The Day Begins!
Who could resist attending a festival with such a whimsical
name? Organizer, Meg Fournier, explained in their Kickstarter Free Range Festival
video that the Belfast region of Maine used to be a major chicken processing area.
Although the chicken processing is no longer happening, the name, “free range”,
adds a humorous – or even, shall we say, ‘organic’ flavor to the festival.
Large, cartoon, G-clef chicken signs were placed strategically in town denoting
performance venues. Happy, cartoon chickens wandered across the front of
The thirty five (yes that’s right, count ‘em folks, thirty
five!) bands and eight venues worked a staggered schedule. The first
performers of the day were a mid-coast Maine jazz band, called Gypsy Caravan.
They began their set at the Aarhus Gallery at 11:45 am. Overlapping the Gypsy
Caravan set were two other Maine groups, The Living Daylight, and The Rugged.
Being gypsy jazz aficionados, we opted to see Gypsy Caravan. The rest of the
line up was a shake and bake of New England bands and some from as far away as
The final performers of the day were slated to begin sets at
10pm, (my bedtime!), at an After Party sponsored by HillyTown. So it was to be
a very full day of music and fun for the town of Belfast.
We drove up from Portland the morning of the event. We
arrived at the Info Center in time to briefly meet Meg and pick up our passes
and buy a couple of last year’s t-shirts. We squeezed in the door of the Aarhus
Gallery as Gypsy Caravan began their set. The gallery was filled to capacity
with folks standing at the back.
Gypsy Caravan specializes in the manouche style of Django
Reinhardt jazz. “Manouche” is the name of gypsies from a region of France near
Alsace. It also refers to manouche jazz, that employs a type of two-part
strumming technique called, la pompe, (the pump). It is a very fast, up-down
strum regardless of the tempo of the song that gives the songs that swinging
feeling. Gypsy Caravan founder, Dave Clarke, plays lead guitar; his dad, Dan
Clarke, plays rhythm guitar; Wayne Delano was on at least two saxes; and Ezra
Rugg played stand up bass.
The crowd seemed to be quite jazz savvy, applauding wildly
at various solos, recognizing the precision and professionalism in their
playing. Many of the tunes were imbedded with mathematical, musical challenges,
requiring riveting attention to time signatures and rhythms. Dave Clarke and
Wayne Delano highlighted their skill by playing numerous leads in unison. The
festival notes said that in addition to the gypsy jazz genre, they also play in
the tradition of modern jazz guitarists such as Robin Nolan, Frank Vignola, John
Jorgenson and Bireli Lagrene. That would account for a lot of what I thought
were many modal-style, improvisational solos.
Dave Clarke is quite the jazz composer and wrote many of
their songs. They performed his tango entitled, “Despasio”; a waltz called
“Winter Waltz”; a tune you’d hear in a supper club called “Bluesa Palooza”; a
Django-ish tune called, “Rumbology”; and a swing tune named for the year it was
written, “Swing Eleven”.
This kind of jazz music is usually heard at night in smoky
supper clubs serving fancy cocktails, with clientele dressed to the nines. I
want to give them a lot of credit for getting into such a high tone set before
lunch. I thought they did a great job. Check out their website: Gypsy Caravan.
Next up at the Aarhus Gallery was one of my personal favorites,
the folk trio, Meteora -- with members Jim Loney, Kat Logan and Will Brown. The
name, Meteora, comes from the name of mountain monasteries in Greece, and the
word means; ‘suspended in air’. Jim Loney has a background playing R&B and
Delta Blues and possesses a strong tenor voice. As an aside, I heard him sing
“O Come Emmanuel” at a Christmas concert in December, and it was probably the
most stunning version of that song I’ve ever heard. At that time, he shared a
few words about what the symbolism of the song meant to him, and it was very
moving. His beautiful wife, Kat, is a singer-songwriter and plays keyboards and
guitar. If I had to classify her voice it would be in the Judy Collins camp.
She has a tonal quality that brings to mind cool water in the depths of a
pristine forest. Will Brown has a beautiful tenor voice full of heart and
feeling, and plays impeccable guitar. They are very much a folk trio, emanating
a soothing and evocative atmosphere with each tune as well as playfulness and
fun. They started out with a rollicking bluegrass-style tune written by Kat
called, “Little Brown Bird”.
