Redhook Fest is quite possibly the best small, one-day festival ever
imagined. How I missed this treat for ten years is beyond me. It takes
place a mere half-hour from my home, outdoors, and on the grounds
of the Redhook Brewery in Portsmouth, NH.
To set the stage, consider that general admission tickets are a mere
$25 each. Kids 12 and under get in free. Food is provided by a variety
of local restaurants at distinctly non-festival prices - case in point,
the delicious $6 fresh steak and cheese sandwich I enjoyed. And, of
course, a variety of Redhook beers were available - also at $6 a pop. For the truly fortunate fan a VIP bracelet upgrade grants access
to the brewery restaurant, a free, catered buffet and an open bar.
The latter of which is truly a challenge for a writer torn between
trying each of the dozen or more Redhook brews and actually remembering
the show he's charged with reviewing.
The stage itself was in the corner of the Redhook property, at one
end of their expansive lawn. Given the distinctly crunchy nature of
the bands frisbees and hula hoops abound. Kids tumble and cartwheel
at every turn. Coupled with an abundance of pot smoke, the scene seems
like something between Woodstock and a yuppie play group. I have the pleasure of enjoying the day with three fourths of my
family and half of my sister-in-law's - a gang that includes my eight
year old daughter and nephew, enabling me to enjoy both the family
and adult virtues of the day.
When many of my friends were dipping their toes into the world of
jam bands back in high school and college I was a closed minded, hardcore
punk. Extended jams and trippy instrumentals had no place next to
my three-minute, riff-driven punk rock heart. Twenty-odd years later
my musical tastes have broadened and I'm able to entertain the value
of a whole variety of genres. Oddly, I found my entrance to the jam
band world not through The Grateful Dead or any other iconic
psychedelic band, but instead through the inspiration of Sonic
Youth (back to my punk rock roots, right?). Their experimental
instrumentation opened me up to a whole variety of music that I had
previously relegated to the category or "crap".
Even after having my epiphany I've been very discerning in my jam
bands of choice. moe. has been a welcome addition to my relatively
small roster of favorites. With them, the key is their recognition
of the value of a good riff. For all their noodling and twelve-plus
minute jams they always come back to the riff. They know how to deliver
on a good rock song even in, and amongst, their noodling. And that's
exactly how moe. begins their two-and-a-half hour set - with the riff.
Right out of the gate they start with a twelve minute version of "Water".
Things only get better from there. With average song times clocking
in at around eight minutes and very little between-song-banter there's
plenty of room to get lost in the music, and that's just what me and
my two eight year old companions do; right up front against the crash
barrier we lose ourselves in what seem like endless jams.
An hour in the band takes a set break. Upon returning they open with
a killer pair of songs. The space jam of "Spaz Medicine"
flows directly into the Caribbean-tinged "Seat Of My Pants".
And on they go for another hour-plus before another break and their
twenty-minute encore. moe. has mastered the art of composing their
setlist. Each song flows seamlessly from one song to the next but,
more importantly, the tempos vary throughout. The ebb and flow is
so natural that it reminds me of a rave - the DJ maneuvering the crowd
through song selections to ride the emotional waves of the music.
Perhaps more than anything I can write about moe.'s set pales in
comparison to the volumes spoken by the reaction of the young kids.
I certainly think it's testament to a band's skills when they can
play two-and-a-half hours of clearly adult-oriented music and still
have two eight year olds dancing and singing along in the front row.
It would be utterly unfair to pay short shrift to the other bands
that played Redhook Fest 2012. And it would be sad for me to overlook
the opportunity to bring some great bands from my corner of the country
(northeast Massachusetts) a moment in the national spotlight.
Unfortunately, traffic conspired against us and we arrived right
at the tail end of Dusty Gray's set. From what we heard while
walking across the parking lot they were playing a serviceable set
of mostly southern-rock style covers.
The Ryan Montbleau Band brought their distinctly original
combination of Allman Brothers-esque Southern jams and Stevie
Wonder-style soul - two styles that at first glance might not
sound like a perfect match. But after two or three minutes it was
clear that these gentlemen are on to something. The smooth soul/funk
jams are dirtied up with some scuzzy guitars. Props have to be paid
to the band's keyboard player who seamlessly bridges the gap between
their two genres, giving both sides of the band the ability to bounce
back and forth between styles easily and often.
The final warm-up slot went to The Brew, who deliver a poppier
take on the jam band sound. Their more polished vocals and reliance
on piano position them to possibly find a place in the more mainstream
lexicon of independent music. The Brew's too short set ended with
a pair of covers - Foreigner's "Double Vision" and
a ten minute take on Led Zeppelin's "Going To California".
The risk of closing a set with covers is that they'll overpower your
originals. And that's just what happened to The Brew. Particularly
the Led Zeppelin closer. As great as their originals were - and I
really enjoyed them - their take on the classic "Going To California"
was smoking. No matter how hard I try to remember the rest of their
set I'm always drawn back to their passionate closing cover.
More Music Features
e-mail the chief
Like this article?
it to a friend!