The Rothbury Report

4th of July with the Grateful Dead

4th of July with the Grateful Dead

In Donewaiting’s ongoing quest to report on global musical goings-on, my buddy Nate Renkes and I descended into the wilderness of Western Michigan to witness the Rothbury Festival over the 4th of July weekend. The site is 2,000 acres of campgrounds, woods, and the actual festival grounds, which contains 5 stages separated by the Sherwood Forest, a well-maintained wooded area with weird arts displays and the Speak EZ stage. The festival was an enjoyable four days of music, camping, and hippies, with solid performances from most acts involved. Big thanks go to Nate for his camping expertise and his photographic enthusiasm. Most of the pictures below are his.

Here are some pictures of the environment before a day-by-day breakdown:

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Entrance To Sherwood Forest

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Rothbury moon begins to rise

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Nightfall outside Sherwood Forest

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Sherwood Forest craziness

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Forest Art Display Outside Speak EZ

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Rothbury moon has risen!

Trailer In Campground.  Reminiscent of Rey Misterio.

Trailer In Campground. Reminiscent of Rey Misterio.

Thursday:

After a quick entrance and campground setup, it was already go-time.  After a kickoff set from a contest winner, Asheville, NC’s Toubab Krewe got things going with a bang at 6:45PM.  These guys dip into some West African tones and jam hard.  As check-in apparently went well for all festival attendees, the crowd was already large for this set and the party vibe was undeniable.  In what was to become somewhat of trend for the festival, the Krewe did play a cover of “Billie Jean,” though they soon mixed it with their own material. There was an overlapping set from British blues prodigy Davy Knowles and Back Door Slam which we caught parts of. The set from the current Peter Frampton collaborator was fine, but not quite thrilling. There was hype for their cover of “Cut Your Hair,” but if it happened, I didn’t catch it.
9:00 marked the start of the 2.5 hour set from the Quannum All Stars, representing a fundamental collective of West Coast underground hip-hop. Now, me from 2003 would have been more excited about this set, but I still enjoyed most of this jamboree. First up was Portland’s Lifesavas and the two MCs+one DJ went over pretty well. I haven’t listened to their 2003 Quannum debut Spirit In Stone in years, but the songs I remembered from that like “Hello Hi Hey” still hit hard. Another highlight was “Shine Language” from their 2007 album Gutterfly, which I need to give another listen. Their no-nonsense beats-and-rhymes served to remind me that they are a solid crew.

Lifesavas with Chief Xcel

Lifesavas with Chief Xcel

Next was supposed to be mini-supergroup Mighty Underdogs but apparently there was a schedule conflict. Chief Xcel of Blackalicious (who manned the wheels for the Lifesavas) replaced them by rocking a party-time DJ set. This was when we wandered down to catch the end of a set from Keller Williams that the hippies loved but I couldn’t quite get into.
The headliner of the Quannum set was Lyrics Born accompanied by vocalist Joyo Velarde, but we simply heard most of this set from the campground. Good thing we conserved energy, because up next at midnight was Chicago’s Cool Kids, a throwback duo dedicated to the harder strains of hip-hop 20 years ago injected with plenty of modern swagger. The minimal, bass-heavy beats were a perfect set-up for Chuck Inglish and Mikey Rock to kill it, and the crowd lapped it up, especially on the monstrous “Black Mags” and “Gold and a Pager.” Peep their official site for a new mixtape with Don Cannon.
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Cool Kids

There wasn’t too much that thrilled me after the Cool Kids on Thursday night, but the hippies sure grooved to the Disco Biscuits’ late night jams.

Friday:

Intense tattoo

Intense tattoo

Friday marked the first full day of music. In what was a pleasing trend for the weekend, the first act on The Odeum (the main stage) each day was a legend of some obscurity. Friday’s opener was King Sunny Ade & His African Beats, representing Nigeria with their brand of joyful Afropop. There were many points where Ade and his band would go into a cappella chants in the middle of songs, which could have been distracting but instead just felt like part of the celebration. Ade was very appreciative of the solid early crowd and the band played with a great deal of passion.

