ON THE ROAD – SNUGGLEFEST 2013 – SUNSHINE DAYDREAM MEMORIAL PARK – 10/3 – 10/5
WORDS AND PHOTOS BY RYAN NEELEY – Aerial photos courtesy of Andy Hershberger
First off, in full disclosure mode, this is one of the festivals that I helped promote, and I am a RMB and KR-3 team member. But as I sat back and reflected on the weekend that was Snugglefest, I tried to do look at it from an outsider’s point of view – I talked to many folks that attended, including my wife, who i dare say is NOT a big bluegrass fan, to gauge others feelings regarding the weekend. And every single person I spoke with had nothing but praise and positive words for the festival, the venue, the people, and most of all, the MUSIC.
Organizing and running a festival these days is a large task to take on, and most times the risks far outweigh the rewards unless festival organizers get creative with sponsorships, extra VIP perks or “glamping” options, selling rights to serve alcohol on the premises, firewood, merch or other items. Most times many if not all of these tactics are needed to retain large name acts, promote and prepare for the large number of campers and musical acts organizers have agreed to host. But Snugglefest has never been about making large stacks of money, and as preparations for the event were under way, it became abundantly clear that musicians, vendors, volunteers and promoters genuinely wanted to be a part of a festival that was all about celebrating creating making music together. This allowed RMB and Crazylegs Productions to keep costs for the weekend low, which in turn made for a ticket price under $50 for Friday-Sunday with loads of music to entertain you. Whether that be in the barn, where amazing collaborations were happening every time you looked up at the stage or around the campfire, where band members and fans congregated and picked until well after dawn each day, or around the picnic table, where you would see homemade instruments being strummed by a festivarian standing next to a band member that is usually playing in front of hundreds of adoring fans.
The annual festival, hosted by one of the country’s most adored festival acts, Rumpke Mountain Boys, kicked off Thursday afternoon and featured three nights of RMB, countless sit-ins and super-jams galore. Moving east from the Cincinnati region to Sunshine Daydream Memorial Park in Terra Alta, WV (Trip’s Farm) this year, where there is an indoor music barn with loft to shelter attendees from any inclement weather and amazing energy that, in my opinion, comes from the love put into making SSDD what it is today along with the magic that has happened on the property throughout the last few decades. SSDD has scaled down in the past few years after hosting over 6,000 attendees in the 90’s, when acts such as Ratdog, moe and other big name acts played there, but they still host a number of great festivals each year. With rolling hills, a pond and shaded camping available (for no extra cost), the venue was a perfect setting for the weekend. The festival kicked off Thursday for early birds with Dirty Little Vixens, a duo made up of Adriane Allyn & Kitty Dearing – The pair had a blues meets bluegrass type of sound, and was followed by Dr. Slothclaw, who impressed me with an interesting mix of bluegrass, funk, rock and psychedlelica – Bassist Garry Slick laid down some funk-heavy bass lines while two percussionists – Brett Noel and Josh Stoner pushed out driving beats for the rest of the band to freely improvise around. Vocalist Adam Golihew shined on many of their songs, putting copious amounts of energy and fire into his singing.
Adam Copeland from Rumpke Mountain Boys joined Dr. Slothclaw on stage for a few selections as well, but there was much
more to come from this combination. Next up was the hosts of the event, Rumpke Mountain Boys – Fresh off the release of their new CD Moon and a tour with singer/songwriter David Gans, the boys seemed energized and ready for the weekend as they opened with a proper “Let the Good Times Roll”. The barn filled up with early bird arrivals as RMB performed a laid back set; however, once Dr. Slothclaw and RMB joined forces for the RUMPCLAW Snugglejam closer, the barn really heated up with some amazing collaborative improvisation that brought a funky sound to RMB’s signature Trashgrass ear candy.
