Buffalo Gap Retreat
September 7-9, 2018
Written by Michael Tucker
Photos by Tyler L. Goble of Zen Focus Photography
Before I get into all the ways that those wonderful, yet oh so imperfect tools of expression we call words are going to fail me in my attempt to convey even a little of the magnificence of Valley Fusion 3, I want to say that words can also get it just right. Case in point, The Merriam- Webster Dictionary defines the word fusion in the following ways:
1: the act or process of liquefying or rendering plastic by heat
2: a union by or as if by melting
3: the union of atomic nuclei to form heavier nuclei resulting in the release of enormous quantities of energy when certain light elements unite.
And indeed, by this definition, the word fusion perfectly encapsulates my experience at the beautiful Buffalo Gap Retreat: fusion of music and visual arts, fusion of hearts and minds, fusion of jazz and rock, fusion of electronica and live instrumentation, fusion of musicians and fans, and, perhaps best of all, fusion of the best parts of everyone in attendance with each other and their dreams “resulting in the release of enormous quantities of energy when certain light elements unite.”
When the festival’s brilliant curator, Zack Thayer, spoke a few heartfelt words to the attendees at the pinnacle of the festival Saturday night, he talked about the definition of fusion, and I found my starting point for this review.
On the other hand, I love challenges but, as I sat down to pound out this article, I realized capturing the essence of the incredible weekend I spent at Valley Fusion 3 through the imperfect medium of the written word is utterly impossible. I’m not going to have the time or space to tell you, gentle reader, how spectacular it was, how bursting at the seams with mind-blowingly awesome music, fantastic art, and above all else, what an incredible gathering of inspiring human beings it was. I’m not going to set myself up for failure like that. So here’s my humble apology to all musicians, artists, or wonderful humans with whom I interacted: I’m sorry. If I don’t mention you in this review, please know it’s not because you weren’t awesome; it’s due to my humble human limitations: time, space and all that. This article is just a reflection of the memories I turned to in the short time I had to write this article. THANK YOU to everyone. Here are some highlights:
The high energy of TrailHeads kicked my musical adventure off in all the right ways. Missy Baker’s funky, sax-driven jamming had me smiling and dancing from the start, and I enjoyed watching guitarist/vocalist Jacob Halfhill dancing to other bands over the weekend almost as much as I enjoyed their fun set. Check out their upcoming event Larrypalooza IV (9/22-9/23) because Deaf Scene, a three-piece prog-psych and fusion of many other genres who played one of the best sets of the weekend, will also be there along with the Trailheads. I hadn’t seen these guys for a minute (opening slot on Dosio’s Extra’s Tour to be exact), and when they played “Acid Fight” they brought so much heat (see definition 1) I was both liquefied and rendered plastic by the heat they brought under the shade of the pavilion. I adored the slippery time signature of a new song they played. After they finished, I enjoyed talking to the guys after their set about how excellent and densely melodic their set was and reminiscing with them about their legendary set at Rootwire.
I really love a good cover, and highlights from the day’s festivities included a couple of those by two terrific bands: Tim Cintron Project hit me with a sideways cover of the Hall and Oates classic “I Can’t Go for That” and took a detour to “Funkytown,” and After Funk had Tara and me boogieing like mad with their groovy cover of Michael Jackson’s “Bad.”
Kendall Street Company, a six-piece fusion band, really brought the jams with exceptional sax, keys, and acoustic and electric guitars, kept us grooving with always sunny vibes as the day cooled into evening. I want to hear more of the rich sound this Virginia-based band delivers.
Wow! John Ferrara and Seth Moutal played a set which can only be described as sublime. Ferrara from Consider the Source, one of the best bass-players I have ever seen, has super-human musical chops, and I was stunned to witness Seth Moutal’s ability to play drums at the same level of excellence. Melody from rhythm instruments, yes af! This more human than human duo played a set of songs which turned from Middle Eastern tabla-like sounds into Radiohead soundscapes on a dime.
