Catskill Chill Review & Photos
September 5-7, Hancock, NY
written by Elise Olmstead
w/help from Ahlee Dawson & Becca Boo Cranwell
photos by Taco Olmstead
In the lush Catskill mountains of Hancock, NY, people gather every year to the quaint summer camp destination of Camp Minglewood for the annual Catskill Chill. In its fifth year, the festival is cemented as a Northeast favorite beloved by music fans all over the East Coast. Many campers we meet have been to the Chill multiple years and anticipate the event all year long.
The festival site features covered pavilions and plenty of cabins, charmingly lined with bunks and cubbies marked with names like “Bobby” and “Kenny,” making you feel the excitement of being away from your parents for the first time at Summer Camp. Just like the first moments of introductions and making friends, everyone is happy to share their small quarters and become family for the next four days.
Taking place in the first week of September, Catskill Chill is famous for having a bit of a chill to the air, especially when the sun goes down. We brought lots of layers to prepare, but found ourselves stripping down and sweating on Friday as the sun beat down on us. It was a welcome surprise and we found some shade under a tree while listening to an acoustic set by MUN on the Acoustic Junction stage. Last year the Acoustic Junction stage was situated closer to the crossroads of the path snaking between the cabins, and it often got too crowded for dancers tripping over tent stakes. This year it was settled a little farther out of the way with plenty of grassy dance floor.
Chatting up familiar faces and greeting friends with hugs, we hung around Acoustic Junction for quite a while and caught the epic set by The Fritz, whose appropriate tag line is “Fritz your pants.” A drummer and a percussionist make sure to get your feet moving while Jamar Woods sings some seriously soulful vocals over his enthusiastic keyboard pounding. But just when you think this is a funky booty-shake fest, Jamar works the “Little Fatty Stage 2” moog and infuses us with some Dopapod-like wobbles.
Nahko and Medicine for the People play my favorite set of the day and arguably the most powerful set of the weekend. They played some of my most beloved songs such as “Aloha de a Kua,” “Risk It,” and the absolutely infectious “Warrior People,” but they also carried a message with their music. The band dedicated their tour to the fight for clean water, which many of us are struggling with here in America, let alone in the entire world. Josh Fox, the writer, director, and narrator of the documentary Gasland, joined the stage to lend his banjo skills to the song “My Country,” that speaks of America’s fallacies and our personal responsibilities. The set left us inspired and invigorated to continue the fight against an issue that certainly touches home with us, as we experience the effects of fracking and mountaintop removal in our home of West Virginia.
The rest of the night included some Catskill staples from last year, like the fun-loving banjo picking and sousaphone rockin Primate Fiasco, and jazz funk giant Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. Two bands played cover sets, Alan Evans PlayonBrother playing a Cream set (and one of my favorite songs “Sunshine of your Love”) and Twiddle playing a Dead set (which featured a super jammy “Shakedown Street”). Alan Evans’ Playonbrother later closed the night with his own set, shaking out the last shreds of energy the crowd could muster to dance to his explosive, funky drumming.
It also wouldn’t be a Chill without Lettuce, who never fails to blow me away and get me bouncing for joy. As I look around it appears that everyone is literally dancing their asses off–butts were dropping like flies left and right. The set reaches a fever pitch when Alecia Chakour joins them on stage, but continues their high energy pace until the very last note. We catch some of Baltimore band Pigeons Playing Ping Pong in Club Chill, who featured some awesome sit-ins by Mihali Savoulidis from Twiddle and both Stoo and Friendship from The Hornitz, but you can tell everyone is anticipating the wacky set by Shpongle. When late night finally strikes 2:30, he main stage pavilion is transformed into a carnival of lights and sounds, and the electronic music ranges from rhythmic and worldly to just plain weird. Mesmerized fans wave their hands in front of the lights or kick and stomp like they’re in a parade, and at the end Simon Posford proclaims “You’ve been Shpongled!” Whatever that meant, we certainly had been.
As is tradition at Catskill Chill, very few people slept and we were smack dab in the middle of party central where we were camped. By nine in the morning there were still laughers, screamers, and lollygaggers aplenty adorning porches and camp chairs everywhere. The raging continues without a break, and Shady Grove Wraps already has a line of hungry fans chowing down on some Chicken Bacon Ranch.
