Catskill Chill Bids A Fond Farewell to Minglewood
Another Catskill Chill is in the bag and a month later we are all still aglow with reminiscence of that one wild weekend. Farewell to Minglewood was, by all accounts, a knock out success. Every year is like one big family reunion. That feeling you get on the first day of camp. That feeling of seeing all your friends for the first time since last year. That feeling permeated the entire weekend. The places will soon change, but the faces remain the same. I think that this exact thing will happen to me just next year. This year, however, was yet another one for the voluminous Castskill Chill record books, one last hurrah at the stomping grounds where the nascent legend began.
It all started, as many wonderful adventures do, with a goat. Waiting in a lengthy but well-organized line of traffic, we spotted the creature grazing innocuously alongside a hill. Perhaps to rural folk, a goat is not quite the novel rarity is to us city dwellers, but it foreshadowed a day of whimsy that turned into a delirious musical marathon. Flat tires and Soviet puns and 1980’s sci-fi comedy villains tried but failed to stop us from the inevitable chilling that was to be. After sprucing up the old cabin, we headed down to The DC Stage where Consider the Source was already firmly entrenched in the depths of a virtuoso acoustic performance. The stage formerly known as Acoustic Junction has bounced all around Minglewood since its inception as a spawning ground for the very first acoustic set by the band, a symbiotic synergy symbolic of the organic ideology pervasive at the festival.
After a brief respite and a dabble in some Brummy Brothers twang, it was off to the B Stage for the electrified version of Consider the Source, a very shreddy affair indeed. The Main Stage beckoned with the reliably ever present funk onslaught of Lettuce, a veteran Chill mainstay, the perfect kickoff to night one of the festival. The familiar hammocks hung in the bleachers and the dance floors teemed with the colorful dancing masses. The adventurous ducked down to the seductively solitary grassy knoll, a starlit retreat with perfect sound. We were home. But the night was young and the music varied, leaving little time to languish on laurels. Up the hill, Kaytanda‘s violin psytrance filled Club Chill, this year barricaded behind the iron veil of an unprecedented security checkpoint. Back at the DC Corner, Borahm Lee, the lesser known half of Break Science, spun a smartly spastic set, deftly drifting from electronic to hip hop. In the sleeper hit of the weekend, Love Canon paid tribute to the 1980’s in a bluegrass milieu, offering expertly orchestrated versions of decade hits like ZZ Top’s “Legs” and Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.”
Horizon Wireless spun drippy trance backed by furiously paced live beats. Lotus played their inimitable brand of mellifluously melodic electronic rock to a peak hour Main Stage. Speakerbot kept the homieville crowd in motion with a solid selection of disco and house worthy of any Brooklyn basement. Break Science fused almost vintage dubstep with some deep underground NYC hip hop aided by the omnipresent Shady Horns brass brigade and the old school rappers CX and Coachy Real. The traditional Grateful Dead tribute, always a popular Chill event, featured Twiddle with guests galore for a fairly straight forward take on some Dead fan favorites that didn’t even really require vocals from the band. Why the sole Dead set of the weekend wasn’t given more dancing room is beyond me, but soon the tumbledown shack that was Club Chill felt as though the roof might cave in.
Somehow, on a wing and a prayer and nary a disco nap, we made it to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow: a Studio 54 tribute featuring the twin towers of Turkuaz and Dopapod. With the exquisite funk of the former and the electronic influence of the latter, this marathon disco set was a clear highlight of the weekend. The Chill contingency need no longer wonder what life is like on the glittery insides of a disco ball. Dopakuaz turned the entire main stage into a delirious mirror ball swirl of good vibrations and tireless toe tapping. Inspired extended jams on classics like “A Fifth of Beethoven” and “I Feel Love” fueled the fire into the wee hours of the morning. After the set, an upbeat remix of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” played us off to bed drenched in tender satisfaction.
Saturday began with more spiritual nourishment. Curiously fresh after Friday’s fatigue inducing pace, we found ourselves early to rise and decided to experience the sonic massage of the gong chamber. I’ve always wanted to get gonged, and I can confirm that is is quite the existentialist experience. Low frequencies resonate throughout the body in peaceful meditative waves. Each giant cymbal is supposedly attuned to the vibrations of the planets, so a trip aboard The Sonic Portal spaceship is allegedly analogous to an abbreviated trek through the cosmos. Modern metaphysical mysticism aside, the auditory sensation was a relaxing start to the day and infused us with some sort of extracurricular energies at any rate. The musical introduction to the day continued with the soul stirring. Red Baraat, the opening act on the Main Stage, belied the mellow mood of the early risers with a funky take on traditional Indian wedding tunes.
The highlight of the day was the ShwiKus takeover of Club Chill, beginning with proper FiKus and Shwizz sets and culminating in both bands paying tribute to the cheesiest hits of the 1980’s in full period costume. The two bands have been inextricably interwoven in the Chill fabric for the last half decade, ranging from epic late night cabin jam sessions to Club Chill throwdowns for the ages. Though the bands eschewed their cabin jams this year, they made themselves known with legions of trolls to be found everywhere at Minglewood. FiKus dipped into the 1990’s with a nostalgic take on the Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979” situated nicely in a set with more than a hint of indie rock sensibility. Shwizz performed many an instant classic off their new double album My Good Side/My Bad Side, wrapping a solid rendition of “A Day in the Life” around their own compositions, and wrapping up with an old original – the infectious “Slow Down.”
