Modest in stature when compared with behemoths such as Coachella or Bonnaroo, the inaugural Nateva Music and Camping Festival, held over the July 4th weekend in Oxford, Maine, was an magnificent success. Boasting more than 50 bands performing on two towering main stages and two “barn” sheds, the event offered a plethora of choices for fans of many genres. The event made a huge contribution to the local economy, hiring local workers and volunteers, providing substantial space for local vendors such as Maine Root Sodas, Sugar Shack and a local farmers market, and billing local bands such as the recently reunited Rustic Overtones, Brenda and Gypsy Tailwind.
On-site camping on the 100-acre Oxford County Fairgrounds meant that approximately 9,000 revelers were never more than a ten-minute walk to any particular stage or to Shakedown Street where vendors hawked their crafts and wares and culinary delights, late night movies and a silent disco among many other attractions, even as off-site patrons who camped at the nearby speedway, site of the 1988 Grateful Dead 4th of July concerts, were shuttled in via a fleet of leased school buses. While a heat wave glazed fans with sweltering temps that reached the high 90s and a few strategically placed mist tents would have been welcomed, Mother Nature cooperated graciously, providing glorious, mostly cloud free skies and a mere passing sprinkle.
Lotus / Photo: Nick Fitanides
Thursday - 1 July
The festival gates opened Thursday afternoon amid tight security. Local Americana act Gypsy Tailwind kicked off the musical festivities at the (PCMHS) Port City Music Hall Stage (one of two shed stages), which took its name from a Portland based music venue. Later in the day, more fans packed into the shed to hear Lettuce and its whirlwind, salad spinner of funk, despite taking the stage 25 minutes past its scheduled start time. A tight, eight-piece, all-star ensemble with three horn players, they certainly got the weekend off on a funky note. But the dance party got started with the Jam-Tronic act Lotus, which performed two late night sets of improvised, highly energetic electronic rock mixed with techno beats. The wall-to-wall packed shed, the thumping beats and frenetic light show provided a feeling akin to being at a rave.
Moe. / Photo: Nick Fitanides
Friday - 2 July
Friday night’s headliner, Moe. took the stage just after dusk. The instrumental “Jazz Wank” allowed the band to get their sound bearings before sliding effortlessly into a slithery “Rebubula”. Bassist Rob Derhak’s line, “She’s an East Coast mama now, I know that for sure”, drew a huge cheer from this East Coast crowd. Moe. invited Keller Williams (dressed, like the band, in a suite to celebrate Moe.’s 20th anniversary) out to sing and play on the Grateful Dead’s “Deal”. Williams’ fervent interpretations of Jerry Garcia’s catalogue are always heartfelt and his vocals bear a close resemblance to the late Captain Trips. A somber and ominous “Darkness” featured dual vocal harmonies of guitarist Chuck Garvey and Derhak, and segued into the much more upbeat and high-energy fan favorite, “Moth”, and then “Buster”. The band encored with a new song from guitarist/vocalist Al Schneir called “Haze”, which moves from slow, harrowing verses into faster, more spirited, guitar driven choruses. Moe. closed the set with an upbeat, pop nugget “She Sends Me”, giving Moe.rons something to sing along to as they made their way out of the main concert field.
Two of the biggest draws came from Jamband veterans. Despite a surprising early time slot, (due to being booked in Colorado on July 3rd and 4th) Umphrey’s McGee’s sweet, high-energy set was one of the highlights. The melodic instrumental “Great American” smartly provided the chance to sound check—a rarity at events where one band is performing while another is waiting in the wings on the adjoining stage, but something jambands have learned to do prodigously. A weird, abstract excursion into synthesized prog rock none-the-less featured teases of Ted Nugents’ “Stranglehold”, before sliding seamlessly into the opening of “The Bottom Half”. There was some intricate guitar dueling between Brendan Bayless and Jake Cinninger on “Higgins”, before dense, synthesized organ brought it back into “The Bottom Half” to close the set.
Keller Williams / Photo: Nick Fitanides
Keller Williams has been performing solo long enough that the novelty of recording himself playing various instruments and looping the tracks as he plays another has worn off a bit, but he’s still an enthralling performer and songwriter. He moved to Theremin on “Cadillac”, drawing low and high pitched wails from the electronic instrument as he flailed his arms like a zealous conductor. Amid a percussive beat, he thanked the crowd for coming out to the show, singing in tune all the while, and then on a three count, transitioned to “Breath”, which dates back to his CD of the same name recorded with the String Cheese Incident. Amidst a rolling looped bass and acoustic guitar he introduced guest guitarist Al Schnier from Moe. singing the words, “Al from Moe. Al from Moe”. Together, they played a sweet, acoustic rendition of the Phish nugget, “Birds of a Feather”, that included a harmonious dual acoustic guitar flourish.
Later, back over at the PCMH shed, The Heavy Pets tore it up in front of a large crowd. This band laid down a mélange of swirling, psychedelic jam rock and acoustic pop that had a sweaty, afternoon crowd bouncing from wall to wall of the shed. The quintet showed cohesive musicianship amongst the two guitarists and a tight rhythm section. The Heavy Pets gained many new fans on Friday afternoon, including this reviewer
Greensky Bluegrass played a traditional blend of Americana laced bluegrass, similar in sound to early Grateful Dead. Several members traded verses back and fourth in customary bluegrass twang, and their tight mandolin and banjo picking seemed right in place at the fairgrounds site. The music of The Felice Brothers however were rougher around the edges, and the quartet thrashed around on stage with a rambunctious energy that got a rise from those gathered. This bands more punk inspired bluegrass would seem a better fit in intimate, dank barrooms or even sheds, and patrons would indeed get a chance to check them out later at the PCMHS.
Firedancer / Photo: Nick Fitanides