Lawnstock II: Bringing Festivals To The Backyard

This piece originally ran July 11, 2013, in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette. I reproduce it here with a few minor edits.

Getting to a music festival in the summertime isn’t that hard.

Some people find it easier to host one themselves.

Take Lawnstock, for example, hosted recently by Lon Edmonds at his semi-wooded property just off Route 93, outside Nescopeck.

Some 20-plus bands played the event, most of them from around these parts.

Hula hoopers at Lawnstock II, June 15, 2013. Photo/Josh Brokaw
Hula hoopers at Lawnstock II, June 15, 2013. Photo/Josh Brokaw

Edmonds, who’s a self-employed landscaper, says he’s been going to festivals since he was a kid, and that he wanted to give the local, working bands a place to play where they’d get compensated for their efforts.

“I figured why not give people to the little bands. I’ve played in bands before, and I know how hard it is to get two or three hundred dollars out of a bar if you’re in a little band.”

Hundreds showed up for Edmonds’ lawn party. They parked by a barn and trekked up a country road to his sloping driveway in weekend party supply trains: All with backpacks, a couple with sleeping bags, one has the cooler, another the EZ-Up, and someone’s holding the leash of a sturdy-sort of dog. Edmonds’ father (also Lon) played shuttle driver with his Ford Econoline for those parking over at the local fire hall, which provided an overflow lot a mile away.

Everyone heard a slew of local bands. On Saturday afternoon, Duck Duck Goose, out of Sunbury, played Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, their version of “All Along the Watchtower,” the rocking out on the classic rock canon sort of stuff.

Joan, who is biological grandmother of Duck Duck Goose member Jeremy and calls herself spiritual grandmother of the whole band, got up and played the maracas for the band’s last couple songs.

“I play with them whenever I can – I love these boys.”

Joan, band grandmother, plays with Duck Duck Goose at Lawnstock II on June 15, 2013. Photo/Josh Brokaw
Joan, band grandmother, plays with Duck Duck Goose at Lawnstock II on June 15, 2013. Photo/Josh Brokaw

The band Back Home, out of Hazleton, followed with their jammy originals that pushed guitar, bass, and drums to the fullest point of expression. Their merchandise “table” was a blanket manned by two women selling their CDs.

Throw a lawn party of this sort, and you get some good shopping popping up in your backyard.

There were cigar box guitars available next to the duck pond, where for a dollar you could pick up your duck and get a bag full of glow sticks and candy, next to “succulent” plants in little stone-filled vases – fill up the vase with water and the stones all float. And you have a few tents serving up teriyaki sticks and breakfast sandwiches and other fair-type foods all weekend, which is a great convenience if cooking seems too difficult.

The people who showed up to camp and listen, dance and play wore a lot of tie-dye shirts, or, if men, no shirts at all – but there was also the guy in his Wranglers and New Balances and flip-down shades who would not get two glances at your local Rotary meeting, sitting next to the kids throwing, through hula hoops, those little foam planes you get the last day of school as a going-away gift which break a week later.

Some people played with fire as dusk grew into dark – not the sort of thing you can usually do in a community zoned for half-acre lots without a neighbor complaining.

Here, when you walk down to the entrance of Edmonds’ driveway and look across the fields, a quarter-mile away the nearest neighbors are ripping around on dirt bikes. It’s unlikely they’ll be filing any noise complaints. Such are the advantages of having a little land in the country.

Edmonds says Lawnstock will need a bigger venue than his backyard next year. It already grew three sizes from Year One to Year Two.

Maybe, in 5 or 10 or 20 years, on some mountain somewhere in the Susquehanna Valley, Coors Light will be sponsoring the Lawnstock “SuperJam” stage, one of five stages, and folks will be munching on Chipotle burritos and most of your friends will make it a point to take that weekend off.

Then, the bands playing your local bars won’t be playing there. They’ll need someone’s backyard party, a lawn party, to get people dancing.

Zucchini Moon II: A Musical Interlude At The Kempton Art Farm

Published Aug. 8, 2013 in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette. Zucchini Moon III kicks off July 18 in Kempton.

KEMPTON – If there are no second acts in American life, as Scott Fitzgerald once thought and then found to be untrue, it’s not because Americans are particularly unforgiving – witness the tight schedule of shame and reappearance some of our politicians keep  – but because we’ve never learned how to put an end to Act One.

Modern life is an ongoing farce of artificial demands that will not stop itself; its logic is to go on and on, then ask for more. People are lining up on Thanksgiving morning to buy TVs these days, for the love of Miles Standish. Man must make his own times and places for a break, an interlude, whenever and wherever he can.

The “interlude’ was initially its own sort of farce. Like we have trampoline dunkers and cheerleaders during the timeouts of basketball games, the medieval morality plays had interludes to keep the crowds engaged between tales of a traveller encountering Charity and Chastity and all the other virtues in some fantastic land.

Now that life is so fast-paced and farcical, and vacations often are more stressful than dull days at the desk or machine, our truest interludes, our breaks from the everyday, are ones of leisure and peace. Go out to a small festival, one where you’re not all crowded up against one another, and sometimes a few days of true interlude can be found.

Such was the case at the second Zucchini Moon, a gathering at a working farm in this northern corner of Berks County put on by Alex Archambault of Grateful Acres Veggie Farm.  In these hills, within a mile of the nearest stoplight/interstate interchange, you can find a tavern that still has the fryer and grill behind the bar; a Country Store that sells Rocky Mountain oysters from a goat; and a sleekly finished wine tasting room for the bypassing bougies looking for a daytime vino fix.

