Rothbury | 07.02-07.05 | Michigan

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Words by: Jesse Borrell & Kevin Schwartzbach | Images by: Dave Vann & Chad Smith

Rothbury Music Festival :: 07.02.09 – 07.05.09 :: Rothbury, MI

Thursday, 07.02

Rothbury 2009 by Vann
Life is and should be epic. Blowing through the common breeze is an animated spirit that needs to be shared by every soul on this planet. While converse shades of reality can paint a different picture, pulling into the grassy vistas of upper Michigan one couldn’t help but feel fortunate to be in this special place. Passing under the front festival banner on a brisk summer afternoon, it was comforting to think about all the festival folk converging from varied distances with similar motives. The time was now, and a wealth of music and life-tuning knowledge lay before the adventurous and open-minded.

A surprisingly short wait for a festival of this magnitude (only about an hour) got us into the campgrounds. A chill lingered in the air as we set up camp before heading out to the main festival area for the first time. Recycling, compost, and landfill bins dotted the grounds every few feet, each with a specific attendant present to help make the correct decision. After a decent trek to the closest stage, one could sense that the festival grounds reached far and wide. Though the shortest day of music, Thursday was sure to pack a punch with some of the most anticipated sets of the festival. (JB)

Toubab Krewe

African rhythms came beating through the trees as I approached the Ranch Arena for the first time. I arrived to find all five members of Toubab Krewe beating away at their respective percussion instruments, combining the music of the western African plains with good ole’ American roots music. Relinquishing their djembes, Drew Heller (guitar, soku, percussion) and David Pransky (bass, percussion) started picking away at their more conventional western stringed instruments. Heller served up fleeting, bluesy licks with a raunchy distortion while the percussive force of Teal Brown (drums), Luke Quaranta, (percussion) and Justin Perkins (guitar, kora, percussion) pounded away behind him. Their set took an interesting turn when Perkins donned his kora – a 21 stringed instrument from western Africa. Perkins tinkered away at his kora during “Secu Ba” producing a harp-like sound only much twangier almost like a sitar. Switching back over to their djembes, the set closed with another bout of percussive madness, which didn’t quite end with a bang like a good set should. (KS)

Keller Williams

Keller Williams :: Rothbury 2009 by Smith
Keller Williams began his set like many times before, hunched over an acoustic guitar with hair massed in simple disarray. A small drum kit was visible on stage and probably enticed many to stick around instead of venturing off to other sights and sounds. Switching from various instruments and highlighted by a vocal didgeridoo loop, Keller easily built up a mellow beat and seemed to tease the track “Cadillac” without ever fully committing to the theme. From the slight hill in front of the sound booth at the Ranch Arena stage, an animated female sign language interpreter attempted to depict the lyrics for Keller’s “Doobie In My Pocket” which inspired much laughter. This laid-back evening set was perfect to break in our festival legs. Throughout the sprawling lawn during “Cadillac” > “Birds of A Feather,” those standing upright seemed to have just as much fun as those taking a short nap on a blanket or relaxing against a tree. Eventually inviting members of The String Cheese Incident on stage, all instruments were put to use during the set-ender “Breathe.” With Keller taking a final bow standing next to SCI’s Keith Moseley, Jason Hann, and Kyle Hollingsworth, we were all optimistic that this special musical friendship would reveal itself once again before the weekend was over. (JB)

Future Rock Venturing over towards the Tripolee Tent, a party hosted by digital rockers Future Rock was underway caused by the backbreaking thumps of “FM 1000.” This Chicago-based band has come a long way over the last couple years, escalating a unique sound that is heavy on electronics and very appealing upon execution. Winding a repetitious keyboard siren phase, Mickey Kellerman brought the track to a final peak just before welcoming the crowd to the Tripolee Tent’s first set. Throughout bigger anthems like “New Anxiety” and “Reaching New Heitz,” the production level of lights and various video screens really took off; further reinforcing the notion that this venue was going to host some wild parties in the nights to come. (JB)

Cold War Kids

Sherwood Forest :: Rothbury 2009 by Smith
Heading towards the furthest festival stages, Sherwood Court and The Odeum, one must wander through the enchanted Sherwood Forest. This place truly is a spectacle to behold, particularly at night. Trees stood authoritatively rigid in rows with ominous light cast upon them, making the whole forest a constant morphing of colors. Glow in the dark forms specked the vast canopy overhead. The “Reincarnation” art exhibit was made up of recycled metals and natural goods such as rocks and pinecones, in continuation of the green theme of the festival. While looking at a giant earthy dream-catcher made mostly from moss, shouts of “Carl” erupted – an ode to last year’s yeoman hero – as we emerged at the Sherwood Court for Cold War Kids.

This Californian quintet is an indie rock band that’s true to its rock ‘n’ roll roots, while certain novel timbres and chord progressions still make this band unmistakably “indie.” Lead singer Nathan Willett appropriately belted out “Careless in our summer clothes/ splashing around in the muck and the mire” during the hit “Hang Me Up to Dry.” Willett’s voice isn’t anything special, but it certainly fits the bill, with just enough raw emotion to make up for what his voice lacks in sheer virtuosity. Jonnie Russell‘s guitar tone was the quintessential piece for this set, sounding just a little bit off, but in an intentional way. Their music had an earnest simplicity to it that made it very translatable even to those who weren’t familiar with their repertoire.