King Sunny Ade And His African Beats

King Sunny Ade And His African Beats

The mid-afternoon was a hodgepodge of acts that failed to completely garner my attention. Unlike their recent soldout show at the Summit, Man Man was completely out of their element playing outdoors in the sunshine of 2:15 PM. I’m not sure that it went over that well with the crowd. I also didn’t hear them play my favorites, so I was selfishly disappointed. As tweeted previously, I was later astounded by the following visual: While waiting for G. Love & Special Sauce to play, five dudes started a hacky sack circle while the speakers pumped out Sublime tunes. In 2009. Anyhoo, the part of G. Love’s set that I caught was pretty good. I was happy to hear a brief (relative to the original) cover of jazz jam “Red Clay,” which I’m assuming was a tribute to their recently passed Philadelphia compatriot Freddie Hubbard. Their fan favorite tunes like “I-76″ also jammed hard, and people were into it.
Nate and I soon returned to camp to work on dinner, and because of a timing error (or the trademark Renkes 3-hour meal), we missed the set from Fela’s son, Femi Kuti & The Positive Force, though the Afrobeat jams sounded strong from camp. We made it over to the main stage for the joint (hahagetit?) set from Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley & Nas, though we managed to miss most of Nas’ solo set. However, there were plenty of rap-reggae mashup tunes and Jr. Gong solo tunes for us to enjoy with the joyful throng. Hearing Nas perform verses from Illmatic (i.e. The Greatest Hip-Hop Album Of All Time) over reggae instrumentals was novel for me and reinforced the blunted party atmosphere.
Unfortunately, the Marley/Nas set overlapped with the set from my old-time favorites Soulive. Luckily, Nas started performing “I Know I Can,” so we felt justified in hustling over to the Sherwood Court Stage. Since we first met in a College of Wooster dorm in the fall of 2000, Soulive and I have had an up-and-down relationship. What started as basically a traditional organ jazz trio has morphed and evolved several times, adding and removing singers and saxophonists, bordering on smooth jazz then moving into smooth R&B and even releasing the first new album on the reborn Stax Records. As I have lost interest in some of their recent music, I’m not 100% sure where they are in their evolutionary progress, but the half of the set I saw was pure funk-jazz bliss. The band is currently a six-piece, with the original trio joined by two sax players and vocalist Nigel Hall. The closing sequence of “Move On Up” (Mayfield cover recently recorded by Lettuce, but Lettuce and Soulive currently share 4 members, so it was the same thing with a different vocalist and drummer), “Tuesday Night’s Squad” (one of the better tracks from Next), and a James Brown medley of “Lickin’ Stick/”There Was A Time” was a sweaty early evening soaker. I’ve never been in favor of Soulive having a vocalist period, but Hall got down and belted it out very well. The set was a great surprise from a band that I’d almost given up on, so go peep that new album.
Soulive's Nigel Hall

Nigel Hall of Soulive

Soulive was the peak of my Friday (and maybe even of the whole festival). Friday’s headliner was String Cheese Incident, and not being a big jamband dude, I wasn’t too thrilled by the prospect of their two sets. After that, I had run out of steam, so I sadly missed Chromeo (Nate reported favorably on this set) and Girl Talk. Next.
The String Cheese Incident Galaxy

The String Cheese Incident Galaxy

Chromeo's legs

Chromeo plus legs (plus hula hoop?)

Saturday:

The 4th of July musical feast started in earnest with a 1:30 Odeum performance from another legend, Dr. Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys. The bluegrass master (and his masterful band) put on a great set, performing a variety of Stanley’s music from his 60+ year career. Of course, the set featured the eerie a cappella “O Death” and the peppier “Man Of Constant Sorrow” from the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack, which introduced newer generations to Stanley’s work. Dr. Stanley announced that he first recorded “Man Of Constant Sorrow” in “Nineteen and forty eight,” which got a big rise from the crowd. He had some good jokes and was very appreciative of the large and enthusiastic crowd that joined him “so early.” His gospel-flavored bluegrass was a refreshing start to the day.

Dr. Ralph Stanley And The Clinch Mountain Boys

Dr. Ralph Stanley And The Clinch Mountain Boys

We then headed down to the Ranch Arena to catch Son Volt, who sounded decent to a man that knows basically nothing about them. Unfortunately, a small rainstorm kicked up and we decided to head back toward camp. Luckily the rain let up in time for the Hill Country Revue back up at Sherwood Court. The Revue is a new incarnation of the North Mississippi All Stars, another favorite of my late college years. The All Stars have apparently not broken up, but since guitarist Luther Dickinson has joined the lineup of the Black Crowes, his brother, drummer Cody Dickinson (who plays guitar and electric washboard in the Revue) started the Revue with NMA bassist Chris Chew and new talent including guitarist Kirk Smithhart, vocalist “Dixie” Dan Coburn, and drummer Ed “Hot” Cleveland. It’s difficult for me to describe the difference between the original group and the new band, but I can tell you that the Revue plays some cookin’ Southern blues rock while taking it back to the hill country of Mississippi. Smithhart shredded on lead guitar, and Coburn may have a bit more soul on the mic than my memory of Luther Dickinson. The set felt like a backyard party somewhere, and was another favorite of mine at Rothbury. Hey, they have a new album too!
Kirk Smithhart of Hill Country Revue

