07 July, 2008

Rothbury (This One's Long and I Mean It)

I’ve been having a difficult time describing my experiences this past weekend at Rothbury so I will borrow the words from a headline I found online:

Rothbury: Summer Camp for Adults

We arrived on Thursday, about 2 or 3 in the afternoon. According to the signs on the highway, the next two exits led to the festival so we took the second exit and watched in our rearview mirror as all the rest of the cars behind us took the first. I don’t know if the first exit led to a line as I’ve experienced at past music festivals (Phish’s Big Cypress at 15 hours and Coventry at 14 hours to name a couple) but the second exit was clear sailing all the way through to the security line. Past that we hit a line of cars about a mile long and coasted at a nice clip for less than fifteen minutes into what looked like the Day Camping area on the map we had just been given. That is where they directed us to park and put up camp. I was behind the wheel so I gave myself as much extra space between our car and the one in front of us – now parked to our left - as they would allow – our tent is large enough to have closets so a measly two-to-three feet between the cars wouldn’t suffice.

Turns out the car to our left held only the driver, who had every intention of moving her car to wherever her group of friends was parked as soon as they could send her the emissaries to guide her there. Within another fifteen minutes, we had a good seven-to-nine feet of space between us and our neighbors: the Georgia Boys.

It took us about an hour to get our living tent and our bathroom tent (port-a-johns be damned!) set up, our clothing in the living tent’s closets, the bed inflated (manually) and sheeted, the cooler squared away and the bags that held everything thrown into the back seat of the car at which point we began making friends with the Georgia Boys.

Let me just say, there is something about southern young men and their impeccable manners that makes even the most cynical of people generally happy with society. If these young men had come from anyplace other than the South, their boisterousness would most likely have bothered me at some point during the weekend. But that accent, and the individuals themselves … we clearly won the camping neighbor lottery again.

It become clear as the first day wore on, that our campsite was a makeshift campsite, originally intended to only hold the cars of the people coming for the day and not staying through the night, but heavy downpours the day and night before flooded some of the intended camping areas and so the organizers had to improvise. We initially thought we got stuck with a very short straw when we thought the walk to the festival grounds entrance was a good 30-45 minutes but we took a closer look at the map after taking that long walk one time and realized that there was an entrance to the festival grounds just outside our camping area and that’s when we knew the second exit off the highway had been a smart move.

That first day, we took care of some poster-related errands as well as some exploring and that evening, we entered the festival grounds for the first time.

From our entrance (noted on the map at top), we could go to the right and experience the raves and discos and yoga sessions (2 hour-long sessions in the morning: Spiritual Gangsta Yoga) at the Tripolee Domes or go further and wonder at the giant art installation of flying monkeys (more on that later) or step into the giant tent coined The Establishment for environmental discussions and music or even head outside the main entrance near there and hit the General Store for replenishment.

After checking out some of the sights to the right, we took a left from where we first entered and headed to the Ranch Arena, the smallest of the three main stages, but not small by any stretch of the imagination. We caught the last few songs of the Zappa Plays Zappa set and decided to move on and catch the Mickey Hart band. We took a right out of the Ranch Arena area and walked under a banner proclaiming Welcome to the Sherwood Forest. The surrounding pine trees were entirely branchless up to about 20 feet, plentiful and seemingly-ordered in rows to the sides and between the two paths running parallel through the forested area. In various clearings, the Rothbury crew had built large onion-looking pods for people to sit in and chill. (It’s funny, I’ve heard many different names for these “gathering pods” and they are all food-related: one girl called them the big pumpkins, someone else called them the Apples and I think they look like Onions with open segments for people to walk through.) In addition to the Onions, the crew had randomly strung up dozens of hammocks between the trees for intense relaxation. Unfortunately, you had to be a very lucky person to get some swing time on one of them and we had no such luck all weekend long.

