Luna Light Festival Reminds It’s About The Music

Pulling into the parking lot at Luna Light Festival in Barto, Pennsylvania, on Friday, July 11th foreshadowed the weekend ahead: clear blue skies were overhead, but an air of confusion hung about. Thinking we had made it to the festival, staff told everyone to unload their cars, park, and wait for a shuttle bus to take us to the actual festival grounds.  No one seemed to know where the festival grounds really were, though.

After a five-mile ride on a yellow school bus into the woods, we were dropped on the side of a dirt road at Hex Hollow Farms. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, private residences sat on both sides of the road; behind one of those houses, the stage that would host Shpongle, Lettuce, and Keller Williams, among other artists, could be seen, evincing that we had actually made it to Luna.

Setting up shop turned into a free-for-all on a gently sloped and forested rectangular area that was adjacent to the main stage. Halfway down the length of the campground was the Wooded Stage, which became the late night haven after a last-minute late-night live drumming ban went into effect.  Great music wafted from the stages all weekend but, with no physical schedules printed and no wireless signal to check online, it often took a bit of investigation to figure out who was providing the aural enjoyment.

As folks settled in Friday evening, L.A. based Particle took the Main Stage around 7 p.m.  The band played an upbeat jamtronica set that had fans up and dancing.  The quartet sent jams out on dark, spacey trajectories but, before transporting listeners out of the stratosphere, cranked up the funk, inviting everyone back to a space disco.  Particle showed why they have been successful for so long, rocking the Main Stage in Particle-uarly groovy fashion.

The Main Stage was Shpongled next, as nearly all of the roughly 500 attendees came out to see Simon Posford play a DJ set.  For roughly an hour and a half, much of the crowd sat on the lawn watching the psychedelic show and soaking in the transcendent music.  Multiple sets of eyes surrounded by hypnotizing patterns were projected onto geometric prisms above the stage, lulling lookers into a contented daze that was meant to “open the third eye.”  The music was also an entrancing ride; Shpongle mixed samples that transported listeners from a sensual cruise through a musical desert to a techno party to a tribal drum circle.  The ambient sound and captivating visuals added up to a unique experience that can only be described as getting Shpongled.  

The dearth of schedules was exacerbated by the fact that planned set times were often changing.  Because of a missed flight, Kalya Scintilla, scheduled to play late night Friday, missed the festival. Jimkata switched to an evening set Saturday rather than late night due to the drum ban, and Manifested came on earlier than anticipated.  

With or without a schedule, there could be no mistaking Consider the Source when they plugged-in and exploded in the Hex Hollow lean-to early Saturday afternoon.  If you could not see the source of their music, it would be easy to assume there were 5 or 6 musicians on stage rather than 3: consider that. The fretless top neck of Gabriel Marin’s custom axe proffers sounds that could come from a trumpet, trombone, xylophone, and, at times, even the guitar. He seamlessly moved from a trumpet-guitar solo into a hypnotic, Middle-Eastern fusion into funk into jazz, playing both necks the whole time. On the bass, whether he was slapping with ridiculously fast in-your-face aggression or tapping with mind-boggling precision, John Ferrara is the best bassist many people have never heard of. Rounding out the trio, Jeff Mann did more than just keep time, which would be a difficult enough task with Marin and Ferrara.  Mann changed time signatures on a dime, switching from metallic double-bass to snappy jazz beats.  He supplements his full kit sound with an electric Roland drum pad, which he beautifully employed during a cover of the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt”. Adorned in their typical full-length white linens, Consider The Source pumped out rock as pure and smooth as their outfits Saturday afternoon.

The end of CTS’s first set was overlapped by Pigeons Playing Ping Pong on the Main Stage. The funktastic Baltimore quartet, fresh off the release of their album Psychology, played an upbeat afternoon set. Ben Carrey grooved out rolling bass lines during their catchy original tune “F.U.”, which was smoothly cut into a cover of “I Feel Good”. Their tune “Julia” –imagine Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia” with two talented guitarists playing rich, elated melodies– had the crowd beaming and singing along.  Pigeons finished the set with guitarists Jeremy Schon and Greg Ormont leading a psychedelic dive down the green pipe into a reggae jam of the Super Mario Bros theme.

Manifested played the Hex Hollow stage following Pigeons. Along with the band’s manager Joe DeAntonio, guitarist Mike Rabito deserves credit for planning and producing Luna. Like the rest of the musicians he brought to the party, Rabito and his bandmates rocked hard.  They played an impressive set of improg jams before The Heavy Pets took the Main Stage. The South Floridians funky set was highlighted by heavy synth grooves, and a smokin’ version of “John Galt”.

Ithaca’s Jimkata was the next band to blow the roof off the Hex Hollow Stage, providing one of those most impressive sets at Luna. Lead vocalist Evan Friedell shined on vocals, and the group, whose indie roots shined through more than any band, also demonstrated they can jam hard led by guitarist/keys player Aaron Gorsch.  They played an inspired version of “Feel In Light”, and “Die Digital>Legoland” had the crowd jumping.  The set’s closer “Release” turned into a huge sing-along.  Throughout the set, poppy choruses led into heavy jamtronica waves that swept the crowd away.  Their growth as a band is evident from show to show, and Jimkata picked up quite a few new followers at Luna Light Festival.

Like Jimkata, who rocked before them, and CTS, who would play again after, Lettuce represented the Big Apple with aplomb.  Everyone came out of the wood-works for the weekend’s headliner.  Lettuce waited for the crowd to build up, and with anticipation buzzing, an instant dance party ensued once they took the stage.  Despite the absence of guitarist Eric Krasno, the rest of the band rolled out their signature funk train.  Jesus Coomes’ huge presence was front and center all night as he slayed the bass.  Adam Smirnoff was silky on the guitar, while Ryan Zoidis and Eric Bloom provided blissfully blaring horns.  Coupled with an impressive light show, Lettuce’s soulful funk kept the crowd dancing and buzzing late into the night under the Supermoon.

Because of the late night drum ban, CTS took over Jimkata’s late night Saturday slot and played an unplugged set in the woods.  While Mann was as smooth as ever on various hand drums, Ferrara and Marin busted out some different toys for the acoustic set.  Ferrara produced dirty sounds with both his bass banjo and ukulele-like U-bass, while Marin switched between the Baglama saz and tanbour.  Their acoustic sorcery mesmerized onlookers early into Sunday morning, and forgetting the moratorium on loud late-night sets was easy.

The festival wrapped up early Sunday evening, but not after a few more bands had the chance to strut their stuff.  FiKus opened up the day on the Main Stage, pouring out rocking grooves.  Buffalo’s Aqueous was the last group of New Yorkers to own the Hex Hollow Stage.  Their improg rock had a fluid feel, fitting of the band’s name.  Their grooving melodies coupled with grandiose musicianship created a high-energy, face-melting rock show under the sun.

The day and festival wound down gradually, as people packed their belongings and tried to beat the masses to catch the shuttle back to the parking grounds.  NYC’s Turbine played the Main Stage and The Mantras rocked the Hex Hollow.  By the time Keller Williams took the stage for a solo acoustic set, much of the crowd had dispersed.  Whistling and strumming, Keller calmly brought the remaining fans back down to earth after 48 hours of great live rocking.  While there were bumps in the road and inaugural-year kinks, the Luna Light Festival’s success is a perfect reminder that it’s about the music.