Domefest Review

May 19-21, 2016, Bedford, PA

Written by Elise Olmstead

Photos by Roger Gupta

“There’s no place like dome,” a sign says as we enter Domefest on Thursday afternoon, and truer words have never been spoken.  May 19th at Wills Mountain in Bedford, PA was a sunny day with temperatures finally starting to feel like Spring, and the air was filled with an excitement that was palpable.  The familiar brightly colored, sometimes kooky decorations (made mostly by Rachel Brown) brought me back to Domefests past, and all of the friendly faces and festival family were there to greet me.  Not only did we mingle with tons of friends in the audience and on the staff, but most of the bands playing were good friends of ours, too! Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, The Mantras, ELM, The Hornitz, LITZ and so many other amazing musicians gathered to blow minds in the sea of audience members who were all rabid music fans.

As we arrived there was the usual first day excitement and the Pigeons crew was hard at work, particularly Greg and Jeremy, who were doing everything from over-seeing parking to leading volunteers.  Every bump in the road was treated with quick attention and a smile, and I especially liked the solution to the hand sanitizer problem: duct-taping a bottle of hand sanitizer to the side of the port-o-potties.  This collective effort and ingenuity took place all over the campground as everyone buckled in for an amazing weekend.

Thursday was filled with reuniting with friends but the night soon approached with Lespecial kicking off the festival with an amazingly weird jamtronica set.  The seamless time changes and sentiment for the endearingly exciting and different had the whole crowd singing their praises.  We were off to a great start.  ELM (Electric Love Machine) came on strong after a short set by Sweet Earth, and as the sun faded the lights glowed on our already luminescent faces.  I loved talking to friends I hadn’t seen in a while but my toes were tapping almost involuntarily as they played the upbeat “Hattori Hanzo” inspired by one of my favorite movies, Kill Bill.  My dancing shoes were officially on, and by the time they played “Come Together” by The Beatles, I was all ears.

Of course Pigeons Playing Ping Pong tore up the night, choosing a theme for their set (the first of three) of Moonwalk: A Trip Through Space. The theme became evident with the cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” This iconic song began an amazing set that impressed me and set precedent for the rest of the festival.  The Pigeons are not playing around, they are here to melt faces.  Besides the burning hot covers like Prince’s “1999,” they played some great originals like “Burning Up My Time,” “Horizon,” and “Moonwalk.”

Friday was another pleasant sunny day, and I felt so inspired by the day that I decided to check out some workshops over at Domeland Security.  Erin Jeannier led an off-the-body hooping workshop that taught me a ton of new tricks, and then I made an awesome dreamcatcher out of recycled glow sticks with Rachel Brown.  All the while The Jauntee played in the background, and I was feeling positively blissful eating my Loaded Potato under the shade.  When LITZ came on at 3:30 the crowd started to flock the stage.  They played one of my favorite songs, “Time,” as well as a cover of “Devil Went Down to Georgia.”  As I strolled from stage to my campsite, which was a pleasant walk, though a bit soupy, the funky tunes of Mclovins put a pep in my step.  We enjoyed talking to the Vibe & Direct guys backstage, who had traveled all the way from Ohio to play a couple sets for us.  Not only is their music some seriously feel-good jamtronica tunes (uhh…my favorite!), but they are also some of the friendliest people you could meet.  Conversation with them was interrupted by some of my other favorite guys in the biz… The Mantras!  I was practically drooling with anticipation of their set to come later.

Aqueous brought the heat as the sun went down and I layered up, getting ready to get weird.  I hadn’t gotten a chance to nap, but there’s no rest for the weary when so much good music is going on.  The Mantras didn’t disappoint, their mash-ups are so incredible that I often grab the person next to me, eyes boggling, giving them a look that says “Are you hearing this?”  It’s even better they play some of their originals, so the sandwich/mashup they played of “The Way Life Goes,” a Mantras original from their 2006 self-titled album, “Life’s Been Good,” by Joe Walsh, and “Life During Wartime,” by The Talking Heads, (named “The Way Life’s Been Good During Wartime”) was nothing sort of a spectacle.

The theme for Pigeon’s set on Friday was The Liquid: An Ocean Adventure, which started out appropriately with “Poseidon.”  Their handpicked originals included “Walk Outside” from their new album Pleasure, and the oldies but goodies “Funk-E-Zekiel” and “Julia,” all peppered with some water inspired tunes like “Under The Sea” from The Little Mermaid.  Can I take a moment to mention how much everyone, including musicians, seems to love this song?  I thought it was a fluke the first time it started playing in a certain band’s tour bus, but I soon discovered that pretty much everyone has a soft spot for the ocean anthem.  Pigeon’s also debuted a brand new tune called “Fun in Funk” and encored with “The Liquid.”

