Written by Margaret Cooper
Photos by Alex Neal
Held annually at the Schuylkill County Fairgrounds in Schuylkill Haven, PA, Some Kind of Jam witnessed its twelfth year as the longest running Jibberjazz festival to date. Nestled in the rolling Appalachian Mountains, the festival hosted 28 musical acts, countless visual artists, and an estimated 3,000 attendees. This year also featured an official Thursday pre-party, with the beautifully melodic, Bethlehem bluegrass foursome Serene Green and the horn-driven, psychedelic-jazz-funk of Philadelphia octet Darla.
As the sun began to set on the sleepy old coal town, wide swaths of rock exposed in the distance, we arrived at Some Kind of Jam. Arriving at dusk, we pulled down the dirt road leading to the grounds, greeted with the faraway notes of the jazz-funk-experimental trio and self-proclaimed “art band,” The Moho Collective. The distant melodies grounded me in my excitement as the reality of our arrival finally began to sink in.The first festival of the year tends to feel like a dream at first. It felt good to be back in the swing of things. As we made our way down the road to the campsite, I caught the eye of a large man holding a beer, “Welcome home!”
“Opa!” echoing in the distance, we unpacked to the energetic music of brass band Black Masala. After we settled into our new home, I was eager to get down to business and explore the festival. Home to the Schuylkill County Fair, the grounds were well-equipped to accommodate attendees. The venue featured field, forest, and RV camping; and for the more refined campers out there, the festival also provided electrical hook-ups and real, flushing toilets. A short walk from the campsites, the Main Stage area hosted workshops, vendors, food, and most importantly, live music. The festival also featured The Musical Madness Stage, a slightly smaller stage repurposed from a livestock pavilion, as well as the Indoor Jamhouse, which provided tunes throughout the night.
As night fell upon us, we headed down to the Main Stage to catch reggae-rock-jam band Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad. SKOJ 12 was officially in full swing as festival-goers gathered for the Friday night fun. Fractal Fire, of Westchester, PA, provided a troupe of incredibly talented firespinning acts to accompany the mainstage music. Flames soared through the sky as the Rochester, NY squad brought the irie vibes with their signature, East-Coast dub reggae. GPGDS’s 2-hour set included music from their most recent album, Make It Better, including Live and Travel, Really True, and Walk Right Talk Right in their setlist. Bassist / vocalist James Searl impressed with driving vocal melodies alongside guitarist Dylan Savage while simultaneously laying down deep, pocket-groove bass lines. Drummer Chris O’Brian set a flawless backing for an extremely tight set, executing flawless fills and flowing deftly between songs. Ending the night’s music on the Main Stage, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad closed the night out with a cover of New Speedway Boogie by the Grateful Dead.
After the Main Stage fell dark, the Indoor Jamhouse found a new breath of life. Entranced by the colorful and lively Art Jam Sector leading into the Jamhouse, I found myself traveling through a portal to a hub of frenetic energy for those seeking a party into the pale hours of the morning. Friday night’s Jamhouse lineup featured Old Salt Union, Mungion, and ELM. Pulled in by the sweeping, americana bluegrass of Old Salt Union, I joined the crowd to admire the music. The energy was palpable as string music filled the air and flow artists performed against a an artistic backdrop projected on the wall opposite the stage. Including a set of both originals and covers, OSU dazzled with a progressive string rendition of Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me.
I was extremely eager to see Chicago jam-funk fusion band Mungion for the first time. Practically indescribable,the quartet took the crowd for quite the ride into the early morning hours. Playing songs of their EP Scary Blankets, Mungion filled the night with heavy jam. A highlight of my weekend, I enjoyed this set tremendously. Their unique brand of jam takes the crowd on a musical journey through time and space, sure to keep you on your toes! Following Mungion, Electric Love Machine rocked the Jamhouse from 3 AM onward with their spacey, electro-jam arrangements.
Saturday, campers awoke to a light, morning drizzle. However, our good luck continued as the sun began to rise, quickly giving way to blue skies and 80° weather. Ready to fully indulge on our first full day at the festival, we got down to the Main Stage early to see the sights and take on the day. The festival hosted a multitude of workshops and activities, from yoga and hooping classes, to drum circles and tarot reading. I was also happy to see the inclusion of a Kid’s Area, a workshop space for fun, family-oriented activities. SKOJ provided entertainment for the whole family, no matter your interest or age. It brings me great joy to see children included in the lively festival environment in a wholesome and engaging way, something that Jibberjazz Productions has continuously emphasized in their events.
At the Musical Madness Stage, The Clock Reads carried us into the evening with their jazz-influenced jams, drawing in a solid crowd as the sun went down – a perfect segway into Saturday night’s headliner. Antibalas delivered the funk with their energetic afrobeat rhythms and world style. Led by captivating frontman Amayo, the 12(+)-piece musical family drove the crowd wild with their brassy hooks and dynamic performance style. SKOJ 12 came alive as Amayo launched into Dirty Money, a horn-heavy world-influenced warning about the corrupt ways of the world. With a truly captivating stage presence, Antibalas got the crowd up and dancing effortlessly with their politically charged polyrhythmic grooves. As their set ended, I was left with a feeling of inspiration and empowerment. Unfortunately I couldn’t hang, tuckered out from a long day of festing. I fell asleep far too early on Saturday night regrettably missing Muppet’s Titanium Stardust Machine, a psychedelic staple at many Jibberjazz festivals, and greatly anticipated AZ jam four-piece Spafford.
Although I awoke refreshed after such a good night’s sleep, Sunday came upon us far too soon. The weather was overcast and windy, drawing great similarities with the unfortunate dawning reality that we will soon be returned back to our quotidian existence (until the next festival.) Perhaps as a send-off, the music continued on the Main Stage as vendors packed up and tents were taken down. 8-piece The Wahoo Skiffle Crazies kept the energy high with their unique blend of folksy jug americana, complete with a washboard, musical saw, banjo, and a bucket bass. Philadelphia natives Hezekiah Jones took the stage to close out the festival with their nostalgic, almost melancholy, folk-americana melodies. With the first festival of the season checked off our list, we loaded up and hit the road, eager to see where the next adventure takes us, knowing we will be returning for Some Kind of Jam next year.