Written By: Kaitlin Mahaney
Photos By: Kaitlin Mahaney
Marvin’s Mountaintop is nestled in the rolling hills of Masontown, West Virginia. Locating the festival grounds for Deep Roots Mountain Revival was fairly simple. When I arrived, I was greeted by the most hospitable staff. I looked over the map and journeyed towards the woods. The land was vast and beautiful, and I was excited to get this great weekend of music started. Anxious to experience the festival, I unloaded at the woods camping, met my neighbors and quickly set up.
Hammocks hung from the trees at the Roots Stage, allowing spectators to fully immerse themselves in nature while enjoying the bands. People started to flood in as The Manor and Friends took the stage. The funky six piece with special guest Will Oxley on saxophone, delivered some of most eclectic jams of the weekend. Much like their set time, the songs transitioned from light to dark. Sounds that ranged from ambient to heavy, seized the crowd, taking them on a rollercoaster of exploratory funk. During the last song people were swing dancing wildly. The Manor and Friends ended their set with the whole crowd groovin’ to the Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish.”
As night fell, the trail leading to the Mainstage was easy to navigate following the solar powered lanterns, down the hill, across the bridge, and past the vendors. Graced by the Eric Krasno Band shredding some of the most expressive soulful blues. They played songs such as “Jezebel” from their new album, Blood From a Stone. This band never fails to uplift the crowd, sharing what I’d call a religious experience of emotional gospel blues. Eric Krasno blew the minds of many that set with an extraordinary jam during their cover of Whipping Post. The feeling I remember most standing front row, was that this band was oozing and spilling soul and blues into each of us. Every person in the crowd’s face matched that of Eric Krasno’s guitar face.
The next set was back at the Roots Stage under the trees with The Kind Thieves, a local band from West Virginia. This band can only be described as Appalachian Jamgrass. The more I listened and watched the more I admired their musical diversity. Their cover of Pink Floyd’s “Brick In the Wall,” had the crowd shaking the fence and jiving through the rain and the mud.
Reluctant to leave the Roots Stage, I headed for the Mainstage in hopes to catch the start of Lettuce’s set. On my walk to the other stage it started to downpour. As buckets of water came down, I noticed someone quickly unfastening a tarp that had been roped to the trees. I joined, as we huddled underneath for shelter and tried to stay somewhat dry, laughing at ourselves and the situation. Normally I would not have been opposed to dancing in the rain but I had my camera on me at the time which made me feel more like a protective parent rather then free spirited hippie. As the rain started to settle I booked it to the nearest tent.
When I successfully reached the Art Tent, there were dry, hand-carved wooden stools by local woodworker, Dan Gifford. As I waited for the rain to pass I made friends. One of my new friends warned me to watch out for flying heads of lettuce at the Lettuce set. With plenty of art to observe and people to chat with, this storm seemed like it had only done one thing. Like music does, and like this whole festival had done, it brought us closer together.
Lettuce came on after a short rain delay, with no light show. The positive side of all of this, is that we experienced slinky jams, with a funky elephant sounding horn section and jazzy drumming by Adam Deitch, stripped down to its rawest form. Lettuce had the whole crowd moving and shaking after the rain. Captivating and bending the knees of the crowd getting down to their rhythmic Meters inspired funk.
Rounding off the first night, was Aqueous, a virtuoso progressive rock outfit hailing from buffalo New York. The always impressive guitar duo of Mike Gantzer and Dave Loss harmonized parts that led into unexpected grooves. With fluidity, smooth tones and unpredictable phrasing the band never ceased to amaze the crowd and keep them dancing. In fact the band did such a good job to keep the crowd dancing, they were calling for an encore while the band packed up. The encore sadly didn’t happen, ending their set around 3 a.m. The rest of the night called for campsite drum circles and acoustic instruments.
Friday morning, I woke up slow, and ventured towards the vendors in search of coffee. I was in luck. Across the field, past the Habitat for Insanity was the first vendor. I sat down at a picnic table to relax for awhile. On my walk back to camp I caught the first set of the day at the Revival Tent. The Boatmen, from Beckley West Virginia, a three piece widely influenced by The Band, performed acoustic soulful folk music. The three men had spectacular harmonies. Randy, had his guitar across his lap, walking up the neck with his fingers, playing it like a piano. After this revitalizing set I came across the “slackpark”. Hosted by the instructors of Slacklibrium, were lessons on slacklining and mindfulness. This exercise helped with balance and patience. It was a sight to see, when the instructor started doing jumps on the thin slackline, and stuck the landing.
