Mantrabash 2013

Review by Elise Olmstead

Photographs by  Roger Gupta

On the way to Mantrabash in Ferguson, NC, this past Labor Day weekend, I wonder what wild adventures and encounters await me. We make many treks from West Virginia down to the North Carolina mountains, and I’ve grown to love the people there as well as the beautiful landscape.

As soon as we get to High Country Motorcycle Camp, we are greeted by the cheerful face of Justin Powell. Thunder claps above us as we set up camp in record time; so impressive our neighbors were left speechless. Thankfully, I packed accordingly, and we bunkered down and kept dry as the rain storm begins. The North Carolina rain and humidity we experienced at The Big What was enough to remind me to bring tarps, rain boots, and extra socks in order to stay comfortable.

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It rains periodically throughout the weekend, the worst being Thursday night, which causes a few technical difficulties with the stage and sound equipment. No one’s spirits are dampened, though, while we have to wait under a pavilion with friends. Some music still plays under the shelter and I get to catch some Nomadic while standing under glow stick chandeliers. We turn in for an early night, as we are preparing for the 3 days of wacky raging ahead.

Friday starts out pleasantly sunny, which is all the convincing I need to get out of my tent to do yoga by the stage. I have an amazing time relaxing while Taco explores and fishes. We are refreshed and ready for music by the time one of our favorite psychedelic jam bands, Galaxy Dynamite, takes the stage. We see another blistering set from People’s Blues of Richmond without any chance to recover from their intense rock performance at Camp Barefoot, and Ultraviolet Hippopotamus gets the weird started right away with a showering cacophony of high pitched laser noises that make me feel like I’m in a space ship hurtling through space. I look over at my friends to find them with the same astonished expression as we watch imaginary shooting stars fire out of UV-Hippo’s guitars.

Everyone is eager to see The Mantras on stage and an impressively bright and glowing crowd gathers out of nowhere as they open their set with The Allman Brothers’ boogie-inducing “Revival.” It’s off to the races after that, I’m in jam bliss as they play “House of Cards,” one of my favorites from their album Jam Bands Ruined My Life. They also play the flavorful “Miguel’s Travels,” where Brent Vaughn and Justin Leow’s percussion skills steal the show. The set ends in a hilarious blaze of glory as Kenn Mogel returns to the encore dressed as Andrew W K, and the band shreds an enthusiastic “Party Hard” to a fervent, waving crowd. The audience only gets wilder as Dopapod brings their eerie electric glow into the night, blasting high energy guitar jams and wailing synth over us like rain. The favorite song for many is their catchy tune “Trapper Keeper,” which they play with unabashed fury at the end of the show.

Saturday we sleep in late and have to run to the store to call the babysitter to check on our son. It pours as we head back towards the main stage and we worry about our campsite, but all is well upon our return. A happy gathering clusters around the Hookah Hookup stage lounging, dancing, painting and there is even a slack-line set up to jump around on. I enjoy the visual delights of such a colorful bunch, and giggle at the huge bowling game, connect four, and absurdly large corn hole set with pillow sized toss-bags. Everyone carries on and has a good time, and hugs are shared with new friends and welcoming faces we’ve missed since The Big What.

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Nomadic’s charming grooves soothe me into an evening mood just in time for Big Something to send an explosive wave of joyful jams like “Captain D,” over us, and a rousing cover of “Gangsta Paradise” into “Amish Paradise.” Pigeon’s Playing Ping Pong wastes no time breaking out their signature funk sing-alongs, and demonstrate their versatility under pressure as the sound goes out on their guitars. Dan Schwartz is left pounding the drums in an impromptu solo, but keeps on beating them with a passion. Instead of freezing up, Jeremy, Greg, and Ben grab random woodblocks, sticks and tambourines and seamlessly perform an ad lib percussion break down until their electric guitars are revived; without most of the audience even realizing anything had happened–at that.

The Mantras have not lost any of their momentum from last night, and a smile spreads across my face as they play the weird-yet-catchy “Dr. Ssinasinod” as their opener. They blow me away with their blistering cover of Umphrey’s McGee’s “Hurt Bird Bath,” and the audience prances happily around the stage. We yuck it up with a long-haired, bearded man in a wedding dress as The Mantras yell “Party! Party! Party!” to a raging swarm of obliging partiers. The encore is the perfect cap to the night with the middle-eastern meltiness of “Man You Rawk” and a tease of “Shakedown Street.”

Former Champions end the night with tasty beats as colorful as the lights and lasers shining all around us. Someone with a high-powered laser pointed at the trees is sending beautiful patterns cascading over the surface of the leaves. We pause to cheer for a birthday boy, then the Champs go right back into thumping four-on-the-floor drum beats. Casey Cranford of Big Something joins Yo Mamma’s Big Fat Booty Band on stage with his saxophone, as well as Justin Powell on the keys. Their cover of Jay-Z’s “I Just Wanna Love You,” has us all singing along, “Give it to me! Give me that funk, that sweet, that nasty, that gushy stuff!”

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Sunday, the fun hasn’t dwindled at all and a light sprinkling of rain does little to discourage enthusiastic ragers. I wander idly while Taco rests his sore back in the tent. I manage to get him up in time to catch southern rock band Mama’s Love on the Hookah Hookup Stage. Afterwards, Ohio based jam band Cope tickles our ears with some powerful Umphrey’s Mcgee – guitar shredding and mixes with a little bit of electro-grass to keep things unexpected. Brock Butler is running a little late, so Cindercat starts early. I had heard great things about the Ashevillian jam band and was not disappointed with their psychedelic sound. The harmonizing guitar sweeps me off my feet, the tension artfully building until they burst into a heavy rock break down with crashing cymbals.

Brock Butler calms our spirits with his solo acoustic set, and we sing along as we sit in our camp chairs.

The Mantras play their last set of the weekend and are ready to blow us away. Erupting into “Before My Time,” they then play the Prince cover “Let’s Go Crazy,” as preceded by the famous speech “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today, to get through this thing called life…” which sends the crowd into anticipatory whispers and giggles. Former Mantras guitarist Marcus Horth joins the stage for a song, closely followed by Brock Butler. They proceed to blow our minds with an epic guitar jam. When you think you’ve been rocked to the breaking point, the sky explodes with glow sticks and they encore right back into “Before My Time.” Keith Allen pumps his fist in the air and emphatically tells the fans “I want to kiss every one of you after the show, just form a line by the stage!”

Zoogma gets everyone off their knees and rubbing shoulders to their hip hop dance beats enhanced by a surprise appearance from rapper Phantazm, who joins for a couple of songs including “Anthems 4 Androids” from their album of the same name. The Silo Effect continues to make our hips sway and I can’t believe it’s almost the end of the night. Keith Allen hops on stage toward the last song, feeling the disappointed vibe of partiers still trying to rage, and keeps the music going as long as he can. The Mantras know their fans like to party, but eventually the plug must be pulled and the weekend must end. We trudge to the campsite with sore, weary bones and fall asleep with smiles on our faces.

In the morning everyone is still wandering, reluctant to leave, especially since the sun is shining exceptionally nicely this Labor Day. We enjoy the light twinkling between the trees as we drive down that last windy country road before hitting the highway for home. The Mantras have an uncanny way of making their fans feel like family, and I’m counting the days until Catskill Chill when we can all be boisterous and absurd together once again. Their hard work and dedication warrants some serious fun time, if they have any left in them after last weekend!

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