Then they went Latin with a Cuban folksong called, “Me Voy Pal Pueblo”; Kat on
accordion and Will with the capo high on his teardrop shaped, twelve-string
guitar. The harmonies were gorgeous and light shone from their faces. Next, a
sweet Irish melody by Francis Fahy called, “Along With My Love I’ll Go”, played
in a medley with a tune from the late 1800’s called, “The Tide Full In”. It
made me want to go to Ireland and smell the bog.
Jim introduced his bluesy composition, “James Ain’t
Pullin’”, with an important disclaimer that it was written before he met Kat -
as it had to do with a nagging woman!
Kat told us that when she was thirteen she decided that she
wanted to visit Mexico and then began to save money. Through a school exchange
program at seventeen she arrived in Monterey, Mexico, with two red suitcases,
bawling her eyes out because her host family wasn’t there to meet her.
Fortunately, another family took her in. While she was staying with them they
taught her a love song written by Quirino Mendoza y Cortes, entitled, “Cielito
Lindo”. What really impressed me about this performance is that as soon as they
started singing, I realized I knew the song – a Mariachi tune frequently
associated with Mexico, known as “Ay yi yi yi”. They sang it at a slow tempo
and I felt like I was hearing it for the first time. That is hard to do once a
tune is part of popular culture and has almost become a parody of itself. So
they get strong marks for that!
Then they played “Small Brown Bird”, by Steve Sellors of New
Brunswick, Canada, and two of Kat’s compositions -- one based on a Native
American story about death, called, “The Place Beyond the Pines”, and a really
pretty tune in a Joni Mitchell vein called “Moments”.
Will shared an anecdote about folk singer, Utah Phillips.
When Phillips was being hospitalized at the end of his life, some musician
friends recorded a compilation CD to help pay his medical bills. Will and Kat
were both featured on “Singing Through
the Hard Times”, which became a 2009 Grammy Nominated Folk Album. Will
performed his contribution to that album called, “Goin’ Away”. He said that it
was a campfire song that people might know, but I had never heard it before. I
loved it. Will has the sweetest voice and his guitar playing is so gentle and
kind, I wanted to curl up on the floor and go to sleep.
Kat played a song at the piano, written for her son,
Brandon, before he was to sail off on a ship, the Roseway. The song made me
“This is your life.
Fill it with beauty and all the love you can hold.
Always be bold with your love, my son."
A playful love song replete with food metaphors, “Come into
my Kitchen”, brought us into the homestretch. They ended with another Logan
tune entitled, “Grace”. Folksinger Ann Dodson was in the audience and was
invited on stage for a few tunes. There
have been some murmurings about a forthcoming CD. If music be the food of love,
play on! You can contact Kat Logan for information about Meteora at this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
End Times Spasm Band
After that set, we went off in search of lunch. It was a
bright, sunny day with a sharp, cold wind. Lots of people were in town by that
time – old folks with canes, young couples and families with strollers. Every
demographic seemed to be represented. On the corner of Main St. and High St. we
passed a teenage barbershop quartet that were quite good. I groped in my
pockets but alas, had no cash to toss into their bucket. Two girls sat on
another corner with a box of homemade vanilla cupcakes. If only they had
chocolate! We got delicious sandwiches and coffee at the Belfast Co-op, and
then we hustled over to the First Church where we caught The End Times Spasm
Their name caught my attention on the program, but one look
in person sold me. They were four ‘twenty-somethings’, on the road from
Indiana. Lead singer, Lyndsy Rae Patterson, was dressed in red tights and a
short, bright red and black dress, with an ornate tattoo tumbling down one
shoulder and onto her arm, red lipstick, dark hair and a little black derby.
The derby was swapped now and then, depending on the song, for a lady’s, black
pillbox hat with a veil. Lyndsy was quite the fireball and quipped, “We insist
that you have a good time”. She
reminded me of a young Shirley Maclaine – dimples and fire, with a joyful
mime-meets-flapper dancing style. Her body responded to each note of music like
an enchanted marionette, as she played the washboard and belted out songs with
Ethel Merman’s power and Edith Piaf’s charm. As a matter of fact they played a
version of “La Vie En Rose”, and other old tunes such as, “Everybody Loves My
Baby”. There was also a sampling of their unforgettable originals like the
electrifying, caffeine-saturated tune, “Black Coffee”.
