That was the scenario for moe.down 13, held Friday,
Aug. 10 through Sunday, Aug. 12 at Snow Ridge Ski Resort in Turin. For the 13th time, moe., a rock band
with a penchant for stretching out songs in a similar-yet-different style made
famous by the Grateful Dead and Phish, hosted a celebration of its music in the
form of a three-day, campout festival that featured a total of 16 bands on two
stages. Each day moe. played two sets on the main stage and demonstrated
through their playing just how far the five-piece group has come since beginning
with a jam session in a Buffalo
basement in 1989.
From small bars, to clubs, to amphitheaters, moe. has built its following based around a
crushing live show, and is highly respected among the ever-picky jam band fan base.
Though moe. doesn’t draw the same kind of intense scrutiny from fans that Phish does, the band does share much of the same following. moe. fans seem to be different from other jam band fans in that they seem more accepting of what the group does, perhaps allowing the moe.-men to be more at ease on stage.
Still, after all these years, guitarists Al Schnier and Chuck Garvey, bassist Rob Derhak and beat-keepers Vinnie Amico and Jim Loughlin manage to keep it fresh.
Unfortunately I was unable to catch the Friday lineup, and though missing Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ and Kyle Hollingsworth of String Cheese Incident’s Friday sets was disappointing, it didn’t limit the amount of fun I’d have throughout the rest of the weekend. Getting into festivals can be a serious hassle, as evidenced by an 18-hour wait I had to endure before Bonnaroo 2005. But there wasn’t any such delay in Turin—we were on the festival grounds in less than 30 minutes.
Aqueous, a four-piece from Buffalo, was laying grooves on the second stage, before giving way to the Wood Brothers on the main stage. Bassist Chris Wood is a founding member of the ever-groovy improvisational jazz group Medeski, Martin and Wood, but of late has focused more on the band he leads with his brother, guitarist Oliver Wood. The 90-minute set featured Oliver on a Fender Tornado and Chris on an upright bass, delivering layered, if sometimes strange, grooves.
Leroy Justice was up next on the second stage, just before Louisiana funk legends Galactic were scheduled to provide a serious shot of energy. Fronted vocally by Corey Glover, formerly of Grammy-winning rock group Living Colour (think: “Cult of Personality”), Galactic wove together a string of originals and covers that kept heads bobbing and torsos swaying, as the crowd grew over the course of the afternoon. Drummer Stanton Moore kept a smile plastered on his face the entire set, occasionally encouraging the crowd to get up and dance.
At the close of the set, I came to the realization that I can’t hang at festivals like I could in my younger days, so I took an hour rest before moe.’s main-stage set. At the campground, attendees were preparing in whatever way they chose. Walking through the land of tents and pop-ups, it was apparent fans were gearing for a long evening. Whispers of “doses” (LSD), “Molly” (powder ecstasy) and other party favors were heard, albeit shadily. Because, hey, what would a festival be without a couple of intense hallucinations?
Opening with a straight-ahead take on “Crab Eyes,” moe. seamlessly segued into another original, “Down Boy.” The suite featured Schnier and Garvey trading licks, but neither song strayed far from its structure. Two songs later came the moe. favorite “Captain America,” somewhat of a singalong, that bled into “Waiting for the Punchline.” “Faker>Moth” closed the set, giving way to J.C. Brooks and the Uptown Sound on the smaller stage.
Before long, moe. returned at about 10:30 p.m. for a set that really defines the beautiful nature of a festival: a collaboration. After a handful of originals, moe. welcomed members of Galactic to the stage.
Back in April, legendary musician Levon Helm lost his battle with cancer. It’s no secret the influence Helm had on rock’n’roll, so to pay homage, moe. and Galactic burst into a rousing and rhythmic take on the Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek,” which then moved into one of the most intense jams of the entire weekend. Trying to describe what played out would not do it justice; head over to archive.org to snag one of the wonderful-sounding audience recordings of the performance. Galactic left the stage and moe. finished up with “George” and “Recreational Chemistry.”
Bright Light Social Hour was the late-night act, but due to a serious bout of exhaustion, I headed back to the campsite, only to discover a massive drum circle had formed. This is where magic was made, as more than 15 hand drums were being pounded as dozens of people got lost in the tribalistic trance that came on.
The next morning brought overcast skies and a frat-party atmosphere. A group of men up the hill from us were encouraging passers-by to “slap the bag,” where you have to hit a bag of cheap wine as hard as you can before chugging until you can’t chug anymore. A rousing game of college staple Flip Cup, and the group of men—comprising teachers, businessmen and other professionals--were lit up and ready to roll.
Sundays are usually the laid-back day of festivals, but not at moe.down. The Sunday lineup began with the North Mississippi All-Stars Duo followed by two sets of Timbre Coup, an afternoon moe. set and piano extraordinaire Marco Benevento.
Prog-rockers Umphrey’s McGee then treated the main
stage crowd to a guitar-lover’s dream. Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger are
as technically proficient as any axe man going today, but I still find their
music and jams to be lacking personality and intimacy. It was a shred-fest, and,
while entertaining, it wasn’t a highlight.
For more photos of moe.down 13, click here.