Backwoods Pondfest 2015: Small Festival with Big Heart

Photos by Clayton Smalley and Tim Szablewski

One of the best kept secrets in the festival circuit took place on Aug. 7 and 8 in the Adirondack region known as Backwoods Pondfest put on by Full Circle Music Productions. The intimate festival is located at Twin Ponds Campsite in Peru, NY (almost Canada) with less than 2,000 attendees, most of whom have been coming to Pondfest for years and rejoice in the North Country reunion. The open car camping provides festival goers with spacious sites in the grassy fields, pond side or quiet wooded area.Newest and biggest upgrade to the festival was the large circus, cone shaped tent over the Woods Stage that offered quality sound and intrigue late night visuals. The event features over 20 musical talents from all genres and calibers of local favorites and national acts, with back to back performances on two stages. Guests who took advantage of the Early Bird Thursday night tickets got prime real estate and a live stream of Albany’s Formula 5 show in Lake George.

Pondfesters arrived all throughout the day on Friday, unloading and setting up under crystal blue skies and sunshine. The Lynguistic Civilians voted Vermont’s best hip hop groupand making their debut at Pondfest, engaged the crowd with old school favorites and original, expressive lyrics. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong was another group new to the festival and was received with open arms. Their lighthearted, psychedelic funk was at an all-time high with a splash of reggae stirred in was the perfect start for the party on Friday night. “F U” got an extended jam with extra voltage from Max Garrett on trumpet from Capital Zen. The all string, quartet of Blind Owl Band call the Adirondack region and are no strangers to Backwoods Pondfest with a dedicated fan base at the Woods Stage. It was a hot set of bluegrass with an extra steamy, ferocious cover of The Allman Brother’s “Whipping Post”.

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Lucid took a break from festival hosting duties to perform their traditional first set of the weekend on the main stage. “Simmer On Down” had beautifully stretched peaks of tropical melodies that splashed down into a psychedelic middle eastern ride. The crowd got charged up as Lucid brought up George Wurster on harmonica for the “Backwoods” theme song. The night only got hotter after the sun went down with the fire spinners whipping and juggling the flames in sync with the North Country music and to the awe of the audience. At the woods stage,Gang of Thieves, Vermont’s funk rock and roll band slayed their first Pondfest with a mighty Led Zeppelin medley that sent chills all over the backwoods. Headliner of the night, Particle, brought their dirty Philly street funk to Pondfest for a set full of high organ groove courtesy of Steve Molitz and heart racing rhythm of Allen Aucoin. Guitarist Ben Combe and bassist Clay Parnell unfolded layers of riffs that drove the vibrant rock. Friday night wasn’t over yet as Albany’s Mister F closed out the woods stage with a late night set of chilling livetronica. Fans who stayed up for the action got a special Steve Molitz sit in that raised the bar for the rest of the weekend.

Saturday began as another beautiful day at Pondfest with perfect weather settings and an incredible lineup to look forward to. Those seeking a space of meditation and peace found it with Samantha Jo at her morning yoga class. Dozens participated in the deep breathing and stretched that were so desperately needed after a night of dancing. Meadow and Kevin Sabourin of Lucid serenaded the yogis with soft, acoustic lullabies. One of the best things about this festival being so small is that you can hear the music from the stages at your campsite. You’re always in the music. The Balkun Brothers, Steve and Nick Balkun invited everyone into the sandbox of the Wood Stage for train track, funk rock. Festival host and performer, Lowell sat in with his mean harmonica soul as the Balkun music awed the crowd. Twiddle fans were gifted with a Mihali Savoulidis acoustic Story Telling set on the Main Stage for a mellow ease into the afternoon. The raw and intimate set featured beat box looping of Twiddle classics about love and friendships, with behind the scene tales of how they came to be.The Heavy Pets kicked it up a notch with improvisational tight jams of rock and roll. Their deep focused peaks provide high cliff hangers when the chorus catches up with you.

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One of the most anticipated sets of the weekend was the Ex Presidents featuring Eric Gould of Particle, Todd Stoops of RAQ and Kung Fu, Neal “Fro” Evans of Dopapod, and Andrew Block of Big Sam’s Funky Nation. There was plenty of hype to go around with it being their first performance and let’s hope it’s not their last. The chemistry these veteran musicians have is impeccable with a fluid groove that kept the set fun and airy. Jeff Lloyd of Heavy Pets joined the talented crew for an awesome cover of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” Stoops made the announcement of Evans becoming the newest member of RAQ with a side of jokes of everyone joining each other’s bands.

The night took a turn towards a urban street party as Sophistifunk packed out the Woods Stage with old school hip hop that had the ground shaking. The big event of the night was Backwoods Pondfest veterans, Spiritiual Rez blowing up the Main Stage at midnight. You could see the steam rising over the band as they feverously rocked out with a climactic unannounced fireworks show that flawlessly matched up with “Let’s Go Out With A Bang.” Normal Instruments brought the key ingredient of late night festival life with high energetic livetronica with fast rhythm and blaring chords.

The festival ended as quickly as it began. The pack up is never as much fun as setting it up but we carry the memories with us until next year’s festival. Backwoods Pondfest continues to be a close knit festival of friends and family working together to host talented musicians that bring incredible music and smiles. It’s one of the best weekends you could have of the summer in Upstate NY so be sure to meet us in the backwoods for next year’s Backwoods Pondfest.