With well loved music festivals being forced to fold their cards and encountering unfortunate mishaps in an ever-growing and highly competitive field, it’s both refreshing and reassuring that Stephentown, NY’s Disc Jam can boast a laid back atmosphere and tightly-woven, yet growing community and still come out on top. A jam-packed, 4-day musical jaunt with a star-studded lineup attracted herds of fans from all over the Northeast and then some. Nearly 4,000 flocked to the cozy farm for a potpourri of funky jam headliners, late night producer and DJ sets, skilled vendors, a hula hooping and fire spinning flow tribe, on site artists and food trucks to keep festival dwellers happy, well-fed and entertained.
Thursday set the tone for the sunny weekend ahead, as Albany’s Lord Electro warmed things up on the CEG stage, before Strange Machines welcomed the booming voice and bubbly personality that is Hayley Jane, for the first of her many sit-ins as artist at large. Just after their set, they hopped on Teddy Midnight’s RV, also accompanied by a hot tub, for a quick interview on Teddy TV, which we later found out doubled as a surprise, late night party bus.
NYC trio Lespecial jumped up on the main stage to deliver some night-time grit and grime as Thursday night headliners. Their odd time signatures, heavy tunes and musical fortitude brought fitting teases of Tool, Rage Against the Machine and Primus’ own “Cannibal Holocaust.” After the help of Dopapod drummer Neal “Fro” Evans on the genre bending “Enter Sandman” into “Sandstorm,” the trio closed out their headlining performance on the main stage, riding the wave of symbiotic high energy between fans and artist.
Friday found a string of New York state bands representing their native stomping grounds into the early evening, including an all-star lineup of Aqueous, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, Wild Adriatic, Chromatropic, Leila, Litz, The Motet and jamtronica four piece Teddy Midnight, who rolled out phish teases and a number of stellar covers of The New Deal, STS9 and a pair of hard-hitting Disco Biscuits tunes, “Rock Candy” and “Tricycle,” proving Wiley Griffin can absolutely man handle a guitar. Over on the tent stage, Litz worked their magic to hype up the crowd while the saxophonist alone had enough personality on hand for the whole group. A sound malfunction forced immediate improv with bongo and guitar solos. Doing so seamlessly, the group dove right back into the jams once all issues were resolved and held down their set like true musicians and professionals.
The excitement for Friday night’s headlining Dopapod set loomed in the air as other festival favorites, Kung Fu, took the stage. Beau Sasser and company brought an arsenal of just that to the stage at Disc Jam this year for their one of a kind “Sunset-Set.” With Disc Jam 7 being their 6th time playing the festival, Kung Fu has been a fan favorite of the fest since 2012. That being said, the Fu you now groove to in 2017 may not have been the same back in 2012. With fresh tunes and a familiar sound, the group proved why they get invited back every year to the ever-growing festival. Kung Fu welcomed Hayley Jane during their set to perform Joan Jett’s “Reputation,” or for Freaks and Geeks fans, it’s notable theme song while their full set jammed through a slew of songs such as “Chop Suey,” “Joyride,” and a set closer of Steely Dan’s “Charlemagne.”
In past years, Dopapod have been known to deliver two sets to the festival they’ve been with since its culmination seven years ago. Unfortunately a gig in Colorado called for the festival veterans to head out early but not before offering up an eye-opening set that had all on feet and moving to the zips Eli’s keys and defined head bobs. Adorned in a blue Dopapod hoodie, Rob Compa took to the front row of the crowd to incite fan engagement, asking what songs they’d like to hear. After a “Trapper Keeper” suggestion and “Nerds” being loudly projected to the forefront of the stage, they launched into none of the above as they continued with songs of their choice. While the hour and a half set didn’t boast a laundry list of material, each delivery had a flair of its own and incorporated lengthy jams throughout, leaving fans both thankful and energized. Fans were treated to an opener of “8 years,” new track “Mucho, classic Dopapod hits and two-bit favorites “Priorities,” “Trickery” and “Cloud.”
Feeling wired post-Dopapod, a two hour “after party” ensued at the tent stage with the Motet’s uplifting and encapsulating music. Their kinetic energy and signature style made it impossible to stand still, as everyone underneath the tent found a dance partner in the strangers to their left and right. Paired with groovy visuals on the back wall of the tented stage, the Motet provided time travel through the decades with their genre-spanning music. Just in case anyone let out a yawn or felt their bodies slowly yearning for sleep, singer Lyle Divinsky doubled as hype man for the group, spewing catch phrases into the mic and pumping up the crowd as he stalked back and forth across the front of the stage.
With late night sets and DJs playing through the early stages of the morning, many found their way back under the tent to witness the magic that poured out of the tips of Holly Bowling’s fingers. While first depicting psychedelic visuals to pair with her compositions of well-loved jam tunes, Bowling offered the audience a “behind the scenes” look at her performance with a special camera placed in front of her hands. Viewers were able to watch her fingers tickle the instrument as she raced her hands back and forth while banging on the black and white keys, all while sporting a quirky smile on her face. It’s evident that Bowling is not only great at what she does but that it embodies the happiness she feels inside. Her takes on Grateful Dead, Phish and The Disco Biscuits found sweet symphonic sounds mimicking “Franklin’s Tower,” “It’s Ice,” and “Magellan” among others. Thankfully, this wasn’t the last we saw of the all-star pianist.
