A groovy, jam-filled Berkfest
By Steve Morse, Globe Staff, 8/13/2001
GREAT BARRINGTON - John Sinclair, a poet, activist, bluesman, and onetime
friend of John Lennon, surveyed the mellow Berkshire Mountain Music
Festival scene and voiced his hearty approval: "This is like the old days -
very relaxed. And the music is great. It's not some geeks with a Top 10
More than 7,000 fans - mostly of the hippie persuasion, both neo- and elder
- attended the so-called Berkfest this weekend. Many camped in the woods
and meadows around the Woodstock-like Butternut Ski Basin, emerging to hear
top-flight jam sets by the likes of moe., Strangefolk, Olu Dara, and the
Steve Kimock Band. Dara was the surprise of the weekend with his
Afro-tinged country blues/funk (think Gil Scott-Heron meets the cooler side
of James Brown). He enraptured a packed side stage of fans and danced among
them while blowing trumpet licks.
There were five stages in all, connected by a verdant path along "Berkfest
Boulevard," where vendors hawked hippie crafts and clothing under tents
bearing the colorful names of the Grateful Hut, Brighter Daze, and Honey
Love & the Butterflies. "There are good vibes everywhere," said Andy
Gadiel, founder of the Web site jambase.com.
Added Seth West of Boston: "I'm a glass blower, and many of my students are
hippies, so I had heard about this festival, but this is the first time I
attended. I've been to 100 Grateful Dead shows, but I've heard some of the
best improvisational music of my life right here."
Jam-band stars moe. (scheduled to play two nights at the Orpheum Sept.
13-14) captured the main-stage crowd with a forceful set of sonic
experimentation capped by a twisting run through Steely Dan's
"Bodhisattva." Strangefolk also had its moments, stretching instrumentally
(sounding like a young New Riders of the Purple Sage at times), though its
vocals were sometimes strained. And Mike Clark's Prescription Renewal added
an inspiring dose of rootsy funk to the main stage.
The side "showcase" stage was also well worth a visit. In addition to Dara,
the Slip (an impressive merging of colors from bebop to a jazzified cover
of Chuck Berry's "Maybelline") and Jiggle, both Boston bands, played there.
The hard-rocking, world-music-spiced Jiggle (a cover of Paul Simon's
"Graceland" was exquisite) is about to break up, though one wonders why.
The momentum and good graces this group has built in the last few years
should keep it around.
Two Berkfest stages were indoors in sauna-like ski lodges (no surprise that
most people stayed outside). S tarring there were Wax Poetic (an acid-jazz
act with a sultry, neo-soul female singer), the Steve Kimock Band (Kimock
toured with the post-Grateful Dead the Other Ones, and played sweet blues
solos), and Sector 9, a brain-scrambling, electronica-flavored jam band
from Atlanta. Also worth a mention: Jamie Janover, a virtuosic hammer
dulcimer player who set up under a tree.
The attendance of 7,000 was down from last year's 11,000, but the event
still broke even and expects to be back next year for the fourth time.
"We've had great feedback from the town and locals this year," said
promoter Andrew Stahl of Boston's Gamelan Productions. "I'm tired, but
we've had a great time."
This story ran on page B8 of the Boston Globe on 8/13/2001.
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