Catskill Chill Does It Again

On a dreary Tuesday morning, amidst decompression following another Catskill Chill executed nearly to perfection, a New York Times front page piece flashes the headline “Drug Deaths Threaten Rising Business of Electronic Music Fests.” It’s nice to know there’s a refuge from the irresponsibility. There’s a place to dance away your cares where those who choose to indulge generally do so knowledgably and there’s always a friendly stranger with an eye out for your safety. By booking great acts and capping capacity, the Chill draws quality patrons who rage responsibly. Even the ever present so-called rage sticks, those view-blocking totems, are kept to an acceptable amount.

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Already atop the midsize northeast festival heap, Catskill Chill strives to improve itself each year. This year featured the Red Bull Campsite DJ Truck, as well as innumerable minor changes all geared towards creating a unique and inimitable experience for a crowd capped at a comfortable 5000. The Chill is so near and dear to those in the know that the lure of several top tier festival veteran acts just several hours south was not even a consideration for a contingency of dedicated jam fans. The magic of Minglewood is a powerful elixir that intoxicates anew year after year, quickly converting first-timers into dedicated Chillers.

FRIDAY

Cabins properly decorated, the main stage awaited. Particle played an uncharacteristically early set built on their own catalog of jamtronic classics like “Launchpad” and “Elevator” alongside ‘80s dance pop classics like “Electric Avenue” and “You Can Call Me Al,” in stark contrast to last year’s Pink Floyd-heavy set. A circuitous route led to the first set at Acoustic Junction, where Tom Hamilton employed a roadside drum circle that had been tapping away on the corner just minutes prior. The anticipated stylistic blend gave way to tribal twang in an early Chill highlight.

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Local ska jammers Spiritual Rez were an unexpectedly high energy act, infusing familiar rhythms with heavy metal flair. But the allure of considerate sorcery beckoned. At last year’s festival, Consider the Source performed their first ever acoustic set perched elegantly amongst the willows. Acoustic Junction evolved into a legitimate stage this year, and the Source, having honed their acoustic acumen over the year, were up to the challenge, delivering a precision set of spiritualized instrumental bliss.

In a curious scheduling quirk, the electronic-tinged rock spectacle of Lotus clashed with a Grateful Dead tribute set, this year performed admirably by Cabinet. Lotus certainly brought the heat leaving few standing still, but Yarn’s heartfelt performance in the Dead tribute slot last year drew rave reviews and a dose of Dead proved too tempting a tonic to rock our souls.

Cabinet did not disappoint, trading off twangy solos on banjo, mandolin and fiddle. “Let The Good Times Roll” kicked off a rocking set drawing mostly from honky-tonk Dead. A crowd sing along to “New Speedway Boogie” appropriately featured the exhortation “Spent a little time on the hill.” Blues and bluegrass tunes split the remainder, but the obvious mandolin tune “Ripple” was omitted. Horizon Wireless followed up with something completely different, a spacey break-beat journey shaking the rafters of the intimate Club Chill.

SATURDAY

One more Saturday buffered by a full day of Chill on either side, a chance to dance. Perhaps, but the relatively early day offered yoga and other community building activities aimed at strengthening the Chill community in mind and spirit, ensuring energy for the musical marathon ahead. Musically inclined Chillers were invited to take their talents to the Open Mic at Acoustic Junction.

Steadily rising and highly touted octet Twiddle opened up the day properly with sit-ins by Todd Stoops of RAQ and Kung Fu, and guitar wunderkind Bobby Paltauf, who is quickly making a name for himself in the jam scene. Zappa tunes and dubbed up hip hop rounded out the early afternoon, courtesy of Z3 and Mad Conductor respectively.

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Heating things up, Yarn played a barn stomper of a hoedown for an afternoon crowd really exploring the space of the dance floor. Solaris, graduating from an improvised extended cabin porch set last year, threw down hard in the Club, where the minimal light can be deliriously deceptive.

Mun brought dance jams to the Junction, which managed to retain the air of secrecy despite its elevated status. Even if it was an intended destination, it still somehow felt stumbled upon. The group peppered their originals with tributes to Thelonius Monk and Rage Against the Machine, displaying the full breadth of their influences.

Over on the B Stage, Eric Krasno stepped away from his usual guitar to hold down the low end for his solo group which also featured the vocal stylings of Royal Family member Alecia Chakour. Their set drew from the expected soul and funk, capped off by a take on the Janis Joplin standard “Piece of My Heart.”

Long a Chill fixture, Shwizz turned in one of their best sets to date in the Club. A rapt crowd, many clad in costume, got down to a tight and funky set culminating the German industrial metal anthem “Du Hast” and an epic take on the Jurassic Park theme sandwiched around a round of band intros and heady solos.