With at least one expected day of rain, the only dampening of the weekend came from the early morning dew and spilled beer across widely spread campsites. If you even attempted to get some sleep between the late woods parties and the beat boxers dressed in all black outfits adorned in glow sticks, the sun was enough to jolt you up out of your increasingly heated tent making you feel just Bearly Dead, or at least awake enough to go catch their early morning Grateful Dead tribute set–a slot they held at the tent stage all weekend. As Saturday progressed, Consider the Source took on their late afternoon set on the main stage, gathering a large crowd regardless of the fact they had a highly anticipated late night set scheduled for 2am. Ripping through well-known source tracks like “This Dubious Honor,” “Many Words of Disapproval” and “Closer to Home” paired with the wailing of instruments and heavy emotion written across their faces, the trio proved and surpassed reasons why they deserved two slots at disc jam. Never missing a note and playing the most difficult instruments and arrangements, consider the source managed to put a spin on their already involved tunes, oozing mastery musicianship.
Wild Adriatic brought their Saratoga Springs flair to the Disc Jam stage as declarations of “getting my hair like that guy’s” were made in the crowd, referencing to the stellar afro rocked by bassist Rich Derbyshire. Keeping it in the Capital region, Formula 5 boasted an unforgettable set, complete with a sit in by Holly Bowling and an emotional Allman Brother’s Band tribute cover. Drawing a solid, dance-ready crowd, Formula 5 brought the jams to those swaying back and forth on feet as well as those sitting and relishing in the moment. Bowling sat in for “Floating” as the group made what was the only Gregg Allman tribute of the weekend at the time, with an impassioned selection of “No One to Run With.” Mister F kept the upstate grooves going directly after, despite their recent misfortune of being down a tour van and itching to get new music out to fans, Scott Hannay showed his chops and delivered hard on keys before treating fans to a late night surprise.
Anticipation struck Gardner’s Farm for the party that Turkuaz was about to unleash on its weekend inhabitants. Making their rounds on the festival circuit, the 9-piece power funk ensemble offered harmonica stylings and powerful vocals with a groovy dance party to match. Shira Elias and Sammi Garrett have been getting more and more attention and for good reason. Their dialed up vocal chops, coordinated dance moves and soulful sound give enough reason as to why–plus, a cover of The Band’s “Don’t Do It” didn’t hurt.
Saying the tent stage was filled to capacity for Break Science Live would be an understatement. When they took the stage on Saturday night, the original duo of Adam Deitch and Borahm Lee reeled in a humongous crowd as well as support on stage when they were accompanied by a handful of Lettuce members– Erick Coomes on Bass, Eric Bloom on Trumpet, Adam Smirnoff on Guitar and Ryan Zoidis on Tenor Sax. The super group, paired with an intense light show captivated the audience with a combination of trip-hop, dub and jazz which found the tent jumping as a unit. During their set, Manic Focus joined Lee on the table to help with DJing, which brought a unique sound to an already extraordinary group of musicians.
A 2am set drew in a rather large and sleepy crowd underneath the tent stage. Known for their magical history with performing late night festy sets, most of the audience knew to place their blankets and tired bodies on the floor to witness an amplified, yet scaled back Consider the Source set in a more intimate setting with calming visuals to match. Two girls, however, missed the memo and kept prompting everyone to “stand up and enjoy the music” while others retaliated with, “but it’s a seated performance!” Nonetheless, all in attendance found themselves in awe at the mastery level in which the trio plays. Having checked off deliveries of stirring tracks, including one they learned during their trip to India and haven’t played since, Jeff Mann, John Ferrara and Gabriel Marin know how to nail a performance through tempo, chord progressions, arrangement and elements of surprise.
At the same time Consider the Source was delivering their intimate set to a lulled crowd, Teddy Midnight’s surprise RV party bus was at full force. Disc Jam artists swapped on and off the luxury bus, playing tunes from the backside of the opened vehicle and slithering guitar necks in between its doorways. Joe Davis and Matt Richards of Formula 5, Scott Hannay of Mister F, Adrian Tramontano of Kung Fu, Wiley Griffin of Teddy Midnight all took a musical ride on the bus.
As silent discos were offered into the premature minutes of the early mornings, Saturday night/Sunday morning offered listeners a stroll through the Techni-colored woods to “No Diggity” as one looked around and noticed life in the woods is a bit different than out on the wide open spaces of the farm. After placing a pair of silver headphones over your head, you were welcomed into a wooded world of festival dogs, multiple pin boards circulating and growing raves.
