All for love: Mad Tea Party Jam III
June 19-22, 2014
written by Becca “Boo” Cranwell
photos by Roger Gupta
Mad Tea Party Jam was born from pure love and each year the festival slingshots that same loving momentum straight into the hearts of each and every attendee. From the musicians to the fans, everyone boogying at Mad Tea Party feels an indescribably palpable vibration of love.
Most people make plans for their wedding anniversary a week or two in advance: reservations at a fancy restaurant, spa, or splurge on a swanky vacation just for two. Not the Olmsteads. Taco and Elise Olmstead’s hearts are far too generous and dedicated for such nonsense. Instead of hoarding their love-light between the two of them, this husband and wife team work relentlessly all year long to build an anniversary party you’ll never forget. The Mad Tea Party Jam is not just a festival; it is a celebration of love. And not just the kind of love between a husband and wife, but love between friends, family, and most importantly a love for life and music
This year’s MTPJ3 boasted multiple sets from The Werks, Dopapod, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, E.L.M, Turkuaz, The Mantras, Tauk, and more. The best part of multiple sets is, of course, if you miss a set you still have an opportunity to see them again. What’s even better—is that the musicians also get to enjoy their weekend—instead of playing a set and hauling butt out of there in the morning for another show. It’s an incredible feeling to enjoy a show while dancing amongst the folks who bleed their hearts for us onstage and that is exactly what you get at Mad Tea. We also got treated to tons of collaborations and sit-ins. For example Ron Holloway sat in with practically every single band, The Mantras sat in with The Werks, Greg from Turkuaz played tenor sax with Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, and Fareed Haque sat in with multiple groups including The Mantras and Consider the Source.
We arrive at MTPJ3 Thursday evening just in time to catch the end of The Shack Band’s set. We can hear saxophonist Josh Crowley moaning an Eleanor Rigby tease in the distance as we race to grab a good camping spot and quickly set up our gear. As the funk-army, Turkuaz, begins booming their power house of funk, we drop what we’re doing, grab our shoes, and head towards the main stage to shake off our long drive with some tunes. The energy is rolling high through the crowd as the sun settles behind the colossal West Virginia mountains. Dusk turns to darkness as Pigeons Playing Ping Pong cracks into a heady jam. We are astounded at the tremendous energy swirling through the grounds. I keep reminding myself that it’s only Thursday, not Friday or Saturday night. It’s not easy to create Friday-night vibes on a Thursday, but MTPJ3 pulled it off; then again, we are in Wonderland where the inexplicably fantastic is to be expected.
Mad Tea jammers are singing along, dancing, comparing costumes, laughing, pumping rage sticks in the air and hugging profusely throughout the Pigeons’ performance. The warm energy continues to rise and carries over to the March Hare stage as Dopapod begins their first set of the weekend. Heads bob and eyes light up as Eli Winderman pours over his keyboard, pricking our ears to listen just a bit harder, and groove a little bit slower. Tauk picks up the jam where Dopapod leaves off and ushers our musical-high seamlessly into their smooth, soulful, rock ‘n roll. After Tauk, E.L.M guides us along a cosmic-jam-journey, which has many of us swaying drunkenly with eyes shut tight, grinning like complete fools.
Walking through the stage area, you will find Alice hula hooping her heart out, a Mad Hatter blasting giggling bystanders with a bubble-gun, and several artists co-mingling around their easels. Bryan Bailey stands stoically behind the artists as they paint and dance wildly. Bailey is the art coordinator; he booked the headiest artists and made sure every visual aspect of Wonderland was as enchanting as humanly possible. His weary eyes are smiling as he oversees his hard work in action, and being the kind person that he is…he still finds time to paint bunny whiskers on a gaggle of silly girls.
If you were lucky enough to snag a V.I.P ticket, you might find yourself sunken and purposefully stranded in the ‘hippie trap’ area which is designated for V.I.P and artists. Cozy yourself into a huge inflatable couch, sip a glass of cool lemon water and enjoy a private show by artists like the Brummy Brothers and also a heart-warming solo acoustic set by Chris Houser of The Werks. Taco and Elise know how to treat their V.I.P’s—there is absolutely no doubt about it.
Friday the sun pokes its golden face through Thursday’s leftover rainclouds; the warm rays bake our shoulders, coaxing us to take a quick dip in the creek. Along the creek bank, mamas and daddies anchor tiny toddler hands as they wade through the shallows; dogs are playfully jumping from rock to rock; and couples hold hands and kiss while their feet swing gently through the cool water. Love, love, love and laughter is building, beaming, and emanating from every group of delighted festivarians. Again, Turkuaz’s distinct sound can be heard rolling across the property—that’s our signal to make our way towards the music. It would be a huge mistake to miss any of Friday night’s music: Turkuaz, Tauk, The Mantras, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Dopapod, and Papadosio—all in a row.
If your mind doesn’t explode over that line-up, you’re dead. One of the most understated, but beautiful things about Mad Tea Party, was the size. There are enough people in attendance that you constantly run into friends and jam-family. Luckily, the stage area never seems over crowded—even during one of the most anticipated sets—Papadosio. Each show is incredibly intimate.
Meandering aimlessly, you will most likely to run into Ron Holloway—the artist at large—who blessed the stage too many times to count. The experienced musician lays seriously sexy sax over the songs we know and love from our local bands. Saturday night featured The Ron Holloway Band, which was overpowered by two leading ladies belting out lyrics which I still can’t get out of my head (“God, God make me fuuunkay!”). Speaking of sexy sax solos: Saturday night, Taco’s son—Alex—is invited on stage by the Mantras to croon along with the big boys. In true Olmstead style, the young man beams a smile that lights up every face in the audience and stirs our souls with a sax solo and a heartwarming speech about the importance of friends—who are now family—and how touched his family is to be able to share love with all these beautiful souls.
The love he speaks of is most evident during the Werks sunrise set Sunday morning. With every die-hard music lover and love-giver in attendance, we felt as if our energy alone was gently bumping the fiery sun into the sky. Bleary-eyed and slightly delirious from lack of sleep, there is little we can do but shuffle our feet and sway in bliss as Brian Tyndall and Keith Allen take over bass and guitar for the Werks. Looking around, we are surrounded by the people we know and love while we watch the Werks and Mantras laugh and groove alongside one another.
I usually reserve the “Best Festival of the Summer” title for camp Barefoot (mostly out of habit and sentimentality), but this year I will venture to say that Mad Tea Party gets the honor. Elise and Taco’s hard work exceeded every expectation I had—and my hopes were incredibly high. If you were at Mad Tea Party be sure to thank Taco, Elise, and the whole Appalachian Jamwich Family for their hard work, dedication, and for pouring so much of their time, energy, and love into the jam scene. Thanks to people like the Olmsteads, we can all come together and share these golden moments. Also, take a leaf out of Taco and Elise’s book and practice love and kindness every day. We are here to change the world with our love—through music, action, and the incredible power of positive intent. These are the lessons I took from The Mad Tea Party Jam: live every day with love, and don’t forget to share it.