Equifunk: The All-Inclusive Music Festival, by all accounts, was the greatest weekend of the year. From the music to the Saturday Pool Party to an epic late night campfire set by Marco Benevento to the incredible weather, everything worked out perfectly all weekend long. Set in the beautiful Pocono Mountains at a functional summer camp, Equifunk gave a weekend to festival attendees that drew smiles for all three days of music from every face that could be seen.
This festival originally was just a bachelor party for about 50 friends with a couple of bands, but has swelled to three days of music, with multiple stages, and about 1500 attendees. One aspect of the weekend was how small everything felt. Multiple people over the weekend said they felt like they crashed a private party. Artists could be seen walking around the grounds, dancing with the crowds to the music, and chatting up music lovers. Everything seemed very accessible to all attendees and gave the festival a leg-up on all other festivals in the Northeast Region.
The music kicked off Friday with The Woody Brown Project at The Tee Pee Stage and their disco-laced funk. Having two percussionists and two horns solidified this sound and had those who arrived early enough to catch the first act of the festival dancing under the trees. A great cover of “Billie Jean” finished their set just as The Weeks were getting started on The Equifunk Pool Stage. The Weeks play southern rock with a bit of soul mixed in for good measure. The band has a lot of energy on stage and the small crowd that saw them appreciated it and got up and danced. Next was the first major highlight of the festival, 13 year old Bobby Paltauf and his band. Bobby has such amazing control over the guitar. Covering Jimi Hendrix, Warren Haynes and The Grateful Dead, he and the band showed off how much talent they have. Bobby directs the band with ease as to where he wants the music to go. This kid is not to be missed if he comes around to your area. He finished his set with “Tweezer Reprise,” much to the crowd’s delight.
King Lincoln brought their brand of rock to the stage and it was perfect music to have the daytime wind down prior to the first night of the festival starting up. Festival goers got their first free meal of the weekend as the beer started flowing while the sun went down. The all-inclusive model is really a great thing and makes Equifunk very unique. To start off The E-Rena, The Main Squeeze came on and brought the funk to the festival. These guys have a great chemistry after only being a five piece for about a year and they owned every second they had on the stage. The crowd was electric throughout their set. Their cover of “No Quarter” had lead singer Corey Frye and guitarist Max Newman showing off their skills, much to the crowd’s excitement. Artist in Residence for the weekend, Sister Sparrow came out to join the band on Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” and blew the roof off of the E-Rena.
JJ Grey and Mofro were out to keep the energy level high. JJ is a great front man and engaged the crowd during the entire set that felt like a rock, funk, and soul revue. “99 Shades of Crazy” as well as “Slow Hot Sweaty” were standouts of the set. The New Mastersounds were the headliners for night one and for this set they had James Casey, another Artist in Residence for the weekend, joined them for a good part of the set. These Englishmen know their funk and from the moment they hit the stage they showed the crowd a good time. Their non-stop hour and a half set oozed with energy that the crowd gave back to them just as hard. Each member of the band is so skilled at their respective instrument, it lets them take each song in any direction they want. When James came out, the addition of the saxophone increased the funk levels exponentially. The set was excellent and afterwards many people went to their cabins or tents, while some faithful stayed up for Boombox and their looping beats with beautiful guitar licks mixed in over them.
Day two of Equifunk started with breakfast and a 3-on-3 basketball tournament. The food was good and the games were competitive. The Main Squeeze had three of their five members involved in the tournament as well, which was fun to watch. I’ll Be John Brown started the music and their country rock was a perfect way to start the all-day pool party that went down, especially their cover of “Ophelia”. People could be seen rocking out in the pool throughout the day, as well as going down a water slide, while all the bands threw down great music. Superhuman Happiness and their funky disco rock took turns towards spacey jams at times, and it was very noticeable that some of their influences include LCD Soundsytem, The Talking Head and TV on the Radio, and Stuart Bogie confirmed this after their set saying that all three of those were among his favorite bands. Their songs are very complex with two keyboards and two guitars going all at once, and all of it being heavily distorted from song to song, yet the grooves are easy to dance to. These guys are very talented and are a group not to miss. The Monophonics made use of a great horn section to showcase their version of funk and soul. Their set was heavy on the covers but it was the back to back of “Gimme Shelter” and “Bang, Bang” that really made an impression on everyone. With a sound deeply rooted in the ’70s, these guys did a great job of honoring the classic Motown and Stax funk sound in their set.
