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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.

-George Dow

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