Up on the farm, campers found their breaks from the heat in the pond, complete with overhanging zip line, and found their breaks from the relentless beat of modern life in the music, which was full of push and pull, tension and release, and all manner of interludes, whether the texture and timbre of the music came from a digital processor or a lone foot stomping on the wooden stage.

Face & the Filthies perform at Zucchini Moon II. Photo/Matthew Bradwell

The Boiled Owls, of the Lehigh Valley, take the acoustic approach: inside their bluegrassy songs, sung with humorous vim by lead singer Christopher Murphy, they spare no joy in strumming one more time through a simple bridge. Then they make that hard stop, with the banjo, guitar, mandolin, bass and box all hitting at once and going silent. Then they start back up into those simple chords, and again, all the way to the end.

You You Dark Forest, of Reading, played “traditional” rock rhythm that moved the heads to banging in a dozen different tempos. And Muppet’s Titanium Stardust Machine twirled saxophone, keyboards, and drums into long interludes from structure and reason.

Face and the Filthies, of Philadelphia, used some classical interludes during their Friday night set. Armed with an unorthodox instrumentation, cellist Sam Frier, beatboxer Brendan O’Hara, pianist KayCee Garringer, and pianist/vibist Danny Wood scraped and plinked and spat and bounced through originals and covers, sometimes with a surprising heaviness. They then took a minute here and there to push reset in the minds of the audience by stealing a minute of music from a dead German or Lauryn Hill. The familiar melody was stated, then ended abruptly, without more notes that everyone expected to hear. Those moments of Huh? are when people stop and feel that they’ve been granted a break in the action for a minute. Or, too rarely, for a whole weekend.


Face & the Filthies on original tune “Tucked So Tight.”

The Boiled Owls with an as yet unidentified song:

A Misty Mountain Hop at Liberty Fest 2013

This report originally ran in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette on July 18, 2013. Since that publication, in its infinite wisdom, has denied nonsubscribers access to all the stories I wrote there, I repost here after doing some light editing.

LIBERTY ­- Take winding Route 414 off Route 15, wind up hill and down dale, turn off onto a rural road at the lit-up steeple, then turn onto the dirt road at the faded orange tractor.

Here is Liberty Fest, on top of the misty mountains that make up this corner of Tioga County.

Showing up at night reinforces how far from the hectic busyness of modern life this small, growing festival, in its third year, is removed. People pass by each other in the dark, walking to the main stage, a wooden bandshell with a front lip just the height of your average bar, perfect for setting down a drink and leaning on when watching the bands. The people pass through, to their campsites, down in the darkness to the second stage, really a large, wired-up tent, to which they’re directed through a gateway of lights and a flaming set of antlers that illuminate an otherwise pitch black night.

Saturday morning, July 6, 2013 - Liberty, Pa. I didn't take a picture that night until dawn.
Saturday morning, July 6, 2013 – Liberty, Pa. I didn’t take a picture that night until dawn.

The only real distraction here from the music playing on the two stages is the number of stars you can look up and count.

Stand at a point where you can hear both stages playing at once, and it quickly becomes clear how far this music is from today’s mainstream, all the overprocessed dance-pop in vogue now that’s dedicated to shutting out all nuances of feeling.

There are dubstep drops and long, repetitive jams here, too, but there is also conscious effort to corral all the expressive energy and heaviness released over the long 20th century through blues and jazz and rock and hip-hop, and make that exuberance into something that might evoke some new feeling in its listeners. Rather than serving up an endless beat that says we’ve already declined and fallen, so let’s forget it all and have a “good time.”

Good musicians are needed to make unexpected, sometimes psychedelic sounds, and they are out in full force at Liberty Fest.

After Double Deuce, a supergroup of Scene veterans playing its second show ever together, finishes its Friday night set on the main stage, a bearded man who watched the whole two-plus hour show, in speechless rapture, looks up and says “I just went to music school. I mean I feel like I did. These guys are all phenoms.”

The Double Deuce guys are great musicians, and adept at making music: creating tension, mixing in harmonic complexity, and not being afraid to go from spaced-out minimalism into the blues into three minutes of superheavy headbanging groove.

Royal Benson, jamming on “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” late in the tent grove, puts out, for a minute, that sort of spinning, chiming sound that’s familiar from build-ups on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. It’s space you can immerse the listener in, tweaking as you go, or you can use that sound as the underpinning of a jam.

And there’s metal runs up and down the pentatonic scale, a DJ set, acoustic strumming, music till the morning.

Your average guitarist here blows the power chord savants of the ’90s away, those who played for Linkin Park, Green Day blink 182, etc., and the vocalists here mostly have some tonal range. After years of classical rock training, there is a lot of talent out there, still searching for that happy medium between the excesses of the ’80s shredders and the anti-skill reaction of the ’90s grunge and punk rockers and bringing in all sorts of other myriad influences as well. ‘World’ rhythms on the congas; guys and gals breaking out all sorts of horns and strange stringed and shaking instruments found in global travels or online; all sorts of synths and effects mixed into otherwise organic instrumentation – the possibilities go on and on.

And here be BONUS video

The aforementioned “Double Deuce.”

Royal Benson on ‘Low Spark.’