The second Consider the Source set at the Junction featured several repeats from Friday’s set, but lost none of the sheen. The set ended with a surprise appearance by the group’s original drummer for a welcome percussive outburst leading to a slick version of “You Go Squish Now.”

With their festival-friendly brand of New Orlerans funk, it is surprising Galactic was making its Chill debut. Obviously, they fit right in, tearing through a set heavy on low end brass and grimy funk overtones. Corey Glover lent his considerable pipes to much of the tunes. Continuing the Catskill Chill trend of classic covers, the group encored with “Sympathy for the Devil.” Woo! Woo!

In only the 3rd show with new drummer Torch, Conspirator opened up many of its compositions to jamming, in a step away from the incessant four-on-the-floor synth-heavy shred fest their sets had become, a development continuing in their fall tour as duly noted by bassist Marc Brownstein. The experimentation and exploration of melodic themes worked well on the Chill faithful, amply stimulated by the incandescent electronic psychedelic backdrop, which can be seen in the highlight video below.

Conspirator : Catskill Chill : 9.7.13 from Dutch Masterson Designs on Vimeo.

Tom Hamilton played his 3rd set of the weekend with his main group Brothers Past at the B Stage, cramming just enough BP fan favorites into a relatively truncated set that nonetheless managed to kick out the jams. Check out the set HERE.

Back at the main stage Chris Michetti parlayed the energy from Conspirator’s set into a solid (and rare) RAQ set featuring a take on Ween’s “Push th’ Little Daisies” and a monster take on “Brother” sandwiched around “Simple Kind of Man.” Damn Right closed out the night in the Club with an excellent improvised set augmented by the scratchy turntablism of DJ Logic, pushing fresh breaks onwards to dawn.

SUNDAY

Like the last day of camp, there is a hint of the bittersweet in the final day of the festival. Summer time done come and gone. But there’s no better cure for impending reality than a day of dancing.

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Cabinet kicked things off, displaying the keen instrumental acumen that enabled them to reconstruct the Dead. Their own tunes leaned towards the heartache and triumph common to much Americana and the expert string interplay lent credence to their wanton lyrical tales. Over at the Junction, the Brummy Brothers put on a hootenanny punctuated by the infectious refrain of “There’s nothing like being horny, drunk, stoned and laughing!”

The lovely effervescent Sister Sparrow led the Dirty Birds through an effusively pop set, tipping the tribute hat to Queen with a take on “Fat Bottomed Girls” and even inviting a band patriarch to join in on percussion. Up the hill, the strains of yet another classic, Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell,” drew us to The McLovins, clad in fuzzy costumes. Grant’s Tomb’s lent their horn section to the majority of their set, culminating in a George Porter Jr. appearance on “Rapper’s Delight.”

The Motet, in what was to be their final Funk Is Dead set, showed off their finely tuned Dead funk machine. What started as straight forward funk tributes has evolved to incorporate different styles and instrumental excursions. “Scarlet Begonias” featured “Dark Star” teases. “Playing In The Band” had a section with a tune complete with vocals made up on the spot. A thoroughly nasty “Shakedown Street” ended the high energy set.

The Meters basically invented funk and here they were joined with chairman of the boards Page McConnell as The Metermen to bring that funk to the chill. Hits like “Fire on the Bayou” and “Hey Pocky Way” were delivered with syncopated panache and organ wail. George Porter Jr. gushed about the perfection of the festival. Page touted the legendary Meters. Bobby Paltauf dropped jaws trading licks with Leo Nocetelli. And they never stopped dancing.

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The impenetrable conglomeration of sheer jam power and syllables, Dopadosio, closed out the fest in absolute stunning fashion? Was it Papadosio? Was it Dopapod? Dopapapadosiopop? Papadiddy Puff? Dopadiddy Pac? Davesminidonutdosio? Yes. Sometimes. And Maybe. Whatever went down, it was one for the books. Cast in silhouette against relentlessly bright lights, the groups tore through Radiohead covers, originals and jams as temperatures dipped into the 30s, rendering the moniker Chill all too apt. Elements of future bass and deep house poked through ensuring a perfect soundtrack to the last night, keeping dancers moving and not just for warmth.

The Ice Cream Disco still pumped beats late into the night as Horizon Wireless prepared to spin tunes, but one can never experience it all. The missed magic accumulates. The bonfire jams and the cabin sets. The “I missed what?” covers and guest appearances.  Lounging on hammocks slung between towering pines. Stolen lakeside moments under impossibly starlit skies and slivers of crescent moons. Next time will be different, until we do it again. See you in 2014.

Photos by Jacque Lewis

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