Lotus

Lotus has a tendency to throw down dirty sets at festivals such as these, and Thursday night’s show was no exception. “Shimmer and Out” kicked things off with a jubilant ignition. The song took on a post-rock feel before taking an ominous turn. An oozing synthetic bass came from Luke Miller‘s keyboards just as “Juggernaut” was starting. Mike Rempel‘s crisp jazzy guitar brought us into a down-tempo jam that gradually accrued more energy until it erupted in a rocky peak. Returning to its jovial beginnings, the ending of “Shimmer” gloriously made its reprise. “It’s All Clear to Me Now” featured a Nintendo-like swirling melody that burst into an enormous explosion before seguing into a “Sunrain.” Luke’s ethereal synthesizer combined with his brother Jesse Miller‘s plasmatic bass lines during set closer “Spiritualize.” Though an enjoyable set, I’ve learned over the years that Lotus is a band best served indoors. Previously, every Lotus show I attended was exponentially better than the ones before it, but they seemed to have hit a plateau of late. It just so happens that plateau has a ridiculously high altitude. (KS)

The Disco Biscuits

The Disco Biscuits :: Rothbury 2009 by Vann
“I can’t believe this is only the first night,” shouted Marc Brownstein as The Disco Biscuits got in place at the Ranch Arena, “but next year we’re going to be on the main stage!”

On this night they started off with a monster “MEMPHIS,” and a high level of cohesion going through the motions of this epic was apparent in the full sounds. Guitarist Jon Gutwillig seemed very pumped singing the song’s first verse, fingers exhibiting an itch to them while filling the measures on his Gibson guitar. The artist LEBO, hardly taking a moment between strokes to furiously dance on his own, was already well into another canvassed concept piece at the foot of the stage. Coming out of the second verse of “MEMPHIS” can be a pivotal moment to gauge what type of Bisco will show up on any given night. Approaching this change, Gutwillig pumped himself up further by jumping up and down as if on a trampoline.

Eventually the overall sound mellowed after the crescendo, but just around reasonable levels of sanity this time. Drummer Allen Aucoin‘s staggered progression took hold of an idea and forced the others to follow through sideways glances, eventually forming “Cyclone” over the relatively intense sequence. Sweeping sonic washes brought the spacey jam to another peak before the crowd, now in the thick of a chaotic glow stick war. Every so often, continuous collections of glow sticks would burst from below in perfect timing. After the repetitious cycle of “Cyclone” disappeared, Brownstein’s repeating bass lines telegraphed the foundation of Conspirator‘s “Liquid Handcuffs” to the keen ear minutes before the entire band committed fully.

Almost 30 minutes into a fiery set, a few questionable song choices were made that unfortunately brought the overall energy down. “You and I” > “Minions,” two of Bisco’s brand new tracks, seem to have a split personality to them. As the strange lyrics and imagery wrap up, interesting and powerful musical themes emerge but leave the overall compositions unresolved. While there were many who were obviously rejoicing in the moments, others were kicking around terms like “Festi Set” with unenthused emotions. During “Caves of The East” > “Basis For A Day,” there were two odd instances where the jam would lull and all band members but Aucoin would drop out, leaving the drummer to fill in the weightless measures on his own. While the “Mr. Don” encore finally traveled down intense, darker themed excursions, it all ended up sounding repetitive for one of my favorite bands as our first day at Rothbury came to a close. (JB)

Sherwood Forest :: Rothbury 2009 by Smith

Continue reading for Friday’s coverage of Rothbury…

Friday, 07.03

Rothbury 2009 by Vann
Overcast skies shrouded the sun from view, allowing most festevarians an opportunity to sleep late – a rare feat at any festival. Friday saw Rothbury getting into full swing. Everyone seemed to be anxious for that night’s Cheesy headliner, but that didn’t stop people from getting down during the day.

The Macpodz

A boisterous blend of jazz, funk, Latin, rock and well, a whole bunch of other stuff, The Macpodz kicked off Friday with a bang. Charismatic frontman Nick Ayers switched from his percussion kit to a lulling, jazzy flute throughout the show, intermittently dropping all instruments to belt out smooth vocals. The crowd applauded his impressive efforts for simultaneously beat-boxing while playing the flute. When Ayers wasn’t busting out a ridiculous flute solo, Ross Huff was on his squawking trumpet. Huff blew out high falsetto squeals that congealed into sweet-sounding melodies on top of Jesse Clayton‘s voluptuous piano and keyboards. The nice thing about sets early in the day is they offer a rare opportunity to get up close to the stage at Rothbury’s normally packed shows. Their high energy set beckoned the festival gods to let the sun come out for the first time all weekend. The gods were pleased, as they seemed much obliged, letting the sun’s magnificent rays finally shine through the overcast. (KS)

Brett Dennen

Back at the Ranch Arena, Brett Dennen and his live band continued a positive trend. Without much prior knowledge of this artist, it was their overall delivery that created the most allure. Dennen, with a profound head of red hair and matching lumberjack button down, displayed his very unique voice on “When You Feel It” and the overall sound of the group was reminiscent of a Paul Simon type from an alternate universe. The first true blue skies came down upon us during “The One Who Loves You Most,” matching perfectly the gentle rhythms, humorous falsettos and eventual song-ending crowd sing-along that was sure to send many whistling on their way towards the next set. (JB)

Rachel Goodrich

Brett Dennen :: Rothbury 2009 by Vann
This little pseudo-hipster girl and her quartet have found the ideal crossroads between indie and folk. With a voice much akin to the likes of Regina Spektor with a guitar, her music is serious enough to convey her true emotional character and silly enough, with a tinge of that quirky indie oddness, to keep a fun, lighthearted aura – her set was after all intruded upon by a massive group lesson on hula-hooping. Her set ended off with the waltzing, vaudeville-esque “Lightbulb.” (KS)

