The moment I arrived at Rock N Roll Resort, Tiny Rager edition, in Kerhonkson, New York, I immediately felt like I was home. After a long and cold winter in New York, festival season seemed impossibly far away. The hotel lobby looked like a carnival filled with the smell of burnt sage, brightly colored vendor booths and patrons happy to be at the first festival of the year.
Friday, April 12
Check in was quick and easy compared to past years so we immediately dropped our bags off in our hotel room and went off to check out the venue. The hotel lobby was like a maze navigating the rows of vendor booths in attempts to find where each stage existed. Although I was given a map, I assumed it wouldn’t have been that difficult to figure out what was what. The entire venue had a strong sense of culture and art, setting each stage with a live painter to paint along side which ever artist was playing. To the back of the hotel in what they called “Overlook Gallery” was a small room covered in beautiful paintings from local and non local artists. I got a moment to meet and talk to Greg Dunn a local Albany artist who created most of the art at the Albany venue the Fuze Box and also has many pieces hanging in Prism Glassworks in Troy, New York.
The first stage we visited was “Blingin’ Beads stage” which had a large community canvas for anyone to add their piece of art to. The stage was beautifully decorated and has a phenomenal projection and light show. This stage was the home to many DJs for the weekend who played different arrays of music, as well as Capital Zen, who played a heated set, giving off a Primus vibe to their sound. It seemed like the resort was relatively liberal with their rules as I walked outside and saw a large group of individuals spinning fire directly in front of the main doors. It was definitely an interesting thing to walk outside to.
We popped in and out of each stage until it was time for Nigel Hall band. The entire room in main stage permeated soul music as Nigel Hall pounded on the keys. At one point during a song Hall stood up and stepped away from his keyboard, “I’m gonna go ahead and step away from the band and trust what they do. Make it FUNKY!”, he exclaimed receiving a loud response from the audience. Hall used many call and responses that kept the crowd cheering throughout the entire set. With the theme night of “Rager’s ball”, Nigel set the tone for the evening and gauges were set to rage.
Then we went back to the lobby to check out the acoustic stage to the raging funk party that is Hornitz. Hornitz is a duo consisting of a trumpet, sax and a human beat box making for hip hop, jazz, funk hybrid. I was surprised to see them playing at the acoustic stage and blown away by the amount of energy they brought to the lobby in between shows.
A highlight to Friday night came in the form of Nephrok! Allstars, a large, funky band fronted by Nephrok himself, giving a dose of James Brown, Prince and Bootsy all in one. The band kept the pace and wowed the crowd as the songs got progressively funkier and his onstage persona loosened up the crowd. A call and response to ‘What’s the name of this town?’ and a clean segue into “Standing on the Verge of Getting it on” got the name of the town (Kerhonksen) embedded into the mind of the room that had filled up by the end of the set.
With music pushed back slightly off the main schedule, we hung out in the lobby and listened to the music from acoustic stage until it was time for Soulive. The crowd filtered in rapidly, as the two main rooms, The Empire Lounge and Manhattan Theater were back to back, making it easy to have a seamless music experience while at the festival. Soulive had an impressive light array and gave a soulful, jazzy performance. Joining the trio were Ryan Zoidis and Eric Bloom of the Shady Horns, but this was far from a typical sit-in. Zoidis and Bloom had played MSG only hours earlier at the Crossroads Music Festival at MadisonSquareGarden with guitar greats from around the country. The duo finished their gig and hightailed it to the Catskills for an otherwise unannounced sit in with Soulive. If there is an Ironman award at Rock N Roll Resort, these two are deserving. Two of the highlights of the night were an extended “Eleanor Rigby” off RubberSoulive and a “Third Stone From the Sun” riff that worked its way into an incredible jam.
Every once in a while throughout the weekend, Primate Fiasco would pop up in the lobby with their tuba, saxophone, drums and guitar and prance up and down the rows of vendors with a throng of people dancing along behind them. This was an awesome aspect to the festival – the spontaneous music that would surprise passersby at a moment’s notice, practically a flash mob but less organized, because it’s more fun that way.
After 3am at a festival, only awesome music can be found, and after checking out the end of Dub Apocalypse’s set, Viral Sound took the main stage with some band-made electronic music, countering to DJs that were dropping the bass in the Blingin’ Beads Stage. The night was young, for some, but when it gets closer to 4am, rest is needed, if not required, so as to make it through the next day.
Saturday, April 13
It seemed Saturday morning that the lobby was twice as full as the night before. All of the check-in tables were once again swarmed by winding lines of excited patrons. Rather than succumb to the temptation to hang out in the hotel room before the music got kicking – the very spacious rooms mean that you can be inclined to spend more time in your room, but aside from some needed downtime and rest, most seemed to filter up, then back down again throughout the course of the weekend – we took in a round of mini golf on the outdoor course at the Hudson Valley Hotel and Spa. Rustic, but quaint, it was hard to top starting the day with a lively and competitive round of mini golf, won by Jeff Bujak, who had a monster hole in one on 18. His prize? A spiffy Magic Hat bike AND he got to throw it down twice that evening in the Empire Lounge.
From our hotel room three stories up my friend said “Someone’s playing some Disco Biscuits.” “No” I Said, “I think that’s Digital Dharma.” We headed downstairs to start the night. Digital Dharma was in the Blingin’ Beads stage which was the home to pretty epic light projection and deco which only added to Digital Dharma’s set. The thing about Digital Dharma is that even when they’re off, they’re on. They seem to all be interconnected so that the moment that they get off track during a jam, they immediately snap back into their mind bending jams. Aaron stayed on point on the drums setting the fast tempo for the spacey synth, shattering guitar and booming bass. Before we stepped out they busted into a very deep sun, New Deal sounding jam. Overall a very impressive set from these Albany locals. I left before the set was over to make sure I didn’t miss Goosepimp Orchestra.
Somehow this was my first time catching these guys, and I was absolutely blown away by the amount of energy they pervaded through the crowd and the amount of energy the crowd gave right back. The band was donned in the most ridiculously amazing attire ever, fully equipped with Viking helmets, furry pimp hats, and leopard hoods. I had seen the trumpet and saxophone player the night before at the acoustic stage in Hornitz so I was aware at how much energy they poured into each song. The rest of the band did not disappoint either. The stage pumped out heavy get downs of funk and soul as each member of the band moved ecstatically bopping from side to side in a pit of color, funk and viking helmets. It seemed like not a single person in the audience stood still throughout the entire set with waves of cheers and claps in response to every instrumental solo they introduced. Although the best part of these guys was clearly their talent and energy, it was still a huge added bonus to be able to just watch them have that much fun on a stage together.
After Goosepimp I checked out Kung Fu, a serious fan favorite. Their extensive amount of touring in 2012 and 2013 has given me the pleasure of seeing them more than a handful of times, and I almost always seek them out at every festival I attend. These boys always take over when they step on stage. Their energy is incomparable and their fans love absolutely everything they do. Tim Palmieri brought a borderline metal guitar ensemble through many of the songs making their often light and funky jams into a much more hard hitting and heavier direction than usual. Todd Stoops (as always) blew everyone’s minds away with his unrealistic talent on the keys. At one point my friend turned to me and said, “He almost looks like he is kneading a pizza dough by the way he pounds on the keys,” and he really does. To the naked eye he looks as though he his sloppily pounding on his keyboard, but I think that is the brilliant nature of Stoops, is that he is creating such an unapologetic layer of funk amidst the chaos that is, Kung Fu. The connection on stage is unreal. Each individual slides into the next jam with intricacy that could only exist within a band that is mentally intertwined during their sets. The grooves they layout are organic and not over thought and they each allow the next to take the lead and never dwell in the spotlight, even though they are all such talented musicians. Later in the set they broke into a Blackbird cover set to an upbeat drum tempo with jammy guitar riffs. The entire band exudes so much talent and energy, but they are also having fun. At one point they began tossing their hat from person to person during a jam, laughing all the while. As a surprise guest Ryan Montbleau came out with his bongos to join in on the fun with the boys of Kung Fu. Overall it was a great set. I don’t think I have ever seen a set from Kung Fu that I was displeased with, but they continue to keep things funky and fresh.
Saturday’s theme of Intergalactic Space Carnival led to some interesting costumes and a full on freak show at times. Ryan Montbleau’s set found the singer/songwriter/guitarist standing up and sans hat, a rare find that kept the attention of the crowd squarely on the crooner at stage right. Montbleau brought up Primate Fiasco for what proved to be the best sit-in of the weekend, combining the sound of two bands for a throwdown, as evidenced in the video below.
After Ryan Montbleau I headed over to check out Normal Instruments. After our interview with Jules I was pumped to see what they guys would do. Normal Instruments is made up of pretty much a crazy concoction of unbelievably talented musicians. Mike Carter of Indobox on guitar, Jules Jenssen of Higher Organix on the drums, Matt Beckett from Cosmic Dust Bunnies on bass and Jeff Bujak on keys. It would seriously be a difficult feat to go wrong with this lineup of guys. Jules exclaimed mid set “I don’t think this resort has been rocked, but we’re gonna rock it tonight.” Each member individually poured everything they had into making this one of the most energetic shows of the weekend. Being that everything they do is 100% improvisational, it is a very organic and genuine jam every song. The entire room turned into a giant dance party and the air seemed to get hotter and thicker with every jam these guys ripped through. The guitar solos went from heavy to light and the drums stayed consistently mind blowing. It is clear that each member not only puts every ounce of energy into every jam, but also has fun doing it. They was absolutely nothing about this set that was “low key” and if you weren’t dancing, you weren’t paying attention.
Soulive night two drew another packed crowd onto the floor for dancing until the wee hours of the morning. The Shady Horns once again joined Alan, Neal and Eric, breaking out some earlier cuts from the repertoire, a smoking “Come Together” with a must-be-heard extended jam that resurrected the improve as the song disappated. The huge grins on the faces of the band were evidence that they were loving the response from the fans and playing at such a unique resort.
Next door, Jeff Bujak and laid down Elton John and Talking Heads remixes, personalizing each track while the crowd sang along, grinded on the dance floor and caught the performance of Jen Dulong as she spun glowing hoops in sync with the music, making the visual part of Bujak’s already impressive stage show that much better.
Having spoken to UV Hippo earlier in the night, the intrigue level was high, as the band commented on their system of shared setlist writing as a way to keep things fresh, as well as their 3 am show being the end of their extensive two month tour that night. They picked a great place and excellent audience to play their brand of Zappa/Phish/NOFX/King Crimson influenced jam rock. Hailing from Grand Rapids, Michigan, the band has a Midwest base but has been stretching out into the Northeast and greater New England area more frequently and will likely be seen at one of their 15 music festival appearances this year, leading up to the release of their new album in the fall. The set was easy to dance to and great lyrics on “Square Pegs, Round Holes” gave a Phishy, funky, popping sound with broad appeal. UV Hippo combined the jams and each song nicely, not departing from one to neglect the other. Dedicated to ‘fake moustaches everywhere’, the anthem “North Coast” was a true hit for the 4:20 am crowd that was far from calling it a night.
For those that needed a late night pick me up, the wompy/dubby JiggaWompz set in the DJ lounge created a plethora of electronic earthquakes and vibrations, rattling the room but not the late night revelers. The sun came up and it was time to get some sleep before the arduous trip home on Sunday.
Sunday, April 14
Although there was a great deal of music on Sunday – Newton Crosby, Leroy Justice, FiKus, Orange TV, Chali 2na and multiple Superjams, the crew had to get back home for jobs and school the next day, meaning that this two day rager was tiny, but only in terms of time, not the rage factor.
Having been on Jamcruise, the only thing that is missing is the sway of the boat, and although the lineup is scaled down by comparison, Rock N Roll Resort is worth the price of admission and then some. This year’s installment felt much more accessible to the average fan. Picking up from past experience, the festival streamlined and brought food into the mix, a welcome addition, yet despite some bumps here and there, the creases are nearly ironed out. You had the freedom to go to and from your room as you wanted, but after 2am, security kept the wookery out of the hotel upstairs. There were plenty of new music experiences, good people and great staff all around. As the festival continues to get bigger names and fanbases to attract to the festival, Rock N Roll Resort is sure to become a premier destination on the map of Northeast music events.
Update 4/27: Get your downloads of shows from Rock N Roll Resort here – we’ll update as more show up