The feeling that I had found home really settled in with me as the first Litz set of the weekend opened with “A Little Help from my Friends,” and I was right back under that pavilion the last night of the last Mad Tea Party Jam. The kind vibes and one big happy family feel of this festival already had me there, and this was just confirmation that everyone here was picking up right where MTPJ left off. Kudos to Nick Thrasher, drummer extraordinaire and one of the coolest people in the scene, for slipping bits of jamtronica into the ever-growing Litz repertoire. I left their set happy that we had a whole ‘nother night of Litz on the horizon.
Octave Cat closed out the main stage with an ecstatically climactic dance-party that had me nearly dancing myself right out of my skin. I had so much fun watching my acoustic roots music friends from Sleepy Creek shaking their butts to the weird synth sounds I love so much. I definitely didn’t have to “Try to Smile” every time I saw Danny Moore getting weird on the dance floor.
I was completely blown away to be able to see musicians like Jesse Miller from Lotus and Eli Winderman from Dopapod in such an intimate setting, and I nearly lost my mind when they played one of my favorite songs, the fun “TitTat.” Octave Cat, thanks for making this guy dance so hard. Your set was beyond words.
Holy Smokes! Talk about starting a day of music off right! I was not ready for the heat that Voodoo Circuit brought with their noon set in the dining hall as the cool rain brought in the season’s first chill as summer started to slide toward fall. Their layered, highly danceable sound with dope bass and beats, cool synths, and crunchy guitar is way bigger than a three-piece should be able to deliver. Tara and I will see these three dudes from Morgantown again. You should too!
Saturday afternoon was chock full of musical enchantment. Winchester’s own We The People lived up to the hype I’ve been hearing from everyone with their super funky brand of psychedelic, progressive rock. They had stellar sit-ins from Austin Litz and from Of Tomorrow’s Mike Candela, who seemed to be everywhere all weekend (which was awesome).
One of my most anticipated sets of the weekend, and a real highlight for me, came with Skydyed’s set. This three-piece band from Colorado performed a stellar set of live EDM with real instrumentation which combined the best parts of electronic music with that irreplaceable REAL HUMAN element, the perfect fusion of people and technology, and exceeded my high expectation. A high point for me was getting to hear them play “Flicker Switch,” a song on which they collaborated with Papadosio’s Sam Brouse, alongside top-notch Dosio fam members Nick Thrasher and Noor Seth. They even gave Dosio and their fan base a mention beforehand. I also heard it through the grapevine that they played Dosio’s “Cue” during sound check which I missed due to heading back to camp to refill adult beverages. Damn, alcohol! The only piece missing from Skydyed’s set was Elise, whose hard-work and dedication to that show must go on spirit, kept her from seeing this band whom she was so hype about. Elise: please rage Skydyed’s set with us at Resonance! And to the rest of you, check these guys out as they make their way east; they are something special! The icing on the cake came when Tara and I ended up next to Skydyed’s guitarist and keys player Max Doucette as Litz closed out the main stage later in the night. We really enjoyed sharing good conversation with bright-eyed, intelligent Max as we grooved to funky tunes.
Wow! Dynamo absolutely blew my mind with their jammy-jazzy-funky big sound, which was so full of heart, so full of soul, so full of spontaneity, and so full of virtuosity that it kept my damp and weary bones dancing the night away. I particularly loved watching Zack grooving to these guys, and I loved hearing that he went to high school with the trumpet player.
Litz Night 2 was epic. It kicked off with their just right cover of Pink Floyd’s classic “Have a Cigar.” Later, they brought that dirty, dirty funk with one of my favorite songs, “Use Me,” and had all the butts in attendance shaking. The guys went on to do a crazy mash-up featuring “Everybody Wants to be a Cat” from Disney’s Aristocats (yes, for getting all those FB likes!) and Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Austin Litz, with front-man charisma in spades, hit it out of the park. There was a megaphone. It was awesome. Speaking of charisma, guitarist Pat Shine, with his dope af guitar theatrics and chops to match, is so much fun to watch. I could feel the Litz family love surrounding me. I’m shivering with anticipation for their brand spanking new festival coming in hot next summer: Ragamaru: Litz Family Ball. I know I’m not missing it.
