Written by: Haley Halwany
Photography by: Filip Zalewski
As I begin to unwind from what can only be described as the best weekend of my life, I cannot seem to wipe the huge smile from my face after three days of pure bliss that was the Frendly Gathering 2018. I am partly confused on how and partly sad to admit that this year was my first Frendly but I can say without a shred of doubt that it will not be my last. The magic in the green mountain state is unmatched and creates for the perfect setting for a weekend long, camp-out, music festival. This year was a scorcher both in temperature and talent!
Thursday, I arrived in Vermont by early afternoon, after a scenic drive up to the Sugarbush Resort in the Mad River Valley, we had arrived at the check in station which was actually located at the neighboring mountain lodge of Mt. Lincoln. I thought this to be odd at first but it actually provided for less traffic and waiting in line to receive your wristband and camping passes. Following a short drive to the next mountain, Mt. Ellen, we set up camp and began to get Frendly! The weather Thursday was dreary but there was no shortage of hugs, smiles, and positive vibes on that mountain. The rain tapered off by sunset and the music was in full swing! Local area band Peace in the Valley kicked things off for us with some smooth jams and funky licks. The evening continued on with some soul and funk bands like Sabooyouma, Smalltaker, and Upstate Rubdown. Smalltaker had some bold female vocalists who absolutely captivated me as they debuted new songs and vibed with their jazz background. Upstate Rubdown up next was a fun band that I can’t wait to dive further into, their snazzy outfits were matched by their clean instrumentals and gospel choir-like background singers. Their Billie Jean cover got everyone moving and grooving in the mud. Festival founder’s own brother, Luke Mitrani performed next accompanied by Lynx and you could feel the love and happiness pouring from the stage. One of my favorite things about this festival was that the festival’s creators Jack Mitrani and Danny Davis were never far out of eyesight, they could be seen walking around with frends, enjoying the bands they love, lending a hand to set up, or snapping pics for the festival’s social media pages. The remainder of the evening was spent with a very special set by Mihali and Nahko. The two separately are incredible musicians but combining their talent for a headlining spot was pure genius. They were joined on stage by Nahko’s Medicine for the People bandmates Tim Snider on violin and Max Ribner on horns. The foursome was welcomed by young kids screaming their love for Nahko and they got started, dubbing themselves “Mihali Bear.” They alternated between Twiddle songs, Nahko and Mihali solo songs, MTFP jams, and covers like Green Mountain State by Trevor Hall, No Scrubs by TLC, Blowing in the Wind by Bob Dylan and more. As absolutely captivated as I was by just the beautiful sounds, I couldn’t help but admire how the group truly respects each other as musicians. Mihali could be seen ogling over Tim Snider on violin and his absolutely flawless pedal work. They all looked like they were having so much fun, and what’s more enjoyable than that? The evening was made even more spectacular by having the moon come out and greet us, while we howl-ed away and headed towards the late-night set in the Martin Dome sponsored by Martin Guitars with Lynx.
Friday started with the sun beaming, the skateboards dropping in, the yogi’s stretching, and the music to come! The weather was absolutely beautiful for the remainder of the weekend and was much appreciated after a cold, wet start. As I made my way around the festival for some lunch, I couldn’t help but soak in all the magic that was happening around me. Yoga classes were in session, field games were being played, skaters were taking full advantage of the mini half pipe built overlooking the camping area, and there was an open mic happening in the Martin dome. The vendor choices for food were so unique and delicious! I’d be lying if I said I didn’t make it a mission to try something from every booth. My favorites were the Skinny Pancake who featured specials “Brown Chicken Brown Cow” & “Honeyburste” Crepes in honor of headliner, Twiddle and the Broccoli Bar that featured all vegan meal options with more ways to make broccoli than you’d think of! Another cool part of the friendly experience was all the freebie’s offered around the festival. A hydration station with free filtered water sponsored by Kleen Kanteen that encouraged you to BYO-Bottle, and minimize the plastic waste, free Ben and Jerry’s scoops all weekend that were a life saver in the 90-degree weather, and free Yerba Mate tea all weekend long by Guayaki! Although vendors were limited, I really enjoyed being able to check out every booth and participate in all the cool raffles, call to actions, photobooths, and tastings. Dragon sunglasses gave away a free hat to every person who signed up with an email, the earth frendly booth gave away grassroots hats, burton merch and more to those who took part in their letter to a senator or pledge to live greener activities, Twiddle’s charity The White Light Foundation raffled off a custom painted martin guitar by the talented Danny Steinman, and Martin Guitar gave away gear all weekend long including a guitar a day for those who performed during open mic on their fully equipped stage! I’ve never been to a festival on a mainstream level that gave so much back to the fans, I was truly in awe of how inclusive the festival really was.
