Domefest 2013 Review


(Originally published on Jambase, but the link is dead since they changed over their site.)

Between the rolling hills, the winding rivers, the dirt roads and tiny towns of West Virginia lies a farmland oasis off Jerry Garcia Lane known as Sunshine Daydream Memorial Park. Once home to the early years of All Good Music Festival, fans now flock to this valley for intimate events like this past weekend’s Domefest, headlined and hosted by rising Baltimore jam band Pigeons Playing Ping Pong.

It may seem like every band has their own festival these days, from the big wigs to the little guys, but it’s not very often that the band members themselves are up with the sun to change garbage bags and check on vendors. Domefest is different. Produced by Pigeons guitarists Jeremy Schon and Greg Ormont (as Groovehouse Productions), every moment of this event saw musicians and fans pitching in to create a magical weekend. And one of the most beautiful things about festivals of this nature is that it’s all good friends who may only see each other at stops on their tour but congregate here to support in any way they can and propel the love further.

As the last nail was hammered into the new stage at Tripp’s Farm (as the park is also known), The Southern Belles opened the festival and early arrivals got their first taste of the progressive rock jams that would come to define the weekend. Aqueous of Buffalo, NY, busted out the funkier grooves next, cushioned on either end with sets in the side music tent from multi-instrumentalist Mateo Monk, who showcased his looping techniques as well as his skillful playing and soulful singing several times between main stage bands throughout Friday and Saturday. Local rockers Fletcher’s Grove played a high-energy set of Appalachian jam leading up to a wild and musically complex show from NYC’s Tauk. In the final set before the Pigeons first, The Mantras gave a dance-inciting performance to an eager and excited crowd that they’ve watched growing beautifully in each of the festival’s four years.

“Welcome Dome!” shouted lead singer Ormont as the costumed Pigeons ran on stage and picked up their instruments. They wasted no time getting to the funk, playing each song to the fullest, as if they hadn’t just spent their past week setting up a music festival. This set showcased why PPPP draws such an enthusiastic and loyal fan-base: from their easy-to-sing-along-with chorus’ to the touch of choreography from the guitarists and bass master Ben Carrey, what they do on stage is more than just a performance of songs. That’s not to downplay their talent, however, as Schon’s guitar chops are something to be reckoned with and when powerhouse Dan Schwartz showed off his tight drum skills, the versatility that poured from his kit was incredible.

The psychedelic late-night barn had only one band playing Friday, Turkuaz, who opened their extra-long set with a Talking Heads tribute, performing each of the legendary hits off the film and live album “Stop Making Sense,” and then some. The sounds of David Byrne filled the space with joy and once all of the band members had filed on stage as their parts came up, they put the icing on this delicious cake with dance moves straight from the movie. The set of original funk that followed the Talking Heads display kept the energy going straight through the chilly night and provided a perfect end to an impressive day of music.

Saturday opened at noon with Boston’s The Jauntee, whose intricate playing and unexpected changes in explorative songs stood out in a sea of predictable jams, eventually drawing quite a crowd down from the campsites and Funk-E Forest (where, at a festival this size, it can be so easy to listen to the music from under the EZ-Up all day). The Shack Band followed, playing a fun rock set with a Little Feat cover sung by Domefest Stage Manager John Church. Freedom Enterprise and Deaf Scene, both jam-experimental-rock bands from Baltimore, played during the hot but beautiful afternoon before the third mini-show from horn duo The Hornitz, who played between evening sets and sat in with Pigeons on both nights (adding a whole other level of awesome). Armed with two saxophone players, North Carolina’s Supatight brought the funk out next, mixing in tones of reggae and jazz to complete their sound. This made for a nice transition to another Baltimore band, Yellow Dubmarine, who has lately made their dub-ified Beatles covers a once-in-a-while treat. BIG Something capped off the day with some more grooving tunes and DJs Star City Disco had the last two ‘tweener sets on Saturday, before Pigeons took the stage again for another exciting, interesting, funny, and sometimes ethereal musical bout. Ending their set with a song specifically written for Domefest was more than a classy move; it represented what they wanted Domefest to be- a gathering of music fanatics who share a love for nature and new experiences (and don’t want to pay hundreds of dollars for over-booked events).

Twiddle played in the barn late that night, ripping through jams and wowing a crowd who seemed mostly unfamiliar with the Vermont-based musicians. Their vocals and lyrics matched in intensity, offering some of the most emotionally moving songs heard that weekend, not to be outshined by the Michael Jackson and Phish teases, which made the barn explode with happiness. And just for good measure, another Baltimore band DELTAnine sealed the whole thing with an electronic kiss that had people dancing and shaking as the sun came up over the vast green land.

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