Category Archives: Music

Rewriting Dylan’s Lyrics In Millheim

Wrote up the 7th Harry Smith Festival in Millheim as an ‘audition’ piece of sorts for Relix, probably way too late to make publication, and anyway, I’m pretty sure one needs to present a lock of hair from Bob Weir to the editors there to get a byline in that rag. This event learned me about the folk music and it benefits a good cause.

Harry Smith Festival

Elk Creek Café

Millheim, PA
November 16, 2014

The final set of the seventh Harry Smith Festival opened with a how-do-you-do from Kai Schafft that no stadium pop princess is ever likely to utter: “Here’s a song about great tragedy – you all ready!?”

Festival organizer Schafft and his band Chicken Tractor Deluxe then kicked into an hour-long set of stories from Harry Smith’s influential Anthology of American Folk Music. Whether the subject was wishing to be a mole underground or requesting a grave kept clean, drummer Gary Gyekis and bassist Jimmy Baughman kept a hard-stomping beat behind banjo, guitar, pedal steel and joiners-in on the fiddle and harmonica.

Three sets full of Depression-era songs from Gnarled Knuckle String Band, NattyLou Race and Junior Tutwiler, and Jerry Zolten and Richard Sleigh didn’t have the crowd in this microbrew hall down and out when headliner Lenny Kaye took his stool on stage around 4 p.m.

Barstools were claimed and tables pushed tight: any curious local Amish trotting by on a Sunday drive would have needed to step inside to figure out the commotion, for the plate glass windows were opaque from body heat and hoppy exhalations.

Acoustic guitar underarm and accompanied by Christine Smith of Marah on the squeezebox, Kaye opened his set with “Banks of the Ohio.” He then promptly admitted to the crowd he’d never played any of the songs live before, and that he might be a tad hungover. His Saturday night solo show in Millheim, backed by Smith and her bandmate Dave Bielanko, went a bit long on the afterparty end.

“I was so negligent yesterday, partying out, drinking Oktoberfest here,” Kaye said. The Sunday comedown didn’t affect Kaye’s ability to play at a hootenanny pace while offering some of his erudition on musical history.

“I never knew any of the originals, which is a real example of folk communication,” Kaye said of the Anthology tunes before kicking into Big Joe Williams’ “Turn Your Lamp Down Low,” learned from the Amboy Dukes. Clarence Ashley’s “The Coo Coo Bird” came to him from Big Brother and the Holding Company.

Kaye ranged well outside the Anthology for his selections and educational asides. He told the crowd:

“There’s a lot of music in the late ’20s and early ’30s that’s not on the Harry Smith anthology. You have to remember what the times were. It was a time of depression. People didn’t get to eat burgers from cows 10 miles away, or drink craft beer.”

Before playing “Where the Blue of the Night,” Kaye reminded his listeners how “revolutionary” Bing Crosby’s voice sounded when the microphone was invented in 1931, that invention itself a “very odd topic” that obsessed him for 10 years or so. Before launching into a singalong version of “The Old Gospel Ship,” Kaye mused on how much religion is in folk music: “Music is just one step away from the spiritual enlightenment that is heaven. It’s kind of like the pathway.”

How folk songs evolve was demonstrated when Kaye played “Like a Rolling Stone.” The crowd was singing along until verse three began, when Kaye stopped, unable to remember the first line.

Kaye kept strumming, hoping for a prompt: “Can somebody look it up on Google?” he asked. “Bob Dylan is like turning over in his grave.”

After a minute or more pause as people pulled out their phones, Kaye started making up the next verse:

“Drinking Oktoberfest, and that’s probably why I have to confess, I can’t remember the words/
And you know this town of Millheim is so sweet. I’m going to come back here in the summer and have something to eat.”

A voice finally called out “Never turned down to see the crowns.” Kaye then sang Dylan’s lyrics to the end, after shooting another verse into the folk cosmos from the year 2014.

Josh Brokaw is a writer currently based in Ithaca, N.Y. Direct critiques, communiques, and cash to jaydbrokaw at

Thunder Body’s Medicine Hi-Fi

Posted with photographs on April 25 at

April had just begun, and her fickle ways were surprising the concert-goers stepping outside of The Dock on a Friday evening to have a smoke, get some air, contemplate the placid flood control channel waters over the patio’s railing.

“Oh, it’s raining now,” many said as they stepped out of doors. It had been a temperate, tolerable day that resembled spring after an interminable Ithaca winter. Spring’s changes always surprise after months of snow, cold, cold, and then, snow which is still there even if it’s not coming down.

