MONSTER FESTIVALS OF SEPTEMBERNo one knows quite what to expect their first time. The mood coming into the weekend of September 11th-14th and the inaugural Phases of the Moon Festival was one filled with excitement and intrigue, and the anticipation was slowly building. Everyone I came into contact with had the right attitude; open minded and eager to see how much excitement this first year festival was due to dish out. The short answer: A great deal. And then some more. The Inaugural 2014 Phases of the Moon Festival, was graciously hosted in Danville, Illinois on the grounds of the beautiful Kennekuk County Park. The location has a small town feel and homegrown atmosphere. As is the case for any first year festival, unexpected events are bound to happen along the way, such is the course of life. However, it is in judging the response to these situations that you can in itself judge the future possibilities and outcome of the festival.
In this way, I am confident that Phases of the Moon will not only be back but even better and more exciting, having quickly and effectively learned from any mistakes made. All the volunteers and staff of the POTM Festival should be applauded for their hard work, and especially their resilience and quick thinking in solving the problems that arose along the way. Not only did they deal with issues at hand, they were proud of the festival that they were hosting and wanted to make sure that everyone left knowing that this wasn’t a last minute, halfhearted attempt to put a few stages and bands together. The whole community worked together to cherish this festival and embrace the possibilities of making everyone happy and ensuring future success. It was obvious that people did genuinely care about all the concerns at hand. The most important aspect of a first year festival is creating an identity to embrace, and keep unique for itself. I believe Phases of the Moon succeeded in this, creating a vibe and atmosphere around the night sky, and the artists and crowd were eager to take hold and appreciate it. Stages were named after the Phases of the Moon itself: Full Moon, which was the main stage, New Moon, Harvest Moon and the aptly named Town Square Stage, itself being nestled into the quint area surrounded by the Sanctuary on one side and the Farmers Market on the other.
Looking forward to the lineup in store for these 4 incredible days of music and art in beautiful Middle America had me eager to get inside the gates and start the festival off right! However, it seems Mother Nature had different plans for the start of the inaugural Phases festival. Heavy rains on Wednesday night left the concert and campgrounds thoroughly saturated and muddy. However, the staff and volunteers quickly stepped into action. Crews worked furiously through the night and into Wednesday to do their best to mitigate what the heavy rains had done to the ground. Spreading mulch, hay, putting up new barriers and rearranging parking were just some of the things needed to be done. Even though most people sat in line in traffic on Thursday (myself included) we weren’t going to let this spoil the party. We all understood the gravity of the situation, having 10 entry lanes reduced down to 1 because of rain soaked ground meant slow moving. It didn’t mean that we couldn’t make new friends, and appreciate the hard work being done to try to solve this problem. Eventually, a solution was reached, and some were relocated to different grounds, while others came back in the morning. It is unfortunate that many had to miss the great offerings on Thursday, but such is life, and one more example of how confident I am that next year’s POTM will be even better, as everyone learns from what happened and has a more effective plan in place.
The day of music and art on Friday more than made up for the necessary delay in entering, and helped to get me in the spirit for an awesome weekend of festivities. My day started off on a great note by grooving along to the New Orleans soul group Dumpstaphunk, on the “New Moon” stage. The crowd was digging the cool and unseasonable weather and dancing and boogieing along to the deep bass and funk. Jackie Greene was next on the schedule on the main “Full Moon” stage and left the crowd feeling a great vibe with his gentle and uplifting songs. He combined this mellow feeling with a touch of energy to keep the crowd happily in step with his rhythm.
Anders Osborne played with a slashing guitar and deep electronic funky distortion that kept the crowd grooving through the late afternoon on the second stage. He had a rich and deep sound, and a great mastery of the guitar. He can belt out notes and hit every range of sound he wants with his guitar. In short, he keeps the crowd guessing how many different ways he can bend a note and stretch the possibilities of what a guitar can do. The following act, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are a far cry from the electronic overtones of Anders Osborne, and a thrilling Segway into all the different types of music and art that the Phases festival incorporates. Grace Potter’s voice is captivating, definitely highlighting her talent as one of the elite female vocalists of her time. She can take the crowd on a high and keeping them going with the Nocturnals amazing backups. The band performed a riveting cover of “Don’t Fade Away” and Grace Potter got the crowd into the tune. She got down off the stage and invited the crowd to sing the chorus along with her. Her amazing stage presence and the great talent that she is surrounded by will surely leave fans wanting to hear more every time they see a performance.
