Catskill Chill 2015: A True Celebration of Life [Review]
Written by: Zachary Franck
Photos by: Andrew Blackstein/Patrick Hughes/Paul Citone/Chad Anderson/Amanda Siedner
September ended with brisk mornings and warm smiles. Summer is officially over. It's whimsical vibrancy faded into autumn with a certain smoothness, one that can be felt in the body and mind. Catskill Chill eased me into the next chapter of my life with restored confidence. It's true what they say, my batteries have been recharged. The feeling has lasted for well over a week. My senses captured the essence of the festival as it captivated my soul. Now that I've had an opportunity to clear my mind and adjust back into societal reality, I can give an honest review of The Chill. After this year, the festival has grown even closer to my heart. Camp Minglewood is the one venue where I truly feel at home. I can walk down every path with my head held high and around every corner with a smile stretched across my face.
This year was bittersweet. The ChillFam said goodbye to our beloved venue Camp Minglewood. It made everyone come together and truly celebrate this beautiful life. There was a real sense of connectivity between us. Old and new friends shared happiness and gratitude. I felt the buzzing energy as soon as I arrived, it saturated the mountain air. Everyone floated through the weekend in unison, basking in the glory of everything that Catskill Chill has to offer. I was back at my favorite music festival, in my home state, with a fantastic group of people that I love. Everyone was elated to be back for one last hurrah. I know I was.
Lettuce opened up the first night of the weekend with a soaring set of experimental space funk that seriously impressed me. They have been in a period of progression, pushing the boundaries of their original sound. The band was able to combine elements from a multitude of genres in one impressive set. They gave the crowd a solid taste of what the rest of the weekend would bring. A lot of people sometimes underestimate the range of this band, classifying them as a funk band takes away from their extensive ability. They're not your normal funk band. A thunderous display of hard hitting funktronica and smooth jazz-fusion electrified the crowd. It wasn't hard to tell that Lettuce was amped to be the first big set of the weekend. Eric Krasno stood in the shadows near Adam Deitch, he glided down the neck of his hollow body guitar with his signature style and sound. Jesus Coomes rocked a blue bandanna over his face and laid down some killer basslines.
Adam Deitch stayed in the pocket with his original swagger. The guy has serious chops, he played one of the sickest drum solos that I have ever witnessed. The sound of his snare drum cracked through the speakers like gunshots. Nigel Hall came on stage at the end of the set and did three originals. They lit the main stage on fire. A roaring ovation echoed under the roof. That man has so much soul, he literally had the crowd in the palm of his hand. The next day I found out that he was celebrating his bachelor party, which made his performance that much better. Lettuce played a rock solid set and set the bar high for the acts that followed. I don't think anyone can deny that.
The party had started and we were officially in the midst of the sixth annual Catskill Chill! I was super excited to see how Lotus would capture the energy that Lettuce laid down. A lot of music lovers will agree that your live music experience is heavily based on people, places, and things. There are few things that are better than enjoying one of your favorite bands with a stellar group of people. My friends and I were all on the same page for Lotus. They definitely captured the energy. I always appreciate when Lotus takes chances. Coming off of a phenomenal Summerdance, the band was relaxed and ready to pay respect to one of their favorite festivals. As many people know, drummer Mike Greenfield actually attended summer camp at Camp Minglewood when he was a kid. Full circle. I can only imagine how special Catskill Chill is for him. What an experience.
The Suitcases opener set it off on the right foot, it's a song that's hard to dislike. After the song Luke Miller jokingly said, "We're warming Greenfield up for the next seventeen sets that he's got" (He played with five different acts). Sid into Wooly Mammoth was exceptional, the segment struck a lot of different chords. Sid brings out the classic atmospheric funk that Lotus is known for, Mike Rempel and Luke Miller fill in each other's gaps with dueling guitar parts. Mike Rempel was feeling the Catskill Chill vibe, letting the jams take form without forcing a single note. The percussion of Chuck Morris added a key ingredient to the recipe, it wouldn't be nearly as tasteful without it. I looked around the crowd and saw people from all different backgrounds dancing to the sweet sounds of Lotus, I was loving every second of it. They transitioned into Wooly Mammoth with beauteous precision. An emotional song that was ideal for the moment. I felt a lot of negativity leave my soul during it. My life is so much better than it was when I arrived at my first Catskill Chill two years ago. Thoughts flew through my head at the speed of light - I was able to let go of my past so I can finally take hold of my future. Everyone at Catskill Chill has experienced pain in the last three years. During Mike Rempel's solo in Wooly Mammoth, even if it was for a mere four minutes, everyone's pain was washed away. Any anxiety, shame, or worry that was lurking in the dusty corners of my brain vanished.
