Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend bookend the festival season, meaning many northeasterners start and end their summers at Camp Kee-Wanee in Greenfield, Mass., for the 15th Strangecreek and Wormtown Campouts.
Last week was the 15th annual Strangecreek, and the vibe was very focused around the family that had been built up over the years. Camp Kee-Wanee is the perfect spot to host this festival, with a picturesque green landscape that leads into the forest, which is cut in half by a stream running through the creek. The late night cabins make it as fun for ragers as all the kid friendly activities make it perfect for families.
The four-day fete spanned May 26 to 29 and was a hit to everyone in attendance. Aside from the rain over the first two days, the festival went off without issue, and by the time the music was done late on Sunday night, everyone was left with ear-to-ear smiles.
I wasn’t able to arrive until Friday evening, just as Consider the Source was soaring on the main stage. Prior to that, David Gans’ tribute to the Grateful Dead’s Ron “Pigpen” McKernan had fans singing the type of blues that only Pigpen could sing. Rebel Alliance and Relative Souls were prior.
At 7:30 p.m., Shakedown took over the Vernville stage to play 90 minutes of the way they interpret the Grateful Dead. It was a very nice and relaxing way to segue back to the mainstage, where headliner Badfish brought the sunny spirit of Sublime to Strangecreek. It was a welcomed surprise to boogie down to one of my favorite bands from my teenage years.
A few minutes before 11, I caught the tail end of Western Mass. group The Alchemystics and their genre melding blend of funk and hip hop.
In the Keewanee Cabin, Tweed jammed, and jammed and jammed until the early morning hours, before Skeleton Keys brought a new spin on Grateful Dead music, using two pianos to interpret the legendary catalog. West End Blend and Bella’s Bartok were the late night acts at the Wormtown Cabin.
After some late night campground shenanigans, I turned in to my tent and took a much needed rest. The cool mountain air, paired with a quiet camping area, made it easy to fall and stay asleep.
The morning started with a delicious smoothie from the Solar Cafe and a bacon, egg and cheese from an independent vendor. By the time I got to the Vernville stage, Desert Rain was wrapping up, so I wandered to the Riverworm stage, nestled in the woods, to check out Rhythmic Circus, who were the perfect complement to the fair weather.
A friend messaged me and told me not to miss The Broadcast, a three-piece group that played the main stage at 3 p.m. They brought a sort of straightforward approach to rock and roll, but mixed in some fiery soloing.
Big Mean Sound Machine, The Fritz and Ryan Montbleau were up next, before a dinner break to get ready for the band I come to see every year: Max Creek.
The four-piece band has been around since the late 1960s, and continues to innovate in the jam scene. Guitarist Scott Murawski has been playing a lot with Phish bassist Mike Gordon in recent years, and the duo’s partnership and style showed a lot during the show. Max Creek, years ago, sometimes felt like it was Murawski soloing over chord progressions, but this show featured a lot more in the ways of subtle rhythm shifts and deep grooves, which is similar to what he does with Gordon. And not to be forgotten is the Dead’s spirit, which is tattooed all over Max Creek’s live sets.
Shakedown and Zach Deputy rocked the Wormtown late night cabin, and Keepers of the Vibe and the Z3 held down Kewanee.
Sunday morning is what I’ve been looking to for a while. New York based group Cousin Earth was opening the Riverworm stage at 10:30 a.m. to bring their super unique, sometimes quirky and all-the-time fun and intricate music to Strangecreek for the first time. The five-piece band featured Joey Calfa on electric ukulele, Corey J. Feldman on a bass the size of a ukulele, Terry Brennan on vocals and percussion, Nate Searing on drums and Tara Lawton on vocals and melodica. They bring a Broadway vibe to rock and roll, and add in memories from your childhood, such as playing the Animaniacs theme song, or performing a video game medley. All in all, Cousin Earth was the most energizing set of the weekend, and I urge you to catch this band any chance you get.
The Rev Tor Band and Hayley Jane and the Primates performed on the main stage, before Bella’s Bartok took another shot at the crowd. Bella’s Bartok is quite unique, with an indy rock feel and also a singalong sort of vibe. At one point, their singer sang a song while on an inflatable couch that the crowd was making surf.
The Talking Dreads and Annie in the Water had the Vernville stage hopping, while Steal Your Peach brought the river to life.
Eric Krasno of Soulive played a set with his solo band on the main stage right around the time people were learning that Gregg Allman had passed away.
Zach Deputy, Pink Talking Fish and Pink Floyd tribute The Machine closed out the festival in grand fashion. Pink Talking Fish’s set consisted of all Phish material, adding another layer to the weekend.
From September 15 to 17 at Kee-Wanee is Wormtown, which is put on by the same people. Melvin Seals and JGB and Max Creek are the headliners. You should really plan on attending if you want to experience one of the most amazing and laid back festivals in the country.