The nighttime on Friday brought to the main, Full Moon stage, String Cheese Incident; one of the two main festival headliners. This was their second night’s performance, however I and many others unfortunately had to miss the first show on Thursday. As such, I was super excited and even more eager to jam out at Fridays show, and of course, SCI did not disappoint. The band has been jamming together for 20 years since forming in Colorado, and this year serves as an anniversary tour for them, highlighting all the music and progress as a band they have made along the way. All of this contributed to an amazing show. String Cheese Incident started and ended the set with Rollover, and also played a great Jellyfish, with the crowd passing around a giant paper Mache jellyfish throughout. Immediately after the SCI set, the highlight of the night occurred.
The band appeared back on stage, this time as an iteration called Lunar Landing Conspiracy. The band embraced the Phases of the Moon identity, played only mooned themed songs with some spectacular guests. They opened with 2001: A Space Odyssey and went into Moon Rocks and Yellow Moon, joined by Mofro Horns. Other guests included JJ Grey and Bill Payne, and also Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon and Sunshine Garcia. During the set, fire dancers performed on stage, and were highlighted by one more fire dancer and acrobat who performed on a giant steel star with flames erupting that descended from above the stage. She performed while the band played to the crowd for a truly unique and exciting experience. The cover of both Walking on the Moon, and Brain Damage had the crowd going nuts, singing along and dancing. Everyone on hand was clearly in the “Moon” spirit that night.
After another night camped out in the Kennekuk County Fair Grounds, I awoke and explored more music and arts on offer for the day. I witnessed the crowd jamming along to A Live One, a Phish tribute band. They played some Phish classics such as Meatstick, Harry Hood, and You Enjoy Myself, to a receptive audience. They played on the quainter and intimate Town Square stage. Later that day, also on the same stage I watched and thoroughly enjoyed the powerful voice of Sister Sparrow, and the amazing backups of the Dirty Birds. Arleigh Kincheloe is the face of this group that calls Brooklyn, New York its home. She takes control of the stage and is a great presence to the crowd. She can belt out a note on cue, and also be soft and silly when she wants to be. Sister Sparrow’s Dirty Birds are all great musicians in their own right, and each individually can rock a groove and impress.
Following Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Bird’s performance, I enjoyed some of the performance arts that the Phases of the Moon festival had to offer. The Harvest Moon stage offered many great acts, including juggling and acrobatics, and many talented performers with various artistic backgrounds. This stage was situated in the middle of the concert grounds, allowing passersby to stop for a few moments and enjoy some great shows of aerial acrobatics, hula hooping, fire dancing, and more.
Saturday night was time for the second headliner of the festival, Widespread Panic, to make their impact on the weekend. They did not fail to impress, playing tunes such as Chilly Water, Ride Me High, and Driving Song. They opened with Henry Parsons Died and closed with North. The crowd was into the set the whole time, and the band didn’t let the mood down. The Main stage was flanked by giant white canvas screens, at times showing the performers on stage and also psychedelic images and arts. Surrounding the crowd in various spots on the concert grounds were fire dancers, performing along to the music to further rev up the crowd. This first of two Widespread Panic performances left the crowd pleased, yet eager for more.
Sunday, the final day was filled with the excitement and good vibe that the last day of a festival brings. The weekend was coming to a close, but not before one last day of great excitement. Some of that excitement included Robert Randolph and the Family Band, and the amazing guitar skills that Robert Randolph displays. He invited special guest, Arleigh Kincheloe of Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds on stage to perform with him as well. Also, any festival that truly wants to be called great must include legend Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule. The band performed on the Full Moon stage and were followed a few hours later by the second performance of the main co-headliner Widespread Panic. The second night of Widespread, and for all intents and purposes, the last show of the Festival was a spectacular one that left everyone in the stars. The band opened with Imitation Leather Shoes and started the groove off on the right foot. They played Weight of the World and Pleas, followed by Bust it Big. The band or crowd wasn’t even unsettled by the rowdy stage crasher, and went on as if nothing had happened. My personal highlight was a cover of one of my favorite bands, The Rolling Stones, and You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Widespread closed out the set, with Chainsaw City, to the delight of the crowd. The jams played by Widespread the final night perfectly harmonized with the mood of the collective and left everyone feeling satisfied and euphoric.
The first Phases of the Moon festival had character, had great staff and volunteers, amazing bands, performers and artists, amazing food, and spectacular facilities. It had every ingredient that a memorable festival needs. I have no doubt that festival organizers will work out the small glitches and return next year with an even more expanded lineup, and just as much excitement and energy. The Phases festival has a great identity, associating itself with the cycles of the moon. It is hard not to get into the spirit, and find yourself at your campground after all the days shows and art, lying and looking at the stars, reflecting with friends both old and newly formed, about the great times that we all had in the small town of Danville, Illinois, at the Phases of the Moon Festival and the anticipation we all have for next year.
Words: Scott Geller
Photos: Mike Geller
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