About halfway through the Mickey Hart set, we headed back through the forest to catch the Disco Biscuits set. By this point, the sun had gone down (10:30pm sunsets in the middle of summer in north Michigan) and both forest paths were lit up with an abundantly imaginative display of lighting and suspended, black-lit installations that held everyone’s attention (resulting in a lot of collisions and apologies). At that moment, I realized that the long weekend would be well worth the unusually pricey ticket; they aimed to blow every other festival out of the water.

Once we reached the Ranch Arena stage area, we headed up to the sound booth to meet up with a couple friends taping the show. I enjoyed some of the Bisco set but I don’t do very well in crowded situations so after a few songs, I talked Jay into walking out of the crowd with me and finding some food. Various food booths were operated at the perimeters of each main stage field so we found one at the edge of the Ranch Arena that looked good, grabbed our food and drinks and sat down at one of the picnic tables and enjoyed our meal as the Biscuits played.

After we ate, we decided to head back to the Sherwood Court stage to hear a little of the Railroad Earth set but then, once we were there, we realized we were totally bushed and should head back to camp. After a few nights of little sleep and everything we had to do to get ready to go (as well as me getting ready to be unemployed and then employed again), we needed to get a good night in before the sun warmed the tent too much to sleep anymore.

So we ended up back at the camp a little early that night – about 1am. With the campsite so close to the festival grounds, we were rocked to sleep by the remaining Disco Biscuits set.

The next day, Friday, Independence Day, we woke up and joined the Georgia Boys for some early morning beers and conversation. Rothbury and its temporary citizens enjoyed a virtually cloudless sky all weekend so we lathered on the sunscreen and trekked to the first gig of the day at The Establishment, the colorful tent near the main entrance. They were broadcasting a weekly radio show called eTown on NPR from the tent that day with musical guest Michael Franti & Spearhead. We weren’t able to be there for long, though; the floor of the tent was covered in hay and Jason’s allergies began attacking almost immediately. Once the host requested that everyone turn off their cell phones and anything else that might make interruptive noise, we realized that Jason’s sneezing might be too invasive for the live taping.

We walked back to the campsite for a brief visit but then headed back in to the Ranch Arena stage to catch the Tea Leaf Green set that was about to start. I have been grooving on TLG for a couple of years now and am always psyched to see them play – they were a must-catch-set for me and they did not disappoint.

We left the TLG show a little early to head over to The Odeum, the largest of all the main stages where the biggest shows would occur. We wanted to catch some of The Wailers and get decent seating for the Snoop Dog set, sure to pack the field. The walk between the Ranch Arena and The Odeum is a solid fifteen minute hike through Sherwood Forest and beyond. Over the course of the exciting long weekend, we put some serious mileage on our feet.

I enjoy The Wailers very much; I think Bob Marley’s music is some of the very best music there is, and the legacy he left behind in his children and their love for his music is a gift to all the rest of us. When they began playing those first notes to “Three Little Birds”, the first song played after our Jamaican wedding ceremony, I couldn’t help but to tear up while looking over at my handsome husband. Never fails.

We waited through the 45 minute changeover from The Wailers to Snoop, watching as the largest field began to actually fill up. Snoop drew one of the largest crowds the entire weekend and no surprise: Gin ‘n Juice and Lodi Dodi off the Doggystyle album are mainstays in so many different collections. While we waited, the video camera on a large, rotating boom kept focusing on shoulder-riding girls with flimsy tops who didn’t even think twice before baring their breasts on the large screens to either side of the stage. Meh, different strokes for different folks. The next day, the camera found a couple shoulder-riders who politely refused to show their breasts to a bunch of strangers so, thankfully, not every shoulder-rider is a Girls Gone Wild wannabe.

Snoop arrived onstage right about 4:20 riding a totally tricked-out, adult-sized tricycle. His set was as bawdy as it could be and he pulled out a really nice Gin ‘n Juice early on. Three songs in (around 4:30) he called out for an onstage 4:20 break at which point, he took an onstage 4:20 break. He pulled out some new tunes which were a little too R & B for me but it was cool, he can sing too.

