For most of us, September marks the end of summer. For some, it means no more dancing in sweltering hot fields, sleeping on the ground, or eating hotdogs. No more Jerry Roll, no more dollar beers on lot, and no more 2 am sets- at least until next summer.
While there are still a lot of good music festivals going on, the cap on my festival season is Wormtown. Hosted by Wormtown Trading Company at tiny Camp Kee-Wanee in Greenfield, MA, this festival takes place in the middle of September, right when it starts to get chilly at night. With two small stages next to each other, and 2 more in the woods, plus 2 cabins hosting the late night scene, it’s a weekend long party that helps kick start a dedicated fan base for small-time bands and musicians.
People were trickling in all day on Friday, setting up camp in the woods and throughout the campgrounds. Everywhere you looked, there were streamers, ribbons, signs, anything else you could hang from a tree, and hundreds of happy campers excited to be there. The first heavily attended show on the main stage was Zach Deputy’s first set of the evening, which had the energy and enthusiasm our Friday night needed. Wormtown was the first festival Zach ever played and to see him grow popular enough for 2 Friday night sets is an exciting thing for the Worm family. He delivered a danceable, but quick set, ultimately a tease for what was to come.
Hot Day at the Zoo was another Friday night highlight. Their progressive bluegrass style is a pre-packaged dance party, and the four-piece has an eclectic energy that fuels their live performance. Each of Hot Day’s songs are well rounded, with a stand-up bass that roots them, and mandolin and banjo parts that create waves of excitement. It doesn’t hurt that the guitarist and harmonica player (who sat in on drums for a few songs) has this raspy, emotion-filled singing voice, and is really easy on the eyes. Unlike many bands, they all sing with completely unique, yet blend-able voices, allowing them to take traditional bluegrass to a higher, and more amplified, level.
The late night scene was largely dominated by The Brew, who is just wildly good at their instruments and so fascinating to watch up close, and to close the night, Sauce. Had they been scheduled a little earlier, there may have been a bigger draw, but their funky beats and sexy melodies kept the 4 am crowd dancing into the morning.
Yarn took the main stage around 1 pm on Saturday to kick off the day with another energetic bluegrass set. Then the festival-goers had to chose between The McLovins and the Zach Deputy Super Jam, which was not an easy choice in my opinion. To catch a little of each didn’t do either justice, but nevertheless, The McLovins impressed with tight and fancy jams from a group of 15 year olds. The Super Jam was also a wildly skillful moment of music making, where Zach Deputy was leading the crew, but by no means overtaking it. The exploratory jams flowed organically and weaved into spontaneous songs featuring Wormtown chants.
Shakedown’s 4:20 set was finally the touch of Dead this event needed. Maybe it’s due to the overwhelming presence of Further and/ or Dark Star Orchestra at most of the festivals I attended this summer, but I felt that this festival was seriously lacking in Grateful Dead music, so thankfully Shakedown came in to resolve that issue, and resolved it well- my Dead craving was quite satisfied, although with no particularly memorable covers.
The main event of Saturday was Max Creek, and while he always plays a great set, I wanted to take that time to hear the multitude of new bands performing in that same slot. Wolfman Conspiracy was a standout set, with a prominent horn section and a reggae-rock vibe that you don’t find often. Each song was a bit different, and instead of it coming off as a band with an identity crisis, they seemed multi-faceted and dynamic.
The Phreaks were also absolutely stellar. As a Phish cover band, they are attempting something that may be a little presumptuous, being that the band still tours actively, and while they won’t get to DSO status, it’s immensely impressive that if you close your eyes, and they’re just jamming, it really feels like being at Phish show. Their sound is so big it blew the fuses on the smaller stage multiple times, but their set kept people hanging around. They were playing amazingly replicated covers of Phish’s most technical songs, from “Reba” to “Tube” to bust-outs like “Mike’s Song>Gumbo>I Am Hydrogen>Weekapaug Groove.” Truly, for Wormtown, epic. And if you think no one can play like our boys, well… these guys can and do. To a tee.
One of the first bands to play on Sunday morning was Fundimensionals, with a 10 am set on the RiverWorm Stage. A surprising amount of people made it out, and regardless of the power problems that the Phreaks also experienced, they plugged in the generator to rage a full set. Fundimensionals have an energy to their music that doesn’t compare to many other acts. With each song comes a new journey, and you don’t have to be a genius to follow along. Many bands who are using synth effects and doing “jam-tronica” are a little hard to keep up with because their jams are so advanced and moog’d out, but Fundimensionals produce innovative electro-rock songs that even the least-savvy music listener can enjoy.
Closing the festival was another Wormtown staple, Ryan Montbleau Band. The perfect way to cap off a Sunday, RMB played a mellow but inspiring set that allowed for Ryan’s lyrics to be the highlight. More than lyrics, his poetry seemed to resonate with everyone in the crowd, from 5-year-old girls to 50-something biker dudes, all singing along. Truly, Ryan’s lyrics are unmatched in the jam band scene and his band is the perfect supplement. Careful not to overpower, they linger patiently in the background until their time to shine, when Ryan may even step off stage momentarily so the focus is truly on the sick lead guitarist, funky bassist, seamless drummer, and smiling pianist.
In it’s 13th year, Wormtown Music Festival was again a success. It’s a great opportunity for new bands to break into the scene, for up-and-coming artists to get the support they need (and to repay their loyal fans with intimate sets), and for the Worms to come together as a family again. See ya next year, Wormies!!
Note: more pictures to come!!!