The storied history of the Woodstock community is as rich as the lush green mountains that cradle the artistry of the region. Radio Woodstock, a staple of the community, is just such an example of the past greeting the present. The radio station was once the video studio of Todd Rudgren on the property that was the brainchild of Albert Grossman – manager to many of the great folk stars of the late 60’s and early 70’s. The creative flow has been carried through, nurtured and passed on to the next generations.
The Catskill region encourages artistic endeavors through a grow-your-own mindset. The organic atmosphere culminates in a booming fervor in a world of the arts. Radio Woodstock hosts a number of events around the area, most notably Mountain Jam. On the weekend of August 31, however, a new tradition was born – The Felice County Fair. The Felice Brothers had a vision and with the help of Radio Woodstock, a fair of the arts came to fruition. True to form of the local natives, they don’t host the usual agricultural event; their idea of a fair is music and art and culinary divinity. “Location, location, location” is generally the mantra when purchasing a home, but in this case, prime realty for just such an event came in the form of a sculpture park.
The grandeur of Opus 40 is nothing short of a miraculous feat of sweat, tears, and sadly, blood. Its massive display of stonewalls, secret passages, and deep pools provided an ideal location for an unadulterated marriage of music and art. The daylong event began with Paul Green’s Rock Academy. The students performed various cover songs of their favorite rock stars, adding a touch of their own improvisations. The Academy is located in Woodstock and serves as a shining example of the mindset: the idea of developing artistic abilities to foster the creation of beautiful music. Academy staff member and guitar player Conor Kennedy took the stage shortly after. Aside from his on stage performance, his youth and exuberance are impressive. Conor Kennedy played a set well versed in various genres showcasing his musical agility. Kennedy is Woodstock’s next generation cream-of-the-crop ripe for the picking.
The Felice County Fair also encouraged the family feeling. The event hosted bouncy bounces, make your own tee shirts and a play area for the kids. It was only fitting that Marco Benevento’s two young daughters helped warm up the piano keys during their load in – future musicians perhaps. Shortly after 3 pm, Marco, Dave Dreiwitz (bass) and Andy Borger (drums) took stage. The crowd counted: one, two, three, four and the threesome started on cue. Marco Benevento promoted his latest disc, playing the set with songs from TigerFace. Almost entirely wordless music, the trio waned back and forth between heavy rock and psychedelic. A tiger head prop was used for the last song, “Limbs of Pine.” Each of the threesome took turns wearing the head while dancing and playing to an electro-pop dance beat.
There are many adaptations of Amy Helm whether she is the Amy Helm Band, The Dirt Farmer Band, or the Midnight Ramble Band. However, her vocals are unmistakable and distinctly her own in each of her performances. She often travels with Daniel Littleton on guitar, Byron Isaacs on bass and Justin Guip on drums. However, they did not need to travel far as Opus 40 is practically their backyard. As veterans of the Woodstock music scene, the Amy Helm Band invited many to the stage encouraging collaborative creative flow and maintaining that family like tradition.
An ironic and historic fact regarding Opus 40 is that its sole creator, Harvey Fite, was killed after he fell into his own massive stonework sculpture. He is now buried in the hillside of his own property, just behind the stage location. Hauntingly beautiful and chilling, Amy Helm gave new meaning to “she walks these hills over my bones” in “Long Black Veil” with husband and wife duo, Mike + Ruthy joining in on the old time favorite. Another classic, “It Makes No Difference”, would be enough to bring anyone to their knees or at least tears to their eyes. Amy’s soft and sultry vocals harmonized with Elizabeth Mitchell, Daniel Littleton, and Mike + Ruthy seemingly channeled her late father giving his soul life making his presence strong. The Amy Helm Band ended on a positive note with Sam Cooke’s “Good News.” Conor Kennedy joined the already packed stage and a folk-rock revival exploded on the hillside.
Ending their set in this manor served as a perfect primer for the closing band, The Felice Brothers. The high energy Felice Brothers got right down to business as the rain started to fall with a melodic rock violin intro. In an instant the fellas jumped around, stood on chairs and engaged the crowd. The soggy but jubilant crowd belted out “I put some whiskey in my whiskey”, as the brothers led the sing-a-long ballad. However, the band resigned to the weather, as there was lightning in the area. After a short postponement, the band resumed as if they bottled up the electricity from the storm and shot bolts from their fingers. The onstage shenanigans were a site to behold and the music was to be experienced. In its inaugural year, The Felice County Fair successfully captured the essence of Woodstock. From veteran players to newcomers, the stage performances shined. The musicians continue to harvest the artistic mentality as their songs fell upon welcoming and equally nurturing ears.