A Return to Roots: An Interview with Lotus’ Mike Greenfield on Catskill Chill
Sensible Reason caught up with Mike Greenfield, drummer of the boundary-defying musical quintet Lotus, about the band’s return to Catskill Chill Music Festival and his history with this one-of-a-kind music festival and its grounds. If you need another reason why you should consider Catskill Chill one of the more special festivals of the season, Greenfield’s got you covered.
Ali Kramen: As a number of your fans already know, you went to music camp at Camp Minglewood as a child, the camp where the Catskill Chill Music Festival now takes place. I know I can’t be the only one curious about your experiences back then, and how it has affected and will continue to affect your experience as a performer at Catskill Chill. For starters, give your fans a little background on the “who, what, when, where, why” of your time at Camp Minglewood – what was your childhood summer camp experience there like?
Mike Greenfield: I was a camper there for a few summers starting when I was about 10 years old, but it was called by a different name then. It was a performing arts camp that allowed us to pick a “major” similar to college undergrads. I chose music since I just started playing drums and enjoyed it. Today, there are so many music camps and schools but back then it was an extremely rare opportunity. We had private lessons for several weeks and were later assembled into a band by our counselor. We finally played “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple at a concert for all the campers and it was the first time I played with a rock band! It was obviously a very powerful experience for me.
AK: I know I have nothing but fond memories of my childhood summer camp experiences, and I wasn’t even honing the passion that would become my career. Does that fact make it all the more special and memorable for you?
MG: Yes, I think it does. There are those significant events throughout my life that turned out to be life-changing experiences. Sometimes I reminisce about the long crazy road that has led up to my becoming a full-time musician. And of course, one’s first experience of anything is the most memorable and can eventually shape the rest of your life. I started playing drums because I had a neighbor that I looked up to who played and because my father was in a rock band when he was younger. I had fun playing the instrument when I first started, but things didn’t really “click” for me until I played that first rock show at camp. That’s when I really got it and caught the bug. Going back and revisiting that first time really floored me. To play on that same stage is like going back to your junior high school and running into your first girlfriend there.
AK: Do you have any particularly memorable moments from your summer camp days that you could share with your fans?
MG: Sleep-away camp can be a very healthy experience for kids even though there can be a love-hate relationship. It was difficult to be away from my family for an extended period of time since I was young but I feel that it helped me to develop into my own person. I was shy back then and it forced me to become more outgoing. I took my experience at camp for granted as a kid, but in retrospect it was such a utopian existence. Although I majored in music, I also sailed boats in the lake, acted in a play, played sports, rode go-carts, and even swung in the trapeze! Every day we tried to improve our skills while meeting kids from all over the world. I didn’t know it at the time, but camp had a big role in making me the person that I am now.
AK: How did it feel returning to Camp Minglewood for the first time? How did it feel to headline at the place where you took part in your first live band performance?
MG: I was subbing for Conspirator in 2011 and I was scheduled to play with them for Catskill Chill. I didn’t realize that it was at “my” camp, however, because it was called “Camp Minglewood” on all of the promotional material. I eventually pieced it together and was ecstatic to revisit the grounds.
When we finally got there, I was flooded by dormant memories and I couldn’t stop smiling- I was blissed out! I walked around for an hour while manically telling complete strangers, “This is where we ate lunch! This is where I learned how to sail a boat!” etc. They must have thought I was crazy.
When I made it over to sound check, I instantly recognized it as the stage where I played my very first concert almost 30 years ago. There I was, returning to my camp to headline a festival that was attended by several thousand fans. The term “full circle” was used by more than one of my friends when I told them about the experience. Last year I played at Catskill Chill with Lotus and Kick Rocks and Lotus will be returning this year as well.
AK: Is playing Catskill Chill a different experience for you than playing at other festivals? What do you think about it as compared to the many other festivals you have played over the years?
MG: Obviously playing Catskill Chill is very nostalgic for me. Even if I didn’t go to camp there it is an extremely well-run festival attended by an incredible group of fans. When you add the bucolic elements of the campgrounds it’s easy to understand why it’s one of my favorites.
AK: Catskill Chill is on the smaller side when it comes to music festivals – how does the smaller, more intimate nature affect your playing (if at all)?
MG: Generally I feel that the band is a bit more relaxed at smaller festivals since there is less pressure and it is easier to connect with the fans. Also, when we play smaller festivals we are usually one of the headliners so the audience is already familiar with our music and what we are about.
AK: Lotus’ set last year at Catskill Chill was easily my favorite of your festival sets that summer, in part because it so visibly affected the crowd as it progressed. Was it as special for you as it was for your fans? Could you feel any difference in energy from the crowd, and if so how did that affect you?
MG: Right, I remember that being one of our better shows. The band was communicating well and the energy from the crowd helped to fuel the set for sure.
AK: When you think about your experience last year, what about it has stuck most in your mind?
MG: Last year was different for me because I also played a show with Kick Rocks, which is an improvisational side project that featured Jon Gutwillig from the Disco Biscuits. Side projects can be fun because they push me out of my “safety zone,” although sometimes it can be intimidating to play an improvised set of music to a large crowd. It was a treat having the two sets back to back to really experience the distinctions. I had a similar situation this year at Electric Forrest with Sucker Punch and Lotus playing the same day.
AK: Are you looking forward to your third year performing at the festival?
MG: Absolutely. Hopefully we can continue playing the festival in upcoming years as well.
AK: If you were going to check out one act at this year’s Catskill Chill, what would it be?
MG: The Meters had a huge influence on me when I discovered them in my early 20’s. Zigaboo Modeliste is one of the best drummers I have heard and paved the way for a lot of us. I am going to a wedding on Saturday so I may not be able to catch the Meter Men unfortunately. I have also shared the stage with a lot of musicians who will also be there, such as Conspirator, Dopapod, Brothers Past, RAQ, Kung Fu, Damn Right, Lettuce, Papadosio, Greg D, Orchard Lounge etc. The hang is going to be phenomenal!
Many thanks to Mike for taking the time to answer our questions so thoroughly! You can find out more about Catskill Chill or purchase tickets here. It’s going to sell out boys and girls, so don’t wait too long! This is one festival you are NOT going to want to miss – I think Mike would agree.