There was a surprise in store on stage inside, too, where Rochester’s Thunder Body was playing a two-set show. Someone who had just heard of them that day, April 3, and gone online to hear some of their self-described “Medicine Hi-Fi” music would have found a band playing in lots of space – a theremin involved in some of their ambient jams, reggae/dub beats predominating. Dreamy, atmospheric, those were the adjectives this writer expected to be using in a write-up of the show as he entered (albeit based entirely upon some festival recordings cut in the 2013 season).

That laid back beat was certainly in evidence on this evening of 2015, at times. Two-chord riff call-and-response is part of the Thunder Body repertoire, tightly written tunes giving way to spacier jams.

The surprises included a new horn line of Benton Sillick on trumpet and Josh Frisch on low brass, the added brash brass timbre filling in space and adding grandeur to the group’s songs.

There was also the novelty of watching guitarist Sam Snyder play with an “overhand” technique – fingers draped down over the fretboard, rather than curling up from underneath – and filling the space left on this evening by fellow guitarist Dennis Mariano’s absence. The two-tone dub beats didn’t stop Snyder from taking the kind of classic blues-rock pentatonic solo that’s usually called heavy.

(Snyder said after the show that he started playing at a time when he had a broken hand, and thus he developed an unorthodox technique).

Laying down the beat all night was bassist Jeramiah Pacheco, who got to show his chops on a solo near the night’s end; one was left with the impression he could also bring the rumble for a band that had fans who prefer Henry Rollins to Peter Tosh.

Playing the Rhodes and pianet/clavinet was Rachel Orke, who played her accompaniment parts with the easy sway of a veteran church pianist who knows how to make a congregation of staid Episcopals or mainline Presbyterians weave in their pews. (Watch the suburban college kids dance at a show like this that draws them in, and one is struck by how little some populations have gained rhythm since the rock ‘n roll revolution – there are some with moves that look like they are historic reproductions of an American Bandstand episode. It’s good they’re dancing).

And on the drums and lead vocals was Matt O’Brian, who stayed in the pocket with both sticks and voice all night long. Through the echoing effects and Orke tweaking her wah pedal, O’Brian’s vocals and the song rhythms might first remind one of The Police, with a shot of Elvis Costello influenced inflections in his vocals.

One chorus O’Brian repeated over and over, though, reminded one why Thunder Body calls their music medicine, their performances a healing vocation: “Hatred is poison. Anger is toxic. Hatred is poison. Anger is toxic.”

Incidentally, no fights were reported to break out in the parking lot after the show.

Thunder Body will be back in Ithaca for Grass Roots, if not sooner.

That Big Band Sound

Originally posted on, with pictures, on April 21, 2015.

Whatever construction crew members had a hand in building The Haunt should be congratulated on doing a good job. Shoddy work might have resulted in the rock club collapsing the evening of April 16.

Two (literally) big bands played The Haunt that Thursday night, one of those happy meetings of two touring acts that can give great joy to the music fan in this centrally isolated hamlet while blowing some eardrums away.

Turkuaz was on their way down to the Philly suburbs before hauling back to Massachusetts for a Saturday night show and trooping back to central PA by the evening of 4/20.

Sister Sparrow and her Dirty Birds were heading up to Syracuse to play the Westcott Theatre the next evening.

In Ithaca they met on this one evening, and put on a show that justifies all the superlatives both groups have accumulated over their past few years of incessant touring. Turkuaz has been called a “funk army” by Relix; the Wall Street Journal said the Dirty Birds’ sound is “stick-to-your-ribs.”

Like the brash and/or lush timbre that horns provide to a band? These groups got ’em. They are both big bands, if we’re not comparing them to a Count Basie group – Turkuaz had nine players on stage for their set, and Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds numbered seven. Forget the numbers, though, because the sounds are big, real big, and rooted in the Grand American Rock Tradition.

The Dirty Birds opened the show, with a heavy horn riff that took full advantage of Brian Graham’s baritone saxophone’s low end and Phil Rodriguez’s full-bore trumpet blasts. On the harmonica, Jackson Kincheloe danced throughout the night between adding to the horn lines, supporting his sister Arleigh’s vocals, and taking the occasional funky chickachickawahhh solo that’s usually associated with a mid-70s R&B record.

The whole band was tight and wailing, providing a suitable palette of bluesrockinsoul for Ms. Kincheloe – i.e. “Sister Sparrow” – to demonstrate her vocal talents. “Powerhouse,” “sultry & sassy,” “brassy,” all the easy descriptors have been claimed by prior writers – let’s say that Ms. Sparrow can hack it on a tune made known by Aretha – “Dr. Feelgood” – and leave it there.

