No family tree has as many strange branches as the ChillFam’s, and, from Sept. 5-7, approximately 5,000 fanatics gathered at the world’s foremost musical family reunion–the fifth annual Catskill Chill. Old friendships were rekindled and new ones born at Camp Minglewood in Hancock, NY. Among many other acts, Lettuce, Turkuaz, and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe pumped out the funk, Kung Fu, Particle, and Papadosio rocked hard, and Dopapod, Electron, and Yonder Mountain String Band played their unique styles. From staff and vendors to artists and admirers, everyone at The Chill was camped on cloud nine. With round-the-clock live music on five official stages, pristine early September weather, and characters aplenty, The Catskill Chill was once again the perfect way to wind down festival season.
Anticipation and excitement blew in the pleasant Friday afternoon breeze as tents sprang up from the tennis courts down to the lake. My friend Chris and I headed to our “island”—a grassy triangle between sidewalk paths, large enough for our tents and chairs. Last year, we were known as the parking lot pirates; donning old-school Pittsburgh Pirates caps in homage to Ryan Stasik, our volunteering duty was to direct festival goers where to park. This year, we graduated to press pirates, hooked up by PR director Destiny Beck at the eleventh hour to promote the music we feverishly crave.
After setting up camp on the island, MUN’s early evening set in Club Chill was the first batch of music for me. While Nahko and Medicine for the People played the Main Stage, MUN jammed in the only fully enclosed stage. Led by guitarists Alfred Rylands and Wiley Griffin, they put on a heavy set of improg. The Brooklyn-based quartet will tour the Northeast this fall, providing the desirable kind of MUNdays with their “astrofunktronica.”
After The Eric Krasno Band lit up the B Stage with Alecia Chakour, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe played the first primetime Main Stage set. With a solid mix of covers and originals, the funk-masters ignited a massive dance party in the hangar-like pavilion. Denson showed off his versatility with back-to-back covers of The Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See”, and The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”, on the flute before switching back to the sax for The Beastie Boys’ “Suco De Tangerina”. Dressed to the nines, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe wrapped up with “Shake It Out” and the mass before them obliged excitedly.
Uplifting piano notes from Marco Benevento began floating down from the B Stage as Karl Denson and company were still raging. Benevento’s was one of my most anticipated sets of the weekend, and he delivered. Banging his head and keys emphatically, melodic runs rained from Benevento’s piano in the steamy three-walled shed. Once in a while, he would take a break from jamming to clap along, beaming. “DJ” Drew Dreiwitz, also of Ween, cranked out a huge bass solo while Benevento sat back, sipped from his Solo cup, and soaked it in. The trio, rounded out by Andy Borger on the drums, covered “Benny & The Jets” and had the whole venue singing in raptures. Benevento will be touring this fall in support of his new album Swift, which releases on September 16th, and his show is not one to miss; he is as energetic and talented onstage as he is gregarious offstage.
From 11:15 p.m. to 1:15 a.m., Lettuce blew everyone away back at the Main Stage. Guitarist Eric Krasno, feeling at home at The Chill, shredded like a madman. The fired-up Kras sparked the rest of the band: Neal Evans crushed on the keys while the funk was rooted in the horns section. The venue was packed with fans swaying in hammocks, chilling in the bleachers, or grooving on the dance floor, which spilled out onto the hill in the rear. Lettuce played hits off each of their studio albums, including “The Dump”, “Sam Huff’s Flying Raging Machine”, and “Madison Square”. Adam Deitch was a rock on the drums and turned it up from “Outta Here” into a slamming solo. Jesus Coomes rattled bones with the bass and Alecia Chakour’s vocals were exalting. By the time they ended with “Blast Off”, the ChillFam was already in a state of bliss.
With Lettuce still keeping it fresh on the Main Stage, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong began flocking in Club Chill. The quartet features two guitarists with very different demeanors. Greg Ormont’s Sideshow Bob-like hair, infectious smile, energetic personality, and emphatic upbeat vocals make him hard to miss. While Ormont danced around grinning and singing, Jeremy Schon stood relatively in place, shaking his blonde mane, fingers deftly sliding around his six-string. Schon ripped through PPPP’s lively funkalogue, showing off big-league guitar skills. Barefoot bassist Ben Carrey scooted around the stage playing tight bass lines and drummer Dan Schwartz made his presence well-known. Twiddle’s Mihali Savoulidis joined for “Poseidon”, a number off Pigeons’ new album, Psychology, and the Baltimoreans hatched new dirty birds by concluding with a red-hot cover of “Suck My Kiss”.
The music would go on past 5 a.m. with Alan Evans’ Playonbrother jamming in Club Chill, but DJ Shpongle’s 2:30 a.m. set was my last bit of music on Friday. Shpongle, aka Simon Posford, had no trouble adding to his loyal following. He has mastered the art of playing to the mood. Those not melted into the hillside danced vigorously to the ambient DJ set. His beats are all-inclusive and joy ballooned in the pavilion as DJ Shpongle closed the Main Stage in style.