G. Love & Special Sauce

Running straight from Rachel Goodrich, I got my first glimpse of The Odeum (Rothbury’s main stage) during G. Love & Special Sauce. I’ve heard mixed reviews about G. Love’s live shows and for me the jury has written in its verdict – and it’s a good one. Combining hip-hop with elements of funk and blues, G. Love, born Garrett Dutton III, is possibly the first white guy rapping while playing the guitar I’ve seen since the Beastie Boys. The Special Sauce’s secret ingredient, apparently, was funk, as everything the band touched seemed to be smothered in it. Jeffrey Clemens (drums) laid down a tight, funky groove while G. Love switched off rapping and blowing into his blues harp. “This next one’s called ‘Booty Call’. You can hear the clean version or the dirty version.” Evidently, we got the dirty version. After one of G. Love’s loopy harmonica solos we landed in a stellar cover of The Beatles’ “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” (KS)

Rebelution

Back at the Sherwood Court stage, Santa Barbara’s Rebelution brought their brand of reggae rock to the festival grounds. While the very soul of reggae is one based upon social consciousness and a peaceful lifestyle, it was challenging to think that Rebelution was adding anything new to the genre. Many of the cuts like “Running” and “Night Crawler,” both off their 2007 self-titled album, ended up sounding uninspired over simplistic reggae guitar licks and literal rhyming schemes. The mood heightened from time to time as the main singer-guitarist would rip a mean solo, but all was kept on a tight leash within an all too familiar vibe. (JB)

Lotus

Rothbury 2009 by Vann
Walking through the Sherwood Forest you might have noticed music emanating from seemingly nowhere at all. If you were to follow that glorious sound, you would however soon find your self at the forest’s secret stage. Looking like something out of a burlesque show (apparently there was an actual burlesque show there Thursday night), the secret stage was hidden behind a thicket of trees deep in the forest. On my way back to the Ranch Arena I happened upon a secret mid-afternoon Lotus show, accompanied by Future Rock‘s bassist Felix Moreno. Lotus threw down such gems as “Suitcases,” “Bubonic Tonic,” “Intro to a Cell” and others that they opted to leave out the night before. Throw in Big Gigantic‘s sax player Dominic Lalli and you’ve got yourself one juicy secret set. (JB)

Broken Social Scene

An ever-changing collective of musicians, BSS’s eclectic sound is hard to pin down. This Canadian indie outfit that has a whopping 19 rotating members is basically a musical amalgam between the styles of all of them, which they often describe as “baroque pop.” Only a miniscule ten members were on hand for this particular gig. Troupes of musicians, including a four-piece horn section, frantically ran on and off the stage throughout the set. Members of the Montreal-based Stars joined the gang on stage for such songs as the tranquil “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl.” Meanwhile, the members constantly seemed to be playing musical chairs with their instruments, constantly switching from bass to guitar to keyboards. “That was an Allman Brothers cover,” joked frontman Kevin Drew (vocals, guitar) after a slow love ballad. Their set reached its peak during “Almost Crimes,” sending the crowd into a rambunctious shuffle. One of the great things about Broken Social Scene is that, unlike many in the indie genre where too many seem all too intent on controlling every minute detail of the music, these guys aren’t afraid to groove a little bit on a catchy theme. BSS can teach the rest of the indie world the value of live improvisation and showmanship. (JB)

Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley/Nas

Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley :: Rothbury 2009 by Smith
With the inclusion of Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley and Nas, almost all of the musical bases were covered once again at this year’s Rothbury. Kicking off with the rap classic “Ain’t Hard To Tell,” Nas commanded The Odeum stage, spitting stories about his upbringing around the Queensbridge housing projects of New York City. “Ain’t Hard To Tell” is one of Nas’ most famous cuts from 1994’s Illmatic, and in this version lines were passed between both performers in a series of impromptu reggae remixes. During the Nas tracks “Hate Me Now” and “I Can,” Damian Marley added a refreshing accent to the tracks, bouncing around the stage, causing his lengthy dreadlocks to swirl about.

On Marley’s “Beautiful” the back-up band didn’t seem quite capable of producing a big enough sound for this festival’s largest stage during an evening set. There was some sort of disconnect between the transitions of each track, leaving some of the band members in an odd state of limbo while the hosts ad-libbed questionable hard-edged banter. After about a half hour, Nas exited the stage and allowed Jr. Gong a chance to hold the spotlight running through his father’s catalogue with “No More Trouble” and “Exodus.” While the pair sounded drastically more organic than the previous attempts at dance hall riddims, the somewhat historic moment between past and present was short lived. Nas reclaimed the spotlight with the catchy anthem “I Can” and “Made You Look” to wrap up the set, and although these tracks were authentic, the crowd seemed poised for something else. (JB)

Flogging Molly

Flogging Molly does one thing, but they do it really, really well. These Celtic-punk rockers unite the traditional sound of Irish folk tunes with the raunchy sound of distorted punk rock guitars and raucous drums. “The Sun Never Shines (on Closed Doors)” was a rare opportunity for Flogging Molly to slow things down, giving us a chance to hear all those acoustic folk instruments, such as Bob Schmidt‘s mandolin, in their full glory. (KS)

The String Cheese Incident

Michael Kang – SCI :: Rothbury 2009 by Vann
After a public sound check on Thursday afternoon, String Cheese took The Odeum main stage for Friday’s headlining spot. “Rothbury!” Michael Kang pronounced. “It’s good to see y’all, and we’re going to have as much fun as humanly possible!”

The opening licks of “Rollover” sent the crowd into a frenzy. Since Rothbury is located on the furthest edge of the Eastern Time Zone, most of Cheese’s first set took place over the period of a long sunset. “Rollover” > “Can’t Stop Now” acted as an easy warm-up for the band, which had not “officially” played publicly in over two years. Guitarist Bill Nershi could hardly keep a smile off his face, clearly in his element while making constant eye contact with audience members. The funk of “Mrs. Brown’s Teahouse,” although not the band’s most potent version, brought back a familiar feeling left by the void of this band’s short hiatus. Singing along with 30,000 strong to “Joyful Sound” and “This Must Be The Place,” two tracks most of us knew were coming, it wasn’t hard to come to the re-realization that SCI produces some of the happiest life music ever.

