A Review of the Inaugural Wild Woods Music and Arts Festival
August 8th – 10th, 2014
Page Farm – Croydon, NH
Written by Mitch Smith
At one point over the course of the sun-streaked weekend, I was standing in the midst of a crowd of crazy people—a bearded man in a full-on bear costume was meandering about (only his glasses and suspiciously tight dance moves giving him away); so was another man in a somewhat less convincing Bengal tiger get-up; somewhere was a Santa who seemed to have either been dieting or just boogieing away calories at the North Pole’s infamously rowdy downtown club scene more than the Mrs. would approve of; there were bodies adorned in psychedelic color schemes, dready heads, long hairs, and starry eyes.
I was in the midst of this crowd of dancing crazies, and Stop Tito Collective was at the head of this loony mass, crooning something like philosophy to all of us, asking us, “Why can’t more people be like Rob?” Looking at Rob Littlefield, Stop Tito’s bassist, up there on Page Farm’s main stage, a big grin layered between his scruffy, unshaven face like a smiling Grizzly, his bopping head making his floppy hat flounce around like it didn’t care one bit, his long, black curls tousled by the wind because of the open, outdoor stage, it all clicked—exactly. Why can’t they, dammit?
An aside: crazy people are the best kind of people, generally equipped with some combination of big heart, big personality, big brains, and definitely big soul; life would be boring without the crazies, and life is probably more interesting if you are one.
I don’t really know Rob very well outside of his music: I know that he slaps the bass with tenacity and skill in The Tercet and Stop Tito Collective, who both played great sets of real Music at Wild Woods. I know that he smiles a lot, or at least he does when he plays music. He looks like a generally happy human. I know that he left his table considerately clean at the restaurant I work at both times I’ve seen him come in. So my Rob got sort of separated from Actual Rob who was slapping the bass in front of the kooks in the crowd. After I was proposed the question, “Why can’t more people be like Rob?,” Rob began to be more of a myth than a man, like some religious Idol of sorts, statues of his image on the terraces of opulent religious headquarters scattered throughout Europe, a smile engraved in stone.
Looking around, though, I felt that almost everyone at Wild Woods Music and Arts Festival could have had a song about them, too. Rob was fun and funky, but so was everybody watching him play. Why can’t people be more like Terrance or Donald or Bertha or so-and-so? Look at Terrance or Donald or Bertha or so-and-so over there, shaking it down at Wild Woods—happy, well-meaning, kind-hearted creatures. Most everybody was feeling the Rob-vibes in the air.
My only gripe at Wild Woods Music and Arts Festival: I’ll get this out of the way quick and early. As it so happened, there were a few people in attendance at Wild Woods who weren’t feeling the aforementioned Rob-vibes. I passed the trash and recycling cans a number of times—which were strewn throughout the festival grounds, an easy commute to the trash from just about anywhere on the grounds—only to see non-recyclables like Styrofoam and wrappers and such mixed in with recyclables like plastic bottles, etcetera. Upon seeing this unfortunate trash situation in the wake of Stop Tito’s set, I always pondered the obvious question: “Why can’t more people be like Rob?” Rob wouldn’t do such a thing.
I’m not sure if Actual Rob is an active conservationist or recycler or whatever, but Rob certainly is. It was sort of disappointing after hearing so much about GreenVibe Entertainment’s environmental efforts and ideals going into Wild Woods. It’s too bad to see a few bad apples ruining the harvest—maybe not necessarily bad apples, but at least unthinking apples—that GreenVibe was trying to cultivate.
Everything about Wild Woods Music and Arts Festival is positive from here-on-out: forget the previous paragraph in connection with GreenVibe and Wild Woods; some people, man, they just aren’t like Rob, and they seem to be everywhere, no matter how serene the locale. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the festival-goers at Wild Woods were top-notch citizens. Like Rob. And the folks over at GreenVibe, who put on the festival and set up the weekend of wholesome entertainment, are also certainly, yes, like Rob. They put their best foot forward to make Wild Woods green. They are assuredly wonderful people and not to blame for the minority’s negligence.