Friday would start out a little rough for me – I was supposed to run home in the morning, get my kids off to school and pick up the wife to go back to Snugglefest, where we were to celebrate our 10 year anniversary; however, my road dog and best friend (who shall remain nameless) locked my keys in the trunk. So, after a few hours and numerous plans that failed to develop, we ripped the back seat out of my car and I headed back home. So, I missed most of the day on Friday, including a band that I manage and was super excited to see – KR-3. From what I heard, they really impressed with their unique band of Appalachia Psychedelica – These guys are true musicians in every sense of the word, and one of the hardest working bands I’ve ever been around, so I was extremely pleased that they got up in front of my friends and killed it. Fletcher’s Grove was the first band I got to see on Friday, and as always, they didn’t disappoint – Fletchers has developed over the years and is bringing more electronica into their sound, and it seems that every time I see them they impress me even more. “Gator Tails” was especially funk-heavy this night, and the boys versatile sound makes for an easy switch from a bluegrass-rock tone to an electronic masterpiece like their tribute to Mario Bros. “castle theme”. RMB took the stage for the second time in the weekend and killed it, playing a mind-melting masterpiece of originals from Trashgrass and Moon to originals by Tom Waites and Grateful Dead. After RMB took the stage, there was another superjam with members of Fletchers Grove, KR-3, Rumpke, Alexander Sweets and many more jamming the night away.
Saturday started out beautifully with an amazing sunrise over the grounds chasing the fog and dew away. Rising Smoke, a trio out of West Chester, OH started the day off on the barn stage, followed by Dirty Little Vixens and Kristen Federer. Around 3pm some of us joined together for a memorial service at the “totem pole” for a dear friend and huge Ohio music supporter who had recently passed, Doc McMahon. Alexander Sweets, who won the award for most hours of playing guitar over the weekend, played a few songs while Denise Flitcraft, Alley Cat and other friends of Doc’s reminisced about the man who left us too soon, and a friend plays “He’s Gone” in remembrance of him as well. Following Doc’s memorial, I headed to the barn for The Rusty Haywhackers. I’ve been following these guys for just over a year now and have became friends with them and their crew from Washington, PA, including Angela Haberthier, who was celebrating her birthday. The Haywhackers, led by two amazing guitarists, Matt Locy and Brian Matalik and a female vocalist named Sarah Keener, threw down a high energy fiery set that included some Grateful Dead songs and a few originals, including fan favorite “Pot Smokin Hippie” and “Falling” a song they debuted at Snugglefest. Halfway through the set I joined a group of friends outside the barn for the 420 SHINE SOCIAL, which, I must say was very tasty – maybe a little too much so. The band finished up with a raging “Self Medicated” that had foot stompin across the barn floor. The next band to take the barn stage was Broccoli Samurai, who were the only electronic-based band of the day. I really like these guys, but wasn’t sure how they’d fit in with a mostly bluegrass based lineup, but they got a great reaction from music lovers in the barn, mainly because they are musicians through and through and don’t solely rely on electronica to create a unique and dance heavy sound. With a new album and video coming out this month, it looks like we’ll be seeing a lot more of these guys, so be sure to check them out when they come to a venue near you. Morgantown, WV based jam legends The Recipe followed Broc Sam – I’ve been following this band since the early 90’s, and while the lineup has changed over the years, the band’s sound is still as Recipe as ever, with intelligent songwriting done by vocalists Joe Prichard and Shannon Jones. The horn player was not present at this show, so it was a little more guitar-heavy than some Recipe shows, but they had the barn dancing to long time Recipe favorites and songs from their newest release, Stir The Pot, including “Momentum”, where harmonies and Jones vocals really shined. After The Recipe’s set, RMB took the stage for the final time this weekend, and put on a superb show that included sit-ins by Kitty Dearing on bassist JD Westmoreland’s song “Low Me” and a ton of other goodies, some of which I can’t remember due to a shine induced haze that came over me. Unfortunately I only caught part of New Old Cavalry’s late night set, which bummed me out because they’re one of my faves. But as I woke early the next morning I walked over to the fire, where they continued to play with other musicians until well after sun-up. The sight of dozens of fans curled up next to the fire singing along and listening to phenomenal musicians perform is something I’ll remember for years to come.
And as we packed up and left the venue, I reflected on what Snugglefest was all about – not commercialism, making loads of cash or getting big. It was about spending the weekend with people who enjoy great music, whether it be listening or playing. Everybody pitched in and created a great atmosphere, from the vendors and volunteers to the tapestries draped behind the stage to the lighting and sound, which was stellar throughout the weekend, a real challenge when you have the number of bands that have different styles and sounds. The production team put together by Crazylegs Productions didn’t miss a beat – these guys have put together some amazing festivals including both Ville Music Festivals and work really hard behind the scenes to make sure the festival runs smoothly – not an easy task when you’re coordinating this many acts and help. Because of this and the talent put together each year by the team, I have feeling that each Snuggler took the message of an amazing festival back to their circle of friends, and Snugglefest will grow in numbers, but will continue to focus on the one thing that can bring together hundreds of folks from different backgrounds – MUSIC.