Kirk Smithhart of Hill Country Revue

Hill Country Revue's Cody Dickinson on Electric Washboard

Cody Dickinson of Hill Country Revue on Electric Washboard

Proceeding onward, Nate and I watched most of the set from Zappa Plays Zappa. I’m not a big Zappa fan, but Nate is and he thought it was a strong performance. Frank’s son Dweezil plays guitar and shares lead vocal duties with Ben Thomas. Dweezil sounds a great deal like his father and seems to be doing a good job of keeping the Zappa legacy alive. It was a wacky performance with weird dances from Thomas and not many of Zappa’s bigger hits, but it was enjoyable overall. The Zappa set overlapped with the Odeum Black Crowes set, but we caught enough of it. The Robinsons and Co. played the hits with an abundance of soul, so I didn’t mind it all. Back at Sherwood Court, Les Claypool ripped into some trademark weirdness that didn’t grab me at all, and dinner ensued.
Zappa Plays Zappa

Zappa Plays Zappa

Then came The Grateful Dead. Not being much of a Deadhead, I was less than thrilled about watching their set with 30,000 of my closest friends. So I didn’t, catching a few bits here and there from way way back. However, Nate is a big fan, and got down in the middle of the crowd (about 50 ft. from the stage) for the majority of the two sets. I am told that the overall performance was very strong and that they sounded their best since the 1980s, according to some veteran hippies in the crowd. The second set was the better set, but both sets were bolstered by inclusion of rarer Dead jams. Looks and sounds like fun if you could tolerate it. Here are my favorites from Nate’s pics of the madness:

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Unfortunately, my late-night stamina (ummm) was shaky on this venture and I was too worn out for much of anything after The Dead played. I did catch a bit of a burlesque show at the Speak EZ stage, mainly because my attendance was encouraged by our campground neighbor who was a member of the troupe, which was cool but not enough to reinvigorate me. What I heard of MSTRKRFT from the tent sounded boomin’.

Sunday:

One more day in camping paradise. DW favorites The Hard Lessons kicked things off at nearby Sherwood Court, but the heat was a bit intense at that point. We did enjoy most of the set from the media tent, however, including a strong cover of “Hey Hey My My.” Then the “obscure legend series” that opened the Odeum stage every day concluded with Jamaica’s Toots & The Maytals. This is an act that seems to tour often, but I never manage to see them, so this was a treat. Toots and crew came out burning and played most of their greatest hits in under 30 minutes. [EDIT: I knew this was going to be wrong, thanks Eric.] They kept things lively for their entire set, however, including playing their classic original “Bam Bam”, more often remembered for Sister Nancy’s version. They didn’t play “54-46 Was My Number” but ran through all the other staples, so the aging yet energetic Toots did not disappoint. He was also very grateful for the audience’s support.

Toots And The Maytals

Toots And The Maytals

Later we caught parts of the set from the Yonder Mountain String Band. Nate enjoyed the set from the bluegrass-jamband maelstrom, and they seemed like nice guys, but it wasn’t my thing. I then somehow fell victim to a nap and missed the Hold Steady set. Darn it. Thankfully I got my act back together to see Willie Nelson & Family. I really enjoyed this set, as he played the hits and a wide variety of other material. A surreal moment was his performance of “I Ain’t Superman.” The lyrics seemed to be intended as a criticism of the hedonistic crowd, but of course they partied right through it. Score a subliminal point for Willie. We then hustled down to the Ranch to see Government Mule, a standard of the modern jam circuit. Warren Haynes and crew rocked pretty hard, but a portion of the set was rather confusing. Haynes made reference to a request for a Michael Jackson cover, but then led the band into a version of Nirvana’s “All Apologies.” Good jam, but was he saying that he would rather honor Kurt than Michael? Strange, and made stranger by the fact that he quoted “All Apologies” again later in the set in the middle of a reggae-ish number. Great set though.
The final headlining set of the festival belonged to Bob Dylan and His Band. This was my first time seeing Dylan live. The songs were weird and delayed, but I’m told that I simply got the Dylan live experience. I don’t think his voice sounds as bad as other people may tell you, but the fact that every phrase comes out as a question is kind of off-putting to me. His band was great, however, so the music was enjoyable either way. I am glad that I got a chance to see Dylan live.
Bob Dylan And His Band

Bob Dylan And His Band

Overall, I had a great time. I missed some things that I had wanted to see, but I figure that I was just out of shape since I hadn’t been to a big music festival since Bonnaroo 2004. Right? Anyway, I caught plenty of great live music and had no major mishaps, so the trip was a success. See you next year?

