On Friday, July 12, Upstate NY celebrated a final farewell performance from one of the area’s most beloved jam acts, Formula 5. The groove-rock foursome, for their final show, were headlining the third annual Rock The Dock Music Festival in Lake George, NY. Formula 5 had announced their intention to go on an indefinite hiatus earlier this year with plans to to finish out a select handful of live performances, the last of which was their main stage set at Rock The Dock, the one-day music event which they have hosted for the past two years.
On this third time around, Rock The Dock saw a beautiful day of weather and an impressive turnout of festival patrons who flocked to a corner of Lake George to see an intimate list of popular music acts. Other acts on the festival main stage for the day were the funk dance band West End Blend, singer-songwriter Mike Powell, Saratoga Springs’ JT Maple, along with Americana rock outfit Eastbound Jesus and the Colorado-based jam quartet Magic Beans. And, of course, after all of these acts, Formula 5 closed the stage out, performing a highly lauded, headlining set of music.
Adding to its serene views and amiable atmosphere, Rock The Dock equipped itself with an impressively nice sound. Patrons could sit atop the second or third deck of the massive steamboats —three of them boxed in the concert area in grand fashion—and enjoy the music as if they were riding the front row. In between sets, patrons could meander to close by vendors and be serenaded by the music of both JT Maple and Mike Powell.
Magic Beans, one of Colorado’s most promising jamband acts in recent times, were on deck taking the stage just before Formula 5’s send off. And they played a short but strong hour-long set that really managed to warm up the energy of Rock The Dock properly. Towards the end of their set, Beans’ steady, focused approach to uplifting trance funk had hit the crowd right way and had the concert area flush with dancers and smilers. At the apex of this great set, Magic Beans delivered a uniquely slow version of Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime.”
Formula 5 then took their time that evening to put on a proper close to a more than respectable seven year career of touring and recording. Those seven years saw a few different iterations of the band (every member of which was present this evening) craft and refine a highly popular, unique improvisational sound and live experience.
That live experience came out in full force for one last time at Rock The Dock, with the band—in it’s most recent lineup of keyboardist Matt Richards, bassist James Woods, drummer Greg Marek, and guitarist Joe Davis—sounding off to hundreds of their most dedicated fans and family in true, larger-than-life style. The way they performed for this ending display, the band might as well as have been in front of thousands of people, let alone several hundred. It came with perhaps a bit of irony that this last set from Formula 5 was as musically thrilling as some of the best they had ever done. By the last of the exasperated yet tenaciously sung notes from lead Joe Davis on the night’s encore “Breaking Glass,” it didn’t seem right that such a great display was the end instead of being the beginning of a new chapter.
But here at Rock The Dock there was no crazy setlist, no stage antics or tricks. Formula 5 simply offered an extremely well-executed, instrumentally colorful and comfortable display of original jams. A mighty “In The Sand” strapped Formula fans into a familiar rocket, and catapulted them towards the psychedelic reaches of high-energy space funk that this band had always demonstrated they could navigate better than most others playing today.
By the time the band transitioned energetically into “Come Along,” the dock was rife with glee. Whether people were realizing or not that this was in fact Formula 5’s final show, for a moment, that didn’t seem to be clear. People were just happy, and they moved in colorful motion to the quartet’s shifting tempos and amazing collection of weird, wild rock sounds.
One of those sounds was the familiar and super heady keyboard intro from Matt Richards to the band’s “Sad Bed.” If anyone thought “In The Sand” would be the highlight point, they might have been subverted by this tune which was played even more ambitiously than the mega jam before it. Across the last couple of years, since the career-making release of their record All Points North, “Sad Bed” has been one of Formula 5’s most creative and transcendent vehicles for improvisation, stretching out on many live occasions past twenty-five or even thirty minutes in length. This farewell show at Rock The Dock boasted a “Sad Bed” to end all “Sad Beds,” a masterfully groovy, last improvisational exercise for the band. In this inspired performance, Formula 5 sounded like a synthesis between all of their influences, fusing together the cosmic ’70s feel of Parliament Funkadelic, the raunchy grit of Widespread Panic, and the artistic unexpectedness of The Grateful Dead.
Even “Trout Waters Pt. 1 & 2,” which the band often in past shows would split up as segue points between other songs, was kept together in one long delivery and went near ballistic. Drummer Greg Marek, who was completely in the zone in this moment, deserves credit for helping to launch this one into a fantastic, power-rocking jam.
Through the entirety of this fully loaded yet all-too-quick two hours, the band was all smiles, with all four members beaming at one another at every musical change or, at times it seemed, just because they were so into it. Here, in the last show, they were having fun, and perhaps that’s what counts most. The crowd was certainly more than appreciative, matching the band’s amazing gusto step for step through to the end. When the band had returned to a deafening encore chant, Marek took to the microphone and said a few words that must have eased at least a few minds. “I don’t see why there’s any reason we can’t do this again next year.”
Swimmer continued the party for Rock The Dock at Lake George’s King Neptune’s Pub and the beach bar’s crowd eventually swelled to a cool gathering of festival attendees and turned the local hub into a sizzling last bit of dancing fun. Formula 5’s members, when they weren’t on stage making their last sentimental statements of the evening, were among the late night crowd, having a much deserved beer and mingling with fans and friends.
Swimmer, this instrumentally intense yet often very melodically pleasing quartet, ripped up the last few hours of the festival between confident guitar shreds, jamtronic-tinged bass and drum lines, and even some moments of soulful saxaphone work thrown in. At the very least, this band that hails from the still musically fecund hotspot of Burlington, VT showed that while some of our favorites now and then have to call it quits, the music is always being carried on strongly by still younger and continually impressive artists.
Formula 5 Setlist: Friday July 12, Rock The Dock Music Festival
S1: Earthbound Tim > Booher’s Pass, Pedro -> In the Sand > Come Along, Trout Waters Pt 1 & 2, Sad Bed > Gettin Tough Again
Encore: Breaking Glass