To skip ahead for a moment, on the last day of the festival, Revibe, a group of musicians who have a sound influenced by a slick combination of jam music, psych-rock, and a peppering of funk, said, “Great music. Great music. Great people. Great farm. Great horses. Great yaks. Great yaks.” And I agreed. I could probably stop this review right here actually; Revibe about summed it all up. But I’ll proceed regardless. The music throughout the weekend was great—and eclectic, which kept things interesting. And the people were also great; I got good vibes from everybody that I actually interacted with. And the farm venue was great. The stage that the Page family—Page Farm; makes sense, right?—built for the festivals held there was perfectly suited for the woodsy environment and homey feel of Wild Woods; and the horses and yaks held on said farm were also, alas, great—as well as fitting.
Wild Woods felt distinctly New Hampshire. There aren’t too many festivals with big-name headlining artists that come around to the little ol’ Granite State, which, in part, made Wild Woods feel like something special. Alongside its inception and inaugural year it made available something sort of different and certainly lovely for all us New Hampshirites.
“Oh, Rob. He’s a very, very, very nice boy,” Stop Tito Collective was singing in an extremely catchy, harmonized chorus. I had the song stuck in my head for a long time afterwards. Stop Tito Collective has this very catchy, major-key, reggae-and-jam sort of sound to them that is impossible to not bounce your head along to. It doesn’t hurt that they all shred their instruments like they were born with them in baby-hand either.
I would randomly sing to friends in the week after Wild Woods who weren’t fortunate enough to be in attendance about how nice a boy Rob is, to which I would receive raised eyebrows, looks that said, “Who the eff is Rob?” A very nice boy, I’d think in retort. The song’s lyrics were hilarious in their absurdity. “One day, sitting on a lonely bench, came a man with a big, big wrench. He said, ‘I want to fix that bench you’re on.’ He called me his pepper. His name was Rob. Why can’t more people be like Rob? He’s into anything.” There was a part that Camden Riley, Stop Tito’s virtuoso guitarist, sang that had something to do with Rob “gripping the wheel” and an “HJ”—I didn’t quite catch the whole of it, but I think the gist of it is all there. These lyrics, in essence, were poetry at the art forms highest; Ginsberg and the beats surely would approve. Stop Tito played an awesome, grooving set of soulful, horny—because of their trifecta horn section (and maybe something to do with the aforementioned HJ lyric)—funky reggae that moved and I think this was the zenith of their set. The crowd was dancing and laughing, and the band was putting on a talented multitasked performance of simultaneous music and comedy.
Cam and Rob played multiple sets over the course of the sun-streaked weekend, both playing in Stop Tito Collective and The Tercet, and Cam playing two additional sets with The Light and Harsh Armadillo. All four bands are on GreenVibe Entertainment’s roster of artists that they manage, so Cam is somewhat of a GreenVibe all-star. Both The Tercet and The light played their set in the “Cosmic Community Stage,” which was tarped yet spacious with dancing room aplenty. The indoor setting of the stage allowed for cool light displays that shone on the blank, white canvas of the tarp. The Light is a duo consisting of Jeff Blair—who worked closely with GreenVibe Entertainment to help put Wild Woods in its entirety together—and, of course, Cam. Jeff provides an ambient, jazzy sort of electronic base for the band, and Cam puts on live instrumentation during their shows; they coalesce well together, blending genres and making for a unique adaption to the ever-evolving art of music. The Tercet is a three-piece, hard-to-categorize outfit that somehow manages to seamlessly blend genre lines ranging from psych-rock to funk to metal. They always put on a mesmerizing, palate-expanding show. I think they epitomized themselves well when they covered a Primus song that had their crowd dancing. If you know Primus I think you also know how big a feat this is.
