Mickey Hart Band, Kempton Music Center, Kempton PA, May 11, 2013
I had a spectacularly warped time at this event…as expected! When I first got wind of it a few weeks ago, it had “weirdness” written all over it and couldn’t wait to go. I’ve already seen the MHB last season at The Bear’s Picnic, and I knew what to expect musically.. Although there was another more convenient local show in the NYC area, I chose to run out to the PA event instead. It just called to me…perhaps because I’m one of the weird ones. ;-)
One of the more unusual aspects of this event was it’s format. Was it a concert? Was it a Festival? It was actually somewhere in between…almost to the point that it deserved it’s own designation, like “Concertival”? or “Festicert”? Basically, a single evening’s worth of music with full sets from the 2 opening acts and a headliner. But since the Kempton Music theater allowed camping and vending in their spacious fields, it had the look and feel of a festival, if only for a 24 hour period. Ya know, kids driving cars on muddy farmer’s fields, several bouts of rain and some sun, canopies, tents, tarps, coolers, grilling, chilling, partying, small vendors and artists, and other colorful spunions everywhere, hawking glassware and talking nonsense. But certainly some folks just came to the concert, and left right after, so they experienced “a concert”. The event wasn’t heavily attended. Maybe 600 people? Which made for a really nice, easy going vibe.
I liked that I didn’t have to take the prep/packing as seriously as if I was heading to a 4 day festival in a heatwave. Refreshing to pack lighter than normal. This being the first “fest” of the season, it was nice to have a practice run with my festival gear again. Some minor deficiencies and shortcomings made me realize I need to tune it all up for the upcoming festival season. (Did I really go to a rainy festival without a rainjacket and a flashlight? How long have you been doing this?? U dope!) But at least I didn’t find a 8 month old dessicated sandwich in my moldy tent from last festival season, like my spunion neighbors. LOL.
The staff at the Kempton center were friendly, easy going and helpful. I saw 3 friendly yellow security shirted guys at the gates, who’s primary interest was keeping people from smuggling beers in… That was the extent of the entire security presence. Even the parking lot dude was super-helpful to get my late arriving friends parked near us. The only policy that I didn’t care for was the “no re-entry” policy. It actually kept me from seeing Mystery train, because I still had interest in the growing campsite party scene. But we just accommodated the policy without further issues.
The Kemtpon Music Center itself is a decent place. A huge covered pavilion so it can operate rain or shine. Nestled in the beautiful rolling hills of PA’s farm country. The only minor downside is that the “stage” is at ground level, so the audience up in the front obstructs the view for almost everyone else.
I was able to catch the last few numbers of Mystery train, who from what I heard from them in the distance, and what I saw of them up close, were pretty good. Some deep exploratory tunes, with a Garcia inspired guitarist. I hope I have other opportunities to check them out late this summer, because I missed my opportunity to really get what they do.
The next act was Babatunde Olatunji protege’s, “the African Showboyz”. 4 young African guys in full costume with warpaint . They were absolutely spellbinding. One guy on Djembe, one guy on what looked to be a single string banjo of sorts, a guy on shaker, and the last on vocals and percussion. You’d think you’d get bored of this after two songs, but that was not the case at all. They took us on quite a journey…as the sun set. (Gorgeous sunset, BTW).
Then Mickey’s band came out. I tried to keep a setlist, but truth be told, I don’t know any of the names of the tunes on his latest album, “Mysterium Tremendum”, but they were well represented in the set. The GD tunes interspersed in the set: Sampson & Delilah, West LA Fadeaway, China>Rider. Set 2: Playin in the Band, Other 1, Mts of the Moon, and a super slowed down Brokedown palace to end the show. Set 2 opened up with a tune built around sounds from the Sun, and Mickey described to the audience how that came about. This band is just indescribable. Just so pleasantly “out there”. A huge helping of sonic insanity that at times, reminded me of Shpongle, a band I adore for it’s supreme weirdness.
As soon as the concert was over, it was back to festival-mode.
The camping area was hysterical after the show, full of spunions, blinky lights, balloons, and competing car stereos blaring various GD music. . We enjoyed that till about 3am…
For those of you who want to get some sleep at one of these things, this particular festival might not be for you. Mickey Hart is a percussionist. So it’s not a stretch to understand that his audience is probably full of people who like percussion. It is then not a big leap to anticipate that those people will bring percussion instruments. Well, the massive drum circle in the campsite just didn’t stop. I think I got an hour of unrestful sleep, which can’t 100% be blamed on drummers (;-) ) but they sure didn’t help.
I’d go back to this place in a Hartbeat. Fun times.
Adjacent to the festival grounds is a small railroad park with a handul of old steam engines and other old time rail cars. Also some structures, including an old railroad station and a freight handling building. Really cool to walk around it just before we left.