That 1980’s set though. ShwiKus knows how to get in character. Add that full commitment to their crackerjack instrumental skills and you have a recipe for a fully immersive musical era experience. The band members kept to their stated intentions of sticking to guilty pleasure jukebox jammers. The set came packed with pop metal hits and mini medleys of ’80s legends like Michael Jackson and Cyndi Lauper. The two band takeover climaxed with the one-two tongue-in-cheek cock rock punch of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” featuring a scarily accurate Dee Snider clone, and the Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta ) Fight For Your Right (To Party),” both of which had the crowd gleefully shouting along. Paaaaaarrrrrrty!!!
And a party it was. The day soon took on the familiar breakneck festival pace, with snippets of the entirety of the estimable musical slate. Wiley Griffin, going full Warren Haynes at the fest and sitting in with seemingly everyone, had been billed for a solo set. But even that turned into an all star jam session featuring the burgeoning jam collective Teddy Midnight which recently acquired Wiley in a semi-hostile takeover. Wiley also sat in with Horizon Wireless and Twiddle over the course of the evening, merrily shredding wherever the jams beckoned. He even found time to interview fellow Chill performers for a new Teddy TV venture.
Zappa Plays Zappa faithfully recreated Papa Frank’s complex compositions, as well as inherent weirdness, yet felt surprisingly sterile, perhaps a victim of hewing too closely to source material whose power lies in its inimitable novelty. The Werks served up a course in genre-jumping, twisting originals around the jamband standard “2001” and inviting their tour mates Twiddle up for a spell. Nadis Warriors performed a psychedelic electronic set to a sparse rapt crowd. Jam godfathers moe. mixed classics and deep cuts, recovering nicely from a mildly awkward Moon Hooch sit in that just didn’t gel. Stratosphere All Stars didn’t exist a year ago, but that didn’t stop them from tearing through a set of off-kilter dance hits from across the decades, introducing up-and-coming guitarist Marcus Rezak to more than a few new fans.
Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! The sun always comes up much too soon. Sunday might have been the best all around day of the festival, certainly in terms of the midday hijinks to be had. So hefty was the musical menu on this day that one of the most exciting funk bands on the scene was relegated to an early afternoon slot up against a reading of an ode to PBR at the open mic. The afternoon featured one of the bigger three way conflicts of the weekend, with The Motet’s body moving funk grooves on the main stage, Solaris’ speedy drum and bass tinged electronic excursions in Club Chill, and the kitchen sink aesthetics of The Primate Fiasco at The DC Corner.
American Babies brought the eclectic stylings of Tom Hamilton’s American Babies. Jamilton Hams, as a popular 2014 Chill shirt dubbed the versatile guitarist, has long graced the Chill stages, with Brothers Past, Electron, and Acoustic Again, the Aron Magner collaboration that was wildly popular last year, but only availabale to VIP attendees. Where the babies once played straight forward indie Americana, their repertoire has expanded exponentially to incorporate verious thematic jams. Of course there was some good ol’ Grateful Dead, with the band sticking “New Speedway Boogie” in the middle of its own “Winter War Games.” Spent a little time on the hill, indeed. Dopapod’s set hearkened back to their Studio 54 extravaganza Friday with many a disco tease, soundtracking an especially raucous lakeside session involving a groundscored Torah and a quartet of water pipes fastened to a ski (affectionately dubbed The Big LeBongSki).
Sunday night shut the door on the festival with a trio of acts emblematic of the broad range of improvisational music to be found at the festival. Electron turned in one of the finest performances of last year’s Chill and this year’s set was no slouch either. Leaning heavily on Disco Biscuits tunes that take on an alternate universe quality when jammed out by Tom Hamilton, the stellar set also found space for the jamband forefathers with a version of Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar” and a closer of the Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias” segued atypically into “I Know You Rider.” An anticipated and apt “Home Again” encore never came, but there were jams for days over at the B Stage. Pink Talking Fish takes the tribute act concept to a foregone conclusion, blending Pink Floyd, Talking Heads and Phish in a stew that would border on the absurd if it weren’t so damn good. The gimmick remained fresh here, leaning heavily on the Talking Heads disco punk while taking planned detours into Floyd and Phish anthems.
Really there was no better choice than Particle to send Minglewood off for good. The band has played every single Catskill Chill and embodies the collaborative, locomotive essence of the festival. There were a few choice covers – David Bowie, the Eurythmics, and a Brothers Past fan fave with fifty percent of the elusive quartet – but Particle played mostly originals from its now-classic debut album Launchpad, but found space to preview the title track of its cleverly named upcoming album Accelerator. Friends and family from across the years joined in to play us off. Because the night belongs to lovers. Because the night belongs to us.
For all the songs that might have provided a fitting conclusion to the last dance at Camp Minglewood, Particle (and just about the entire remainder of the Chill family of musicians) picked a duo of disco funk classics – Sly & The Family Stone’s “It’s A Family Affair” and Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family.” The message was crystal clear. We are family. For all the cynicism and snark that might exist beyond the amorphous metaphorical walls of Catskill Chill, this family thing is for real. You can still embrace strangers in an ebullient improvised group hug circle dance under a sparkling disco ball. Where the road takes us from here is anyone’s guess, but this love is real and will not fade away. The Minglewood magic may be a beautiful fleeting memory, a dream we dreamed one afternoon, but the family vibe rolls on to 2016 and beyond.
Photos by Dave DeCrescente