Upon arriving on Wednesday I eagerly turned into the property grounds and I was taken aback by the beauty of the site nestled down in a valley of the Ohio Hills. A flowing creek snaked its way through the grounds with big river birches lining the edges. This place looked amazing. What a way to start the festival season!
Thursday started pretty slow. Due to issues with online purchased tickets, people were held at the gate as early as 6am and waited from four to six hours. Most experienced a minimal two hour wait. The festival topped out around three thousand attendees.. While the early festy goers waited in their cars they were serenaded by the sounds of Bees Trees and KR-3 bellowing from the main tent. Thank goodness the promoters had a large “heated” tent for the main stage and second stage. By midafternoon David Gans was wooing the growing crowd with his ageless and distinct sound. To finish his set couple of the Rumpke Mountain Boys came out to jam. This preluded into a fun filled two hour jam session. As night fell the crowds grew larger and wrapped around the awkwardly placed sound booth. Unless you were in the narrow alleys around the booth there was not a decent view of the stage. As I ventured to the third stage, the temporary city was coming aglow with lighted decorations and various glows from the forty six vendor tents. On the third stage Twiddle was jamming away to a packed tent. They had the crowd stomping to Blues Travelers Hook, and singing along to Casey Jones. At this time I was torn between the stages. Jumping the Twiddle boat I hurried my way back to the main tent be blown away by the high energy bluegrass of Cornmeal, and by the looks of the crowd I wasn’t the only one. As dawn approached Rumpke Mountain Boys blessed the main tent twice more. Each time driving and grinding a mixture of bluegrass and rock into the Ohio hills. To cap off my night, I had the opportunity to catch Broccoli Samurai and their hard thumping drum and bass, electro rock sound. I was completely blown away and definitely one of my favorite moments of the weekend.
Friday brought sunshine, warmth and smiling faces. BATS, and Under the Sun were the morning soundtrack as I investigated all the shops and eateries. Atop a little knoll overlooking the third stage tent was the artist village. An easy up village full of some talented incredible artist. To many to name but all well appreciated. Hoopla definitely lived up to its name. With hundreds of hoopers scattered across the field in workshops. The event hosted multiple hoop, and fire troops, even our NC native Headspin Hoop Troop. They would spend their time performing alongside some of the main stage acts, including Eoto, Papadosio, OTT, EarthCry, and of course Keller Williams. Afternoon in the main tent was high tempo journey of sound. Starting it of was another set from the Rumpke Mountain Boys, who toned it down a little from their late night set. The journey continues with the very fun, upbeat, heavy bass driven sounds of Aliver Hall. Gathering myself, I barely had enough time to catch my breath before Larry Keel & Natural Bridge took main stage. Not familiar with Mr. Keel? Then I think you should catch the next show, you will not be disappointed. Up next and keeping the feet moving and heads bobbing Jahman Brahman took second stage after Larry Keel. The Ohio natives definitely felt at home as they banged out song after song to an enthusiastic, raging crowd. Just as the previous night I again was torn between the main tent and the third stage. So I left the funky beats and the jungle of Jahman Brahman to the third stage to dance and flail about to the frenzied saxophones of Moon Hooch. But before their curtain call I had to traverse what seemed to be the ever growing longer field to catch Keller Williams. Surrounded by several hoopers, Keller makes a beckoning for even more, and a hoop for himself. After singing for one and unfortunately to no avail, he starts into Hoola Hoop de Loop. The excitement in the performers’ eyes, the dazzling LED light show that each girl brought to the stage added to an epic memorable Keller set. As the set ended the performers flooded the field along with fire spinners to light up the night sky. It is visually breathtaking watching the sea of LEDs spin, twirl, fly and flow about in such an organic wave of light. As the night grew later the main tent was busting at its seams with hordes of people waiting for the moment Papadosio took stage. And when that moment happened, it was like a bomb! The ground shook and the sound was deafening. Papadosio entranced and hypnotized their native Ohio fanatics well past the witching hour. After OTT, Anthony Thogmartins side project, EarthCry took stage bringing a sense of warmth with each note. Calm soothing beats blanketed the crowd into the early morning. To end my night I found myself dancing about to the familiar sounds of Arpetrio raging out their predawn set at the third stage.
After a day like Friday I didn’t know if I was going make it through Saturday. We all know any festival isn’t complete without a little help from Mother Nature. And this wasn’t the exception. If anyone out there that attended any NC festivals last year then you and your gear are ready for some rain. Somehow rain always brings a new life to the festival, it never slows the party down. That is definitely the case today. There was no stopping now the music kept the heads high and the feet stomping under the main tent all morning. Leading the march was contest winning band Elementree Livity Project, with soulful reggae tones with hip hop influences. The Chris Berry Trio took stage midafternoon playing to a crowd that continued to wade through the growing water and mud to the main tent. Michael Kans of SCI sat in with the trio, adding a whole new element to Berry’s signature sound. The day rushes by like the growing streams across the grounds. By sunset someone let the zoo loose, and Zoogma had the main tent steaming with hard step beats. Every song building up breaking down and taking you on a trip through their orchestrated road. Following the Zoo on the second stage was The Recipe, not the rapper! But the most excellent bluegrass/rock group. Newly discovered to me, this band has been steadily on play at my house. It was a pleasure to see them for the first time, and they did not disappoint. Another first for me was the next band to take the main stage. EOTO, they didn’t waste any time to bringing the crowd and energy level up. Big heavy drum and bass beats and one of the best improve session bands I’ve seen. Followed up by a special SCI set including Michael Kans, and Chris Berry.
So far this weekend I’ve seen the Rumpke Mountain Boys four times, and none of it prepared me for their electric and final set. WOW! The shift of genres from band to band really made a unique mixture of music. It kept everything fresh and spontaneous. By the end of their set most had forgotten about the 2-6 inches of standing water throughout the main tent. Outside the rain had now turned to snow and started to accumulate. This made it slightly easier moving about, the cold had started freezing the mud so the ground wasn’t moving under your feet. Inside Papadosio was gearing up for their second night. This had to be the largest collective of Papadosio fans I’ve ever seen. No matter the conditions the main tent again was swollen from the amount of people. A highlight of that set for me was their cover of Karma police by Radiohead.
As the sun crested the hills Sunday morning, the damage of the previous day can be seen across the festival grounds and up and down the people. Looking back on the first festival of the year I will say thank you to all the musicians who came out and played. As a growing festival I hope that Big Events Presents, has learned a great deal from this weekend and won’t make the same mistakes in their next venture. The devil is in the details. Thank you for the party. Festival attendees please remember this summer to leave no trace. Take out everything you bring in. It is very disappointing looking back over an open field and seeing trash and other abandon belonging scattered everywhere.