Keller Williams & More Than A Little took over The Pool Stage and saw the biggest crowd gathered yet. A set mixed of covers and originals from their forthcoming album made for a very enjoyable set. Keller controlled the audience with ease, not only during the songs, but also during his in between song banter that was very funny. “Samson and Delilah” as well as “Once in a Lifetime” were two great highlights from his set. Keller is never one to be missed and this goes double if he has this band with him. The Heavy Pets had James Casey out to assist them on a fantastic “Help Me Help You”; having James up there pushed the band to a new level and they kept the energy of the sit-in for the rest of their set. They are no strangers to us here at and their set was, as expected, another great one. Marco Benevento closed The Pool Stage down and did it in grand fashion. Wearing American flag jeans and his trademark tiger mask for “Limbs of a Pine,” Marco brought the sun down and got us ready for the nighttime. His high energy set was a definite highlight of the weekend and everyone started to move to the main stage with nothing but smiles after he was done.
Nigel Hall Band was tasked with opening the evening. James Casey was there to help out as well as Eric Krasno on bass for the whole set. Nigel is a great front man and the smooth funky soul that the band produced was a wonderful start to the evening. Anders Osborne with John Medeski then wowed the crowd from the moment they all hit the stage. Anders is an amazing guitarist with tons of energy, obvious in every ripping solo that he took. Medeski was laying down beautiful key work throughout the set. The highlight was a very long and absolutely rocking “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” early in the set that had the E-Rena yelling in approval. Near the end of the set there was also a “Wilson” tease that got the crowd going as well.
Soulive with The Shady Horns and Maceo Parker were the headliners for night two and the set was as outstanding as one would expect. Everyone on stage was a virtuoso at their instrument and the music coming from the stage was jaw dropping. Once Maceo hit the stage a few songs into the set, the crowd ate up every second. Sister Sparrow and Nigel Hall came out to help with Ray Charles’s “Night Time is the Right Time” that had the crowd in a frenzy. Maceo was perfect throughout the set both on saxophone and on vocals. Marco Benevento then had a campfire set, in what hopefully will be a yearly tradition. Playing in the round and having audience participation throughout, Marco ran through originals and covers in what many people thought was the moment of the festival. From “Bennie and the Jets” to “The Real Morning Party” to “9 to 5,” Marco had the crowd in his hand the whole time. The New Mastersounds second set of the weekend started around 3 AM and they had many guests throughout the set, including Maceo. They rolled through rock, funk, and soul, just as they had the previous night and again showed their brilliant work on their instruments. The music coming from the stage was beautiful and no one watching could help but dance. As their set ended around 5 AM many people packed it in, but Marco started up an unannounced second campfire set and played until 9 AM. (Author note: I did not see this as I was calling it a day, but I was told from everyone who saw it that it was amazing and guest filled and the highlight of the festival.)
This year the festival decided to add Sunday music to the festival and it made for an incredible day. The Frank Stalloners started the day with tons of energy and covers that set the tone for the day. Frank has a Joe Cocker vibe to him and rocked the stage hard. “Turn on Your Lovelight” and “Crosstown Traffic” were played great by him and the band. Following his set Papa Mali came out and had Bobby Paltauf as well as Joe Tatton from The New Mastersounds on guitar and keys respectively. Lots of blues came from the stage throughout the set and it was wonderful watching Papa and Bobby trade guitar licks. Mike Dillon Band was next and brought a wild energy that had not been seen the rest of the weekend. Mike’s instrument was so different than most percussionists’ instruments: a mix of a xylophone and a drum kit. Carly Meyers, who plays the whistle, trombone, and vocals in the band, was a ball of energy not only on stage, but in the crowd as well. The whole band had an energy to them that set them apart from every other band at the festival. After the set I asked Dillon where the music comes from, as it is different from anything I had ever seen, saying “It comes from the head and the heart, what can I say”, with a smile. Carly also said “We usually play until we get kicked off the stage, which is three hours sometimes.” This is a band not to miss.