The music, which of course is why we were all there, was so incredibly fulfilling on Friday that it’s hard to pick a true stand out from the afternoon. The Strange Machines kicked off the day with some funk-aaay tunes and got everyone swinging into a “jam”-packed day. Reggae band Satsang, easily drew in the majority of the festival to join them in some Jah blessing & dancing. They were just a super fun band to groove to and even when I took a break from dancing to lay down and observe, I could feel the energy still moving inside of me. Twiddle’s Mihali, MTFP’S drummer Justin and Violinist Tim, were all welcomed to the stage throughout the show and made for an upbeat-frendly-collab. While later in the afternoon, mellow performing artist Kevin Morby gave me some Bob Dylan vibes and allowed me to rest my legs from walking all throughout the mountainside, followed by Kat Wright to speed things back up in her gold sparkly outfit. As night began to fall, the energy began to rise. Nahko and Medicine for the People helped us say goodbye to the sun, and welcome in the full moon! It was a magical set with my personal favorite song Aloha ke Akua being a highlight. The crowd singing along with the band was so on point that it brought tears rolling down my face and feeling so grateful to be here, in Vermont, at this moment. The band’s collective energy and the way they perform so well together is always such a treat. Although, I wished they could have played all night, I was eager to see Kamasi Washington next. Having no overlapping sets during the weekend made it pleasantly easy to catch every show! His larger than life persona and horns got the energy of the full moon’s night even higher, and I didn’t see a single person sitting during the set. After only watching videos of Kamasi from the comfort of my home, I wanted to soak in every second of the hour. Afterwards, Twiddle, was up next! A staple to Frendly, Twiddle’s set was highly anticipated, and after singing happy birthday to Danny Davis, Jack Mitrani welcomed his frends to the stage. Jack Mitrani often mentions how important the band was to the success of the festival and vice versa. I, for one, was ready to see how Twiddle did frendly. The band played tunes from several of their albums, including fan favorites “Frankenfoote”, “Gatsby the Great”, and of course the “Frends Theme.” I always love seeing my favorite band, I especially love seeing them in their home state, and I think to date, it was my favorite show… and not just because the love of my life proposed!!! (Yes, that happened!). The band was clean, the fans were singing loud and dancing proud, and the mountain air had cooled down enough to just soak it all in. I can’t get over just how Frendly everyone really was 😊 After stopping by for a little silent disco, popping some (really warm) fancy champagne, and snapping some pictures with my new fiancé… I was ready for bed with a permanent smile intact.
Saturday, proved to be hotter than the day before, and after overhearing our neighbors talk of going swimming, we couldn’t wait to check out the creek. Under the trees and just past the RV Camping section there was a beautiful creek with lots of happy campers enjoying a cool-off. We enjoyed our early morning swim and headed up for our last day of all the frendly magic. I got to meet with The Suffers lead singer Kam Franklin for a chat before their set, and I am so glad I did. She definitely gained more than just a few new fans this weekend! Based out of Houston, Texas the band is gearing up for their album release on July 13th and touring the country. The band is an eight piece with a Gulf Coast Soul sound. Kam told me she likes to sing music that is made for getting people through the fucked up and hard times in life without being cheesy. She shows compassion for the world around her through her music. Drawing influences from her background in gospel, her teenage years listening to punk rock and ska, the singer captured the attention of the overheated, sweaty crowd on Saturday afternoon. Down at the martin dome, Madison Pruitt geared up for her acoustic show with original music as well as covers of other frendly artists. Madison is always such a pleasure to watch perform as she delivers musical medicine to her fans new and old. By the time the sun was cooling off, fans were ready for the night to kick off with Spafford’s electric set. The band has been on festival line ups across the country and blessed us with a high energy jam-filled show. Trevor Hall up next was joined on stage by Mihali and the two, who are in the middle of a mini tour together, smiled and grooved their way through the set. Trevor noted that Vermont is one of his favorite places in the world, and there was nowhere else he’d rather be! Trevor Hall and his band just released an album last month called The Fruitful Darkness and their fans already knew the words to sing along to sure to be hits like Karma and What I Know as well as past tunes from previous albums such as Unity, The Lime Tree and more. As darkness fell, bluegrass band Devil Makes Three took stage and their strings flew! Emancipator took the stage after for a mellow yet mind melting set before the big set of the evening by Greensky Bluegrass. The spirit and energy of the entire mountain was at an all-time high because in just one short hour, Marijuana was legal in the state of Vermont. With a countdown to After Midnight the band congratulated the state on taking a huge step to freedom and the crowd screams of Happy NEW Year rang throughout the mountains! It was such a cool, monumental moment to be apart of.
Overall, The Frendly Gathering, was the greatest, most well put together festival I have ever had the pleasure of attending. The green efforts were truly astounding, as separate trash receptacles were clearly labeled all throughout the festival with volunteers picking up anything left out around the clock. In fact, I couldn’t find trash laying around if I tried. The carefully picked vendors and activities kept festival go-ers busy even between music and the bands brought their best the entire weekend! I hope to be able to make frendly a tradition for many years to come and you should too! Thank you to Jack Mitrani and Danny Davis for starting this festival with a dream and some frends, and seeing it through to what it has manifested into today!