The audience’s first taste of the second set spectacle to come happened during the rhythms of “Desert Dawn.” Falling gracefully from the rafters, a small group of suspended dancers emerged above percussionist Jason Hann and drummer Michael Travis. Out in the middle of the crowd on raised platforms, golden hula-hoopers engaged in interpretive dance. Inflatable spheres nearing 15-feet in diameter created a mosh-pit effect as the audience engaged in a massive game of volleyball as mixtures of keys and drums painted twirling trance tempos. Evident by the number of biodegradable, corn-based beer cups littering the ground during set break, it was safe to assume that Cheese’s second set was going to be rowdy fun.

The String Cheese Incident :: Rothbury 2009 by Smith
“Little Hands” > “Bumpin’ Reel” featured fire dancers on stage, but from a further back location in the field our view was often obstructed with the increased amount of inflatable balls being bounced around. To many this was a fair price to pay, as fans really dug in and got down to the EOTO-like darker, glitchy textures throughout “Bumpin’ Real.” After a drum solo, the “Texas” > “Blackberry Blossom” > “Texas” set ending sequence was a real treat. The giant spheres finally popped and a clear view of the large screens showed Nershi rocking a power stance with his electric guitar as the energy wound up for one final fast-paced push.

Inviting Keller Williams on stage for two-thirds of the encore brought String Cheese’s set full circle. All seven musicians have been working tirelessly on various musical side projects over the past couple years. Through the effortless merging of musical libraries with “Best Feeling” > “Higher Ground” > “Restless Wind,” it was comforting to reinforce the notion that these relationships will never cease to be, even as the future of String Cheese remains unknown. (JB)

07/03/09 :: Rothbury Festival :: Rothbury, MI
Set I: Rollover > Can’t Stop Now, Miss Brown’s Teahouse, Mouna Bowa, Love Is Like A Train, Rain > Daryl, Joyful Sound > This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) > Rollover
Set II: Outside and Inside > Desert Dawn, Black Clouds, Little Hands > Bumpin’ Reel, Close Your Eyes, Way Back Home > Drums, Texas > Blackberry Blossom > Texas
Encore: Best Feeling^ > Higher Ground > Restless Wind
^ with Keller Williams

Sound Tribe Sector 9

There is something truly magical transfusing through the themes of an STS9 composition, and the creative organism of this tribe has been hitting a serious stride for some time now. Wordless and extremely powerful through simple actions, the soaring dialogues of “Beyond Right Now” and “Peoples” could represent a blueprint to living a life of simple symbiosis. Just passing through en-route to bed, I wondered if the late night crowd throwing down at the Ranch Arena was pondering similar thoughts. (JB)

Chromeo

Girl Talk :: Rothbury 2009 by Smith
“Chromeeeoooo, ohhh ohhh” came blazing from the far off speakers, inciting me to run straight from SCI’s show to watch Dave 1 and P-Thugg deliver on their ’80s-infused “electro-funk.” P-Thugg (born Patrick Gemayel) shrieked with his robotic sounding vocoder while Dave 1 (born David Macklovitch) danced around with his guitar. P-Thugg donned a bass guitar for “Needy Girl,” though I suspected that he wasn’t actually playing it given that he stopped plucking several times while the bass line continued. The crowd went into a frenzy when a Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” (“I want my, I want my, I want my Chro-me-o…”) tease dropped into “Bonafied Lovin’.” While their set had me dancing the whole time, it wasn’t anything new for me being that it was more or less the same exact set that they played at Starscape (review here) a few weeks earlier. (KS)

Lipp Service

A long trek to the Tripoli stage brought me to a late night Lipp Service set. It’s a simple equation really: Eliot Lipp DJing + Pnuma‘s Alex Botwin on bass and Lane Shaw on drums = awesome dance party. Psychedelic visuals displayed on the sprawling, wing-like screens were an affable mix with the ghostly synthetic sounds Lipp was manipulating. A sax and trombone player from the band Mishna came out to join the trio, adding a whole new funky element to the mix. Despite the stark contrast, the horns proved to be an ideal mix with Lipp’s electronic goodness. (KS)

Girl Talk

Though I’ve never been a huge fan of his albums, I’ve heard nothing but fabulous things about Greg Gillis‘ live Girl Talk sets. All in all, however, Gillis just seemed to be pumping out mostly carbon copies of his studio work. While I’m sure the large mass of people writhing to his music would disagree with me, personally, I don’t see what is so appealing about mashing-up one song I don’t like with another song I don’t like. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a good mash-up DJ (Pretty Lights, Too Many DJ’s and more), but Gillis’ work is hardly as creative as some more fertile practitioners of this genre. When a sample I could get down on reared its head, it always seemed to be all too fleeting, only seeing the light of day for no more than thirty seconds or so. To me this is mostly a novelty act, and the novelty of hearing “War Pigs” mashed-up with “Move Bitch, Get out da Way” loses its charm rather quickly. I could see how Girl Talk would be loads of fun in a club-like setting, but in such a large space his music came off as very underwhelming. (KS)

