The Werk Out Music and Arts Festival

September 12-15 2013

written by Elise Olmstead

photos copyright Josh Timmermans of Aint Art Grand

Like the phases of the moon, the changing of the seasons and the sun that inevitably rises over the horizon each day, everything in life seems to come full circle.  As a long time believer in karma, “what goes around comes around,” is a phrase that rang true while listening to our favorite band, The Werks, absolutely slay the audience on their final night at The Werk Out Music Festival. It seemed like a lifetime since we nervously met and shook hands with them before our very first interview ever conducted for Appalachian Jamwich.  After a captivating conversation, some shared drinks and cigarettes, and a cover of “Shakedown Street” we would never forget, we swore to bring the band to our hometown, and thus The Mad Tea Party Jam was born.  Besides building a bond with Appalachian Jamwich that has served as a foundation for how we have moved forward, The Werks built a friendship with Taco and I that has proved invaluable to our lives.  I have never met people so sincere, creative, loving, and persevering, and they serve as a constant example for how I wish to live my life and pursue my career.  The Werk Out was the last festival of our 12 fest summer tour, and we were back to Legend Valley, Ohio, where we had started the tour in May at Dark Star Jubilee. Just like at The Mad Tea Party and so many Werks shows before, I again felt reduced to tears with gratitude and happiness.  The Werks and their crew just have a funny way of latching onto your heart and never letting go.


We often linger in backstage areas almost as much as general population, and we are kind of a running joke with the kind-yet-firm Bandit Crew member at the back gate.  He sarcastically waves us through as we present our plethora of bracelets (“pick a color, any color,” he says jokingly). We were privileged enough this year to be given a golf cart to roam the property, so we wasted no time in pitching in and helping shuttle folks and their camping gear in at the main gate, along with any band member or crew who might need a ride and is found stranded without a cart.  It is truly a family affair at the fest, with even girlfriends of the band and crew members dedicating hours of hard work to the cause.  People are pouring in and the energy is high as we ride around checking in on everyone, helping stake down tents or fill water containers.  There is Ohio family everywhere and I’m sporting an exasperated smile, already almost hugged and squeezed out by 4PM when the first band, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, comes on to an excited audience.

We run into some friends and invite them to hop on the golf cart and check out eclectic three piece jam band Urth, then mosey back down sipping a giant lemonade to catch the jazzy tunes of The Subterranean House Band, featuring Chuckie Love slappin’ that funky bass.  Papadosio plays a set that leaves most of the crowd bewildered, including  a super dance-y “Puddles for Oceans” that makes me spin with glee.  Up Until Now keeps everyone dancing, and the crowd is getting weirder as a girl in an tight 80’s jumpsuit and white socks comes jazzercising by, and a girl with purple hair rolls a trash can into me before prancing away.  We hydrate ourselves before The Werks come back on and chat with Dewey, the lighting engineer, who is excited to start the show.

The Werks get everyone “werked” up right away by opening the set with “Love Machine.” Dino is in rare form and cracking jokes in between his energetic bass playing.  “Norman on the tarps, everybody!” he says, referring to the tarps protecting Norman’s keyboard that are also blocking it from view.  12 year old Jayden Carlson joins the stage to blow everyone’s mind, rivaling Chris Houser’s shredding guitar solo skills.  A jubilant “Cloudhopper” gets the crowd smiling, and our grins just get bigger when Rob Chafin begins expertly singing the lyrics to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”  My night is made when they pull out my absolute favorite freak-out-to-the-guitar solo song “Hard to Find.”


After hugs and congratulations to the boys we make our way to Arpetrio at the Simbalove Productions Stage up on the hill.  It’s nice and warm inside the tent and I just get warmer from dancing the dubstep womps of the synth and precise beats of the live drums.  The guitar player plucks the harmony to MGMT’s “Electric Feel,” and I’m carried away in giggles as we share inside jokes with our friends.  We find an inflatable penguin left on our golf cart and manage to adopt him and duct tape him to the cart, along with Billy Beaks the inflatable parrot.  After a little bit of New Old Cavalry bluegrass we fly the penguin cart back to the campsite and pass out, dreaming sweetly of a great first night at Werk Out.

Friday morning starts with a brisk ride around the property with some Jamwiches and a fruit smoothie.  We ride past the vintage toy display and art that Heady Ruxpin has set up and take the time to examine the curiosities.  Conversations carry on until Eminence Ensemble plays the Technaflora stage for some smooth, soothing jams.  We catch the soulful hip-hop funk of Sassafraz before I’m yanked away to see an intimate acoustic set and Q & A with The Werks in the VIP section, just another little perk that they provide for their VIP ticket buyers.  It was a great surprise to see Dopapod arrive and play an impromptu set after John Brown’s Body, as the scheduled band had run into some difficulties and was unable to make it.  Dopapod’s regularly scheduled set after Conspirator featured the tongue-in-cheek crowd pleaser “Trapper Keeper” and my personal favorite, “French Bowling.”

