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Wednesday, September 17

Review and Photos: 5th annual Catskill Chill Music Festival - Hancock, NY - Sept 4th- 7th, 2014

The Fifth Annual Catskill Chill Music Festival has come and gone, almost in the blink of an eye. Hosted by gorgeous Camp Minglewood, located in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, this three day event has grown into being much more than just a music festival. Catskill Chill is where music lovers and bands converge in one place to celebrate life and communal unity. Spiritual cleansing, and discovering the true meaning of camaraderie while magical sounds rain down on us for 72 hours, is why so many people say this is the best festival in the US of A! 
 I arrived on Friday afternoon just in time to check out Nahko, and Medicine for the People, on the main stage. While Nahko and his band hail from Hawaii, and many in the northeast festival circuit are just discovering him this summer, he has had a local connection with the Catskills for several years, thanks to his willingness to bring on local musicians during their tours in Hawaii. Medicine for the People's fast paced, tribal style of playing set the pace for the rest of the weekend by capturing attendees' attention with their unique stage presence. They made us feel like we were dancing on the beach in 80 degree weather! A huge highlight was a sit-in on banjo by local Josh Fox, an environmental activist who has gained national attention for his film 'Gasland'. Fox led the charge on fun renditions of the classic 2pac and Dr. Dre songs, 'Thugz Mansion' and 'No Diggity'. Next up was MUN on the Club Chill stage. Club Chill is an opera house turned rage cave for the weekend, and weather aside, MUN brought some serious heat to the club! The band of Brooklyn jamtronica technicians has gone through some roster changes since last Chill, but somehow their sound has become even more gritty and refined than ever.
 I left early to see Mister F at the Acoustic Junction stage, the only true outdoor stage at the venue. This multi-dimensional quartet from Albany has been enlarging their fan base in droves since their inception, no doubt in part due to their insane work ethic: during their set they announced that Catskill was their 99th show of the year! The band brought up Jamar Woods of The Fritz to play keys on Answer the Dog, a crowd favorite, which had us all asking for more. The rest of Friday felt like a blur as day turned into night at Club Chill during Primate Fiasco.

 These guys mesh swing, jazz and jamming together in their own original blend of tunes. I hadn't seen the crowd get so fired up at Chill until Primate went on. Everyone in the building seemed to be on fire, especially their drummer and electric banjo player. Stopping only once or twice to compliment the crowd on their exceptional looks, and to tell us how the Chill is their favorite festival, these guys nearly blew the roof off the building with their version of Bowie's 'Let's Dance' and the classic Primate tune 'March of the Goosepimp'. 

Later on Marco Benevento serenaded us with his first ever appearance at the festival, and left many of us on the verge of tears with back to back covers of Elton John's 'Benny & the Jets' and the White Stripe's 'Doorbell'. Lettuce brought the funk to the main stage, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong got weird at Club Chill with an epic sit-in by The Hornitz, and to cap the night off was the classic rock power trio Alan Evans' Playonbrother, who somehow topped their tribute to Cream earlier in the night with a raging set that stopped at five in the morning and left many of us at a loss for words! After all the scheduled music had ended, I still had the energy to dance and nearly sprinted to the Shwizz Cabin, where impromptu jamming goes on every night until there's no one left to play. 

Friday night's jam included a boat-load of tri-state musicians who often traded off instruments to the amazement of all. Frankie Coda tipped me off to a special sit-in that was going to kick off Saturday's scheduled music, so after the jams I forced myself to go to sleep so I wouldn't miss any of what was sure to be the busiest day of the festival. Waking up later than I had hoped, and after grabbing several large cups of coffee from Dave's Mini Donuts, 
I poked my head into the B Stage to see Shwizz's Ryan Liatsis and Matty Carl playing guitar and saxophone with Jen Durkin & The Business. Ryan's sit-ins at Chill are legendary moments, and I was very thankful that Frankie had tipped me off to this one so I was finally able to bear witness. Twiddle started the day off on the main stage just as they had done in 2013, but this time the audience was totally packed up to the top of the bleachers and beyond the stage entrance, spilling out onto the hill. Sit-ins by Dopapod's Eli Winderman and Kung Fu's Todd Stoops and a Michael Jackson medley sealed the deal that Twiddle's performance would be in my top 10 of the weekend.