Rothbury 2009 by Vann
Continue reading for Saturday’s coverage of Rothbury…

Saturday, 07.04

Jackie Greene :: Rothbury 2009 by Vann
Waking up early Saturday on the 4th of July to check out the Rothbury Think Tank at the Tripolee stage, a presentation about “Voting For Change With Your Everyday Actions” was underway to a small gathering of folks. The lecture spoke about how we as individuals can take simple steps in our everyday lives that would benefit both the Earth and ourselves. Although the creators of this entire event probably had some revolutionary aspirations, standing beneath blank rave canopies and inactive laser lights from the previous early morning “rager” it was unclear just how many festivalgoers actually cared about these ideas on our nation’s birthday. (KS)

Jackie Greene

One of the best surprises of the entire festival was Jackie Greene and his band. Most well known for his stint as the young gunner guitarist-vocalist for Phil Lesh & Friends, Greene exhibited much confidence performing original material. Perched at the keyboard, wearing a stylish fedora and sleeveless vest, on “So Hard To Find My Way,” he looked very much like an early Dylan – even ripping a hand’s free harmonica solo near the end. Picking up a steel guitar for “I Don’t Live In A Dream,” an engaging form of Americana rock emerged. The band’s mature sounds caused me to speculate just how much, if at all, the Grateful Dead’s music has influenced this young man. “Hollywood” featured the group’s first extension towards space, extending the outro into a slower, psychedelic version of “Taxman.” The highlight of the set brought Phil Lesh on stage for an alt-rock version of “New Minglewood Blues.” The two obviously share a special bond, and I am confident that the relationship has given Greene a grounded sense of self as he carves his own path through the history of rock & roll. (JB)

The Black Crowes

Another blast from the not too distant past came at us with their thoroughly ’90s, straight ahead, hard blues-rock. The Black Crowes hardly seemed to play anything people recognized, but that didn’t matter – this set was heavy on the jams. Lead singer Chris Robinson, with his Jesus-like hair and beard (and aviator sunglasses… just like Jesus!) immediately showed us the Crowes haven’t lost a step, screaming in his raspy voice at the top of his lungs. Rich Robinson, Chris’ brother, and Luther Dickinson traded bluesy guitar licks as they stretched most of the songs to optimal length. “Evergreen” from their latest release Warpaint, their first in seven years, was possibly the highlight of the set. The Crowes also showed us it’s not all distorted hard rock as they slowed things down with the country-ish love ballad “Josephine.” (KS)

Zappa Plays Zappa

Chris Robinson :: Rothbury 2009 by Smith
Let me get one thing straight – Dweezil Zappa is not a reincarnation of his father. None of the crazy antics, costumes or other zany Zappadom seemed to be passed on with the last name. One thing, however, that Dweezil did seem to inherit was Frank’s mind-blowing guitar chops. And as such, he and his ensemble manage to recreate Frank Zappa’s music with devastating accuracy. Dweezil stood shyly center stage, strumming away at his guitar while his bandmates assumed the role of reproducing the wacky words written by Frank. An ode to dental floss, “Montana” was a prime example of the perfect weirdness Frank put into his creations – a weirdness not only manifested in the lyrics but the compositions themselves, passing through dozens of different genres in the span of a few bars in a comical fashion, or running down a humorously long phrase of notes, Frank’s brilliant compositions certainly had a degree of oddity to them. In spite of this strange approach, Zappa created some of the most ingenious compositions of the 20th century – and Zappa Plays Zappa pulled all of them off as tightly as they were written. By virtue of his father’s endless creativity and his own musicianship and arrangement skills, Dweezil’s Zappa Plays Zappa turned out to be one of the best sets at Rothbury. (KS)

Les Claypool

The people finally started to pack in as Les Claypool’s set got underway. A master of orchestration – from Gabby La La‘s sitar to Skerik‘s screeching sax – Claypool has always known what timbres would fit well with his dementedly dissonant jams. Claypool on this tour has been employing the use of Sam Bass‘ cello, a haunting green instrument that blended perfectly with the rest of the company. A vibraphone tweaked with sinister effects also came into the mix. Claypool, as per usual, in a disgusting display of virtuosity, slapped his bass raw until he moved over to a graceful electrified stand-up bass. If you still had somehow managed to maintain your sanity until this point of the festival, the satanic offerings of Claypool’s bizarre cavalry of musicians would have been enough to send you to the madhouse. (KS)

The Dead

The Dead :: Rothbury 2009 by Smith
Looking around Rothbury it’s hard to forget the source of all this – the tie-dye, the loving friendliness offered on a whim, the general good vibes and most of all the community. But in case you did forget, Saturday night would have served as a stark reminder. The Dead – the band that essentially created this scene – took the stage to applause generated by the tens of thousands of fans hungry for their only chance this summer to see these godfathers play.

The clear blue sky of day still in panoramic view, The Dead got to some good old-fashioned noodling before diving into “Sugar Magnolia” to start off the first set. It immediately became clear why so many thousands of people dedicated an innumerable amount of time following this band around over the past four decades, as Bobby‘s voice sang sweet, sugary, soft caresses. Warren soon got down to business. Eyes closed, head tilted back, mouth slightly agape, Haynes swam through a captivating solo with his crisp guitar. Jerry always had this way about his playing where the notes he played tended to swirl around and linger in the air for an unquantifiable moment before disappearing into nothingness. Warren’s playing similarly seems to leave an ephemeral imprint on your memory that lingers there for a little while after a note is played.

Not before long “Sugar Magnolia” magically dissipated into “Eyes of the World,” RatDog‘s Jeff Chimenti hammered away an oriental sounding piano solo while the eyes of the crowd watched approvingly. Chimenti, like Haynes, is faced with an impossible task – filling the shoes of the now four time replaced Ron “Pigpen” McKernan.

