What do you get when you combine West Virginia Funkadelic Festivarians, The Cooter Crew, West Virginia bluegrass enthusiasts and regional ragetastic jam band fans? You get Arts Alive on the River festival 2012 in Morgantown WV!
Not only is the setting beautiful and incredibly convenient as it is held on the banks of the Monongahela River but is virtually in the heart of all that is fun in the small mountain town home to West Virginia University. Hazel Ruby-McQuain Riverfront Park boasts a grand amphitheater and clean, well maintained facilities that are always a delight to festival goers. Shade trees lined the foot paths allowing festival goers ample shade while the river delivered cool breezes to cool off even the most overheated fans. Not to mention the delight of pet owners being able to finally spend a festival with their hearts best friends.
We arrived late Friday evening, unfortunately missing some great music and fun with some of the coots, faeries, wizards and honey badgers that showed up in full festival flair. However we did catch the Zach Deputy set, always a festival favorite, especially in Morgantown. His set was blistering, full of the beats, riffs, fills and loops unmistakably Zach. After which he came out for his usual meet and greet with the crowd, signing autographs, posing for pictures and the general behavior exemplifying a status of being genuinely a man of the people.
We then moved to 123 Pleasant Street for a late night set with Fletchers Grove who was again sure to prove that they are a huge force currently at work in the category of up and coming bands in the festival circuit. It also helps when you are in your home state and the fans bring the love you need to help you take your craft to the next level which Fletchers playing was just that; on another level!
The second day was started off by The Ultimatums, Aristotle and the Like Minds followed up by Big Daddy Love. They all showed their chops and got the crowd primed up for 600 lbs. of Sin. Each band interacted well with the audience and was obliging to our wants, needs and even our whims. The more we yelled the more they answered back with energy and music creating the perfect atmosphere for another great beginning to late day festivities.
When 600 lbs. of Sin took the stage, something was certainly different with the lineup of players. Having recently lost a key vocalist to whimsy and longing, they were joined by Libby Eddy on fiddle and vocals. For a lass having only been with the band for less than 48 hours, you would have never known by her playing or singing. Libby consistently added a much needed ingredient to the 600 lbs. recipe and seems to be a match made of a magical nature. Where Michael Pushkin growled, Libby charmed, while Josh Thomas crafted blazing hot fills, Libby embellished upon them with signature fiddle work. All the while John Lavigne on bass and Steve Markle on drums gave the band a rock solid foundation to play and jam from creating a much needed midafternoon musical delirium.
Following the 600 lbs. set was a man we all know and love, Larry Keel joined by his wife and band Natural Bridge. From the jump, Mark Schimick, mandolin player, was chomping at the bit, as he usually is to take us on a journey of auditory delights. Jenny Keel was ready to move right in and lay down her signature upright bass licks while Will Lee, banjo player extraordinaire, cast his usual stoic stare over the audience waiting for Larry to do what Larry does; set fire to his six string from playing so darn fast!
Larry again lived up to his catch phrase and proved “how ‘bout some love for everyone” was what would be delivered. He certainly “hit the road at a steady run” increasing often times to a fevered pitch of progressive bluegrass bliss. The whole while the crowd went absolutely insane and churned up enough vibe to pave the way for Keller Williams.
Keller invited the Keels on stage for the first half of his set continuing with the general theme of giving us all exactly what we wanted. There is something so special and heartwarming watching this trio play. You get a definite feel that you are not watching friends play music together, but rather you are watching a family love each other. It pulls you in and slaps a smile on your face leaving you breathless from the magic you are invited to witness.
From there Keller delivered up more of his solo magic and booty shaking music. Not a sad face was to be found during the remainder of his set. I do not believe I saw a single fan standing idly by either. The entirety of the crowd moved together. Each of us contributed our own bit of energy to a truly fantastic show to cap off the evening at the main stage.
Before the late night All Star Jam even started at 123 Pleasant Street, the All Stars decided to have a preemptive strike in the parking lot next door. Members of The Boatmen, 600 lbs. of Sin, Poor Taters and Black Coffee threw down with an impromptu jam closing it out with a fun cover of Clapton’s “Lay Down Sally”. As the festivities began to move indoors many of the evening players would still be found out front picking and singing to entertain the many who failed to acquire entry to the sold out show that evening.
For the lucky fans who gained access they were given an evening of delight served up hot and fresh by Larry Keel and Natural Bridge, Randy Gilkey of The Boatmen, Keller Williams, 600 lbs. of Sin. As well as multiple jams with That One Guy, Black Coffee, The Boatmen, Washboard Dave and Poor Taters. The evening was a rollicking fun jam session that exited the doors of 123 Pleasant Street and emptied out into the street and carried on until almost 7 a.m. in the halls of The Hotel Morgan.
The final day was met with remorse of having it be the final day of festivities. Despite the sun growing hot and high in a humid sky, all in attendance finished the day off well with sets from The Poor Taters and Black Coffee. The final set was a fiery one, exceeding the high temps of the day as The Boatmen took the stage and bid us adieu. It was a jamtastic three days and The Boatmen were not about to let the festival end on any note other than one which reverberated the happiness felt from having so many people who truly loved music play and listen and groove in the energies exhibited there.
As the sun went down on Morgantown, WV not a single soul was dark and all shone in such a manner that would have made even Warren Haynes do a double take. This is a festival that is not to be missed. Expect more of these jam filled fun days in the future as this festival is sure to be back to rock our socks again next year! Enjoy the pictures below and we will be posting several videos soon…