisite “Playin;” they sparked into the meaningful opus that can only be “Terrapin Station.” As I was with a group of younger folks who didn’t know the song and asked why I was suddenly lifted with such excitement, I pointed out, “Just wait until they sing “inspiration!” DSO delivered eloquently as the audience chimed in with the monster chorus vocals of “Terrapin! Terrapin!” It was a participatory sing-along that all true music lovers appreciate and the older generation adores passing along. Terrapin is one of the Dead’s most beautiful songs and this was a beautiful moment.
|Dark Star Orchestra by Suzy Perler|
After a solid run of familiar tunes, they reeled off a long, intense “Sunshine Daydream,” which inspired harder dancing than I witnessed all weekend. From all the encore options at hand in the Dead’s repertoire, it was a relief that this show offered up “Box of Rain.” After the energetic romp in remembrance turned celebration, DSO provided a bonus of some inspirational and popular fillers including “Saint of Circumstance,” “China > Rider” and “Satisfaction.” DSO’s performance was as good as I had ever experienced, yet I wish they hadn’t concluded with “Satisfaction.” The Grateful Dead only played it 30 times and not very well. It is a definitive Stones tune that they should play exclusively. Yet, the show left many dripping with sweat, leaning on one another for a breather and exchanging expressions of adulation regarding it. As entertaining and musically fulfilling as it was, fans were spoiled in knowing another four hour set was scheduled to close the festival on Sunday. Besides, one didn’t have much time to bask in its glow with The Machine set to commence moments later. There was more dancing to come - keep your rings on your fingers and bells on your shoes.
The Machine :: 12:00AM – 2:00AM :: Tent Stage
After an enjoyable sun-drenched spring day filled with a plethora of musical acts providing morsels for a variety of musical tastes, it would be understandable that many would be exhausted. However, the “pleasure principle” posits that if one derives enjoyment from something then one will keep coming back for more. Thus, it was no surprise that the sandy and rocky grounds in front of the tent stage were immediately filled up like bumper cars rocking in an amusement park after DSO. The promoters struck lighting in a bottle when they booked the premier Pink Floyd tribute act and proved brilliant by scheduling them for the late night slot.
The highlight of the entire weekend was standing shoulder to shoulder with smiling strangers, still fueled with adrenaline from the ripping DSO set and hearing the opening notes of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” A 14-minute take on the subtle, melancholy tune, filled with the requisite trippy vocal echoes and exquisite trippy light show, grasped the audience into a midnight escape in the Ramapo Mountains. As the classic unfolded and the band showcased their chops at emulating the famous British band, a motley crew of fire throwers, eaters and spinners were mere feet to my right inside a roped-off pit. Watching the adventurous Bonzai Love and her cohorts from Spun Out Fire Productions provided pinpoint artistry and proved a unique visual treat for the senses when accompanied with The Machine’s foray into the Floyd catalog.
The experienced band demonstrated prowess with the material and were a fine substitute for the real thing on this evening. They plowed through favorites like “Time,” “Breathe,” and an undercurrent of voices could be heard singing in unison to crowd favorite “Another Brick in the Wall” with a hearty “We don’t need no education!” Pink Floyd is one of the most universally known and successful bands in history, yet from looking at the wide-eyed young brethren surrounding me, one can surmise they don’t know their Floyd like the earlier generation does. Thus, I was surprised The Machine played so many relatively obscure selections rather than the well-known cuts from The Wall or Dark Side of the Moon. However, when one is dancing with a beautiful girl dressed as Boba Fett on one hand, a drink in another, mountainside in the middle of the night, looking at fire throwers in perfect weather, listening to Pink Floyd in any incarnation is simply a moment of contentment for which one can only daily strive.
Cornmeal :: 2:00PM – 3:15AM :: Main Stage
The media can often predict or determine who will be the next success. I always hold out hope that for every Kim Kardashian one can promote a talent of legitimate worth. Buzz is when apparently just about everybody is talking about something but it is not yet mainstream enough to be recognized by all. After any show, fans creatively exchange opinions to dissect which song or moment was the highlight. I can state, without reservation, that at the Mighty High Festival 2012, the most buzz related to this jam-grass outfit from Chicago, and with deserved reason. For over an hour, they brought it hard and heavy with no room for breath.
|Cornmeal by Suzy Perler|
After an energizing set on Saturday, which could have been mentioned as a highlight in its own right, the band brought a renewed energy to the proceedings Sunday. Although the band has been touring for just over 10 years, they are only now finally getting appropriate kudos. Perhaps the recent higher prevalence of acceptance of the “jam-grass” genre has afforded them more opportunity, and Cornmeal is making the most of it. Often reserved at festivals for the last night slot, Cornmeal took this opportunity now on the larger main stage to showcase their talents. Kris Nowak leads the band with his presence center stage and acoustic guitar often flying up in the air. Personally, I have a strong affinity for the delightful instrumental sound that the banjo brings, and Wavy Dave Burlingame proficiently picked away while wearing a wide smile throughout this performance like a 12-year-old on Christmas Day.
However, just like the previous times I have been fortunate to catch a Cornmeal show, fiddler Allie Kral absolutely steals the show. In a mass of predominantly jam band fans, Ms. Kral moves many as a mesmerizing fiddler that instantly converts many to jam-grass or fiddle lovers. Her ‘permagrin’ further invites one into the frenetic world of Cornmeal as she stomps her foot like a wildcat about the stage while hitting her instrument like a more attractive female Charlie Daniels. I first heard of Cornmeal when watching their addictive live YouTube video take on Talking Head’s “Naïve Melody” from Jam Cruise 9. I was hooked. If they keep delivering southern-tinged, foot-tapping, high-energy songs like the “Dirty Rag” they performed on this day you will be hearing buzz about them for a long time. And the buzz will rapidly be turning from “have you heard of this band…” to “let’s go to the Cornmeal festival.” Just wait.
Although not stocked with major headliners or epic attendance numbers, Mighty High Fest sets a benchmark for how a quality festival should be run. The staff was incredibly attentive, with clear signage everywhere and even an escort back to our camper with a flashlight when we needed it! Other than the very quick and reasonable search, security was stealthy on the venue grounds and camping area. The variety of food offerings was absolutely delicious and reasonably priced as were the numerous bars. One could maneuver to the front row for a more intimate angled view of a performer easier than anywhere I’ve been. One could also kick back on the mountain incline to recharge, be offered an alternate view, or join in with the ever-growing hula-hooping contingent. The weather was near perfect and the first aid station supplied free sunscreen. This demeanor only served to unconsciously facilitate the paid ticketholders to act responsibly and behave with mutual respect. It was a retreat from the hard rat race world most of us inhabit – a momentary lapse of recollection that NYC was less than hour away over those endless hills. Bigger doesn’t always translate to better. The promoters made the right moves and I don’t know one friend who will not return. It was so effortlessly euphoric that it felt for many attendees as if it could only be a dream.
|Allie Kral by Suzy Perler|
An old hippie once said, “Music captures time without the tyranny of tense.” His poetic words rang true on this magical weekend by the mountain mired in melodies, playful mayhem and positive momentum – a sweet moment in time that will be buried in a time capsule forever within the minds of those in attendance to cherish and fondly recall until we enthusiastically do it all over again next year! Although sharing love can often feel this surreal, I am happy to know it was not a dream – I was just mighty high…on music.
JamBase | New York State
Go See Live Music!