Harsh Armadillo, the final band Cam plays in on the GreenVibe résumé, played Sunday—the third and last day of the festival—on the Main Stage. To be blunt, I love Harsh Armadillo and so should you. These cats—armadillos?—are cool, know how to boogie down and have fun, and, most importantly, have some kind of secret sound pathway into your brain’s control panel and know how to make you boogie down and have fun, too. Their new album, …Thayer it is—an ode to their late producer who brilliantly mixed the album to budgeted sonic perfection—is hip and dancy and seductive and pleasing to the ear and a whole litany of other synonymous, positive adjectives, especially being that it’s the band’s first studio output. Harsh played early in the day, drew a swaying crowd out of the woodworks, and set the bar high for Wild Woods’ concluding day.
“Man, I was just hanging in my tent, feeling hungover, not really planning on getting out towards the stage until later in the day, but, man, I could hear you guys playing from our campsite—had to come out and see what I was hearing,” I overhead someone saying to Maxx Harris, Harsh’s saxophonist, after their set was over and the crowd was dispersing.
“Ohh thank you, thank you,” Maxx was saying, smiling graciously and shaking his head. Maxx, like all the members of Harsh Armadillo’s ironically-named band, has a personality sort of the opposite of what one might dub “harsh.” He’s not really abrasive in any way; he’s a warm, down-to-earth, fun-loving guy; and he was wearing hot pink pants for a large portion of the weekend.
“You know, just another day in the rock star life,” Maxx said affably, a kind of drunken smile on that was probably due, in part, to a certain content of blood alcohol, but also probably in part to the music we both had just been blown away by.
“You da man, Nigel!” Maxx suddenly shouted out to the Nth Power’s vocalist/keyboard player. We were backstage and the band was rounding up all their equipment to make space for Kung Fu, who was playing the Main Stage next. Maxx was correct; Nigel was, in fact, da man. Just look at him in his scarlet Adidas tracksuit. Only a select, elite group of folks can rock that and be non-ironically cool; Nigel rocked it and was deadly serious. But it extends beyond Nigel to the whole band. They are all da man. Nick Cassarino—the group’s guitarist and vocalist—is da man; he plays guitar like a religious awakening. Nate Edgar lays down some snakelike bass lines like da man. Weedie Braima, a percussionist whose name alone certifies his damanhood, proved it beyond any reasonable doubt with an extended, mind-bending djembe solo. How does one get so many sounds out of a single drum? It was hard to wrap my head around. Nikki Glaspie, the Nth Power’s other percussionist, a woman, is also da man. Her drumming skills are perfectly suited for the band’s romantically funky sound and are as vast as her and her band’s soul.
“The Nth Power loves you,” she said numerous times throughout their set. The sweaty, wriggling crowd requited this love. It showed all over their passionate, contorted faces throughout the band’s full set. I don’t know if it’s possible to see the Nth Power and not feel a little something in your heart jiggling around—unless you’re heartless of course.
I got the pleasure of being backstage just before they went on stage to perform to witness a life-affirming moment. The five-piece group were in a circle, arms around each other, centralizing their energy, shouting, “Spread the love.” They succeeded. I felt in love with the world under the influence of their music. I could’ve turned to any given person nearby me and given that person a big, wet, sloppy kiss, and it would’ve been so right. All in all, shit was sexy. Shit and sexy don’t seem like compatible words meant for the same sentence, but I stand by my statement. Shit was sexy.
There was, as I believe I may have mentioned somewhere in the lines above, loads of great music at Wild Woods; it was everywhere; it was an all-day all-weekend, welcome, uplifting barrage of sound, uplifting because the music here was good for you; it was rejuvenating; it was feel good music: lots of funk and jam and psych and R&B and reggae music was floating through the air and up into the clear skies of both day and night.