The Werks blast off their second night with “Galactic Passport,” before debuting a new song called “Drop” with inspiring lyrics and soaring guitar solos.  Johnny Neel joins the stage to play the keys for “Rambling Man,” and during a small set break Dopapod takes over the stage for an eerie, cinematic performance including the horror movie noises from Friday the 13th, no doubt in celebration of the actual calendar date.  The boys are back with a “2001” that takes you to outer space, and give us a “Walking on the Moon” while we are there amongst the stars.  “Gameplan” ends the set, and an encore of “Fat Man” makes the crowd go crazy.


On our dizzy walk away from the stage, the penguin that has been riding our golf cart catches the eye of its rightful owner.  He informs us of his real name, Pablo, and excitedly reclaims him and runs away.  “Fly free, Pablo, we will meet again!”  The dynamic bluegrass of Blue Moon Soup puts a jig in our step but we are soon feeling a little cold and sleepy. It’s “LeBoom Night” up at the Simbalove stage and they are featuring DJs such as the darkly fun Roevy and Attak with Carma.  Though the tent stays packed with partiers all night, we head to camp around 3AM, which is relatively early for a Friday. We find a campfire to lounge by and share some whiskey while bantering about The Cure songs and Phish tour.  It’s only when our friend, passing the tent door of our neighbor, trips over someone trying to emerge, that we decide it’s time to lay down.  “You tripped on someone’s face!” we joke, as I try to hide a stumble through my own tent door.

My sleep is as blissful as a baby’s even when the heat starts to creep through the tent.  I try to keep the lovely dreams going, but it’s time to catch People’s Blues of Richmond.  I haven’t missed them at a festival yet this summer and have had a blast seeing them every weekend.  The tempting call of a hot slice of Disc-O Pizza overcomes us after long, and we scarf it down to the pleasant Grateful Dead tunes of Arrows of Neon.  The uplifting energy of Aliver Hall’s jams that evening get us geared up for more Ohio based bands that have become famous for their psychedelic rock, Ekoostik Hookah, and the now Ashevillian dwelling “shred ‘n’ flow” Jahman Brahman.  Jahman’s super dance-y guitar tickles my toes and I find myself shaking to a fun cover of “Express Yourself.”  EOTO is lacking the famous lotus flower display, but you are hardly looking at the stage as their sexy drum beats whirl and tap over tummy-vibrating bass.  An especially fun moment is when Michael Travis gets up and raps “Bring the Noise” by Public Enemy. Ghost Owl continues the fun synth music set to live drum beats, and I enjoy the more indie rock direction they are taking their music, similar to Jimkata.  My friend refers to their badass bass as “Evil Dead Crunchiness” and we get down as fireworks light the sky.


It’s the last Werks set of the weekend and we are all taking inventory of our liquor and cigarettes as they gear up to play.  I’m down to a couple swills of vodka in a crushed, sad looking water bottle and we’ve been bumming cigarettes from poor Logan for the past 3 hours.  Our concerns fly away as the sweet inebriation of heady jams overtakes us.  The Werks open with “O.G.” then bring Steve Sweney from Ekoostik Hookah on stage for “Cruel Stone Blues.” The best surprise of the weekend is when Jason Hann jumps on the drums, letting Rob take over vocals.  We are curious as to what song they are going to drop on us, and when we hear the first few lyrics of “No Diggity” we explode into laughter and cheers.  “I like the way you werk it,” Rob sings flawlessly.  Rob continues to show off his vocal skills singing the positive lyrics to “You’re Not Alone,” one of their inspiring new songs that we’ve fallen in love with over the past year. Jim Dewey is showing off his lighting engineer skills, concocting  a frothy potion of color that is spurting in rainbow glory along with lasers that travel on forever through the sky, reaching out to tickle the fireworks as they burst.  I wish their set to never end, but inevitably it does, and they encore with the appropriate “Party Ends.”


The dust has barely settled when Griz explodes on the stage, intoxicating us with beats like “Too Young for Tragedy,” then closing us with what has seemed to be the choice cover all summer, “Get Lucky.”  “How do we never get tired of this song?”  I ask myself, shimmying my shoulders and plastered with a silly grin.  The saxophone solo played over the track was a unique way to play the song and will stick in my memory for some time.

I’m reunited with my werkin’ girl Adrienne at the Simbalove tent in time for Trakstar and Cosby Sweater, featuring Joel Cummins of Umphrey’s Mcgee.  The party suddenly goes from a steady speed to a sudden squealing race car acceleration and I’m hopping around in my wig having a blonde party with my girl friends.  My husband doesn’t look too amused but thank goodness we have the improvisational jam-tronica tunes of Broccoli Samurai to bring us back to happy trance.  Soon, however, the reminder of daylight coming takes us on one last golf cart ride to the campsite, and I’m snoozing in a pile of costume accessories and empty cigarette packs in no time.

The car ride is silent as we reflect on the weekend and the people we hold so dear.  As always I am filled with a gratitude and humility that helps me see the world through sincere eyes.  I get a special peek into the “werkings” of a festival like I have never seen at any other, and I am so impressed with the dedication and passion with which the entire crew conducts themselves at The Werk Out Festival.  I have been privileged to tag along with these people over the last couple of years and consistently fall in love with all of it.  The music, the lights, the songs, the friends, the team…What can I say?  I like the way you werk it (no diggity).


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