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Tuesday, September 17

Festival Review: Catskill Chill Music Festival - Hancock, NY - Sept 6th-8th, 2013

Early September in the Northeast means one thing to me: it’s time for the Catskill Chill! The annual music festival, located in the scenic Catskill Mountain town of Hancock, New York, has become a home away from home for me and all of the regulars who have attended the festival since its first year in 2010. Growing rapidly in size and organization over the years, the Catskill Chill represents, to many, a highly anticipated and grand sendoff to a summer of music.
The festival staff strives to create a private-party atmosphere, where the attendees feel like they are surrounded by family and friends, while still capturing the energy and spirit of larger festival. In such a comfortable environment, guests can truly let loose and be swept away by the magic and music, an occurrence that seems to happen at every turn during this dreamlike weekend in the mountains. There are a handful of select vendors which cater to a variety of artistic and culinary tastes, from handmade clothes and crafts, to fresh-made doughnuts and piping hot coffee. Yoga classes were offered throughout the weekend adding to the diversity of events offered by this festival.
In contrast to some other large festivals, the layout of the Chill is conducive to the relaxed feel, with the main stage easily accessible, equipped with plenty of open floor space, and edged by bleachers, for when you just can’t dance anymore. The B Stage was a smaller version of the main stage, located just to the side, making it easy to catch multiple acts without rushing around. Just a short walk away lied Club Chill, a indoor spot with ample seating as well as dance room. The festival also offered the Acoustic Junction Stage, for an unplugged alternative to the main stages, and the Red Bull Campsite DJ truck, exhibiting some of the up-and-coming acts in the electronic scene. There was even an open-mic stage allowing festivalgoers to become part of the show, a unique offering that played well into the big-family vibe of the weekend.
The first day’s music kicked off with full momentum, with artists on all five stages, and impressive performances across the board. I arrived just in time to catch Lotus on the main stage. Lying in a musical category of their own, the boys of Lotus deliver unparalleled musical performances. Their sets feature crushing songs, and jams ranging from straight Rock’n’roll to heavy electronic dance parties. Two personal highlights were the crunchy rock tune, “Disappear in a Blood Red Sky”, and a solid version of “Greet the Mind” with a sit-in by Particle’s keyboardist Steve Molitz, which launched the entire crowd into a dancing frenzy and ignited the spark that would burn for the duration of the weekend.
Up next on the B Stage was one of my favorite sets of the entire weekend brought to us by the Alan Evans Trio. Composed of Alan Evans (Soulive), Beau Sasser, and Danny Mayer, these guys came to impress and most certainly did. From the opening note to the final drum beat, this trifecta delivered not stop energy, elevating the already delighted crowd to yet another plateau. Their cover of Sly Stone’s “If You Want My Love” into “If You Want Me to Stay” back into Sly’s “If You Want My Love” was a creative and perfectly-executed song sandwich, which secured their place among my most cherished musical memories of the weekend.
Delivering their signature raw, funky sound, Lettuce kept the party going on the main stage. Highlights were a strong version of “Apache”, a instrumental penned in 1960 by Jerry Lordan. This was the perfect tune to showcase the natural talent of guitarists Eric Krasno and Adam Smirnoff. The set ended on a high note with Alecia Shakour lending her powerful and sultry vocals on “Do Your Thing”, followed by the man himself, Nigel Hall, adding vocals on “Do it Like You Do”. This climatic conclusion left nothing but a crowd full of sweaty fans and smiling faces.
A quick pizza break allowed me to take in all that had just happened, and was a perfect transition into what was also one of my favorite sets of the festival, Kung Fu. This heavy-hitting group fit perfectly into the 2:30 -4am time slot, administering a steady dose of funk and rock and keeping the crowd sweating and moving, despite the dropping temperature. The crowd lit up when the band dropped into the funk-driven tune, "Scrabb". Another notable jam was “Steppin' in It” featuring Nigel Hall and Deep Banana Blackout's Johnny Durkin. This jazz-laden tune with a thunderous bassline line never fails to please the crowd. As Friday night turned into Saturday morning one could only imagine what the rest of the weekend had in store for all of us in attendance.

I am particularly fond of Saturday afternoon at the Chill, as it allows me to explore some of the smaller up-and-coming acts, which I otherwise may have never heard. Twiddle, a Vermont-based quartet, had a impressive and uncharacteristically large crowd for the Saturday afternoon opening set, and was a full-on party filled with dancing fans and flying beach balls. Holding their own against any performance of the weekend, the band exhibited intricate guitar work and a driving basslines throughout their set. Highlights were many, but moments that stood out were a sit-in by 14-year-old guitar prodigy Bobby Paltauf on “Mamunes the Fallen”, and a killer “Funky Town” with Todd Stoops (Kung Fu) that surely converted anyone wavering into an immediate fan.
Keeping up with the theme of killer performances, The Z3, a Zappa tribute band, made up of Beau Sasser, Tim Palmieri and Bill Carbone took the B Stage and did Zappa proud playing such classic tunes as “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” and “Trying to Grow a Chin”. But the standout moment of the set and possibly of the entire festival was “King Kong” with Ryan Liatsis aka “ShwizZ.” This featured some insane guitar work by both Tim and Ryan as they took turns twisting through Zappa's intricate guitar lines. This left the crowd completely entranced in the moment, absorbing everything or anything the band was willing to give them. This moment's unrelenting energy seemed to propel Ryan and his bandmates in ShwizZ straight through to end of their impressive set a few hours later at Club Chill.