Bob Weir – The Dead :: Rothbury 2009 by Smith
Like the countless times before, “Eyes of the World” annexed a Caribbean-like clave, beginning its metamorphosis into “Estimated Prophet,” which marched on for an eternity without ever losing its luster, as each musician donated his individual expressions to the greater good of the jam. The Grateful Dead’s exploratory jams always put an emphasis on the musicianship and the expressive capacity of each individual member, such that no one instrument is really the “lead.” And today’s incarnation of The Dead still takes this notion to heart. Weir and his Chester A. Arthur-like mustache crunched out syncopated rhythms while Phil Lesh’s classically trained fingers plucked a bass line that worked contrapuntally off Haynes’ guitar. A sloppy “Loose Lucy” gave way to “Friend of the Devil,” where Bobby’s singing seemed to lag just behind the beat as if to leave a space for our imaginations to put Jerry’s voice in its proper place. “Friend of the Devil” eventually moved to a Southern rock jam that had Warren in his element.

“Slipknot!” drifted into a spacey abyss where familiar snippets of music sparsely began to form out of the chaos. Those snippets culminated in a magnificent “Franklin’s Tower” to end the first set. There were certainly points in the first set where the jamming seemed a bit off, or where the band was slightly out-of-synch, but the times when they coalesced they were more together than possibly any other band I’ve ever seen. They may not have been the tightest or most energetic or even the most musically talented band I’ve ever seen but these guys have an x-factor, some ineffable force – a force that comes only from decades of playing together – that just puts their music on a whole other level.

With the first set in the books, the last flickers of daylight had finally died away well-passed ten o’clock. Under a newly cast cover of darkness the second set, appropriately enough, kicked off with “One More Saturday Night” before melting into a downright funky “Shakedown Street” that shifted us into high gear. A one-eyed Cheshire cat magically peaked its head in and out of the music until “China Cat Sunflower” was fully upon us. A few of the transitions were a bit awkward, such as the normally attention grabbing key change, but the jamming was, well, dead on. The sheer beauty of the song quickly redeemed a gauche segue into “I Know You Rider.”

Phil Lesh – The Dead :: Rothbury 2009 by Vann
At some point during the show I realized despite the age of the music and the men playing it, this was no recreation of the past – nor was it an attempt to. What we were witnessing was indeed an evolved form of living Dead Music. No part of the show represented this evolution better than Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart‘s new take on “Drums.” Bill and Mickey’s side project, The Rhythm Devils, was aided by the members of Toubab Krewe and SCI’s Michael Travis, who pounded away at djembes while Mickey hammered an ambient vibraphone. The percussive prowess of this band was simply astonishing. The tribal rhythms mixed with trippy ambience had a way of provoking the most fundamental pleasure center of the brain. The rest of the band then joined Bill and Mickey on stage for “Space,” a grand display of psychedelic wonderment.

Somehow, we managed to land back on planet Earth for a stellar “Viola Lee Blues.” The show came full circle once the “Sunshine Daydream” portion of “Sugar Magnolia” closed out the second set. The encore, in honor of the 4th of July celebration, began with “U.S. Blues.” “Wave that flag, wave it wide and high,” cried the band as a man in stilts traversed the stage, waving an American flag with a peace sign in place of the stars. Behind the stage, giant spheres of light exploded in the air. I, for one, can think of no better birthday present to this great country. With a reckless disregard for predetermined set time parameters, the show finally ended well past 1 a.m. to the tune of “Not Fade Away.”

While the show was spectacular, I would imagine it was a far cry from shows decades ago, but in the end it doesn’t matter if they were as good, or whether or not Warren can play like Garcia. What matters is if The Dead – in its current manifestation – embody the spirit of the Grateful Dead enough to keep the community of fans going. And speaking from my vantage point within the newest generation of Dead fans, I can safely say they do. All one really needed to do to confirm this was to look around at the incredible amount of people in every direction cheering. “Take this feeling home with you and do some good with it,” suggested Mickey Hart after the show to hoards of applause. We will Mickey, we will. (KS)

07/04/09 :: Rothbury Festival :: Rothbury, MI
Set I: Sugar Magnolia, Eyes of the World, Estimated Prophet, Loose Lucy, Friend of the Devil, Into the Mystic, Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower
Set II: One More Saturday Night > Shakedown Street > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider > Drums > Space > Viola Lee Blues > Morning Dew > Throwing Stones > Sugar Magnolia (reprise)
E: U.S. Blues > Not Fade Away
Fireworks during “U.S. Blues”

MSTRKRFT

Umphrey’s McGee :: Rothbury 2009 by Smith
Is there life after Dead? You bet. In the wake of The Dead I found my dancing legs once again with the raucous club beats that Canadian electro-house duo MSTRKRFT shoved straight down our throats. Taking samples from eclectic sources, from “Bohemian Rhapsody” to several Daft Punk tunes, all in an unmistakably MSTRKRFT way, the dance party came to a head when they threw down their own remix of Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.” that collided mid-beat with Daft Punk’s “Da Funk.” The thumping rhythms made for one of the best late night sets at Rothbury. (KS)

Umphrey’s McGee

Coming straight from MSTRKRFT, I arrived at the Ranch Arena to the sounds of Derek Vincent Smith of Pretty Lights spinning a set break DJ set. Umphrey’s McGee came back out jumping right into “Wappy Sprayberry.” Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss traded off Carlos Santana-like guitar licks in rapid succession. In typical Umphrey’s fashion, the band was tight as hell. Often though the music seemed to lack a certain emotional core to it, almost like the music was being pumped out by machines, which in many respects the members of UM are. After seeing Umphrey’s sets where their hearts truly seemed to be into it, this shaped up into a comparatively tame set. Things didn’t really pick until the later part of the show. A spirited cover of The Who’s “Eminence Front” had Cinninger shredding away tight licks that would have melted even Pete Townshend’s face. The set closed off with “1348,” a tune off their recently released Mantis album. One of their more impressive compositions off the album, “1348” was a great cap to their set. An encore of “Glory” moved into the reggae infused “All In Time” as what, in my opinion, was the best day of Rothbury came to a close. (KS)

