While campers are dropping like flies at Tennessee’s Bonnarroo, (temperatures have been in the 90s) up here in Central New York, we’re enjoying muddy fields, wet, matted down hair, rain boots, ponchos and all the energy that comes with a rainy festival. The weak are weeded out. But the dedicated stand, cold, soggy and united, ready to out dance the rain.
So we stood on Saturday, June 11 for Balloonfest as the rain hardened and lessened throughout the day, at one point causing a rain delay, the crowd adjusted gear and wardrobe to address the rain. The acts of the day made it worth it.
Turnip Stampede had opened up the day’s musical events, but
I arrived for the Barndogs all-Doors set. Like every other teenage girl, I
became obsessed with the Doors when I first got a hold of who Jim Morrison was,
so I’m always protective of the music. The Doors are a tricky band to cover
given the balance of instrumentation and vocals that aren’t technically
challenging, but require a certain attitude and feel to deliver them right. The
Barndogs nailed it. They were tight and though faithful to the originals,
breathed a new, energetic life into them.
Up next was Dark Hollow who brought the Grateful Dead to
full life, drawing a substantial crowd as soon as they started up. Songs like “Shakedown Street,”
“Birds of a Feather” and “One More Saturday Night” highlighted the set and
helped get listeners shouting and dancing. Listening to Dark Hollow reminds you
why the Dead was such a great live band – their music translates so perfectly
and powerfully live.
Los Blancos won the slot just before moe. and made the most
of it with their driving, bluesy rock drenched with Mark Nanni’s flying fingers
on keys, Colin Aberdeen’s slick slide guitar, Mark Tiffault’s solid backing
beat and Steve Winston’s dirty, booming bass. Though in terms of style, Dark
Hollow would have better prefaced the jammy boys of moe., Blancos absolutely
matched in terms of energy and talent, keeping the audience engaged – hips
shaking and feet moving.
Finally, came moe. The band went on before nine and burst into bright, lively tunes that showed off their experience. The five-piece doesn’t even have to look among one another to know where they’re headed next in their jams. They just groove. The style has a lot of rock and jazz influence, with a heavy dose of improv and visible knowledge of how to do it right. They were unbelievably tight, punching out lines perfectly together and letting the silence have an impact between their tightly knit notes. Clean vocal harmonies rung out and lights pushed past the five making the visuals to accompany the sounds absolutely stunning. Al Schnier, Chuck Garvey and Rob Derhak fronted the stage with Vinnie Amico and Jim Loughlin holding it steady behind. Like jazz professionals, each musician knew when to set up or step to the side with face-melting solos and every musician added a new color to the tunes, just as the light show added new hues to the crowd. Though at the beginning of the set, the rain was coming down at a steady click, the crowd didn’t let it phase them for a moment, still bobbing and swaying, building and relaxing, following the band’s every musical move. As the rain lessened, the energy increased as the lights flickered and fingers went faster. There were even sections with a metal feel to them, flying around scales, letting the light pulse behind them (see the second video - "moe. part II").
The crowd hung on right through moe.’s 10 p.m. set break and stayed hungry for lights and music into the night. Saturday of Balloonfest brought it this year. I’ll keep holding onto those expectations when the 2012 edition comes around.