Somewhere around the middle of their set it started sprinkling, making the water theme even more appropriate.  We grabbed an umbrella and got ready for the wetness that we knew was about to ensue, but couldn’t slow us down!  Consider the Source was already raging at the Bamboo Eater Stage, so I made sure to hike up there and meet up with some friends.  We huddled under each other’s umbrellas as we watching Gabriel Marin of CTS tear the night apart with the amazing sounds coming out of his double neck guitar.  I love how the fog crept in around him, making him look practically ethereal.

Saturday Taco had to get up fairly early (9:30AM) to help at the Production gate.  I joined him for a while then retreated back into our bed that we had created in the back of our Subaru.  Weetzie Bat’s little paws had mud up to the elbows so I had to give her a baby wipe bath and put her under a blanket.  The great part about all of this, though, is that our car was close enough to the stage that I could hear the tunes of Strange Machines and Mateo Monk waking me up from my nap and getting me ready for the day.  With a stretch, a snack, and a sayonara to Weetzie, I was up and at ’em in time for The Hornitz, whose enthusiasm is infectious.  Of course I love it when they played “Dayman” from Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and the crowd sang along with every word.

I was happy to talk to Mike Candela backstage, who had recently joined Mister F.  While band member changes can be stressful, I enjoy how the transition often sparks a new creativity or passion for a band.  Mike was ecstatic to be in a group of like-minded musicians and their chemistry showed.  Every player punctuated and accentuated the playing of the others’, led by the incredible keyboardist Scott Hannay.  Scrambled Greg, the brain child of Greg Ormont (of Pigeon’s Playing PIng Pong), came next on the side stage.  I hadn’t seen him play yet, but knew that Greg’s bubbly personality would shine through in whatever he did.  Covers like “Baby Back Ribs” and “Don’t Worry, Keep Looping” (to the tune of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”) were perfectly light-hearted and fun. Splintered Sunlight played some favorite Grateful Dead tunes like “Feels Like a Stranger” and “Sugar Magnolia” as the last bit of daylight washed away into hot colorful streaks of night.

I rarely venture to the rail (the very front of a crowd) for any band, it’s something I gave up long ago, kind of like glow sticks and cutting my bangs.  So it’s a special moment finding myself front and center with my friends Morgan and Roger for BIG Something!  Morgan was, of course, wearing her subliminal dye Truth Serum tank top and completely raging with the best of them.  The band has been on fire lately, sending crowds everywhere into a frenzy.  Tonight was no different, rocking the house with the classic original  “Pinky’s Ride” for Stories From the Middle of Nowhere, and a cover of “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails.  It was a proper priming for Pigeon’s last set, for which I wandered back to some shelter from the rain.

Pigeons saved the best for last, and they were ready to give you an stimulating experience with this night’s theme: Melting Lights: A Color Explosion.  Improvisational jams and what I like to call “song sandwiches” kept everyone on their toes the entire set.  Some of my favorite highlights were all of the covers they played, including “99 Red Balloons,” “Red Red Wine,” and “Tetris.”  A round of applause is also in order for completing the second half of the song “Whoopie” that they started on May 19th, and with the guys from The Hornitz no less!  More color themed songs were played including a sandwich of “White Night” into “Blue” back into “White Night,” and of course the classic “Melting Lights.”

For those with non-leaking rain boots, ponchos, and good spirit, the night was young. People were still energized and hoofing it up to see ELM play at the Bamboo Eater Stage, which developed an awesome crowd.  The played “No Quarter,” bringing back memories of hearing that song covered by Widespread Panic at All Good…the first festival I attended in 2008.  Here I was once again, surrounded by smiling, silly friends gathered around this music we all love.  Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.

It’s hard to pry me away from my desk around this busy time of year, but I’m so glad that I took the time to get to Domefest to reconnect with good friends and see so much amazing music.  Everyone agreed that every band that played Domefest were especially on their A-game and sounded amazing.  All of the bands arrive with a passion for the music they make as a reflection of the passion that Pigeons Playing Ping Pong puts into their festival.  It’s evident in their hard work in the trenches as well as their lovingly creative touches like their decorations or themed set lists.  The weekend really rejuvenated me and my own passion for music.  Fly on flock!