Good Times Roll At Adirondack Independence Music Festival 2023: Review
moe. and Dark Star Orchestra headlined the eighth edition of the event held at Charles R. Wood Park in Lake George, New York.
To paraphrase the legendary Joni Mitchell: “You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.” Due to what I’ll euphemistically describe as “exigent circumstances,” Nancy and I hadn’t done a real three-day, sleep-in-a-tent festival since Phish’s Curveball (which doesn’t count since it was canceled exactly 30 seconds after we spent three hours setting up our campsite.)
So, to say that I was hungry to have these wonderful experiences again is an understatement. I was ravenous. It was thus with great excitement that we headed out to the Adirondack Independence Music Festival at Charles R. Wood Park in Lake George, New York. Held over Labor Day Weekend and headlined by Dark Star Orchestra and moe..
Festival organizer Jarrett Hartstone graciously gave me a few moments of time to discuss the history of the show. The AIMF, now in its eighth year, has a tradition of showcasing local, Upstate New York and nearby bands – often smaller acts of superbly talented musicians who get a chance to expose their acts to a wider audience and thus grow their fanbase.
My overall, generalized impression of the weekend is that I’ve seldom attended a festival that had as happy and groovy vibes as the AIMF. The security staff was an exemplar of the laid-back attitude – seeming to enjoy the festival as much as the audience. It was a no-hassle operation, served up with gracious good cheer, and the entire staff warrants special mention for enhancing the weekend’s friendly vibe.
Inside the venue, knots of children were everywhere and were not hovered over by concerned moms or dads. This was obviously a safe space, and this crowd was made up of our tribe — that little kids could be at risk seemed unthinkable. Also, as I watched the children run and play and dance, it struck me how much we – and especially they – had lost over nearly three years of a pandemic. It presented itself as a nuisance to people like me who lost live music, an unfortunate inconvenience and financial hardship for the bands, forced to have shows at drive-ins with people sitting in their cars. But these kids, in many cases, lost the socialization of half of their young lives, and getting the magic back made it all the sweeter.
Obviously, the truly great thing about attending a festival is the chance to transform bands from mere names, often familiar ones, into musical experiences. As someone who regularly attended and continued to watch with interest the lineups of jam music festivals, I knew by name of many of the bands at AIMF and a few have been on the scene for 20 years. I always make the effort to at least partially acquaint myself with each act’s music beforehand, and so was really excited to see some for the first time. I was not disappointed.
Sophistafunk, from Syracuse, was the first band of the day. Described as “Rage Against the Machine meets The Roots, dipped in P-Funk,” their socially conscious hip-hop is supported by highly skillful, funky jamming – always tight and with boundless energy. It was music with a message, that message being a testament to the uniting power of our shared love of live music. Sophistafunk’s fans were there to represent as well, with lots of people sporting band merch.
Lucid, from nearby Plattsburgh, played a set that was noteworthy for its sweet, almost sighing sound, with great vocal harmonies and lovely progressions. Lucid is a band that I am really happy I stayed in the venue for (hey, you have to take a break once in a while) and sincerely hope that they are coming to a location near me in the future having so enjoyed their set.
Dogs In A Pile: The sound of an un-effected guitar always transports me. It takes me back to the days when my friends in middle school started jamming together: just a cheap electric guitar plugged into a beat-up old Marshall, but boy how that simple music moved you. It’s a sound that Dogs’ guitarist Jimmy Law employs with great skill, and to great effect. Their set was lively to the point of raucous, and the sit-in by Lucid’s Lowell Wurster on the rubboard for “Samba for Sam” was one of the festival’s high points. But then again, sit-ins, where musical rivers find their confluence, are the stuff that always elevates festivals, as we would see.
[Audio taped by Phil Fernandez]
Dark Star Orchestra closed out Friday with a (partial) recreation of the Grateful Dead’s April 16, 1978 concert at the Huntington, West Virginia Civic Center. If DSO had put together an “elective” setlist (versus a concert recreation) they couldn’t have produced a better show. Starting strong with “Jack Straw,” “Dire Wolf” and “Mexicali Blues,” both of their two sets had one gem after another.
Set one closed with a study in contrasts from a rousing “New Minglewood Blues” to a beautiful and thoughtful “Scarlet Begonias” into “Fire On the Mountain,” with vocalist Lisa Mackey adding exactly the right amount of atmosphere to bring the audience to a swaying state of bliss.