There was a whole lot more to the whole Wild Woods experience than the music, though. And not to mention, Wild Woods was cheap: it was only $115 at the gate, and $85 if you purchased a ticket beforehand. As Ray Charles said in all his glorious wisdom, “Don’t sit there mumbling / talkin’ trash / If you want to have a ball / you got to go out and spend some cash/ and let the good times roll.” In the same song, Ray preaches, “Hey everybody / let’s have some fun. / You only live but once / and when you’re dead you’re done.” The way I saw things going down at Wild Woods, there was some serious living being done; the woods were alive and breathing. It was an artistic haven or weekend utopia of sorts. Aside from all the first rate music at Wild Woods, there was, as the name Wild Woods Music and Arts Festival denotes, art galore, so much so that it seemed to spill over into everything. There were clothing venders on Shakedown Street—the center of Wild Woods’ hustle-bustle—selling inspired jewelry and crafty, handmade shirts and dresses and etcetera. Shakedown Street itself was like a serpentine, moving piece of art with all of the creative people, themselves works of art, parading flamboyantly about. The art of the festival even spilled over into the food there. There was a craft grilled cheese vendor… There was craft tea from MoonDreamTea and Sip & Sway, the latter dolling out homemade offerings with names like “Black Lung”—which was apparently supposed to calm your burdened smoker’s lungs—and the “Hangover”—to ease your alcohol-induced pains—and “Sexy Time”—which allegedly “gets you in the mood,” and also comes with a free condom. This exemplifies, to an extent, what the Wild Woods feel was like. It was a jolly old time.
The art crept around and was everywhere in places both expected and not.
For example, the Szpunakapeda Bandita Art Collective produced art through a fairly familiar medium: canvas. They’re a host of talented artists in the more traditional sense of the word: they paint; they draw; they use acrylics. This is not to say that this traditional medium produces traditional work, however. Their work is often psychedelic and surreal and definitely unique. Check out Heilig, who was doing—like a lot of artists were at Wild Woods—live paintings by the Main Stage. I talked to him briefly while he was working on a painting by the stage for Twiddle’s set. I know Twiddle is a great band with big heart and soul that should certainly be given a listen, but I was swaying a bit too hard and their set is a hazy, distant memory—as is my conversation itself with Heilig. But his art had a lasting impression on me; I at least distinctly remember that.
Wild Woods’ art found an unexpected medium in a tomato stand that was hanging around Shakedown Street all weekend. From My Head Tomatoes is a local, New Hampshire farm based out of Lee. They focus on heirloom tomatoes, but they also dabble in both sweet and hot peppers, sunflowers, and kale amongst other wholesome veggies and plants. Now I know the word tomato doesn’t necessarily represent or elicit much in the way of art. When a modern American thinks of the word, “tomato,” they picture an oddly symmetrical red circle, and that’s about it. The modern conception of a tomato is a boring, genetically watered-down fruit (or vegetable, or both, dependent on your outlook) with not much allure or excitement about it. From My Head Tomatoes and their produce is not what you’re imagining when you hear or read the word “tomato.” Their tomatoes are funky. And fresh. And certifiably funky fresh. And organically cultivated. And local. And pretty. Real pretty. Which is odd to be saying about tomatoes, but it’s the truth; they’re pretty tomatoes.
Britton Beal and Keith Salcines—the veritably righteous dudes who run From My Head Tomatoes—are University of New Hampshire students. UNH churns out clever people. Just look at their farm’s name: clever; perfecto; about as punny as you can get with a tomato farm. They know what they’re doing; they both studied Sustainable Agriculture; and, most importantly, they believe in what they’re doing. They go about their business with the earth in a clean, organic, conscientious manner. And they’ve had their fair share of success while they’ve been at it. Hard work pays off, kids. They’ve set sales records at local farmers markets in Durham and Newmarket, have worked with Flatbreads Pizza Co. in Portsmouth, NH—P.S. Flatbreads makes the best pizza ever (mMmMm)—and had their crops infused into the University of New Hampshire’s twice annual Local Harvest Dinner.
