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Umphrey's McGee

Harmony Festival feat. Brian Wilson, STS9, Umphrey’s McGee, Erykah Badu, and moe.

8-10 June 2007


The design of the 29th annual Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa, California, was nothing short of superb: with a seemingly never-ending array of eco-conscious venders, information tables, meditation gardens, and stages, good vibes were everywhere, sunshine was in abundance, and you couldn’t walk 25 yards from one stage without catching music from another. Of course, patrons wanting to camp out all weekend were seriously gouged at $45 per person, plus $30 per car. A weekend-long ticket with camping for a party of two would come to $200 a piece—as much as the nation’s premiere music and arts festival, Bonnaroo. Still, despite this initial annoyance, Harmony Festival did indeed live up to its name.


Brian Wilson was the main stage headliner on Friday night and sang a number of classics for the still-gathering crowd. Of course, the real action took place in the Grace Pavilion, an indoor hall shaped like an airplane hangar and decked out with an array of psychedelic regalia. The shape seemed appropriate as New York jamband moe. kicked off the second of the festival’s separately-ticketed late shows with a soaring set. A number of younger fans were seen outside scrambling for a way to circumnavigate the ticket checkpoint, which may have explained the less-than-packed hall inside.


Guitarists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey were in fine form, and moe.’s far-out space jams seemed that they could conjure an extraterrestrial mothership at any moment. Of course, the highlight of the show was the band’s tight, earthy reading of the 1971 Rolling Stones classic “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” For the tune, moe. was joined by percussionist Stephen Perkins and saxman Willie Waldman from Banyan to reprise the song’s jazzy jam and push it further than the Stones have ever attempted. With Waldman’s assistance, the band turned a short sax solo into a monster transcendental jam. They followed it up by closing the show with a supercharged rendition of their own classic “Buster.”


Sound Tribe Sector 9

Sound Tribe Sector 9


Of course Grace Pavilion wasn’t quite ready to go to sleep: Sound Tribe Sector 9 stepped up next for a “live PA set.” Diehard STS9 fans may have been disappointed to discover that, in this context, the band consisted of a mere three members (drummer Zach Velmer, bassist David Murphy, and guitarist Hunter Brown) conjuring their sound on turntables and computers, rather than relying on the live instrumentation of a five-man band. While some fierce dance grooves were still kicked down, the set lacked the energy that the band normally has at its command. Some might say what we got was more like Sound Tribe Sector 3.2 (zing!). 


*  *  *


Saturday was pure California sunshine. Festival-goers seeking relief from the 80-degree heat had several options, including a large meditation/chill tent in the center of the main grounds with pillows and altars and a smaller meditation garden with couches, trees, and crystals in the shade. One could also obtain a table massage for a dollar per minute, or get a free spinal inspection from a chiropractic specialist.


Another refuge, the Earthdance Dome, featured speakers on a variety of spiritual topics. Mayan scholar John Major Jenkins delivered a noon lecture on his studies of the ancient Maya and their galactic calendar’s intriguing December 21, 2012 end date. Jenkins pointed to 2012 as an opportunity to reconnect with divine wisdom. “If there’s any real prophecy for 2012… it’s that at the end of the age, mega-maniacal egoism will be ruling the planet,” said Jenkins to knowing nods. “As we get closer and closer to 2012, there’s going to be a lot of social upheaval… with the powers that be fighting tooth and nail to maintain control.”


Trendier 2012 philosopher/writer Daniel Pinchbeck also lectured on the topic before he and Jenkins joined a group of indigenous elders for a 2012 forum discussion. A variety of perspectives were discussed, with the elders invariably calling for people to focus on bringing forth love from their own hearts. It was a somewhat clichéd moment, but the session-ending prayer for world harmony still created a strong positive vibration.


Umphrey's McGee

Umphrey’s McGee


At the same time, Democracy Now radio host Amy Goodman was nearby delivering an impassioned call-to-arms for Americans to rise up against the right wing/corporate takeover of the mainstream media. Whether you preferred metaphysics or progressive politics, the Harmony Festival had it all—in fact, it had so much that patrons were forced to make constant choices between various speakers and music.


