The Mad Tea Party Jam 4 Review
June 18-21,2015, Hedgesville, WV
by Amanda Dibiaso
My journey to wonderland began as I left Cincinnati Wednesday afternoon to begin my solo trip to the mountains of West Virginia…to my first Mad Tea Party Jam…to a festival that unexpectedly had a big affect on my life.
My nerves were on edge since it was the first time I’d driven more than a couple hours by myself, but luckily I had the sounds of some of my favorites like The Werks and Dopapod to keep me going during the 7+ hour drive and to get me excited about what was to come – a festival with a stacked lineup boasting those bands and many more. But as someone with absolutely no sense of direction, and who had never been anywhere near Hedgesville, I figured my chances of getting lost were fairly high. But the festival Gods smiled upon me, and I found my way. Once I neared the festival grounds it was simple – I followed the white rabbit straight into wonderland, and was instantly in awe of the festival set up coming to life all around me.
Though I’d never been to Mad Tea, I’ve had the privilege of meeting Taco and Elise Olmstead, organizers of the festival and co-owners of Appalachian Jamwich, several times over the past year or so. Considering Mad Tea is a celebration of their wedding anniversary, I guess it’s pretty ironic that the first time I met them was last July at Paradise Music and Arts Festival, where I married my best friend on stage in the presence of our festival family. Seeing their love and hearing about their efforts to share that love at this yearly celebration touched me deeply and after experiencing their passion and hard work at other festivals, I had pretty high hopes for what the Mad Tea Party Jam 4 had in store for me, and it certainly did not disappoint.
From the time the gate opened on Thursday, me and hundreds of other Mad Tea partiers began our unforgettable journey down the rabbit hole. I spent the early part of the day checking out the grounds, which were located in the most picturesque valley in the mountains. Along with three stages and a variety of vendors, the central area of the festival included a large artist gallery, orchestrated by art director/artist Bryan Bailey. The gallery featured the works of about 20 artists from across the nation, ranging from custom, handcrafted guitars to paintings created using various mediums and styles.
I set up a home base with friends near the center of the main stage area for Tauk, who played a solid set including a nostalgia-inducing cover of In Bloom by Nirvana. Tauk was followed by several incredible performances including a super funky set by Turkuaz that really got the crowd moving, followed by a fairly new addition to the scene, People’s Blues of Richmond, who brought a heavier, and also very intriguing sound to the stage. Unfortunately shortly after Cleveland-based Broccoli Samurai came on, mother nature took over the show with some heavy rain and lightning, causing the final couple sets of the night to be cancelled.
But the weather didn’t stop many of the festival goers from continuing the fun and enjoying the festival’s other offerings, which included a very impressive interactive fire display by Incendia, housed in several large geodesic structures.
Friday I began my day doing something I’ve honestly never took the time to do before – attending a workshop. The festival offered daily workshops, with topics appealing to a variety of interests. I chose to attend Introduction to Transformational Breathing with teacher Alvina Marie who led myself and several other participants through an exercise that allowed us to use our breathing to better connect to not only ourselves, but also the earth and all the energies surrounding us. Feeling rejuvenated and ready for day 2, I started my musical intake for the day in the best way imaginable by watching my hometown favorite Peridoni take the stage. As always, they delivered, putting on a stellar performance that included guest appearances by Julian Sizemore, keyboardist for the Mantras, and Jason Dittmeier, percussionist for Benchwood Wyse.
I stopped by the VIP area to catch Isaac Teel, drummer for Tauk, sitting in with Mateo Monk, a multi-instrumentalist singer and songwriter – an ear-pleasing combination that had everyone in the VIP area on their feet. Then I was off to the main stage to catch Aqueous and Primate Fiasco, who delivered exactly the kind of solid performances I was expecting. But my biggest musical surprise of the whole festival happened when LA-based Andy Frasco & the UN , who I admittedly wasn’t familiar with, took the stage and put on a highly entertaining, incredibly energetic, crowd-commanding blues-rock set that included the horn players from the Turkuaz sitting in and some crowd-pleasing covers like Rage Against the Machines “Killing in the Name Of”.
Friday night was packed with non-stop jams, including sets by the Heavy Pets, Earphunk, Tauk, The Werks, Dopapod and Consider the Source. While the music couldn’t have been better, I felt the highlight of the night happened in between The Werks and Dopapod sets, when Taco and Elise came on stage to renew their vows to each other after 5 years of marriage. Led by officiant Caleb Dotson, Taco and Elise reaffirmed their love and dedication in a beautiful ceremony that likely left very few dry eyes on lot. By sharing such a special moment with the crowd, they showed us not only the love the have for each other, but the love they have for the music, art and people.
On Saturday high temperatures caused many Mad Tea partiers, myself included, to take advantage of one of my favorite aspects of the festival property, a beautiful, serene creek that ran alongside the camping area. The creek offered a much-needed break from the heat before venturing out to watch the day’s performers, which included Mojoflo, the Southern Belles, Arpetrio, Heady Ruxpin and Dynamo, who were able to play before the festival was hit while a fairly intense storm. Festival-goers found shelter and were able to ride out the storm, but the severity closed the stages for about three hours.
When the storm began to pass organizers announced a revised schedule for the night, starting off with Rising Appalachia. While the rain and dark skies may have dampened some people’s spirits, the soulful sisters from New Orleans provided the perfect remedy with their poetic harmonies and inspiring words, which felt like a beacon of light in the darkness. Soon the crowd was filled once again with smiling faces and the festival was back on track (albeit a little more muddy).
ELM and Earphunk played after Rising Appalachia, followed by an extraordinary set by The Werks that included a special guest, saxophone player Ron Holloway, who sat in on “Galactic Passport”, recognition of festival manager Kenny, who is also The Werks tour manager, and the dedication of the song “Carry Me Back Home” to Taco and Elise, close friends of the band. After The Werks, Dopapod took the stage once again, followed by the Mantras and B Side Shuffle, who closed the festival out with a sunrise set.
Despite issues with the weather, Mad Tea was an incredible experience I’m grateful to have been a part of this year, and hope to be a part of in years to come. As a frequent attendee of festivals, both large and small, as everything from GA to guest to VIP to staff, I’ve seen what goes into putting these events on. The extensive, year-round process of planning and organizing is not for the faint of heart. In fact, it takes more heart than most can imagine. And it was very evident that the crew of Mad Tea have just that. It seems the dedication and loving vibes given off by Taco and Elise were felt and returned by everyone from the staff and volunteers to the musicians, vendors and artists. And last but not least, by those in attendance who had the opportunity to be a part of such an unforgettable experience.
The love that was put in to Mad Tea, and in particular the love we got to witness between Taco and Elise, really struck a chord for my husband and I. It served as a powerful reminder that, as was said during the renewal of their vows, true love does exsist, and dreams do come true. Those words were perfectly timed and the Mad Tea experience as a whole served as such an inspiration to us both, enabling us to connect on a deeper level then we ever had before. We left the Mad Tea Party Jam high on love – the love we share for each other and those around us. Two weeks later, we still haven’t come down, and hopefully we never will.
Mad Tea Party Jam – Elise and Taco – you will forever have a very special place in my heart.