The Dead :: Rothbury 2009 by Vann

Continue reading for Sunday’s coverage of Rothbury…

Sunday, 07.05

Rothbury 2009 by Vann
The sun was powerful Sunday morning, rising early to what previously was a very chilly night of sleep. By this fourth day, a thick layer of reddish-brown Michigan soil blanketed the compound (and most likely our nasal passages, too). Heading back to the festival grounds for the final push, constant reminders of the capacities for creativity made it an interesting walk. A street juggler seemed content performing on Shakedown Street, although not many spectators were present. A band of brothers were videotaping flights of massive bubbles, debating the world record-breaking feats to no end. Tireless garbage collectors spent long periods of time in the smallest of areas, possibly in search of true contentment with each discovery of a cigarette butt. The obvious MVP of the weekend was indeed the Spitfire Agency, their fingerprints evident across the entire Rothbury map, fittingly by leaving the least trace. (JB)

Yonder Mountain String Band

There are few things more perfect for a blazing summer afternoon than a set of the bluegrass stylings of Yonder. A tranquil mandolin line from Jeff Austin brought us into “Traffic Jam” just before the boys took us into a real hootenanny. Austin and guitarist Adam Aijala began trading off scorching fast licks to match the heat of the day. Bluegrass songs often have a way of melting together given the very similar chord progression and instrumentation of each, but Yonder manages to keep even the most simplistic songs fresh and fun. This might have something to do with the astonishing virtuosity possessed by all four members. Dave Johnston got to show off both his banjo and vocal skills during “Just the Same.” “We realize its Sunday. You need to remember that you have no responsibilities today. It’s our responsibility to keep you going,” spouted Ben Kaufman. Jumping right into “Complicated,” Yonder lived up to the bassist’s promise. (KS)

Willie Nelson and Family

Willie Nelson and Family :: Rothbury 2009 by Vann
The redheaded stranger might not be quite as redheaded as he used to be, but that doesn’t mean he still can’t put on one helluva show. Dressed in all black from head to toe (aside from his red, white and blue guitar strap), Willie delivered on his classic brand of country music. Starting us off with “Whisky River,” he seemed a bit sloppy at first but once he worked out the kinks things really started rolling. “Still Is Still Moving Me” had Willie showing off the extent of his guitar playing abilities, as his still limber fingers ran up and down the fretboard of his acoustic guitar plucking out surprisingly complex licks. It wasn’t long before Nelson ditched his bulky cowboy hat, revealing his trademark braids, in favor of a bandana. Willie and his “Family” pumped out classic after classic, including “Rainy Day Blues,” “Night Life” and “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” each one of them a gem. (KS)

Matisyahu

Matisyahu and company hopped on the Sherwood Court just around half past five. Currently in the middle of a national tour with an altered backing band including Brooklyn’s Dub Trio, the sextet was obviously well warmed up, busting straight into “Close My Eyes.” Entering from the right wing, Matisyahu himself pounced on stage just in time to deliver the first lyrics. Guitarist Aaron Dugan coiled a stylishly static-combustion-ridden solo, all while keeping within his usually mellow demeanor to end the track without much excess.

During the newer track “Smash Lies,” keyboardist Rob Marscher really took off. Interplay between him and drummer Joe Tomino tweaked and squeaked the cut on its side and created a more organic vibe than the studio release. A visibly animated Marscher made one assume that this past tour must have been very fulfilling for the group as they continue to learn each other’s tendencies. On “Youth,” the declarative lyrics about rising up and taking a stand still rang true after many performances. Dueling guitar work between Dugan and DP Holmes at the end of the track even inspired Matis to climb and bust some dance moves atop a tall speaker on the right of the stage. Warren Haynes made a surprise entrance during the middle of “Got No Water.” Fairly ambitious in its own right, this version of “Got No Water” was refreshing with the addition of Haynes’ Southern rock style and Dub Trio’s thrashy time signatures. (JB)

Bob Dylan and His Band

Matisyahu :: Rothbury 2009 by Vann
Let it be known, bombastic rumors of Bob Dylan’s inability to put on a good live show should henceforth be put to rest. On not just an emotional or even nostalgic, holy-shit-I’m-seeing-Bob-Dylan level, but also on an aesthetically pleasing level, Dylan’s headlining set at Rothbury was thoroughly enjoyable. And gauging by the look on everyone else’s face during the show, I’d say this sentiment was a shared one. As soon as his rough voice trickled out from the speakers into the crowd, smiles spread like wildfire. No, his voice still isn’t good – at least not in a conventional sense – but that craggy rasp was, is, the voice of a generation. What Dylan’s voice lacks in natural talent it makes up for with a streak of sincerity and soul unmatched by practically any singer. “You think I’m over the hill/ You think I’m past my prime,” sang Dylan with a look of defiance in his eye during “Spirit on the Water.” “We can have a whopping good time.” Indeed we can.

Dylan also showed his fingers still work as well, taking several surprisingly complex guitar solos throughout his set. A drastically changed version of “Tangled Up In Blue” had Dylan switching over to keys. The slightly more bluesy version was not quite what everyone expected, nor even wanted perhaps, but you got to hand it to Bob for keeping his own music alive and ever growing by introducing new takes on classic songs.