We left a few minutes before Snoop’s set ended and headed up to the Tripolee Domes at the other end of the festival grounds to catch a band we knew from Chicago that had won their spot on the Rothbury lineup. Casting Spells consists of a bass and guitar player and the music was pretty good although I miss a drumbeat. The bass player is a friend of a friend that we had met on a few occasions but we barely recognized him since he chopped off his long hair. We did a little catching up afterwards and he gave Jason a poster that he’d brought, hoping we’d be there.

As we were already in the neighborhood, we took the opportunity to head over to the General Store and pick up some necessities and not-so-necessities to take back to the campsite. We hadn’t brought a whole bunch of food since I had been at a loss as to what to bring without having a method to cook. Of course, once there, I recalled all the good things you can bring to camp that don’t require cooking but I didn’t remember any of them when it counted: before we left. So we picked up some snack-y type food at the General Store so we could nosh at home and not have to pay for every bite to eat.

When we got back to the campsite, we met up with the Georgia Boys who were getting ready to leave but had something for us: a steak and marinated, grilled peppers. The steak was delicious but the peppers were something completely out of this world. They gave me the recipe: equal parts vinegar, jerk sauce and evoo, marinade the peppers for 3 days and then grill them till they char. Oh hell yes I will! Gotta love the Georgia Boys.

We didn’t spend too much time back at camp; Jon Fishman was sitting in with Yonder Mountain String Band and we didn’t want to miss the first Phish sighting of the weekend!

I will admit, I do like me some bluegrass music. Perhaps it stems from my father’s love of torturing me with country music in the pre-Walkman days or maybe I just started liking it when I started seeing Leftover Salmon but either way, I was almost as excited for YMSB as I was to see Fishman for the first time since Coventry, if I remember correctly.

Unfortunately, we didn’t catch a whole lot of YMSB, having spent too much time gorging ourselves on steak and peppers. Once we got there, we thread out way through the crowd so we could get close enough to see Jon behind his kit. It was nice to see him again.

After YMSB gave their final bows, we joined the crowd heading from the Ranch Arena stage into Sherwood Forest on the way to the Odeum stage for the two Widespread Panic sets. Our friends were taping this show too, so we headed immediately up to the sound booth to meet up with them.

I don’t usually go crazy for Widespread … I’ve send them several times at several festivals (only once or twice on their own) and they just don’t do it for me. I think they’re talented and I know they have a million fans who adore them but I can’t ever remember a single song of theirs like I can with so many other bands. Nothing gets stuck going round and round in my head. The same could be said for this show. I enjoyed myself while there, danced a lot and had a great time but please don’t ask me what they played or even to hum a little bit because I can’t remember. Nothing got stuck.

Between sets, we headed back to the Ranch Arena stage to catch a little bit of the Of Montreal set because Jason had heard a little bit by them and wanted to check them out. We weren’t there very long – turns out he didn’t really like their music like he thought he would although I was kind of digging on it – but I clearly remember a strange stage show with kids dressed up in strange costumes flitting all about the stage. After a couple songs we headed back to the Odeum to catch the second set of Widespread.

As Widespread left the stage after the second set, we saw the first fireworks pop overhead. Rothbury put on a decent fireworks show – not nearly as great as July 3rd, Taste of Chicago fireworks but pretty good. I saw some new spectacles in the sky that night – amazing how fireworks can assume familiar shapes when the wind is low. I bet the Chinese never envisioned that level of progress to their invention.

Once the fireworks were through, we headed over to the Sherwood Court to catch a little of Thievery Corporation. I saw them at Lollapalooza 2006 and really enjoy their music so I was happy to make a stop to see them here for a little bit. I was pretty tired so while I liked the little bit of Thievery Corporation that we saw, I was ready to head up to the Ranch Arena stage and catch the much-anticipated Primus set.

Primus is one of those bands that likes to add a lot of spectacle to their shows, often in the form of large balloon-like figures on the stage as they play. At Rothbury, they played an amazing set in front of two gigantic, inflatable astronauts. I love Les Claypool on bass; while I think Mike Gordon of Phish is an incredible bass player, Les Claypool sounds like no other bassist and gives Primus a unique twang that people love so much.