Sunday morning’s sunrise guided everyone to their tents for a quick nap ahead of the final day of Disc Jam 7. Upon awakening and being lazy around camp, the opening notes of Dopapod’s “Bubblebrain” trailed widely across the farm, conjuring many to the stage. Quickly, it had to be discovered who was playing such a top-notch delivery of the unique track. To the surprise of many, it was a group of kids from the ages 11-18 in Zachademy of Music All Stars, including a young boy with luscious blond locks, reminiscent to that of Formula 5 bassist James Woods. A mind blown audience watched as kids half the age of the festival goers shredded through a difficult catalogue including covers of Vulfpeck, Consider the Source and Kung Fu. Dopapod’s Compa went forth to share the “Bubblebrain” video to Facebook, announcing that even he messes up his guitar solo at times and further affirming the true talent boasted by the all stars.
Around noon, a very talented group new to the scene took the tent stage and made it their own. New Paltz’ The Other Brothers brought a unique sound to the festival, drawing a nice crowd to their set that blended a variety of genres. As always, Chris Owen was able to captivate the crowd with his larger than life vocals and impressive dance moves while Bera, Marquez, Morrison, Nelson and Mendelson kept every groove as tight as possible. Where one song took on the structure of a love ballad, the others were sure to get toes tapping and hips swiveling, gaining a new circle of Disc Jam fans. Be sure to check out this humble group on the rise, you won’t want to miss these brothers in a city near you before they ultimately break through. They’re currently out in L.A. recording their spirited music at the famous Sound City Studios.
Comparable to the tunes of Twiddle and their upbeat feel, Annie in the Water proved to be the fun 5-piece they are with a super involved set– a smorgasbord of sit ins by Holly Bowling on ‘Carry the Burden,” “Girl Let’s Dance,” with Twiddle’s Dempsey and Hannay of Mister F as well as Hayley Jane and Meadow Eliz offering assistance on “Crispy.” Keeping the theme going, a bulk of talent joined the Twiddle side project known as Gubbulidis. The group’s name derives from the combination the two members; Zdenek Gubb on bass Mahali Savoulidis on acoustic guitar and vocals. Usually all the two need are some loop pedals to make their sound one that very few could duplicate but to add depth to their one-off set, the power duo was joined by a plethora of talented artists such as the other components of Twiddle, Holly Bowling, Honeycomb, Billy Comstock of Annie in the Water, Wiley Griffin of Teddy Midnight and two members of Mister F; Colin Shore and Scott Hannay, making their Disc Jam set one of a kind. The full performance, which pieces together “Juggernaut,” “Rocky Raccoon,” “Mad World,” and more, can be found on Archive.org.
Later on in the day, a tent stage party was hosted by none other than G-Nome Project. The Israeli-based Livetronica Electro-Funk band rocked the tent and everyone inside with their synth-heavy instrumental tunes. Resembling jams taken on by trans-fusion/jam bands such as The Disco Biscuits, Lotus and Phish, G-Nome Project appealed to the masses, zeroing in on a unique blend of genres and inverted jams with covers of tunes from Game of Thrones, Lotus’ “Livingston Storm,” the Biscuits’ “Abraxas,” and Phish’s “Frankie Sez.”
Pink Talking Fish helped round out the festival with a Sunday evening performance, rotating their famous Pink Floyd, Talking Heads and Phish covers to an appreciative crowd. Mixing up the music of three undeniable bands in the scene, treats came in all sizes with covers of “One in a Lifetime,” “Run Like Hell,” “Mother,” “Rift” and “Harry Hood.” To close out their set, guitarist Eric Gould and artist manager brought out his latest guided talent, Hayley Jane to end with the second and final tribute to Gregg Allman with a moving version of “Soulshine.”
Neal “Fro” Evans, Holly Bowling and Hayley Jane certainly made their rounds throughout their four days on the farm, collectively marking an impressive number of sit ins. Evans brought his skill on the kit to help Lespecial and Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad on stage. Bowling spent time jamming with Electric Beethoven, Formula 5 and Annie in the Water while Hayley Jane notched an impressive sit in count of nine, with a TLC “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls” cover alongside Roots of Creation and appearances with Strange Machines, Bearly Dead, Aqueous, Congo Sanchez, Kung Fu, After Funk, Pink Talking Fish and, Annie in the Water. Her final performance with Ryan Montbleau tucked Disc Jam 7 into bed and put the weekend to sleep with one last performance as Yes Darling, as they ripped through a set of original material.
An intimate experience and independent effort, Disc Jam 7 sure packed a punch of a weekend before coming to a close. Every year, Tony Scavone and Disc Jam see exponential growth and although it’s tucked away in the cozy knolls of Stephentown, NY, it’s small town aesthetic and low maintenance atmosphere is exactly what keeps fans coming back for more. When you step onto the farm, you step into the Disc Jam Fam–a world in which you meet and click with those you cross paths with if only for the weekend, a world in which you most likely already know an abundance of people there. After a widely successful seventh year in operation, those who self-identify as Disc Jam Fam left Gardner’s farm already mapping out next year’s detailed blueprints for Disc Jam 8.