Frendly Gathering 2016: A Most Fulfilling Weekend in Vermont

From the first moment festival-goers entered Timber Ridge in Windham, VT, the frendly feeling was immediate and overwhelming. Everywhere the eye could see, campers were setting up tents, walking around and looking for long-lost faces they hadn’t seen in what always seems is way too long. The vendor booths were starting to come alive as their first patrons wandered up to grab a drink and some food after the initial moments of the Frendly Gathering 2016 adventure started.

Thursday, June 23: Day One

The Frendly Stage kicked off Thursday’s music with the collaboration Zebra Muscle’s first of two sets of the weekend. The impromptu band led by Danny Davis’s roommate, Chris Emmington, was the first to sound the musical alarm, with the help of Twiddle’s drummer, Brook Jordan. Next to come up was Canyon Village, WY-based bluegrass quartet Canyon Collected, followed by the warmest of welcomes from the hosts, Jack Mitrani and Danny Davis – two of the seven founding members of the Frends Crew.

The next two acts to take the stage were breathtakingly full, funky-soul Burlington, VT, natives Smooth Antics and the Van Morrison tribute band Into the Mystic. After more than three hours of action on the Frendly Stage, fans were given a chance to catch their breath. People kicked around the concert field catching up with frends who had arrived a set or two before. Others went back to their campsites to give their dancing feet a rest. However, all knew what was next – Twiddle’s first set of the weekend.

As the clock neared 11 p.m., the excited gatherers climbed partway up the hill to a budding campfire, where the four rising stars of Vermont-based Twiddle, Mihali Savoulidis, Zdenek Parker Gubb, Ryan Dempsey and Brook Jordan, were organizing their respective basic setups for an intimate set. They began with “Lost in the Cold;” a song that has quickly become yet another that fans sing-along to in unison with the lion personified, Mihali. The boys played newer songs, like “White Light” and “Be There,” but were sure to hit other tunes along their timeline like “Hatti’s Jam” into “When It Rains It Pours” and “Frankenfoote” into the first night closer and ever-appropriate “Frends Theme.”

Everyone slowly dispersed heading back to various campsites or to explore this year’s Frendly grounds. The first day of Frendly Gathering 2016 had come to a close. People laid their heads down, and smiles ran across their faces as they were thinking about the day.

Friday, June 24: Day Two

As the sun rose in the small southern Vermont town of Windham, campers awoke to what was assuredly going to be a beautiful day. Most people knew the weather was going to be nice, since they had prepared their camping gear in the previous days for the appropriate conditions, but the anticipation of the day’s beauty came from a source much closer to the heart. After all, it was the beginning of the second day of Frendly Gathering 2016.

The day started as a crowd gathered with their mats in front of the Frendly Stage for Rise and Shine Yoga. Shortly after that, Burlington-based surf band the High Breaks were the first musical act of the day. Following the wave-riding music that helped shake the morning cobwebs off of people’s hips were traditional world-fusion Vermonters Mal Maiz, the first band to take the Wood Stage. Up next was Boston’s alternative folk rock trio Ballroom Thieves at the Burton Teepee.

The day was gaining momentum and was certainly showing no signs of slowing as Twiddle prepared for their second set of the weekend. The resident headliner played on a platform in the middle of a camping area by the pond, situated next to the mountain’s lodge. A crowd of fans, frends and family gathered around as the mid-afternoon set began with “Amydst the Myst” from their latest album, Plump.

The set wasn’t long, but brought giant smiles to everyone’s faces, especially when they led into the crowd favorite “Mamunes the Faun,” during which the muse of the song could be seen dancing on the lawn behind the stage. After the pond set had wrapped up, the rest of the day was filled with a litany of amazing music all over the mountainside. Marco Benevento rocked the Frendly Stage to a crowd who couldn’t stifle their excitement for the New York State native. Following him was Eminence Ensemble, a Boulder, CO, progressive rock band with a funky fusion, on the Wood Stage.

On top of the typical stage performances there were the various acts who appeared in the Airstream camper, dubbed the FrendShip. The performances included Jaden Carlson Band and Trevor Hall with Mihali. There was also an open mic at the Martin Dome throughout each day where Martin and Co Guitars, a sponsor of the festival, provided a variety of guitars for everyone to play and try their hand at entertaining the crowd.

As the night progressed, the highly anticipated upper-bill bands started to take the stage. Trevor Hall, the Los Angeles-based acoustic folk favorite, filled the Frendly Stage with his beautiful music. Pennsylvania native Cabinet found a happy home on the Wood Stage and as soon as their set was done, Brooklyn, NY-based power funk band Turkuaz exploded with their set on the Frendly Stage. Friday night’s main stages’ music was given its finale by Moon Hooch on the Wood Stage, followed by Big Gigantic on the Frendly Stage, who received guest appearances by both Mihali and the Turkuaz horns.

After the final performance in the main concert field, a buzz filled the crowd; everyone was talking about a secret set. They all knew there were four sets of Twiddle but only three were on the schedule. This had to be it – everyone had to get up the mountain to ascend to the DJ Nest where Twiddle was about to play on platforms, built up in the trees. What could be expected from the set, no one knew.