Vermont quartet Twiddle was the first to play the Main Stage at 1:45 p.m. on Saturday. They opened with a rendition of “When It Rains It Poors” featuring beautiful vocals and warm harmonies. With each member dressed as a different Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, Twiddle segued into “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. The master of turning knobs, Dopapod’s Eli Winderman, joined a few songs later and they almost got “Stooooped” off the stage when Kung Fu’s Todd Stoops sat in on the keys. Twiddle is finding their stride with well-composed songs, a positive message, and rapidly growing following.
Last year, as Chris and I directed cars in the hot, dirty parking lot, new-found enemies mocked us from their all-access/VIP pedestals: the teachers. When I heard a “Hey, pirate!” call while grabbing lunch between Twiddle and Cabinet, I knew instantly who it must be and my hand reached instinctively for a non-existent sword. As anticipated, it was one of the teachers.
Instead of spending our energies plotting each others’ demise, however, we formed the teacher-pirate alliance against wooks at this year’s Catskill Chill. On good terms, we wandered around pretending to duel and enjoying each other’s company at killer sets of music. From 4:30-6:25, ChillFam favorite Dopapod jumbled up an enthusiastic Main Stage crowd with jams like “Black and White”, “Freight Train”, and “Vol. 3 #86″. While they oozed out mostly originals, Adrian Tramontano joined on the hand drums for a Herbie Hancock cover before we headed to see a band people were talking about all weekend.
Long Islanders TAUK poured out chunky progressive rock in Club Chill after having slammed Lockn’ Festival the afternoon before. The quartet, whose members have been friends for longer than many Chillfam members have been alive, proved that they are not up-and-coming: they are here. They looked at ease on stage delivering heavy instrumental jams. They played “Mokuba”, “Friction”, and, personal favorite, “Collateral”, off new album Collisions. Bassist Charlie Dolan anchors the group while Matt Jalbert’s tight guitar riffs and well-placed solos add a healthy dose of inflection. Alric “A.C” Carter manipulates his keyboard dexterously while the “new guy” Isaac Teel does not miss a beat on drums. As Dolan pointed out, the group has the flexibility of continuing down the instrumental route or adding vocals one day, and their firepower gives them plenty of time to decide.
Despite the warmth of Club Chill and the delicious eeriness of TAUK, I moved over to the Acoustic Junction to catch the most talented trio in show business, Consider the Source. A loyal following wiggled in the rain as the Sourcerors rewarded with a cover of The Beatles “Blackbird”. They followed up with “Wayfaring Stranger” during which drummer Jeff Mann stepped up to the mandolin; he was so smooth that I barely noticed he was playing an atypical instrument. As the rain fell and the sun went down,the music was just getting turned up.
Yonder Mountain String Band played the headlining set on Saturday evening as the rain let up. Allie Kral sat in on the fiddle and, having caught her final set with former band Cornmeal at Summer Camp in 2013, I was eager to see her add to the Colorado bluegrass quartet. Their version of “Only A Northern Song” was awe-inspiring and they plucked out a unique rendition of The Talking Heads’ “Girlfriend Is Better”. Having also headlined in 2012, Yonder Mountain String Band may be an outlier to the funk-rock heavy lineup, but they bring a great following to the party and put on a captivating show. The strings-only group closed out their set by playing “40 Miles From Denver” and “Southern Flavor” to a delirious crowd.
After the first half of Cabinet’s Dead set in Club Chill, I learned that, after disbanding in 2011 (following 12 years of bumping), Canadian-based techno trio The New Deal is back. Consisting of keys player Jamie Shields, bassist Dan Kurtz, and drummer Joel Stouffer, they played a late night technotronica set to a packed Main Stage. Reunited, the band is scheduled to play a handful of shows across the country this fall as well as Dominican Holidaze.
I hopped over to the B Stage for The Nth Power after some more wook-watching. I need to be tested, but I may have been impregnated by their music. The quintet with one outlier (Nikki, Nigel, Nick, Nate, and… Weedie) played baby-making music to a dazzled crowd. Most of the songs they played will be featured on their 2015 debut full-length album, Abundance, but they threw in a euphoric cover of Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You”. Featuring powerful vocals and deep bass lines, the Nth Power creates a rich flavor of funk and produces a mesmerizing show.
Papadosio’s late night Main Stage set on Saturday proved that a music festival is like a box of chocolates. Anticipating an ambient, trancey end to the night, Papadosio put on a slamming set of rock. Festival goers like myself, who expected to be gently lulled toward sleep, were rocked back to life starting with a 20-minute “Find Your Cloud”. Eli Winderman joined for a tasty “Unparalyzer” as the Brouse brothers, who handle the band’s keys and synths, gave Dopapod’s keyboardist the reins. Anthony Thogmartin’s songwriting ability was evident as always and ‘Dosio is rounded out by bassist Rob McConnell and drummer Mike Healy. The Ohio natives jammed deftly until 4 a.m. while Pink Floyd/Talking Heads/Phish fusion Pink Talking Fish wound down the night in Club Chill.