Set two featured one of the best moments of the weekend with an extended “Eyes Of The World” that showcased how thoroughly guitarist Jeff Mattson has channeled the spirit of Jerry Garcia. It was almost eerie to listen to such a thoughtful and Dead-on rendition of this timeless song that perfectly captures the essence of what made the Grateful Dead a unique live experience. After the set, the “Eyes” was the predominant topic of discussion among the throngs leaving the venue.
Baked Shrimp kicked off Saturday with a high-energy performance that yanked the still bleary-eyed crowd to attention. Jared Cowan, who wears many hats – band founder, songwriter, guitarist, vocalist, business and tour manager – is a certified shredder, and fully embraces the spotlight as the band’s frontman. Their rendition of “Wannabe” was a Top 10 moment for the ADK.
Karina Rykman was one of those anticipated performances. The bassist has a lively stage presence animated by her obvious joy of making live music. Her band (Adam November on guitar and Chris Corsico on drums) is tight, and they know how to jam. “Joyride,” the title track off her recently released solo album, was a highlight of the weekend with its transition into a dreamy bit of space that left Nancy and me looking at each other and shaking our heads. The ensemble sometimes reminds me of Khruangbin and sometimes of Lene Lovich (think “New Toy”) but they manage to make everything their own.
Mihali has been making his preparations for Twiddle’s upcoming hiatus by forming a new band that he is fronting and touring with. His skill as a guitar player was on full display during his late afternoon set. His later sit-in with moe. was possibly the pinnacle of the weekend.
[Audio taped by Phil Fernandez]
Dumpstaphunk, from New Orleans, brought their Louisiana jazz-funk fusion to the ADK Festival and put on a scorcher. Cousins Ian Neville and Ivan Neville bring the Neville family gravitas to their band’s shows and their set was filthy dirty, getting the crowd fully primed for the close of Saturday’s performances.
moe. is a band well acquainted with “exigent circumstances.” Between bassist Rob Derhak’s cancer, guitarist Chuck Garvey’s stroke and a global pandemic, the now 30-year act saw their studio/touring/homegrown festival routine disrupted just about completely. But there is often growth in hardship, and the addition of keyboardist Nate Wilson as a true band member has added a new dimension to moe.’s live performances. Wilson made significant contributions all weekend long, with some of his own original material interspersed over four sets.
Saturday’s headlining performance featured a sit-in on keyboards by Ivan Neville on “Happy Hour Hero,” but the moment of the weekend came during the second set opening “Recreational Chemistry.” Okay, I’m a fan, and I’ve likely seen 30 versions of this song over the decades. But this was something truly outstanding.
Mihali and moe. guitarist Al Schnier stood face-to-face trading licks in a “top this” manner that simply electrified the audience. It was all of the discussion we heard as we exited the festival grounds, and will always inspire a “we were there” bit of pride.
The slight breakdown in equipment came at an absolutely perfect time as the weekend fireworks display at the Lake George waterfront exploded immediately after the end of the amazing sit-in. It could not have been timed any more perfectly.
Suke Cerulo Band started out in front of a sparse crowd that would later have it hammered home just what they missed. The band was pouring out a brass-enhanced sound that made the few in attendance glad they were there.
Neighbor performed another stand-out show on Sunday that created a ton of buzz in the crowd. I’m sure that this band added a bunch of new fans to their rapidly growing ranks based on this outstanding set.
[Audio taped by Phil Fernandez]
Sam Kininger, a sax veteran from the band Lettuce, joined with Boston group the A-Beez (Amy Bellamy and Aaron Bellamy) to put on a show that really got the crowd rocking and rolling. Their set was just so tight and jamming that they left the, now greatly swelled crowd hungry for more live music magic. And it was coming.
moe. took the stage for the final set of the weekend after dark Sunday night. Once again it was a sit-in that stole the show. Suke Cerulo, who filled in with moe. during Garvey’s stroke recovery, came onstage for a killer “meat” that really wowed the audience. And as a special ending for me, moe. played “Gone” for an encore. The happiest of endings.
After the last set of the weekend and we walked back through dew-soaked grass to our weekend retreat, I said to Nancy, “Wow. I have missed this SO much.”
With 21 bands on the roster, it is impossible to write about everyone. That doesn’t imply that their music wasn’t great; we thoroughly enjoyed the entire weekend and I sincerely apologize to those not mentioned – people who pour their hearts into their music. It was a beautiful weekend in every way. I simply cannot recommend this festival highly enough, and if you get the chance to attend in the future, you will be grateful that you did.