The lights flooded the trees and the set started. The Vermont-based quartet played their secret set in a single, hour-long jam, very much akin to a Phish secret set. There’s always the silly rumor that Twiddle’s ultimate goal is to one day be handed over the torch by Phish. Anyone who has grown with the band and their music knows that to be completely false. However, in this jam it was clear that these guys are heavily influenced by their Vermont jam band brethren and weren’t afraid to pay homage to them.

After the amazing secret set everyone carefully traversed down the mountain. There was much to recap about the second day of Frendly Gathering 2016, sitting around campsites and on hillsides. Everyone went to bed, trying their hardest to forget that the next day would be the last day of what had already been an incredible weekend.

Saturday, June 25: Day Three

Many people awoke in their tents to the same atmosphere of beautiful weather and high anticipation of the day to come as they did for day two. Although it was the last day of the festival there was so much more to enjoy; what was to come would create memories that would help make the whole weekend last an eternity.

The music kicked off at noon with New Paltz, NY-based Appalachian soul band Upstate Rubdown on the Frendly Stage. The stage was home to a few amazing sets in the afternoon, leading into the evening, including New York City’s first and only all-women mariachi group, Mariachi Flor de Toloache. They lit up the mountainside with their beautifully performed music, proudly displaying their Latina heritage. Once their set was complete, they were completely transparent in the fact that they had enjoyed every second of their Frendly experience, with the crowd fully reciprocating the feeling.

Unlike the previous two days, day three was filled with overlapping performances while multiple stages were alive with music. While it was quite impossible to see every single act that day, there was one act that almost no one was prepared to miss — the late afternoon performance by Gubbulidis, featuring Jaden Carlson at the Burton Teepee. Starting off with the Twiddle song “Apples,” the trio, joined by Aaron Hagele on percussion, had the crowd completely mesmerized by a jaw-dropping and oh-too-quick set. The half-hour set ended the same way Twiddle’s campfire set ended, with the theme of the weekend, the theme of the hosts and the theme of many people’s lives, “Frends Theme.”

As the sun started to set on the mountain, the teenage guitarist phenom, Jaden Carlson, had her first full set with her band, quite appropriately named Jaden Carlson Band, on the Wood Stage. The Boulder, CO-based band, filled with a fusion of jazz, funk and soul, was playing simultaneously with fellow westerners, Bozeman, MT’s Kitchen Dwellers, who were over in Wakers Barn. A Bluegrass band who is finally spreading their wings, the Kitchen Dwellers are more frequently dedicating time to playing east coast shows. Fans were torn between the two acts, but neither decision yielded anything resembling disappointment.

The evening moved along in fine form with performances from Monophonics, Sinkane and a second set of the weekend from Zebra Muscle. As the clock approached 11 p.m., the frends on the mountain began feeling their much understood glee as Twiddle’s fourth and final set was coming up on the Frends Stage. Before the set started, the crowd was treated with a surprise from three young ladies known as The Jamflowgirls. Cassidy, Jamie and Georgia played a song, written with the help of Mihali, and performed on a Martin guitar Cassidy won earlier in the weekend. The song, “Frendly Gathering is Here,” will likely become another token theme for the festival.

Twiddle’s final set was absolutely electrifying. Kicking off with “Jamflowman,” the host-band was quick to bring up their first guest, Jaden Carlson. She helped rock out “Hatti’s Jam” into “When it Rains it Pours.” When her guest appearance was finished, the little lady who had dropped jaws all weekend with her skill and phrasing, which could easily be attributed to her having an old soul, got an eruption of cheers from fans, new and old.

Next up to help Twiddle close out the Frends Stage’s last act of the weekend was RAQ’s Todd Stoops. After he was announced, the crowd immediately cheered his name in the very familiar fashion, “Stooooops!” Before he and the band broke out into “Every Soul,” which he sat in on for the recording on the latest album, Plump, Todd wished his wife a happy birthday and anniversary; it was truly heartwarming. Stoops also came out a couple songs later to give support on a song continuously growing in popularity, “Lost in the Cold.” The last stand-in was by Torin Daniels from the Kitchen Dwellers, playing banjo on “Syncopated Healing.” The bluegrass sound was an amazing substantiation of the already fun and truly healing song.

The weekend was capped off with a true mountain party, as festival-goers once again trekked up the mountain to the DJ Nest where the collaboration, the Smooths, played in the treetop platforms. They created a dance party, making sure to bring the crowd into full participation mode by covering Sublime songs, Talking Heads songs and much more. It gave everyone a feeling of fulfillment as Frendly Gathering 2016 had finally come to a close. Gatherers meandered down the mountain, looking for small final parties at various campsites. Sleep fell over the mountain as exhaustion from the joyous festivities finally settled deep into the bones of the mountainside frends. The only thing anyone could think of as they closed their eyes was what was to come with Frendly Gathering 2017.

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