On October 11 and 12, 2014, a group of proud community members hosted the first Shuck ‘N’ Jive Mountain Bike & Music Fest in Newtown, CT. While the quaint New England town, which was placed under the national spotlight after the infamous shooting in 2012, carried on as normally as possible, an eclectic group of bicyclists, music fans, wine lovers, families and friends gathered in the woods a few miles away to live in the moment, dancing and singing, hiking and biking at McLaughlin Vineyards.
“Some people say it’s too soon,” Newtown resident Terrence Ford said before introducing funky five-some Kung Fu to an intimate and exuberant crowd to close the show Saturday night. “I say we’re right on time!”
As children ran freely and 20-somethings danced alongside 60-somethings, hope filled the field behind McLaughlin Vineyeards’ wine tasting room. The weather symbolized locals’ resolve: heavy raindrops fell from a gray sky as the music commenced and bikers hit the Grapes of Wrath mountain bike course Saturday; by the end of the day, however, the sun shined brightly and spirits soared high.
Bobby Paltauf and his band were the first of a slew of Connecticut musicians to take the stage. Wearing a mean face and wielding his axe, Paltouf tore though a bluesy rock set. With all eyes on Bobby, he ended the set with a dark rendition of “In The Hall of the Mountain King” that left me humming the tune for the rest of the day. While he may not be old enough to drive a car in most states—that’s right, he’s 15—Paltauf can already control a stage with aplomb.
After the Alpaca Gnomes played an entertaining set that included covers of “Midnight Rider,” “Son of a Preacher Man,” and “With a Little Help From My Friends,” I meandered over to the McLaughlin Country Store for the wine tasting. Still early in the afternoon, I had the place to myself. Samples of the vineyards’ three whites and two reds came with detailed descriptions from knowledgable and friendly staff. Their most popular white, Blue Coyote, was crisp and smokey; a tart and dry red, Vista Reposa, was my favorite. Portions were more than generous and they refused to let me pay after seeing my “Media” laminate. Like the rest of Shuck ‘N’ Jive, everything about the McLaughlin wine tasting was pleasant.
Feeling a bit warmer on a nippy mid-October day, the music also heated up as The Z3 took the stage, opening with “Fifty-Fifty.” The three-piece side project, consisting of Kung Fu guitarist Tim Palmieri, Alan Evans Trio organist Beau Sasser and Max Creek drummer Bill Carbone, played tunes spanning Frank Zappa’s career, often producing a magnificent sound that seemed to come from more than three musicians. Between funky covers, the guys sipped beers and told jokes to the growing crowd, clearly enjoying themselves as much as anyone.
Jen Durkin and the Business and Sons of F.U.N.K. were the next two scheduled acts. Durkin and her band came out first, but it didn’t take long for the Sons to follow. Rather than breaking up the sets, the bands shared the stage, playing continuously for nearly three hours and inviting nearly every musician on hand to join in. Artist at large Billy Iuso hopped up and ripped on his guitar as the sun finally came out. Highlights of the super-set came when Durkin belted “God made me funky!” and the Sons of F.U.N.K led Parliament Funkadellic classic “We Want the Funk”.
By the time Max Creek took the stage, the crowd had grown from a couple to a couple dozen to roughly a couple hundred. The Creek demonstrated why they’ve been playing strong for forty years, putting on an incredible set of music. Billy Iuso joined for a moving version of “Blood Red Roses” that they jammed on for over sixteen minutes. Keys player Mark Mercier proved looks can be deceiving; he appears more like an assuming veteran professor than a rock star, but the man was merciless on the piano all night. While much of the crowd, having floated along with the Creek before, sang along to hits like “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” “Thank You (For Letting Me Be Myself),” and “Yes We Can Can,” I felt my eyes widen and jaw drop multiple times. There were a few special moments where everything except the clean and glorious vibrations of Max Creek was tuned out.
After their introduction from Ford, Kung Fu closed the night in style. Tenor saxophonist Robert Somerville blew into his hands a few times to warm them up before blowing up his instrument, then Palmieri literally jumped into the set, striking down on his guitar strings with the landing. Fresh off a recent string of shows with Dopapod, drummer Adrian Tramontano did not slow down or miss a beat back with Kung Fu; he crushed a solo between encores as many looked on in disbelief. Bassist Chris DeAngelis has a relatively quiet stage presence but plays a booming bass and Palmieri’s picking hand looked like it was moving in fast forward when they played “Hollywood Kisses” off new album, Tsar Bomba. The funk kept everyone grooving and warm as keys player Todd Stoops knew when to get down and when to get weird. Billy Iuso scooted in between Somerville and Palmieri at the end, adding an exclamation point to a great day and night.
Shuck ‘N’ Jive was one of the family friendliest festivals and there did not seem to be a single hiccup in the first year music fest. Between the fantastic music, delicious wine, bike racing, and welcoming crowd, not much could go wrong. Even a damp morning could not dampen anyone’s spirits. I will be back next year to spend time with some of Connecticut’s finest musicians and friendliest citizens.