The only disappointment of the evening was when Turkuaz came onto the stage and were not wearing their multicolored jumpers rocked in all the press photos and at least one Schuylkill County, Pa. festival show a couple summers ago. Even so, the Brooklyn-based group’s production values are still in-your-face and plenty funky.

A Turkuaz show is very much a production, in the best sense – every player knows what he or she is doing and plays their part to its scripted conclusion. And that script ends in people dancing. Most of the attendees don’t dance in as synchronized and slinky a manner as frontwomen Sammi Garett and Shira Elias, but they dance. Unless Turkuaz plays a graveyard, everybody dances.

Behind the soaring lead vocals of saxophonist Josh Schwartz, Turkuaz and the Dirty Birds closed the show with a rendition of “A Little Help From My Friends,” in the classic Joe Cocker style with everybody on stage. Despite the joint effort ,The Haunt did not fall into Cascadilla Creek, so everyone will have to return sometime and give it another try.

The Big Band, T-Bone Sound Returns To Williamsport

As a former brassy band nerd, writing this preview for a Williamsport horn group gave me pleasure and an excuse to editorialize on the State of Modern Music a bit.

The contemporary airwaves are dominated by music made in bedrooms and on laptops — modern technology has made it possible for a one-man band to churn out hit singles without even breaking a sweat, or learning to play both the banjo and accordion. In a time of such sparse pop, when even twin lead guitars are scarce, a group no longer needs the traditional 17 musicians to qualify as a “big band.”

“Spencer and the T-Bones,” who come together this August 24 for the second year in a row at the Community Theatre League, 100 W. Third St., put out a serious modern big band sound, with some heavy rock ‘n roll low end.

Vocalist and Williamsport pastor Spencer Sweeting provides vocals for the group, and the rest of the 9-piece is made up of veteran area musicians and educators. A third of the group is trombones – the “T-Bones” in the group’s name refers to the slide brass instrument, not a beefsteak.

Founder Kevin Henry (a Williamsport Area middle school band director), Bill Grose (Mifflinburg schools), and Brett Rynhart make up the ‘bone section, a concept that had its inspiration in a Don Henley-arranged 2000 tour version of “Hotel California” that used four trombones.

The group began with a four trombone line fronting a rhythm section. The T-Bones’ instrumentation evolved over the years, adding Sweeting in 2009, as well as swapping in Sunbury reedman Larry Fisher (Pine Mountain schools) on baritone saxophone for one trombone and adding Loyalsock teacher Lee Saville-Andree on keys and the Hammond B-3. Tim Breon of Lycoming College and the Uptown Music Collective plays guitar, Williamsport Area High School orchestra director Matt Radspinner lays down the bass line, and Bob Leidhecker, a Loyalsock educator and Williamsport Symphony Orchestra percussionist, plays the drums.

Those who think that mix sounds anything but fresh should take a trip online and check out Spencer and the T-Bones on YouTube, and then take a listen to Bonerama, out of New Orleans, another three-bone group out of New Orleans who serve as something of a model for the T-Bones’ approach. Playing through a bunch of effects, Bonerama’s repertoire leans more towards Jimmy Page than Glenn Miller.

At this year’s CTL show, The T-Bones will have plenty of fresh material, drawn from both old and new sources.

“There will be some Stevie Wonder, some Otis Redding,” Henry says. “After last year, everyone said ‘you gotta do Chicago,’ so we’ve got a Chicago set for this year.”

New original work by area composer Rob Byham will be played, as well as arrangements of new hits by Fitz and the Tantrums and Cee Lo Green, artists whose fusion of rock, soul, funk and pop inform The T-Bones’ sound.

“’Fitz’ is a little retro-feeling, but it’s new — they fit our style well,” Henry says. “We’ll even be doing some Dave Matthews, and the White Stripes, but in our own style.”

That style incorporates guitar effects on the trombones, like distortion, an octave pedal, loops and the venerable wah-wah pedal, giving The T-Bones a new-school edge that polishes up the trombone’s staid image.

“From my standpoint as a band director, we’d like to see more trombone players in the schools,” Henry says. “This is a little bit of a way to promote the trombone, with three in the group.”

Spencer and the T-Bones have had a quiet summer, due to graduate studies and an onslaught of weddings. Their return to the CTL for the second straight year will give audiences a chance to see how they’ve developed in the time they have had to play together.

“I had never played with a group in there (before last year),” Henry says. “It’s got great acoustics, it’s a place where you can see everybody’s face in the audience and really connect. We hope to get some people out of their seats and moving.”

Spencer and the T-Bones perform at The Community Theatre, 100 W. Third St., Aug. 24 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available online at $25 buys two seats, or they are $15 for adults and $8 for students.