Directly following, on the same stage, Aqueous, comprised of Mike Gantzer, Dave Loss, Evan McPhaden, Nick Sonricker, played a power set to a packed house living up to their reputation of creative improvisation and catchy grooves. These guys offer a very refined sound for such a young band. A few of their highlights were “What’s the Connection”, “Skyway” and a strong cover of an Offspring tune “The Kid’s Aren’t Alright.” As this set ended it was a quick walk over to the Main Stage soak up some Galactic.
Fully prepared to tear open Saturday night, Galactic's set radiated pure energy, boasting a setlist full of sick tunes, and allowed everyone in attendance to let loose and enjoy themselves from start to finish. Highlights for me were the song “2 Clowns”, and "Let's Do It Together," one of the several tunes which featured a sit-in by Living Colour's Corey Glover. This classic collaboration brought the crowd to a fever pitch, and reminded everyone in attendance exactly why they live for that live concert experience.
My night ended with another remarkable performance, by the newly reunited RAQ. Todd Stoops, Chris Michetti and Jay Burwick simply just amaze me every time I have been lucky enough to see them. This night would prove to be nothing less than magical: The music seemed to dance off the stage grabbing ahold of the crowd as a whole, moving them in unison throughout the set. My favorite moment was a well-played “Cheap Sunglasses”, a ZZ Top cover, into “Push The Lil' Daisies”, a quirky Ween cover, which was exactly what I wanted to hear without even knowing it.
After only two nights, this festival had already exceeded my expectations, and converted first timers into instant believers. Running on very little sleep but full of life Sunday started with a quick trip over to the vending area for a cup of coffee and a hearty breakfast sandwich. There were so many amazing bands throughout the day that it would be impossible to discuss them all in detail but notable acts included “The Brummy Brothers” and “Leroy Justice”, who offered well-crafted performances impressing all that had never seen them surley gaining a new fan base in the process. While Catskill Chill veterans Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds offered a stellar late afternoon set, packing the house and offering up a nice variety of songs, keeping the crowd entertained and dancing throughout the entire set. This high-energy 8-piece band is steadily climbing the ranks, and staking their claim in the live music scene.
The afternoon progressed with the McLovins, who left nothing to chance with their spirited yet playful on-stage antics. These guys deliver so much more than a simple musical performance , ripping in to every song they played, and joined for most of their set by the “Grant’s Tomb” horn section, which added even more energy than anyone could have hoped for. Highlights would have to be a wicked rendition of Pink Floyd's “Run like Hell”, and the classic Sugarhill Gang tune, “Rapper’s Delight”, which featured an interesting horn section, and the legendary George Porter Jr, which was one impressive way to end a set.
As a day full of great musical moments pushed forward the sun had set and the crowd began to pack into the Main Stage area for the musical legends “The Meter Men.” This group, made up of Leo Nocetelli, George Porter Jr, Ziggy Modeliste and Page McConnell, took the stage and played tunes from the Meter Men arsenal such as “Hey Pocky Way” and “People Say” allowing each other to take turns dazzling the crowd with their raw talent and genuine love of music. They also invited Bobby Paltauf to join them on stage for a rare treat for both the fans and band alike. Just watching this young but rather mature guitar player trading licks with funk guitar legend Leo Nocetelli was a moment I won’t soon forget.
Leaving the show, a little rest was at the top of my list, but delayed due to the energetic and powerful sound of Turkuaz eminating from the B stage, drawing me into what basically turned into a full set of dancing. High points such as “Murder Face”, and set closer “Monkey”, left me wanting more. Certainly a band to check out if you haven't already.
It was now 11:30 pm, and where most festivals would be winding down, there were still 3 more sets that I myself have been looking forward to since they were announced. Starting off with Dopapod made up of Eli Winderman, Neal “Fro” Evans, Rob Compa and Chuck Jones, these guys are truly enjoyable to take in. Each time I see them their perfomances seem to surpass even my highest expectations, offering a style that meshes together metal improvisational jams, electronic, and rock, and everything in-between. These guys started off this triple headed beast with a wicked performance, peaking with “Cloud World” and “Weird Charlie”, and offering a light show that would impress even the pickiest of fan.
A short break for a stage change after the set gave time for the crowd to just hang and relive the many amazing moments they had witnessed and also wonder what the rest of the evening had in store. Next up Papadosio took the stage, and kept the crowd moving with "If It Wasn't For You" and "Improbability Blotter". This band's unique style of progressive rock blending in anything from folk to electronica, and coupled with a stellar visual and light show, provided the perfect blend to keep you going strong after a long weekend of music.
Ending the festival with two of the hottest young bands that are both rapidly gaining momentum within the secene, would have been ample; however, the hybrid of both“Dopapod” and “Papadosio” yielded the super group, Dopadosio, which provided the perfect closing set of this already amazing weekend. These guys not only are friends, but both blazing a serious path forward within the live music scene, and getting to see them together is just the type of collaboration that makes this festival so very special. These guys brought a stellar visual show, adding to some very well-played originals, and mixed in with some out-of-this-world Radiohead covers, such as “Airbag” and “Paranoid Android”, that impressed old and young alike.
As the last few notes trickled from the stage, and the festival was unfortunately coming to and end, I began to reflect on this weekend as a whole, and was reminded of exactly why I love this place so much. The interaction between different bands, the abundant intimacy offered, as well as the level of comfort and respect felt between staff and fans alike makes this festival truly unparalleled. The Catskill Chill Music Festival, yet again, captured the essence of what a music festival should be, and has rightfully earned its place among the music festival scene now, and for many years to come.

Words: Chason Heins
Photos: Mike Geller
 ©Grateful Music LLC