High Land Jam XV: Review
August 11-14th 2016 Pegasus Farm, Elkins, WV
Written by Kerri Tucker
Photos by Galaxy McNeill
In the words of Mark and Bonnie, “Thank you all….we love you. Last High Land Jam…so if you have an opinion that’s negative…..won’t matter none. And if it’s positive, take it with you to the life that is yours.”
The High Land Jam festival has been an amazing gathering of friends and Merry Zensters for fifteen years, with this year being their last. This festival is built around jam band Zen, and is Held at Pegasus Farm in Elkins, West Virginia, home to members Mark and Bonnie Branciaroli. On a lovely summer weekend, August 11-14th, we gathered in the sun to celebrate fifteen years of jamming with Zen and friends.
Zen is known for their amazing jams fueled by fifteen years of passion and dedication. Family shows, eclectic, multi instrumental. Mark and Bonnie meet in high school, and have always done everything together, from playing music and producing a variety of magazines. They moved back to Bonnie’s home state WV, in 1982. They are an amazing couple, influencing their community with music, words, and sixty-four years of love.
Driving to Pegasus Farm I found myself mesmerized by the beautiful West Virginia mountains, leaving metropolis behind and surrendering to the winding roads and flowing rivers. These are the kind of mountain peaks that may hold evil lairs of villains, combined with roads that have minds of their own. How cool would it be to be a hawk flying around these hills! As I enter Pegasus farm, I am in awe at the beauty surrounding me, fields of sunflowers sitting upon the most beautiful grass I have seen in ages, and a beautiful blue sky with mountains in the distance.
Thursday started of nice and slow, giving us all time to get comfy, opening with the Allegheny Ramblers, West Virginia natives. Full of playful pickin, pluckin and a fiddle player I won’t forget, these guys got me dancing in the grass to that good ol’ Mountain Dew. Later that evening, Maryland band, the Plate Scrapers took stage, really drawing out the crowd. These guys were super friendly and playful; the kind of guys that’ll show you a good time. There were locals in their chairs and children twirling under the moonlight, feeling like a good ol’ family reunion, but with great tunes. The crowd was lovin’ on their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm” and their song “Mountain Girl”; who doesn’t love our sweet mountain girls, some bluegrass, and standup bass? Much to my pleasure, Mateo Monk stepped in for a song with his flute, as well as the lovely fiddle player from the Allegheny Ramblers, to kick it up a notch. Mateo finished up the night with a groovy light show, and a magical underwater expedition of sounds full of funky, electric, reggae inspired, playful love sounds. His new song, “Inner Eye,” was funk nasty, full of bass, and mindful lyrics! During his set, performance artists, Sirkus Dayz, brought out their fire. I became mesmerized by a beautiful double hooper, twirling within flames, that she later swallowed!
I awoke to another beautiful sunny day on Friday, although it was super-duper hot, I found myself frolicking in the sunflower fields and wondering down the old rail road tracks of Pegasus Farm. National Headliner took the stage later, gracing us with a set I will not forget. I love these guys–they are slightly aggressive, playful, straightforward with their words and super weird! Our psychedelic engines were getting revved continuously as we boarded the space train express under their guidance. All the while, little ones were on the field having a tea party while we were getting weird. “The psychedelic is inside of us and it has to come out!” screamed band member Leaf in between pluckin’ his homemade washtub bass. One of my favorite sets was the Firecracker Jam, later that evening. I was back at camp getting refreshed when I heard them jamming out to some amazing covers that got me back out real quick. That is one of the great things about Pegasus Farm, you can hear everything amazingly from your campsite, leaving you never missing a beat. I was pleasantly surprised when I heard one of my favorite songs in the air, a Phish cover of “Rift,” man they really “shocked and persuaded my soul to ignite!” Followed by Keller William’s “Freeker by the Speaker,” which was also a huge hit, as well as other great covers. What a joy it is to be surprised, by a band new to us, with some familiar favorites. The 19th St. Band later graced us with beautiful soulful tunes and good old folk rock, lighting up the mountains with love in the air. They covered “The Devil went down to Georgia”, as well as one of my favorites, “Jolene.” Fiddle player Meghan Davis sang this with so much soul I could feel it not only around me but within me, and I could not help but sing my heart out with her.
Saturday rolled around, and the Merry Zensters finally got what they have been waiting for. Zen took the stage, leading by immense passion and fifteen years of collective souls. They created an energy like no other on the farm along with their own light show, for a true psychedelic experience. The connection between Mark and Bonnie alone is enough to make your heart stop, talk about a power couple! A true inspiration to us all.Zen creates a connection you can feel, that is fully alive, full of amazing talent, a collection of instruments, and great energy. The night was full of grassy, beautiful, jams, classics, covers, and good old rock and roll. “Coo Coo” really got the crowd rocking and shredding into the night. They performed a great cover of “I know You Rider” by the lovely Grateful Dead, “Ride Sally Ride” by Lou Reed, as well as a beautiful cover of “Dear Prudence” by the Beatles. I can’t help but love a Beatles cover spiced up with some mind blowing jams. I also enjoyed the song “Get over it,” joined by many drummers with great energy, reminding us all to not take life to seriously and enjoy the music and your time here!
LITZ brought the fire, finishing the night off with the usual sexy funky jams that I never seem to get enough of. They played “Give us the weed/Harlem Nocturnal”, full of smooth sax and uplifting keys, complimented by wicked guitar shreds. The percussion solo in this song is my favorite part, every time. A fire performer also got onstage, taking it in the mouth! They also performed a surprise debut of “Steamboat Girls”, which sounded like New Orleans sesame street funk. Yeah, I can get down on that. “We were really honored to headline the final Highland Jam!,” said Will S (keyboards & special effects). These guys are used to getting the crowd moving and grooving under the stars, and were blessed with an encore.
The Highland Jam was full of wide open spaces and happy, smiling faces. Freedom, was what I felt, as well as a comfortingly familiar feeling, as if you were home. Everyone was relaxed and was there to celebrate the last beautiful fifteen years the Highland Jam, and Zen family has created. There was a great balance old favorites of the highland jam as well as new bands sharing their first time at the Highland Jam. This was my first High Land Jam, and I am honored that I got to make it out for their last festival. Thank you so much Mark and Bonnie for a weekend to remember!