  • john

    Hacky sack is a legitimate sport.

  • http://www.stopgamblingnow.com Eric geffner

    Toot and the maytals:
    The song
    What a Bam Bam is an original toots and the maytals songs from the early 1960s they wrote and sang it first and better than nancy !
    check it out and be amazed…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNU6ts4x1Aw

    this is the original beautiful version !

  • hippie

    i guess it’s terribly unhip to hacky sack with sublime nowadays.

  • Anony

    Not being a fan of _______…why the he’ll did you go to this fest if you don’t even like most of the music??

  • Ramirez

    Shit, I was just suprised to see that Bob Dylan was there. I kind of thought he died in the ’80′s along with his ability to write good songs. :(

  • hey!

    this post has alot of content but it seems to be missing a spark. if the fest is the reason, then state that! otherwise your writing comes off as lifeless

  • JP

    Not surprised that our schedules didn’t overlap at all… besides the shows you “werent a fan of”. It sounds like you had a great time but missed out on the shit was all about for me.

  • dan

    DUDE!!!!! WTF! how are you going to write a rothbury report if you werent even at The Dead? they were rothbury along with cheese, being a rothbury vet it was epic. And most people who were at String Cheese, who was awesome since their first sets aside from a “rebel alliance jam” at yarmony grass last august who was comprised of mostly cheese, was at their best ever with the huge balls! come on. who else could pull off that, especially with out playing since red rocks last supper in 07. but as i was saying most people missed chromeo because of how late cheese played, but if you were anywhere during sts9′s first night it should have been at the chromeo vip late night party! how could you even begin to write a rothbury report if you werent there till 5:30, well past the 4 am closing time of glitch mob and tribe! Come on buddy get with it, hope you had as much fun as possible, thats what its really all about. Dont report though unless you have full knowledge of how sick it was. and i was not a vip, just know how to get by:)

  • http://www.roadbetweenus.tumblr.com Kelley B.

    This report from Rothbury doesn’t do the festival justice. Lackluster, at best. The festival was amazing, the dead killed it, coming from someone who isn’t much of a deadhead herself.

  • a “Hippie”

    DUDE WTF is this garbage? You ripped on Keller, and Cheese, missed the Dead and said nothing about sts9. Why did you even go to this festival? Why did you even write this article. I typed “Rothbury 2009 Wrap up” into google, clicked on the link to this post, and then proceeded to waste 10 minutes of my life on your horrible review.

    Top 10 at rothbury:
    1. CHEESE!
    2. STS9
    3. Disco Biscuits
    4. Keller
    5. the Dead
    6. STS9 live PA
    7. Glitchmob
    8. EOTO
    9. Martin Sexton
    10. RailRoad Earth

    Just missed the list: Pretty Lights, Spongle, Matisyahu, Damian and Nas.

    Andrew Patton; you should stop writing festival reviews

    • Not a Hippie

      When did Hippie become so hateful? Dude smoke a joint and shut the F up.

  • Died and came to rothbury

    How has nobody mentioned Umphrey’s McGee’s two killer sets? They played after Cheese and after Dylan at the Ranch Arena. They’re entire show, sound and lighting, was phenomenal.

  • wes flexner

    the only thing i want to know is if its wierd to fuck a girl that prolly just took a shit in an outhouse?
    thats why i don’t go to these festivals.

  • MatisyahuFan420

    Andrew Patton I wish you ill.

  • columbus’ own PIC

    seems a bit biased, your review. meh- Man Man was still right on.

    and their Summit show–in spite of the terrible sound and the sweltering heat–was excellent.

  • red_menace

    Andrew Patton! I wish you well!!! I hope your life is filled with joy and happiness! You should totaly write about fests!!!!!!!

  • http://www.nigeriascreen.com/type/Action Rossie Hogle

    awesome. very interesting.. like your angle on it