Fanfare for the Rain People
I was blessed to attend Valley Fusion with a motley crew of cool campmates: my perfect partner for life Tara, my good friend Shannon, neighbors and pals, the profoundly tuned-in Becca and David (the bravest person there), and our new friend Cami. Tara and I have this longstanding tradition wherein we pick a favorite person, an MVP of sorts for each festival we attend: think kindest, coolest and most fun human being. That fun task was as impossible as picking a favorite set from the third installment of Valley Fusion. Here are some shout outs to a few of the awesome humans who rocked our world this past weekend. For starters, I have to tip our overflowing love hat to Zack Thayer, spectacularly killing the festival game. It was a total joy to watch Zack lovingly curate this awesome event as he checked in with fans about the sound quality and other enjoyment factors, enjoyed getting down to the incredible live music, and gave me lots of details about the music and people on the stage.
Along with many, many other people, I’m grateful for all your hard work and the heart you put into Valley Fusion. Thank you and please keep chasing those dreams. Next up are two wonderful young people from Shepherdstown named Ava and Michael whose mom offered Yoga classes at the fest. Tara and I enjoyed talking to both of these incredibly bright young humans about important stuff like squeaky flip-flops and dream acting roles as they enjoyed (very) hot chocolate by the dining hall stage. Ava and Michael, Follow your bliss! We hope our paths cross again! We also have to shine some love on two of the most radiant dudes whom Tara and I have ever had the privilege of meeting: Tremell Deberry and Quentin Terence Walker beamed some of the best vibes and love in the whole expanding universe the entire weekend (and at every set too). I enjoyed talking to them about that super dope Litz brand of funk which they had discovered at Yonderville over the summer. Welcome to the fam. Tara and I will be getting funky with these two in the near future. And speaking of awesome people getting down at every set, the lovely Mike Trimmer was going hard, dancing energizer bunny style all weekend.
We love that dude so much! I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our camping neighbors, Ollie and Valerie, with whom we got to spend some quality time during Pierce Eden’s wonderful late-night set. Tara and I will see you both at Resonance! I was touched to run into our buddy Sheehan Clipp who gave us a really sweet present. Thanks, Sheehan! Also, big thanks to our new friend Cami Schoenfield White for painting Tara’s face with the radiance of the sun and for the peach margarita. You rock! We were so happy to bump into Litz and Sleepy Creek family Tyler Ridgeway and Morgann Moser, with whom we have a Dosio/Litz date in November. And finally, there’s Sandee Taylor, the best in the business, who shines, shines, shines everywhere she goes. Thanks so much for helping us de-camp in the pouring rain.
I named this section after a song by a band who didn’t play at Valley Fusion.this weekend. (Does anybody need more than one guess as to which band?) This song hit me like a ton of brick as I was unwinding Sunday evening, and it fit as well as any other title for it. There was certainly a lot of rain and many awesome people and lots and lots of fan chatter about a very fresh Dosio release. Getting to discuss the new stuff with excellent, intelligent musicians like Nick Thrasher from Litz, Arman Do from Voodoo Circuit, and Max Doucette from Skydyed was a personal highlight for this guy. Most importantly, it was a reminder that at the end of the day, we’re all music fans. It was so cool seeing so many musicians raging other bands’ sets and fusioning with the fandom. And to all the rest of you, fantastic rain people, thanks for a magical weekend! Let’s do it again sometime, please.
Coda: Fanfare for the Rain People with Food and Coffee
I also want to say thank you to the wonderful folks at The River House in Capon Bridge, WV who opened a few minutes early for two wet and freezing festival attendees (who must have been quite a sight). The delicious coffee and muffins were just what we needed. If you visit Capon Bridge, please stop by and check out what this place is doing for its local music and art communities.
Thanks for a great weekend. Big love to all of you rain people!. Please keep taking a break from the bread and circuses of the internet and television long enough to enjoy some live music with your friends—or come alone and make some new ones! Next stop: Resonance. See you there?