It was more than his soulful voice that made this a good show. His backing band added quite the groove to the profundity of Dylan’s singing and lyrics. “This Bob Dylan guy is playing some funky-ass shit,” a gray-haired fan commented to the people behind him during a surprisingly long jam. “Highway 61” was served up on an absolutely rocking platter, complete with an extended jam session that featured a simple, yet wholly captivating keyboard solo from Dylan himself. Set closer “Like a Rolling Stone” exposed Dylan’s weakness at hitting the high notes with his voice, but that didn’t stop the sweetness of the moment. The urge to belt out the words to one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest songs was simply irresistible.

With the sun finally gone, Dylan came out for a quick three-song encore, including a rendition of “All Along the Watchtower” that sounded more akin to the Hendrix version than to his own. While his set ended a half hour early and while he didn’t grace us with any acoustic material as I had hoped, the mere sight of one of the 20th century’s greatest music legends playing us some damn fine music was more than enough to satiate the hungry masses at Rothbury. (KS)

07/05/09 :: Rothbury Festival :: Rothbury, MI
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat (Bob on guitar), Señor (Bob on guitar), Tangled Up In Blue (Bob on keyboard and harp), Rollin’ And Tumblin’ (Bob on keyboard, Donnie on electric mandolin, Stu on acoustic guitar), Spirit On The Water (Bob on keyboard and harp), High Water (For Charley Patton) (Bob on keyboard and harp, Donnie on banjo, Stu on acoustic guitar, Tony on standup bass), ‘Til I Fell In Love With You (Bob center stage on harp then keyboard), Po’ Boy (Bob on keyboard and harp, Stu on acoustic guitar, Tony on standup bass), Highway 61 Revisited (Bob on keyboard), Ballad Of A Thin Man (Bob on keyboard and harp), Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again (Bob on keyboard, Stu on acoustic guitar), Nettie Moore (Bob on keyboard, Donnie on viola, Stu on acoustic guitar), Thunder On The Mountain (Bob on keyboard, Stu on acoustic guitar), Like A Rolling Stone (Bob on keyboard)
E: Jolene (Bob on keyboard, Tony on standup bass), All Along The Watchtower (Bob on keyboard), Blowin’ In The Wind (Bob on keyboard and harp, Donnie on violin)

Alex B

Rothbury 2009 by Vann
Mist filled the wood-chip laden dance floor at the Tripolee stage as Pnuma‘s prolific bass player Alex Botwin demonstrated his first-class DJ skills. Botwin rocked back and forth as he turned and twisted his many knobs, producing an array of glitchy synthetic sounds. I know not where these unearthly samples came from, but they certainly were not born of a Pnuma gene as I had hoped. The crowd gradually accrued more numbers as the music and accompanying visuals grew increasingly bizarre. The highlight of the set was when Pnuma drummer Lance Shaw joined Alex, the two combining to make one amazing duo. With a live drummer and abundant hip-hop and soul samples mixed with synthetic madness, Botwin often sounded a lot like Pretty Lights. (KS)

Big Gigantic

Just as Alex B’s set was coming to a close, the members of Big Gigantic joined him on stage. Dominic Lalli’s tenor saxophone proved to be the perfect compliment to Botwin’s mixes. After Botwin left the duo to do their thang, Lalli took over on synth and sampling duties, all the while finding time to blow searing, effect-smothered sax solos on top of it all, creating an amalgam of jazz, funk and electronic music. A lone dancer equipped with entrancing glow in the dark toys supplemented Big Gigantic, contorting her body in the most fantastic of ways. Botwin, Shaw and STS9’s Dave Murphy joined BG towards the end of the set to help pump out some of the most danceable music heard all weekend. (KS)

And just like that, Rothbury had come to a close. The four days had flown by in what retrospectively felt like a mere instant. From the green-themed art exhibit Reincarnation to the contemplative Think Tanks on the environment and social change to the friendly nature of everyone there, Rothbury is really about the ideal way to live life. No, it’s not about preaching but rather teaching, for those who are willing to listen. After all, wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could be this friendly, this environmentally conscious and, of course, see this much live music of such high quality on a regular basis?

We came together to celebrate many things: our nation’s birthday, mutual love for music and the spiritual extension of our self-expression. While evidence of a new age grassroots and environmental uprising was present, its lasting effect remains to be seen. Just as the many acres of the Double JJ Range will return to their natural state with the help of a massive cleaning crew, our own needs and desires for the world around us will need to realign and reconstruct in the coming years to make a lasting impact. (KS)

Continue reading for more pics of Rothbury 2009…

Images by: Dave Vann

Ani DiFranco
John Butler
Chris Robinson
Kid Cudi
Aron Magner – The Disco Biscuits
Jon Gutwillig – The Disco Biscuits
Grace Potter
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Davy Knowles
Guster
Les Claypool
Kyle Hollingsworth – String Cheese Incident Sound Check
Bill Nershi – String Cheese Incident Sound Check
Umphrey’s McGee
Matisyahu with Umphrey’s McGee
Peter Rowan
John Skehan – Railroad Earth
The String Cheese Incident
The String Cheese Incident
Williams & Moseley – String Cheese Incident
The String Cheese Incident
STS9
Lotus
LEBO
Chromeo
Toots and the Maytals
Martin Sexton
Son Volt
Van Ghost
The Dead
The Dead
The Dead

Continue reading for more pics of Rothbury 2009…

Images by: Chad Smith

Grace Potter
Phil Lesh with Jackie Greene
Femi Kuti
Future Rock and Lotus
Les Claypool fans
LEBO
The Disco Biscuits
The Disco Biscuits crowd
EOTO
Soulive
Speak EZ Entertainment
Future Rock
The String Cheese Incident
Girl Talk
Dave Murphy – STS9
Umphrey’s McGee
Umphrey’s McGee
Umphrey’s McGee
Dead fans
Sherwood Forest
Happy Birthday America

For even more pics of Rothbury check our daily galleries:

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4

JamBase | Year Two
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