Eventually, it was time to head home and get some sleep. We did not get to go to sleep to the strains of Primus that night as they ended their set before our heads hit the pillows.

The next day, Saturday the 5th, was a day we planned to explore and enjoy the non-musical elements of Rothbury. There weren’t many bands playing that day that thrilled us and we felt there was so much of Rothbury we still hadn’t seen.

We put on our bathing suits and headed out to Big Wildcat Lake, just beyond the Ranch Arena stage area. The weather was hot and humid so we thought it would be phenomenal to cool off in a lake. And it would have been … if the lake hadn’t been half mud and entirely too gross to swim in (which didn’t stop me from swimming in it for a little while.) The problem was that the line for the shower afterward was very long and getting longer with all the line-cutters. We didn’t have the time to stand there all day for me to wash off the mud that was lining the inside of my bathing suit so I had to wash off with wet wipes later at the camp and deal with being a little dirty for the remainder of the festival.

After cleaning off back at the campsite and sitting around a little while enjoying the sun (which I enjoyed far too much according to my lobster-tinged skin), we headed out first to the Ranch Arena stage to catch the last few songs of Gomez (introduced to them by The O.C. … what hasn’t that show taught me??) and then to the Sherwood Court stage to catch Medeski, Martin & Wood before heading back to the campsite to wait out the Dave Matthews set. We still ended up hearing it from our campsite and that was fine, but neither of us really wanted to brave the crowds to listen. We even had the time to grab a nap since we knew we wanted to stay up super late.After the naps, we re-entered the festival grounds and stopped by the Ranch Arena to check out the Sound Tribe Sector Nine set. I had never been a very big Sound Tribe fan; I saw them last summer at Camp Bisco in Mariaville, NY and I left their set unimpressed but I knew so many people who thought they were the greatest band since Phish so I keep giving them chances. And this time it caught. I don’t know why I never really liked them, this time I really liked them.

After a few songs, we decided to head down the to Sherwood Court stage to see The Crystal Method which was the reason we took our naps in the first place. I knew nothing about this band so imagine my surprise when I realized it wasn’t a band, but rather a set of DJs. They spun hardcore techno music in combination with a crazy light show – it was the perfect late-night party.

After awhile, we decided it was time to head back to the Sound Tribe show and get some food and then head back to camp. On the way back to camp, we detoured slightly and headed over to see the Flying Monkeys, an art installation named Homouroboros, at night. When we saw them during the day, it was merely a static sculpture, strange to be sure but the point was hard to make without the motion. So we went back this night to see it in action and it was amazing. The amount of thought that went into that piece – let’s not even discuss the architecture and process – is mind-boggling. Jason has great pictures both static and in action as well as an excellent description on his page of the meaning and action into it; check out Jason's post

Once back at camp, we ran into one-half of the Georgia Boys sitting around and enjoying the late night so we joined them. The other half came back within an hour with 2 girls in tow and the group of us pretty much stayed up till sunrise.

The Final Day.

Sunday was Trey Day, as far as I was concerned. I was unconcerned with any music until 4:15, which was Trey’s starting slot. We started out the day lazing around and then we decided to make a decision about whether we would leave that night or the next morning and that decision-making process took awhile and then we made the decision we would leave that night so the rest of the afternoon we had to kill was devoted to packing up. In the end, this turned out to be an excellent decision as the very first rain on Rothbury fell that night after we left and according to some people, it was pretty violent and made for a muddy pack-up the next day.

So, fully packed and ready to rock the hell out before rocking the hell back home, we walked into the festival grounds for the last time and headed to the very end, the Odeum stage.

Our friends were set up in front of the sound booth so we laid down an extra blanket with them and watched the end of the set before Trey: Rodrigo y Gabriela. Amazing … Phenomenal guitarists. No other instruments, just their two guitars and if you remember, I’m the person that needs a drumbeat? Well they played the drumbeat on the face of their guitars. Fantastic, I would definitely see them again! Got me right into the mood and anxious for Trey’s acoustic set.