I didn’t want to look away for a second for any reason
because Lyndsy was a constant source of delight. I loved the sense of inner
liberation that she conveyed, which allowed her to involve herself in the music
with such wholeheartedness. Two toddler girls were dancing a few feet from the
stage and she smiled and encouraged them to dance too. Of course, they became
silly with shyness as soon as they saw her peeking at them from behind the
microphone. It was very dear.
Standup bass player, Zach Wright, bore a striking
resemblance to British actor, Damian Lewis. And while I’m at comparisons, lead
guitarist, singer and kazoo man, Bart Helms, made me think of actor Bud Cort,
when he appeared as a young man in the cult movie, Harold and Maud. The
drummer, Eric Stuckey, (the quiet Spasm, as in the tradition of George
Harrison, the quiet Beatle,) reminded me of a young Steve Winwood. The
fresh-faced young men wore suits and ties and played with enviable skill. They
were so nicely dressed it was hard to believe that they had been sleeping in
their van and driving for days between gigs. Ahh youth!
Their website advertises the fact that they play songs of
“love, spite and science.” They truly embody the phrase, “Some Like it Hot”
with their incorporation of twenties and thirties jazz standards and their own
contortionist, circus-seizure compositions. I would recommend seeing them
without fail if you have the chance!
We love immersing ourselves in the music so much that we sat
in the front row directly in front of the band. Because the speakers were
placed directly in front of the front row, they were so loud that it was
actually painful to us and we wondered if we were incurring hearing damage
while we were listening. Besides the fact that that sounds like something our
parents would have said, (being the children of the Woodstock Generation that we
are), we did wonder if the speakers could have been placed farther back. Or are
we just too old?
Check out their website: End Times Spasm Band.
Peter and I employed a divide and conquer tactic after that.
I left him downtown while I went off to the Waterfall Arts Center, a pleasant
stroll up the road in the biting wind, to see Lonesome Shack.
They were already underway in a large, cavernous room,
standing room only and filled to capacity. I stood inside the door and could
see the band members on the distant stage: Ben Todd, Kristian Garrard and Luke
Bergman, playing Mississippi blues. The crowd was dancin’ and groovin’ and
jumpin’ and smellin’ bad (shall we say there was a distinct lack of underarm
deodorant in the crowd!). I felt like I was with Country Joe and the Fish
during Woodstock, or maybe Eric Clapton and Cream. It was grungy but the crowd
was feeling it. I did not catch the names of the songs, but they were throbbing
and gritty and everyone was really digging it. After standing inside the door
for a while I opted to go back and find my partner. If there had been any seats
I might have stayed longer. They definitely knew their stuff and the audience
was enthralled. Visit their website at: Lonesome Shack.
We squeezed into a front row seat to hear Adee Roberson and
Anna Luisa Petrisko. They had quite a setup of percussion instruments and
microphone echo effects during their set of looping polyrhythms and chants.
Their website states that their musical compositions are offerings created to reflect their
ancestral past. To be honest, for me, it was like viewing certain types of art -- one needs a reference point to understand what one is seeing or hearing and I am not familiar with this genre. I mention them because I did attend their set. I have to say that the concert organizers really
stretched to bring in a wide variety of musical tastes and expressions. These
two women were courageous because it wasn’t easy to understand what they were
doing but they were giving their all. You can learn more about their music and art at their website: Mother Popcorn.
For us the whole day was great fun and we had tremendous
admiration for the town, the organizers and the performers. We wish we could
have seen more of the bands like Kath Bloom or the Bunwinkies. It was hard to
choose between some of the simultaneous performances. We opted to leave at that
point because of the long drive home.
We hope it was a big success for Belfast and all the
performers and we hope to come again next year. It’s a really beautiful section
of the Maine coast and worth the trip for people coming from any distance.
There were numerous motels, hotels and bed and breakfast inns to choose from,
and ample seafood restaurants in the surrounding area, to make it an
unforgettable weekend getaway.
Press photo of Gypsy Caravan from their website
Meteora photo credit ~ Brandon Simpson
End Times Spasm Band photo credit ~ Ashley Roling
Press photo of Lonesome Shack from their website