Every day at a music festival should start with a set from Turkuaz. After helping one of my best friends (whom I met at last year’s Catskill Chill) move out, Dopapod showed their innovation is not limited to the stage by serving up pancakes with a side of jam. Then, Turkuaz supplied the fuel needed for the rest of the weekend at the Main Stage. One cannot not dance while watching the Brooklyn-based funkernaut. Michelangelo Carubba looked and sounded fly as usual while leading the 9-pack on drums. Celebrating her birthday by gracing loyal fans with rich vocals, Sammi Garrett was on point all day and guitarist Dave Brandwein laid down the hammer on his axe. Bubbles and sunshine filled the early afternoon air while Turkuaz put the “fun” into funk with the title track off their recent album Future 86. As the horns rang out, knowing looks spread through the crowd: “These guys are getting it!” The band is on fire right now and their merch sports my new go-to alibi: “Turkuaz made me do it!”
After packing my gear up and reluctantly moving off the island, the rest of the day was dedicated to music. Particle carried on the bash that Turkuaz started as drummer Darren Pujalet led a one-way race to funkville. Turuaz’s horns section came out to brighten the set for a jam, then The Hornitz and original bassist Eric Gould joined and shook up the house. Guitarist Ben Combe is a force on stage, and Particle’s progressive synthy style is catalyzed by Steve Molitz on the keys, who also spit a rendition of Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story”. Particle played plenty of new songs and left many people slack-jawed with one of the harder sets all weekend.
I followed Particle’s bassist Clay Parnell up to the B Stage, where he also played with American Babies. They played a more traditional rock set highlighting Tom Hamilton’s songwriting and singing abilities. Electron’s Aron Magner sat in for a cover of The Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie” and the crowd loved Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue”.
Back at the Main Stage, Kung Fu impressed with hard funk. Tim Palmieri challenged Eric Krasno for “master shredder” title of the weekend and Todd Stoops played some glorious piano solos. Robert Somerville got real saxy and Chris DeAngelis was crisp on the bass. These ninjas’ chemistry glows like a beacon on the stage. Drummer Adrian Tramontano’s kit, like Tramontano himself, is compact, but the Zack Galifianakis look-alike is an inspiration for us vertically challenged denizens everywhere. As onlookers gawked, he crushed one of the best drum solos of the weekend, moving with remarkable speed. The horns and ladies of Turkuaz reappeared to form Kungkuaz and play Stevie Wonder’s “Haven’t Done Nothing”, a highlight of the entire weekend. The Connecticut quintet, who will tour the East Coast in October and November, never fail to deliver.
Before I could see Consider the Source‘s plugged-in set, I heard them and thought, “That can’t be them; that’s at least 6 or 7 people.” It was, however, CTS. There is videographic proof that I am not being hyperbolic describing the Sourcerors as a crew filmed the set. Drummer Jeff Mann must have eaten his Wheaties; he played with a maniacal reckless abandon. Guitarist Gabriel Marin, whose fingers glide like butter on glass across his fretless guitar, played an upbeat trumpet solo on his custom double-necked instrument. “Tihai For The Straight Guy” was a classic example of Beach Boys meet Middle Eastern pop-rock and, during “Keep Your Pimp Hand Strong”, bassist John Ferrara ripped the dirtiest bass solo of the weekend. With the first part of their new album World War Trio releasing this Halloween, expect heavy ripples from Consider the Source this fall.
The final evening at Camp Minglewood was chilly, but Electron cranked the heat at the Main Stage. Comprised of The Disco Biscuits’ Marc Brownstein and Aron Magner on bass and keys respectively, Lotus’s Mike Greenfield on the drums, and American Babies’ guitarist Tommy Hamilton, they broke through with the most expansive jams of the weekend. Not only was their music out of this world, their light show was spectacular. Despite being Sunday night, the dance floor was as packed and busy as any point during the weekend. Electron played richly textured space jams with intricately laid layers and explored the psychedelic. Magner pounded emotionally on the piano and gave equal attention to the synths, and Greenfield put the pedal to the metal a bit more than he would with Lotus. With glow sticks flying, rage sticks raging, and bodies bumping, Electron put an exclamation point on a great weekend of music.
My ship had sailed at Catskill Chill by the time the plug was pulled on Electron. Having bonded with old friends, acquired a host of new friends, danced to hours of incredible music, and explored every corner of Camp Minglewood, I was ready to put another successful Chill in the books. The marathon was over and the memories were made; now, I attempt to wait patiently as anticipation is already bubbling for Catskill Chill 6.
Check out a video of Yonder Mountain String Band from the festival: