It’s All Good in the Woods! A Review of Backwoods Pondfest 2013

The city of Peru hosted one of the best kept secrets of Upstate New York on August 2nd and 3rd at the Twin Ponds Campsite with the music festival Backwoods Pondfest. The intimate music festival was set at the tip of the North Country, only a few exits short of Canada, making for a scenic ride from any direction for dedicated music lovers. Offering weekend tickets as well as single day passes, Friday’s guests were treated with a double rainbow in the early evening after a brief rain shower. Visitors were allowed to select their own campsites with car side camping. Whether in the far off quiet area, woods or grassy field camping, any spot on the festival grounds offered plenty of cool afternoon shade with a full sky view of the bright stars at night. Bands were located either on the Main Stage next to the bright blue school bus, named Lucy (belonging to host band Lucid) or on the Tent Stage, next to the wooded camping, with a soft sandy dance floor.


Friday

With a name like Backwoods Pondfest, it wasn’t a surprise that the bearded quartet Blind Owl Band was one of the first bands to start the weekend on the Tent Stage. The Saranac Lake locals consist of Arthur Buezo on guitar, Eric Munley on mandolin, James Ford on banjo and Christian Cardiello on bass. Their aggressive string music mixed with rowdy harmonies greeted festival goers to their neck of the woods with open arms and dancing feet. Spiritual Rez made everyone forget that they were even in New York with their heavy reggae dance music. Toft Willingham spit out rebellious lyrics to the crowd while thrashing about his long blonde hair as Rob O’Block shredded on the guitar. Kory Stanbury on saxophone and Quinn Carson on trombone provided a strong horn section throughout the set as Mohamed Araki surprised fans everywhere with his keytar. Ian Miller kept the party going with a constant quick rhythm and Jesse Shaternick’s lighthearted bass notes. The band has great chemistry as they provide an energetic performance with never ending reggae funk magnitude. Be on the lookout this fall for their new album release, Apocalypse Whenever and upcoming shows at The Catskill Chill and Wormtown Festival.

For the past seven years, Backwoods Pondfest has been hosted by the Adirondack “Woods Rock” band known as Lucid. Their sound is unique as it varies from classic rock to blues to funky jazz to reggae and even doo-wop, a little something for everyone. With the festival set in their neck of the woods, Lucid has a dedicated fan base that overflowed from underneath the Tent Stage on Friday night. “Whiskey Dream”, with steady beats and cymbals from Kyle Murray was a crowd favorite as Andy Deller kept the keys at a playful tone. One of the highlights of the set was Kevin Sabourin repeatedly singing out the chorus line, “Friday is the best day of the week because I don’t have to work tomorrow” resulted in a massive tent-shaking sing along. Lowell Wurster blared off on his harmonica especially during “Backwoods”, a song meant for that weekend.

Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad sent out a psychedelic reggae groove that made it easy for fans to dance all night. The band, hailing from Rochester, consists of James Searl on bass, Chris O’Brian playing drums, Dylan Savage and Dan Keller on guitar and Tony Gallicchio on keys who bring a laid back vibe that relaxes and recharges listeners at the same time. The night was set ablaze from the fire spinners and jugglers from Cosmic Karma Fire located to the left of the Main Stage.

Jimkata lit up the Tent Stage with their electrifying rock that is similar to a Mario Bros. soundtrack for adults, complete with beeps, boops and mind melting instrumental jams. It’s no wonder this up and coming Upstate New York band from Ithaca has been building up fans on their busy summer tour with big performances at Summer Camp and Gathering of the Vibes. The end of the night performance at the Main Stage was from the experimental techno funk group, Dopapod. Keyboardist Eli Winderman, drummer Neal ‘Fro’ Evans, guitarist Rob Compa and Chuck Jones on bass swirled together a set that was full of funky melodies with robotic harmonies and pure reckless rock.

Saturday

Few things taste better than fresh music in the morning. The Chronicles from Albany opened up the Main Stage with set full of hot hip hop and sweet jazz served best for a Saturday morning after an all night rager. The Metroland, Albany’s alternative newsweekly, acknowledged them as “Best of Jazz” in 2012 and 2013, paying tribute to their unique blend of all things jazz, funk and gospel. Tyrone Hartzog displays a cascade of notes as he glides over the keys. One of the best things about The Chronicles is their unpredictable jams, especially with the horn section of Bryan Brundige on trombone and Jeff Nania on saxophone. Daniel Lawson sneaks in the heavy bass notes and with Justin Henricks strumming along gives the way to a rockin funk wave. Andrae Surgick keeps a steady and chill rhythm that sends plenty of cymbals sparks flying.

Rack Em Let’s Go! definitely catches your attention with their band name alone but their music will stay with you way after their show. Exploding out of Boston, the rock and roll quartet gave a high energy performance, combining old school rock with a twist of modern soul and funk. Switching up the scene on the Main Stage was Fikus, delivering an electronic rock show with complete with funky harmonies and fast paced extraterrestrial melodies. Catch Fikus this coming weekend at Bella Terra Music Festival in Stephentown, NY. The Capital District’s top jam band Formula 5 steamed up the Tent Stage with their original dance heavy tunes plus a hot rendition of Phish’s “Sand” with guest appearance by Justin Henricks of The Chronicles on guitar.

A music festival isn’t complete without a Grateful Dead cover band these days and Backwoods Pondfest booked the best one in Upstate New York, The Garcia Project. The Saratoga Springs locals provided fans with an easy listening afternoon full of their favorite Dead songs, especially a treasured version of “Tangled up in Blue” with haunting vocals from Mik Bondy and Kat Walkerson. Capital Zen played a hard hitting set under the tent with uncontrollable beats from Rye Wylie, reckless guitar from Terry Scoville and wild bass bombs from Tony Leombruno.

Fans were left speechless from the first few soulful notes belted out from Jennifer Hartswick and especially during an extraordinary cover of the Talking Heads’ “This Must be the Place (Naïve Melody)” and Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine”. The Jennifer Hartswick Band overflows with musical energy that carries its own direction.

Electronic hip hop trio Sophistafunk tore the Tent Stage to pieces with bass heavy notes from Adam Brown, groovy beats from Emanuel Washington and robust vocals from Jack Brown. Afterwards, one of the founding fathers of funk, Bernie Worrell, gave a thunderous performance on the Main Stage with his heart stopping piano solos. The Bernie Worrell Orchestra lays out the funk, one layer at time, each grooving into the next twilight zone. Later, the Vermont based quartet Twiddle carried out the party vibe onto the Tent Stage and through the crowd. Their improvisational jams can start with a heavy rock feel then blasting into a reggae melody all with a fiery passion. Keeping with tradition, Lucid ended the festival weekend with their annual second set to close the Main Stage. It was a true free for all as festival goers, staff members and musicians danced together to the unrelenting and lively music of Lucid.

Throughout the weekend, musicians and fans alike had nothing but positive feedback about the festival given the wide range of musical talent and beautiful scenery. Amid a very chill environment where festival goers formed a close knit bond, dedicated music lovers reveled in their adventure up north to Backwoods Pondfest.