Following Twiddle, next up was lespecial who blend metal, funk and electro into their own progressive sound, and then The Hornitz, a New England duo of horns and beat-boxing who are quickly making themselves a household name in the scene. Dopapod brought the heat during their mid-afternoon main stage set, which included an intimate sit-in by Kung Fu percussionist Adrian Tramontano on Herbie Hancock's 'Butterfly'. O.G. 
Northeast jamband, The Breakfast, did what they do best in the rain, while Tauk, a newer Brooklyn-based funk outfit packed out Club Chill with dancing fans who didn't seem to mind that the club's temperature was nearing 100 degrees. 
Yonder Mountain String Band took to the main stage minutes after dusk, and surely gave festival goers a new appreciation for bluegrass. Many casual fans told me afterward that their set was a downright religious experience, and that the band's different lineup is bringing in a new era for the bluegrass genre. Break Science brought up Lettuce during their set to the astonishment of everyone, and I could easily say this was the most unique sit-in I've ever seen at a concert before. The crowd went insane at the blend of live electronica and funk. 
The New Deal, returning after their much-missed several year absence, was an absolute treat and one hell of a dance party. After their set I had to give myself a break from non-stop dancing with friends new and old alike, but came back for the last main stage set of the night, Papadosio. The psychedelic jamtronica group's fan base is considered to be one of the festival scene's most faithful, and many were in agreement that their set at Chill was the pinnacle of the band's performance efforts. Including some of their most recognizable songs, Dosio brought up keyboardist Eli Winderman from Dopapod towards the end of their set for what was possibly the most mind-melting moment of the weekend. I find it impossible to put into words exactly what happened, but the overall feeling of confused bliss was how I felt during and after the last ten minutes of the set. 
At the Chill, every band has the opportunity to explore outside of their realm of comfort and they all take advantage of it to the fullest degree. The cabin jams that night were astounding, with some of the biggest names in the scene making appearances in full costume. Going from dancing my heart out at the main stage with thousands of people to dancing until my feet were bleeding in the intimate cabin setting is what makes Catskill Chill so special for music fans. No matter what it is you're looking for, if you desire it, the ability to find it and take advantage of its presence is here. 
 Sunday morning and afternoon gave me the opportunity to finally rest my body and mind for a few short hours. I did however force myself to attend the Dopapod Pancake Power Hour, a give-back by the band to their fans which included free pancakes for all, and lovely music by the band's guitar player Rob Compa. After much careful consideration, I would say that Rob's time on the hill during breakfast was my personal favorite moment of the entire festival. He played covers such as The Band's 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down', Ween's 'Buckingham Green' and Sir Elton's 'Goodbye Yellowbrick Road'. Making up tunes on the fly, Rob sang and free-styled songs about his bandmates and friends, and interjected references to the band's history and it's fan base. The music was all topped with with a great sense of humor, and it just felt so organic, I knew if someone was recording this it would eventually be released and marked legendary by Dopapod fans worldwide. 

Thank you Rob for what was quite possibly the most touching moment I've ever experienced at any music festival! As Sunday went on, the venue was alive with chatter of this being the best festival of the year. Kung Fu and Consider the Source set the stage for one the most anticipated sets of the weekend, Shwizz & Fikus on stage together played a Parliament Funkadelic tribute set. With all the musicians in full costume, sit-ins by Jen Durkin and Rob Sommerville of Deep Banana Blackout, and dozens of live on-stage antics, this was surely one of the most memorable moments of the festival for Chillfam! Turkuaz engaged us with their energetic Sly and the Family Stone tribute, Electron, the super-group featuring Marc Brownstein, Aron Magner, Tommy Hamilton, and Mike Greenfield blew away the crowd with original tunes and covers by the Dead and Pink Floyd, and The Heavy Pets rounded it out with a special version of their song 'The Day the Sun Forgot to Rise' which featured singing by drummer Jaimie Newitt's sister. 
The New Mastersounds closed out the weekend of music with their funky style of British jamming. All in all, Catskill Chill reminded so many of us how music is the most special bonding ingredient in our lives. The festival is the ultimate celebration of life, and it needs to be mentioned that none of this would ever happen without the wonderful, caring and loving staff who pour their hearts and souls into creating the best weekend of the year. The ripple effect of their determination and positive grace radiated outward over the campground for three days and reminded us that we are one. 
Catskill Chill really is where the magic happens. So many of us are already counting down the days until next year's Chill, and I hope you, the reader, will join our family as the journey takes its next step forward! 
Words: Dylan Smith
Photos: Mike Geller
©Grateful Music LLC