I was in front of their stand, staring, aghast, at these mutant tomatoes—although, if you want to get technical, those too-symmetrical red circles are the real mutants, just in a bland sort of disguise. Once upon a time there was much more natural biodiversity amongst the crops we consume. From My Head Tomatoes would like to bring that time back into the present. The specimens before my eyes were certainly not your ordinary, everyday tomatoes. These were (red circle) tomatoes on acid. Their respective color spectrums varied wildly. In the mix were indigos, oranges, healthy greens, golds, and reds that were full and vivid and untampered with. They had varieties with names like “Green Zebra,” “Indigo Rose,” “Sun Gold,” “Striped Cavern,” and “Northern Lights.”
If you bring love and inspiration into your work, anything can become art.
Kung Fu, a five-piece fusion group out of New York, played right after the Nth Power. Nick Cassarino of the Nth Power had pretty much just agreed to hang out and chat it up with me for a bit, but I was drawn back towards the crowd as Kung Fu appealed to my certain stupor with the onset of their performance—horns roaring to life like a lions yawn after a good slumber, keyboards sparkling into existence, bass and drums starting to kick. I certainly missed out on a good opportunity with Nick—whoops—and I’m sure he was wondering where I went for a moment there; I, however, wondered the same thing the next morning.
“Oh, damn, I totally ran away from the Nth Power’s singer last night on accident,” I said to an amigo, remembering my lack of remembrance with a slight morning brain-ache after a too-fun night. “You ‘accidentally’ ran away from somebody?” mi amigo inquired.
It’s a possible happening, I assure you.
But, still, even so, Kung Fu was great and I’m happy that I got to watch their whole set and their invisibly fast musician’s fingers flying around their instruments like they were on some sort of high-grade speed—or, ya know, like they were talented and practiced or something more along those lines. A number of Kung Fu’s members also played a set with The Breakfast, an experimental, progressive kind of jazzy rock band. There was, all-in-all, a lot of musician crossover between bands, which I think represents a positive something about what Wild Woods’ weekend community felt like overall; it was one big entanglement of friendly faces.
Speaking of speed-ingesting fingers, I might as well get into Consider the Source, a trio who played just before Twiddle on the festival’s second day. Are these guys human? I’m not entirely convinced. They might, quite possibly, be robots. I’m not sure humans can play instruments as rigidly fast as this group does. Their bassist played the most intense bass solo I have ever witnessed or even heard in all my days on this here Earth. It was like a Flea solo on speed, which is saying something, because it’s not altogether improbable that Flea isn’t under the influence of speed on some of his solos. Their guitarist played this fretless, double-neck guitar that could be made to sound like a saxophone or a keyboard and so on, and he played this fretless, double-neck guitar incredibly fast—too fast (not really, but still, maybe too fast to be human). I’m not exactly sure how to categorize their music. Was it prog-rock? Some sort of acid jazz offshoot? Intergalactic space music from some other galaxy? I don’t know, and maybe it’s sort of frivolous to even attempt to box these guys in. But in any case, I think they really might be robots. Or aliens. Their all-white getups, too, pointed in an unearthly direction. They both sounded and looked like they were from some science fiction future.
A lot of wacky, far out music was hosted on Page Farm throughout this carefree, picturesque summer’s weekend. At one point, the band Dig, adorned in Viking caps and Technicolor ty-dye, finished their set with a conclusive, “That was definitely punk jazz. Punk Jazz everybody. If you were wondering.”
Wild Woods lived up to its name. It was both woodsy and wild. And I think Dig’s statement could be stretched to encompass the whole weekend, actually. It was a pretty punk jazz weekend. And Wild Woods just announced that it will be back on Page Farm from August 14th through August 16th of 2015. Wild Woods’ first year was, apparently, a success. Check it out this coming summer if you haven’t already, and if you have, come back and be a part of this festivals inevitable growth. Everybody could use more funk in their lives. Go and have yourself a punk jazz time.
I’ll end this review where I could’ve a few pages back, with Revibe’s all-encompassing creed: “Great music. Great music. Great people. Great farm. Great horses. Great yaks. Great yaks.”
Photos by Jordan Lenes
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