At 5 pm, Chicago jamband Umphrey’s McGee hit the Redwood Theater stage for two sets of guitar-driven jams that drew a large contingent of younger concertgoers. The band threw down one extended jam after another, showcasing tight chops and the musical precision that has made them the envy of their peers. Like moe. the night before, they also delivered a stellar take on an old classic—in this case Steely Dan’s “Hey 19”—which fit the breezy late afternoon vibe like a glove. The relaxed outdoor setting gave parents a chance to bring their children into the scene, and, before long, a number of kids were dancing along with everyone else.


Erykah Badu

Erykah Badu


Erykah Badu, Saturday night’s mainstage headliner, drew what was probably the largest crowd of the weekend. Badu mixed soulful vocals and her socially conscious vision with a variety of textures, from slow R&B to deep funk grooves that got the crowd rocking. Those who were ready to dance could find a large crowd of like-minded individuals, while those who were already feeling weary could relax in the meditation garden and still hear the main stage’s sound loud and clear. Again, ingenious concert design.


After Badu’s performance, festivalgoers could take part in a “techno-tribal dance” in the Grace Pavilion, where what seemed like a mini-Burning Man event was about to break out. Costumes were extra-festive and glow-bling was everywhere.


Shamanic Cheerleaders

Shamanic Cheerleaders


In one of the weekend’s more unique performances, the Shamanic Cheerleaders got things started with a series of cheers in tribute to the idea of raising one’s consciousness. Rabbit in the Moon then proceeded with a series of techno-tribal dance rhythms, moving the large crowd to get down. Extra-sensory input was everywhere, with laser beams, go-go dancers, fire and twirlers.


*  *  *


Kristine Robin

Kristine Robin


Sunday was laidback, as temperatures continued to rise. The Goddess Stage provided a shady refuge and a parade of female musical talent. Singer Kristine Robin offered vocal stylings reminiscent of a young Joan Baez—perfect for the early Sunday vibe. Later, the group Raphael, Kutira, Wendy Grace & The Shaman Light Singers provided uplifting new-age harmonies that soared alongside the cool breezes.


The kindness of strangers was evident throughout the weekend, as favors were frequently shared, and a helping hand was available whenever needed. It seemed only appropriate then that Ohio Congressman and presidential peace candidate Dennis Kucinich was on hand Sunday afternoon. Arguably the most progressive-minded politician in America, Kucinich took questions at Harmony Hall before delivering a rousing stump speech on the main stage at 4 pm. During the Q&A session, Kucinich was asked whether he was disenchanted with the rest of the Democratic Party and if he felt that the truth about the September 11 attacks had been adequately investigated. Both times, he asked how many in the crowd felt that those were significant issues, and received at least a 90 percent response.


Kucinich said that he is extremely disappointed that the new Democratic majority in Congress are continuing to finance the war in Iraq. He went further on the issue of 9/11, saying that in early September he will announce a new Congressional investigation into some of the shady financial transactions that took place around the event—such as the buying and selling of airline stocks that indicated someone knew what was about to go down.


More music was scheduled throughout the rest of the day (and night), but some of us needed to get back to the real world, where world peace and harmony is not so easily realized, and where Monday morning jobs still beckoned. But at least there weren’t as many worries: after experiencing such an abundance of good vibes and interactions with like-minded individuals, one couldn’t help but leave with the knowledge that the peaceniks are not alone, and that, as Kucinich beckoned, “a new world is possible.” And maybe that new world isn’t as far off as some would have the masses believe.

Greg M. Schwartz has covered music and pop culture for PopMatters since 2006. He focuses on events coverage with a preference for guitar-driven rock 'n' roll, but has eclectic tastes for the golden age of sound that is the 21st century music scene. He has a soft spot for music with a socially conscious flavor and is also an award-winning investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @gms111, where he's always looking for tips on new bands or under the radar news items.


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