The London Souls brought their music to the stage and showcased their brand of funk via rock throughout their set. Their cover of “Apostrophe” by Frank Zappa was a clear highlight letting each member of the three piece band some air to show their talents. The Equifunk All-Stars made up of Eddie Roberts and Pete Shand of The New Mastersounds, Nigel Hall, and Stanton Moore were up next. Mike Dillon, James Casey, Carly Meyers, Tash Neal of The London Souls, and Joe Tatton helped out as well throughout the set. The talent on stage was amazing. It was an hour of straight improv that saw every person on stage trying to one-up the energy of another member of the band. Each musician could be seen having a great time with smiles all around on stage, but the smiles were also in the crowd as members of the audience were constantly stunned with joy over the music coming to them from all of this talent. To close out the Pool Stage for the weekend, The Main Squeeze were back up for their second set of the festival. Talking with Corey prior to the set, I asked how it felt to not only open up the main stage at the festival, but also close the pool stage and he said, “It’s been nice growing together with the festival and it was important for them (the festival) to have us do both.” This was third year that The Main Squeeze has played the festival and it seems they will be there every year as both they and the festival have been gaining momentum in the past few years. Their second set was just as beautiful as their first set of the weekend. Corey worked the crowd perfectly again, while Bob “Smiley” Silverstein donned a keytar and tore the stage down near the end of the set. Their version of “Papa was a Rolling Stone” was filled with so much funk; the audience couldn’t help but scream their approval.
The Revivalists and their high energy show opened the E-Rena stage. David Shaw can easily command a crowd like few front man know how to anymore. The moment he stepped on the stage he was a magnet for attention. Ed Williams’ pedal steel playing is great and you can see that everyone on stage is enjoying their time up there as they all interact with one another regularly to bring the energy up even higher than it already is. Pork Tornado headlined the evening and brought their country-rock to the stage in glorious fashion. Jon Fishman is the big draw here, but everyone else in the band holds their own. Joe Moore’s saxophone playing and vocals were wonderful as was his interaction with the crowd, especially during the Divinyls cover “I Touch Myself”. The band was all over the place musically going from Frank Zappa to Frank Sinatra, but it all sounded perfect. This was only their second performance in the last ten years yet it seemed as if they had been together constantly over that time. The set drew one of the loudest ovations from the crowd throughout the whole festival, but it was the final set of the weekend that may have had the best music of the weekend. The M&M’s, a super group made specifically for the festival consisted of Maceo Parker, Papa Mali, Rob Mercurio, Stanton Moore, Marco Benevento and John Medeski; this group had enough talent on stage for an army. As an added bonus, Mike Dillon came out a few songs into the set and stayed for the remainder. The set had loads of covers including, “The Harder They Come,” “Walk On,” but it was “Eminence Front” that brought the funk to the stage. Throughout the song every member of the band had a chance to show why they were on stage at that moment. The band could have just jammed on this one song for an hour and everyone in attendance would have been happy, but there was more music to be heard from this great group of musicians. They closed their set, and the festival, with Led Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times” and then it was all over.
As everyone began to leave it felt very much like summer camp with new friends saying goodbye to one another and people making promises to stay in touch and to see one another again next year. Equifunk was managed great all weekend and the sky is the limit for this festival. This year was the biggest yet and it’s only going to get bigger. Another great aspect of the festival is that they raffled off a poster signed by every artist for The Mockingbird Foundation. Hopefully something like this can be an annual thing and a bonus for festival goers to get involved in a great cause and have the chance to win a cool prize. Being so close to the Upstate Region, this is a festival not to miss for music lovers. Do yourself a favor and go to the Poconos next year to take in the mountains, the people, and the funk at Equifunk.