By early afternoon the stellar music is already starting and doesn’t seem to ever slow down. Twiddle’s uplifting music that mixes reggae sensibilities with crisp vocals and drop-of-a-dime time changes starts off the main stage, then bluegrass rockers Cabinet take over at the B stage, beginning their set with “Caroline” and ending with their signature tune and name of their festival in PA, “Susquehanna Breakdown.” Dopapod plays a high energy no-holds barred set, and invited Adrian Tramontano of The Breakfast to the stage to play a Herbie Hancock cover “Butterfly.” The Breakfast, a progressive jam band that came together in 1998, then performed a set full of showmanship and shredding at the B Stage. Starting the set with their theatrical and funky “Chase,” the audience didn’t know what hit them.
There was much excitement over Yonder Mountain String Band’s set, as many haven’t seen the band play since their recent split with Jeff Austin. Allie Kral, the vivacious fiddle player and vocalist formerly from Cornmeal, joined them as a special guest. They certainly didn’t disappoint and the band sounded better than ever; there was not a single face without a contented smile in the whole area. While the rain came in a downpour outside the pavilion, it felt cozy inside and we all danced to old favorites like “Left me in a Hole” and “Traffic Jam.” Allie Kral blew everyone away when she sang Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and as the crowd cheered the band replies, “You can’t have her, she’s ours!”
The New Deal, who has resurrected their tour since a split in 2011, played to an enthusiastic fanfare and did what they do best–jam out hard. After their livetronica odyssey melts faces, The Nth Power soothes and strokes the crowd with what can only be best described as “baby-making music.” Featuring the legendary Nigel Hall on keys, the passionate vocals of guitarist Nick Cassarino, Nikki Glaspie on drums, Nate Edgar on bass, and Weedie Braimah on percussion, the ensemble comes together in a flawless display of jazz and R&B showmanship. Papadosio closes down the main stage, pleasing the audience with a 20 minute “Find Your Cloud” and inviting Eli Winderman of Dopapod onstage for “Unparalyzer.”
Sunday the Chill is ultimately beginning to chill out. Some people have decided to at least take a nap and the general disposition is serene and at ease. Going with the common mood, Aron Magner, keyboardist of the Disco Biscuits, and Tom Hamilton, guitarist for American Babies and Brothers Past, play a rare acoustic set at Acoustic Junction. They played some Dead covers like “Bird Song” and “Franklin’s Tower” as well as a Beatles cover of “Martha Dear.”
Particle explodes upon the main stage and “Particle People” are getting into party mode once again. They are joined by the horn section of Turkuaz as well as the boys of The Hornitz (who have been every where this weekend!) to really get the energy flowing out the crowd. Flow it does, as people dance wildly and one person weaves through the crowd with a roll of caution tape, sending everyone into giggles of tangled confusion.
I just couldn’t get enough of Kung Fu and Consider the Source this summer, and I find myself raging in front of both of their sets once again. Tim Palmieri from Kung Fu always impresses me with his guitar skills and I’m front in center to let him shred my face. The Turkuaz horns and female singers are brought up to the stage once again to join in for “Haven’t Done Nothin” by Stevie Wonder.
As the night comes to a close there is a bittersweet feeling in the air mixed with Chillfam just trying to get their rage on once last time. The crowd has thinned but those still in attendance are in high spirits. Turkuaz just won’t quit, and plays a Sly & Family Stone set at Club Chill that gets everyone groovin. Over at the B Stage The Heavy Pets open with “Movie Star” from their Rags and Aces vinyl, and invite Brock Butler up to the stage to play a couple of songs with them. The New Mastersounds end the night at the main stage, and this non-stop musical marathon has come to an end.
Along my travels this summer I love sampling the different vibes at each festival. Each one has such a distinct flavor that I can taste in the air and feel in my heart. Every year at Catskill Chill I feel the excitement of being back at summer camp with the same group of funny faces, and dig my heels in and get ready for the ride. The Chillfam certainly aims to milk the party until the very last drop, and with the stacked lineup and friendly folks, who would ever want it to end? I make my bunk and pack my bag, and say until next year Camp Minglewood, you stay Chill.