ROTHBURY v ROTHBURY
Good, Da Bad, De Ugli
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“Is the glass half empty or half full? This really comes down to perception.
Now we here at TheRFW.com never intend to force feed anything down your throat – especially our opinions; however, it is important to know we do (just like each of you) share different views and weather our own forecasts how we see fit. That being said, ROTHBURY 2009 was an amalgam of bits and pieces that make festivals great. Unfortunately, in comparison to the 2008 experience, we question if the puzzle was ever locked in place correctly. So – instead of saying, “YEAH!” or “NAY,” we are going to give you our perspectives. Two very different ways of viewing ROTHBURY ‘09. Take it as you will and enjoy the photography of Andrew Wyatt. Our video feature(s) are in post editing and as soon as they are green we’ll share.
No matter what is communicated, it’s agreed by all of us that ROTHBURY was a fantastic time and we can’t wait to shake Michigan up again in 2010!” - Rashon A. Massey, Co-Creator, Roving Festival Writer
Monday, July 13, 2009
Contributing Writer : Garret K. Woodward
Contributing Photographer : Andrew “Disco Santa” Wyatt
Looking out my bedroom window, the pickup truck is still covered in Midwestern dust. Lost beers, warm from the drive back to New York, emerge from behind the passenger’s seat. My tent, a disheveled and hastily crammed mass in the back of the vehicle, amid a plethora of empty liquor bottles, moldy bread and half-eaten jars of peanut butter.
Rothbury ended some three days ago, but my eyes and ears are still ringing with what was not only heard, but seen and felt over a debauchery-filled, foggy haze of a weekend indescribable to those unaware or uninformed, yet unforgettable and surreal to those in the know.
Barreling down I-96 West, I merged onto Rt. 31 and headed north, the speedometer hovering between 71 and 80 mph. Rural farms and dreary off-ramps to nowhere flew by my field of vision as I passed countless 4th of July families headed to destinations unknown. Cruising into the town of Rothbury (a single blinking stop light is the only indication you’re actually passing through the community), I effortlessly crept into the venue and was informed of a secret Lotus show in Sherwood Forest before I even set up my campsite.
Strolling amid the pedestrian traffic, I disappeared into the mystical woods with an immersion reminiscent of cornrows in Field of Dreams. Eventually coming into the secret stage clearing, electronica gurus Lotus were spinning their web around the overhanging branches and numerous hammocks occupied by those still weary from last nights festivities. Sunlight filtered through the thick wooden jungle as I slithered towards the Ranch Arena, my ears perking up to the soul-shattering vocals of Martin Sexton. The jolly musical beast plucked his heartache and sang his redemption (“Glory Bound”) to an emotional response of all who bared witness- a true shooting star over dark times.
Hula hoops, lazy dogs, bicycles, butterfly wings, fairy dust, jugglers, sword swallowers, street performers, curious crime and inquisitive wickedness ran rampant throughout Sherwood. The nitty gritty blues melodies of G. Love and Special Sauce spilled onto the main stage (“Who’s Got the Weed?” created smoke signals throughout the crowd), as Femi Kuti‘s mesh of jazz/afro-beat stirred up a frenzy in the mid-afternoon sun (accompanied by backup singers who shook their booty across the stage). Nas and Damien “Jr. Gong” Marley preached their words of wisdom within the unison of reggae and hip-hop, while Flogging Molly preached their slurred words of madness with Guinness held high and dust spewing from the moshpit.
A handful of twinkling stars poked through the canopy of the crisp evening Michigan sky, a brightly lit moon providing the spotlight for The String Cheese Incident. The jam maestros elevated the listener through their own strong brew of bluegrass, rock and folk. A relentless smile graced percussionist Jason Hann, perfectly symbolizing the energy and positive emotion on both sides of the stage (Hann and Michael Travis engaged in a drum solo, solidifying the ongoing evolution of SCI).
“You’re not making us want to stop, you’re encouraging us,” Michael Kang stated to a deafening roar, as fire dancers, hula hoopers and circus performers encircled the group.
From the back of the field, hilarity ensued as an enormous red ball crept into the picture and was tossed around to the amusement of anyone who found themselves underneath the behemoth. Keller Williams moseyed into the jumble for an encore rendition of “Best Feeling”, merging into a Kang led stomp of “Higher Ground”. Sauntering out, I let my mind drift as “What a Wonderful World” played over the PA system, reminding the listener of the beauty found at not only Rothbury, but wherever music roams free and catches you in a freefall of passion.
Handed a flier for a secret late-night beach party, I could not resist the opportunity. Rambling down the rabbit hole of eerie paths and dark woods, I was surprised by the beachside Michael Jackson dance party raging at the DJ hands of Chromeo. Inside the pint-size tent (situated behind the STS9 bombshell stage of trance), I encountered a blob of devil horns and angel wings, drunken farmer’s daughters and glow stick heathens, sweaty arms and eager thighs. The alcohol induced mayhem broached the wee hours of Saturday morning as I finally fumbled back to the campsite, only to partake in another hour of last minute nightcaps and “where you from?” banter with each passerby.
I awoke to the sounds of haphazard bottle rockets and suicide firecrackers. It was the 4th of July and I was in western Michigan. I was dirty, tired, dehydrated and hung-over, ready to do it all over again. I cracked the first of many lukewarm Milwaukee’s Best and headed into Sherwood Forest. The ensuing afternoon resembled a Family Circus comic strip as I zigzagged the grounds.