After a quick lunch back at camp, I was off to see more music with hopes that the rain would hold off. Cabinet played a whimsical set of bluegrass. As the winds picked up, there was a storm on the horizon. At the Roots Stage the leaves on the trees danced as the music swirled like a grain of wood. Cabinet hijacked the minds of many that were there to endure this hypnotic bluegrass set.
The storm had held off, and the next on that stage was White Denim. They played refreshing unaffected rock’n’roll. They were joined by artist at large, Eric Krasno, keeping the crowd at The Roots Stage beneath the trees before Tauk.
Tauk was the highlight of the weekend. This rock fusion band from New York City never fails to impress. Their unique instrumental music is explosive, rhythmic and heavy, not to mention funky. Their electrifying sound, is influenced by city life, like an apocalyptic subway band. The tight drum and bass combo between Isaac Teel and Charlie Dolan carried the groove. A.C. Carter with his one of a kind synth sound, adds a distinct and atmospheric element to the music. The guitarist Matt Jalbert speaks through his guitar in a fluttering tantalizing, yet reserved smooth sound before shredding the songs in incredible fashion. The four musicians combined, make up the textured sound that is Tauk. Two days after their set I am still searching for the words to describe my experience. It’s the sound that can only be described as Tauk. Artist at large, Eric Krasno joined the band on stage, as if their set could have gotten any more epic. They did a jaw dropping cover of “Come Together” by The Beatles. The band was deep in the pocket. Isaac was singing while playing drums simultaneously. On the guitars there was a musical conversation taking place between Matt Jalbert and Eric Krasno. Tauk was the only band of the weekend to play an encore. As they came back out on stage, Matt Jalbert said, “They’re letting us play another song, that’s always a good thing.” This is a set that I will remember for a long time.
I awoke on day 3, to a crack of thunder. I lay back in my tent listening to the rain pitter-patter on the tent surrounding me. It was calm inside my small tent. The storm forced some much needed downtime upon most of the festival goers.
After the rain passed the sky was foggy, it felt as if we were all inside of a cloud. In the distance, a couple was celebrating the sun, slow dancing around in the grass. I stood on top of the mountain looking down at the Mainstage anticipating JJ Grey & Mofro. There I was met with one of the most beautiful sunsets of the summer.
Spirits were high as JJ Grey & Mofro began to play at the Mainstage. After a day of heavy storms the crowd rejoiced. The stage was covered in puddles, but the show went on. After their first song, the light show stopped working. This would normally be a problem but something about this particular technical difficulty made the whole set more intimate. JJ Grey adjusted to the new mood lighting, and grabbed his microphone, placing it right at the edge of the stage. Connecting with the crowd with nothing but pure music.
Back at the Roots Stage, the always funky Motet from Denver, Colorado, started their set with “The Truth” off their new album Totem. It was one big dance party with The Motet, and their expressive disco-funk sound. It’s impossible not to smile when watching this group of musicians shine. Together they cohesively deliver the funk.
The rain had forced overlapping sets. At the Revival Tent, Optimus Riff from Morgantown, West Virginia brought the party. Mitch Sutton on the keyboard also performing lead vocals on their cover of “Shakedown Street” transitioning into “2001: A Space Odyssey,” captivated the crowd. This high energy band fits seamlessly into the jam scene, bringing some of the catchiest originals to the festival.
At the same time as The Motet and Optimus Riff, Dr. Dog was playing on the Mainstage. Dr. Dog was the music relief of the weekend. Their sound was more on indie rock spectrum with vocal harmonies and intricate song lyrics.
Yonder Mountain String Band was the perfect end to such a beautiful weekend of music. Their sound was one of psychedelic blue grass, or as Jake Jolliff, on the mandolin, described it as “blast, fast bluegrass.” Playing songs off their new album, their music spoke volumes with ease as it flowed through the ears of the crowd. I was memorized by the fiddle player, Allie Kral, as she carried the jam, her talent was unmistakable. Like a bluegrass orchestra the group performed a symphony that had me wishing it wasn’t the last set, on the last night of the festival.
As the festival on Marvins Mountain top came to end, also came the realization of how important it is to share these moments with one another. Whether it was sheltering from the rain, in shared close quarters, or experiencing the music that had brought us all out of our everyday lives, Deep Roots Mountain Revival had brought those who were lucky enough to attend a little closer to nature and to each other. Music will always be the ultimate unifier, and Deep Roots had succeeded on every level.