So Trey comes out, he’s looking so healthy and happy. Watery blue eyes, face that should be under a hat brim in that sun and a smile as wide as they come. Of course, I instantly start tearing up. I had hoped that his legal troubles would put a fear of something in him and maybe they have because he seems not only on top of his game, but so happy to be playing in the first place. I will say that I wasn’t over-the-top impressed with his set but I was happy with it and when he brought Mike out (Mr. Purple Pants, himself – dude, you’re a guy … no purple pants, no), I was very happy and when he introduced a new song and followed up the introduction with “If only we could find a drummer and keyboard player. But it’s got to start with the songs, so you can be our test audience.” … oh yea, I was over-the-moon ecstatic. He ended it and he wants it to start back up. Hells yea!

The first new PHISH song was a nice little piece called “Backwards Down the Number Line”; I liked it, Mike seemed to enjoy playing it (Mr. Purple Pants and his boppy head). Tom Marshall wrote it and sent it to Trey for his birthday, I thought it was a lovely present.

The second new PHISH song was called “Alaska”. Catchy, will get caught in people’s heads, was okay – if it gets Phish back together I’ll even say it was amazing, best song ever, but in reality, it was okay. I liked it enough.

The sent ended with a nice little acoustic version of “Chalkdust Torture” – with a similar sentiment to “Backwards Down the Number Line” (Can't this wait till I'm old? Can't I live while I'm young?) at which point, Trey encouraged the audience to head over to the Sherwood Court to catch Mike’s set next and then to come back to the Odeum stage afterwards to see Gov’t Mule. So, we dutifully joined the herd and headed over to the Sherwood Court.

One thing stands out in my mind for the Mike set – as much as I love him, he’s a little too country for me, but there was one little, teeny tiny moment that kinda made me stand up and notice: When Trey AND Fishman joined him onstage for the last song. Okay, yea, it wasn’t a Phish song despite the fact that it was a THREE-QUARTER PHISH REUNION but it was fine because it was a Beatles song and I like them as much as I like Phish so if THREE-QUARTERS of PHISH wants to play a Beatles song instead of a Phish song, that’s fine. My only suggestion is to find that keyboard player and put him to work – I think you might have something then.

To wind this up, after Mike, we headed back over to the Odeum stage for the last 2 shows: Gov’t Mule and Phil Lesh. We ended up catching the last couple of Gov’t Mule songs and then only the first set of Phil before we decided we should get on out so we could make it home before 3am. I very much enjoyed Phil’s first set and would have liked to catch the second and had we not packed that day to leave, I definitely would have finished out Rothbury there but I started a new job a day later and needed the time to recuperate before getting back in the real world.

I had the time of my life at Rothbury: heard some great music, met some wonderful people, got my hopes up for a reunion and came out feeling totally invigorated from the whole experience. The organizers clearly put their best feet forward on this festival and accomplished some amazing things. Things that I’ll take away from the festival:

  • The green can is for compost, the orange can is for landfill and if you’re not sure, ask the person wearing the pink ONE shirt next to the cans
  • You can dance to music or you can hula hoop to music or you can do both and look really, really, really cool
  • Marinated, grilled peppers are my new favorite veggie
  • A case of Bud Light should NOT cost $35
  • Don’t swim in Big Wildcat Lake. Just don’t.
  • Bring shade, shade is good
  • Get into the festival grounds when they open and grab the hammock and don’t let go until the day is done. Everyone else is and when in Rothbury…Buy tickets early next year because you are definitely going!

For amazing pictures and videos of the festival, visit Jason’s page


Danielle Filas said...

Did you hear that? That sound in the distance? That's the sound of our bank account wailing in fear! If there is a reunion, we're gonna get poor fast!

Sounds like a great fest.... Thanks for writing the report so we can all feel like we were there!

dbz said...

I know! And here I went and got a real job with actual hours and limited vacation time and they come back?!?! Whassup with that? Clearly my sense of timing has a sense of humor