As dark clouds surround the venue, a handful of teardrops from angels above fell upon Son Volt. The somber Jay Farrar painted melancholy pictures of lonely Midwestern roads and burnt out dreams (“Cocaine and Ashes”) in the midst of his sorrowful alt-country tone. Rummaging through Bob Dylan’s closet in appearance and presence, vagabond heartbreaker Jackie Greene cast a calm shadow as sunshine broke through heavy clouds (Phil Lesh made an appearance, as “New Speedway Boogie” teased the upcoming Dead set.). Zappa Plays Zappa presented rock oddity (and a place for the cool kids to play), The Black Crowes swampy soul set went down like a shot of moonshine through the fingers of guitarist Luther Dickinson (“Wiser Time” tugged more than a few heartstrings), as Railroad Earth was joined by Bill Nershi for a couple of timeless bluegrass melodies (like Kentucky bourbon, this band only gets better with age).
A fiery orange sun silhouetted the massive pilgrimage to The Dead. The sextet kicked off with “Sugar Magnolia” as a joyous Lesh floated through “Eyes of the World”. The moon appeared above the horizon line as the sky went from orange, to red, to purple and eventually black by the end of the first set (“Friend of the Devil”/”Into the Mystic”/”Franklin’s Tower”). A predictable “One More Saturday Night” began the second half, as Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann combined forces with Jason Hann and members of Toubab Krewe on “Drums”.
To stand in a crowd of thousands, and appreciate knowing all that surrounds is a direct result of the magic shaped 44 years ago in California, was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. The distress and splendor associated with traveling to seize that ideal performance, the lifestyle and reality which has come to bare for innumerable people (including myself) grew out of our undying love for the Grateful Dead. My eyes began to water during “US Blues” as magnificent fireworks exploded over the stage like roman candles, glow sticks rained down upon the frolicking multitude, and all was just, at least in this corner of the world, “Wave that flag, wave it wide and high, summertime done, come and gone…”
A warm breezy blew through my tent, awakening me into the last day of Rothbury. It was a bittersweet notion to realize tomorrow I would be traversing to New York, but I knew true beauty is impermanent- something you have to be lucky enough to see or catch at the right moment, knowing damn well it won’t last forever, so you better enjoy it now.
Relaxing in the Ranch Arena, I entrusted my early afternoon to Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band. The mystical storyteller of the open prairie and deep northern woods, Rowan meticulously erects a sculpture of aching hearts and frantic lovers, distant memories and hazy faces, outlaw bandits and cold nights by warm fireplaces. With his acoustic guitar, he cradled the listener, dusting off their own memories, as ghosts of the past appeared in visions (“Midnight Moonlight”).
Taking the stage with recent additions Benny Yurco (rhythm guitar) and Catherine Popper (bass), Grace Potter and the Nocturnals splashed down upon the field with a furious dose of hard rock and whiskey blues. Yurco and Scott Tournet (lead guitarist) bounced off each other with skirt-ripping riffs (“Some Kind of Ride”/”Ah Mary”/”Stop The Bus”/”If I Was From Paris”), aided by the mangling drums of Matt Burr and the wailing screams of Ms. Potter (outfitted in a scandalous blue sequin dress). No longer are the days of innocence as the latest incarnation of the band grabs hold of the spotlight, never once relinquishing what they have earned through daunting tours and restless ambition.
The elder statesmen of true American spirit and rebellion, Willie Nelson and Family and Bob Dylan and His Band concluded my evening. Nelson’s gentle touch (“On the Road Again”/”Always on My Mind”/”Georgia on My Mind” as well as “Jambalaya” and “Hey Good Lookin’” in true Hank Williams fashion) brought forth reflection of the entire weekend, as weary minds refused to venture home- they were already there. A road warrior and musical vigilante, he conjures a simpler time, a forgotten era of change and promise we today too often think impossible.
To the shock of many, Dylan strapped on his guitar for a couple of numbers. Ambling around the stage, blowing his harmonica, and pounding away the keyboard (“Tangled Up in Blue”), he seemed visibly livelier than in past occurrences. His trademark smirk appeared on more than one instance, as rumors of faltering as a live performer were tossed out the window during the blockbuster set (“Highway 61 Revisited”/”Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”/”Like a Rolling Stone”).
Taking my time to wander through Sherwood Forest for the last time, word surfaced of a secret late-night Umphrey’s McGee show in the Ranch Arena. By the time I reached the stage, a secret no more as thousands jammed the medium-sized field.
“You guys don’t want to go home do you?” the band shouted to the battle cry of the audience.
Stirring up whiplash tempo changes and beautifully textured strokes of improvisation, the prog-rock act’s cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” rearranged anyone’s guess at what the performance of the day was. Umphrey’s did not want to go home and neither did anyone in attendance, but after nearly three hours, it took security to remove the group off the stage.
Stumbling back to my campsite, an all-night tribute to Michael Jackson raged at a nearby dance tent. As I sank into my lawn chair and light a cigarette, a poignant “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” leaked out of the speakers to the delight of all within an earshot. Rothbury was over and I had a long drive ahead of me in the morning. But none of that mattered as I reflected on my euphoric last three days, all the friends found and strangers that became friends. It is what it’s all about; it’s everything to anyone who pursues the entity that is a music festival.
The summer is here and now. We are midstream and there are so many more adventures waiting to surprise you around every corner.
The journey continues.