Kansas (the state) Won’t Buy Lunch For Kansas (the band)

Here’s a preview for Kansas playing a Sunbury winery’s annual classic rock show

In the last few years, Kansas, the band behind hits like “Carry On My Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind,” has performed numerous live shows with full orchestras all over the world. On July 7, the group will collaborate with the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra for a one-time-only, outdoor show at the Spyglass Ridge Winery, 105 Carroll St.

Kansas has made a habit of playing with symphony orchestras since 1998, when the band collaborated with the London Symphony Orchestra on the studio album “Always Never the Same.”

“Getting all (the music) charted (for orchestra) is the tough part,” says guitarist Rich Williams. “Once you have that, it makes it a lot easier—and having the album done, that was something to put in the hands of symphony directors, which was a big help.”

The band released “There’s Know Place Like Home” in October 2009, a concert DVD/double album recorded with the Washburn University orchestra in their hometown of Topeka. Since then the band has embarked on a string of concerts with collegiate orchestras and other organizations. Proceeds from their shows with scholastic organizations go into scholarship funds.

“It’s a turnkey deal,” Williams says. “The orchestra shows have been very popular—we give the colleges a cut of the merchandise, and we show up and do long sound checks the day of the performance; for us, there’s just a lot more people on stage, and since they follow us, it’s not bad for us at all.”

“Everything goes smoothly unless the conductor falls off us — which they don’t, usually — and those guys do have a long day of it,” Williams adds. “You can tell which orchestras have been practicing at home or not.”

Kansas still plays plentiful dates every year, but their touring life, once an on-the-bus stop-to-stop grind, no longer resembles Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” chronicle of cross-country travel. They’re now frequent fliers.

“The ideal situation is we take off on Friday, and we’re home on Sunday—we fly everywhere,” Williams says. “Our equipment’s on the ground, but maintaining a bus just isn’t worth it; what if you’re in Wyoming one night, and then in Arkansas or something? It’s just too much driving.”

That doesn’t mean Kansas doesn’t play far away from home: Indonesia and Australia are two of the international destinations the band has played recently.

It’s not always been a story of easy cruising for the band. After Kansas sold over four million copies of their “Leftoverture” and “Point of Know Return” albums in the mid-Seventies and enjoyed steady if more modest success throughout most of the Eighties, there was a time when a break was forced on the group.

“23 years ago, I think, everybody told us ‘go home, nobody cares,’” Williams says. “We kind of did — we went home and waited, and then an offer from Germany came in to play for a couple of weeks.”

The band met their overseas obligations, then decided to play a homecoming show upon returning to the States.

“We played that show as a ‘hey, why not?’ thing, and then we wondered ‘what if we do that every year?’ and then one show turned into two weeks and then three and five weeks, and we’ve been playing ever since,” Williams says. “Everybody grossly underestimated our fanbase — after all that, we book ourselves and manage ourselves — we’re not tied to anybody.”

Though Kansas began their career in the vinyl era, the band is fully attuned to the advantages of managing themselves in the digital age.

“People buy songs and stuff off Facebook and the web page,” Williams says. “The days of working with the record company who’ll pay you and then screw you blind is over—we had the worst contract known to man, and made pennies on the dollar; it was grocery money, really.”

Though Kansas didn’t get rich off their hits, Williams says the band still feels fortunate that their career turned out so well.

“The (record companies) refused to change with the times, they’re committing suicide, and I couldn’t be happier for them,” Williams says. “We were on the top of the heap—there were thousands and thousands of artists that had their lawyer look at (the contract) and they got screwed: no one ever heard their name again”

There’s little mystery behind the band’s moniker; like other bands that formed in the late Sixties and took on a place name—like Boston, Chicago or America—Kansas is from Kansas.

“I’d like to give you an artsy-fartsy clever answer,” Williams says. “But we’re just a band from Kansas. There were a bunch of guys who played in Kansas who played together under the name White Clover who were under contract with Kirshner (Records), and needed to get out, and White Clover was a shitty name, so we went with Kansas, and it worked.”

Nevermind the nomenclature, though: any trip to Pennsylvania is a homecoming for this band from Topeka.

“Pennsylvania was always the most pro-Kansas state we played,” says Williams. “We couldn’t get a free lunch in Kansas anywhere. We might not still be able to, and we were selling out in Pennsylvania, we were headlining there when we were opening everywhere else. We always look forward to coming back.”

Kansas plays a rain-or-shine show July 7 with the Williamsport Symphony Orchestra, directed by Geraldo Edelstein, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $42.50. Food and wine will be available on the premises, and gates open at 5 p.m.

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.’