Review: Backwoods Pondfest 2012

Festivals are becoming so common place, it’s hard to find that festival that doesnt feel too big or hasn’t gone the corporate route. Back in 2008, I drove north on a whim to Peru, NY, a town I was unaware of until Backwoods Pondfest was announced. Back then, The Breakfast and Plattsburgh’s Lucid headlined and I figured this would be a nice way to see what a festival looks like in its nascent years. I returned in 2010 and saw that the festival had grown, just enough to show that it was going to continue to grow at a steady pace. When I drove the two hours north to Backwoods, I wasn’t surprised to see a bigger festival, more fans, more vendors, two stages and a scene that brought me back to some of my first festivals. Backwoods Pondfest is the festival that reminds you what the festival experience is all about – seeing music both familiar and new, hanging with friends and strangers alike, and experiencing nature and camping in an ideal setting.

I missed Friday because I was at John Prine and Lucinda Williams, but I talked to fans who gave high marks to Break Science, Floodwood, Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds and Twiddle for their performances. Backwoods always delivers on the music and this year was no exception with two jam packed nights. I arrived on Saturday  around 3pm and found the festival more spacious, filled in with campers in parts that empty back in 2008 and vendors of a wide variety taking up a ring around the main stage field.

Jatoba from Brattleboro, VT was the first act of the day I caught. I saw them back in 2010 with Cornmeal at Red Square in Albany and I was impressed. This time they were even better and tighter, as evidenced by the video of these two songs, “Ride Slowly Ride” and “Closure”, with some stage banter mixed in. They are rumored to be playing some supporting Northeast dates in the fall/winter and will be stopping in Upstate NY for sure. If you are going to Upstate Boogie 3, you can expect to hear some material they have been working on, a treat coming from Jatoba.

Lucid, the host band of Backwoods took the stage for an evening set and played to a crowd that gravitated towards the stage as Lucid warmed up. Sporting some of the finest North Country beards around, Lucid brought up special guest Rooster, aka Rick Bentley from Birmingham, Alabama, to sit in on guitar for “Countryesque”. Rooster was in the audience when Lucid played in his town and while he sat through their soundcheck, they bantered back and forth and clicked, leading to Rooster heading north to take in Backwoods Pondfest and sit in. A great guitar and friendly southerner, Rooster felt welcome at the festival, a bit of a rarity down south. Next, percussionist Lowell Wurster invited his father George (and festival MC) to sit in on harmonica for “Backwoods”, to which George introduced to the crowd at the end as being “all the way from the great Adirondacks” and the applause thundered from the crowd leading to a return to the stage for an encore of “Green Money”.

Campfires could be seen as you walked to your car (it took me about 90 seconds to get to my car when I needed to) and a larger fire kept fans close to the music and warm as the temperature dipped into the 50s after midnight. Although during the day the skies were partly cloudy and warm, this is Upstate New York and the first sign that summer is coming to a close is a chilly night in August, but this little taste of fall is always pleasant to experience a month before it starts to become the norm.

Max Creek, having “been around for a few years now”, as MC George put it (really though, more than 40 years) performed as Saturday headliners, ranging through originals and covers alike, including “Helter Skelter”, “Rag Mama Rag” and “Cities”. Afterwards, guitarist Scott Murawski mentioned how Phish bassist Mike Gordon texted him that Trey had listened to Scott playing Phish’s “Sugar Shack” so that he could nail the guitar riff in transition. It turns out that while Max Creek was onstage at Backwoods, Phish was playing “Sugar Shack” for the first time since October, 2010. A very cool musical connection and story bridging two bands 3,000 miles away.

A staple of Backwoods has been the acts Tim Palmieri, The Breakfast and Kung Fu, the latter of which is alive and well and put on a great late night set on the main stage. It helps for a festival to have a known music element like this and the crowd clearly appreciates Kung Fu and their funky performances.

The late-latenight action belonged to The Indobox at the tent stage. If you wanted your latenight jams, mixed with elements of techno and dance music, then this fulfilled your wishes and overflowed the cup. If there was any band that could rise out of the clutter of EDM acts and perform live electronica at a high level, then The Indobox is that band. For over an hour, the tent was another 20′ warmer inside, steamy and full of dancing bodies moving to the truly impressive tightness of The Indobox. If this were the late ’90s, we’d be seeing a glimmer of an early Disco Biscuits group. Do not miss them at Catskill Chill on Saturday September 8th at 4:20 in the afternoon.

Backwoods Pondfest remains a diamond in the rough of music festivals. Few festivals give you the pure, original festival feeling like this one. Make plans for the 2013 edition, which UpstateLIVE will be covering as announcements on dates and lineup come out in the spring. Festival-goers who have been to just a few or a few dozen fests, Backwoods is for you.

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