Their next segment brought a completely different type of energy. They were locked in and loose. Lead Pipe into Arupa showcased a completely different angle of Lotus. Jesse Miller's bass literally shook the foundation of the main stage. They were off to the races as soon as they dug into the jam of Lead Pipe. It's always cool when they push the limits of a song that isn't one of my particular favorites.
Mike Greenfield and Chuck Morris had an explosive drum break that fired everyone up. The jam out of Lead Pipe into Arupa is where the real magic took place, the transition was superbly impressive. It was the definition of psychedelic space rock. Arupa had an interesting mix of Middle Eastern flavor and ancient extraterrestrial energy. Lotus explored some sounds and effects that I had never heard them use before. A pleasant yet intense abduction of the mind and spirit took place. Luke Miller's synthesizers and Mike Rempel's pedal effects illustrated the musical landscape of a science-fiction novel.
Livingston Storm into Umbilical Moonrise set me down with carefully crafted symbolism. I had never seen Lotus segue the two songs together before, I don't know if many people have. Both songs are definitive staples in their discography. Together the songs compare to a waterfall under a western sunset. Natural and glorious. It was the perfect way to set everyone back down on the ground. I was in utter disbelief when they transitioned into Umbilical Moonrise. Then again, a venue like Camp Minglewood deserves such an intrinsic composition. The entire crowd looked as if they had finally arrived in Zion after a long journey. The song penetrated straight faces and cold hearts. It definitely belongs on the soundtrack of this year's Catskill Chill. Lotus sent a lasting farewell to Camp Minglewood that will be held in the hearts of everyone who enjoyed it for years to come.
After taking a few minutes to process the music I had just seen, I made my way back to the main stage. The final set of the night was a nice gift from Catskill Chill. Dopakuaz Plays Studio 54 was filled with feel good disco, funk, and soul from the late 70's and 80's. The combined effort of Dopapod and Turkuaz was a huge hit. A creative display of collaboration and love for the music. It was one giant dance party. Festival goers loved getting down to those classic songs - from Get Down On It to Disco Inferno, the disco era was alive and well. It's always important to see the musicians on stage having a good time, and they were all having a blast. It was one of the most unique sets of music that I saw all summer. Check out one of the songs below!
Friday brought a much more settled vibe, everyone was happy and relaxed. I walked down the paths of Camp Minglewood and inhaled the clean air of the Catskills. I thought to myself, I really do love this place. My experience at Catskill Chill always leaves a lasting impression on me. Always. How could it not?
I made my way down to the Acoustic Junction in the late afternoon to see Wiley Griffin. I was surprised when I saw his new band Teddy Midnight on stage with him, pleasantly surprised. I'm a big fan of Wiley Griffin. I think he's a great person and a very talented guitarist. I loved MUN and was upset when he announced that he'd be leaving the band. Before Catskill Chill, the news that he had joined Teddy Midnight was released. It was a treat to see him perform with his new band. It was the first time that I saw them play and it will not be the last, they have a lot of tools to work with. I'm eager to see their progression with Wiley. They have the potential to be one of the top up and coming jamtronica bands in the scene. Teddy Midnight combines aspects of bands like STS9, Lotus, and the New Deal in an original way that ties it all together. Don't forget the name, you'll be hearing it again!
The next set of the day was the ChillFam All Stars Herbie Hancock Tribute. Another exceptionally fresh tribute put together by the people of Catskill Chill. My father is a huge Herbie Hancock fan so I was especially intrigued by the set. I bumped into Mike Greenfield while I was walking to Club Chill and he was shining with satisfaction. He informed me that they hadn't really practiced much since it was the first time the group of musicians had played together. I knew it'd be interesting. They really brought those songs to life and made them their own. The music didn't feel forced, which is an important factor when playing a tribute set. Steve Molitz added his own style to the keyboard parts and Eric Gould was the glue, tying it all together with slick bass lines. They built upon Hancock's framework with creative showmanship and intelligent musicianship.
Zappa plays Zappa began on the main stage as the Herbie Hancock tribute ended. It was another set that ended up embedded in my mind. I stood and watched as they took over the entire festival with audacious skill and commanding stage presence. Every individual that loves live music should check out Zappa plays Zappa. It's a necessity if you're a fan of Frank Zappa. First off, Dweezil Zappa is most definitely keeping his father's spirit alive. An overall mind-blowing experience. My father used to see Frank Zappa in 1970's New York City, he attended his Halloween extravaganzas more than once. The set stood out to me as one of the coolest sets of music that I've ever seen. It was a full show, a full experience - much different than a standard set of music. They were the master anglers while the crowd was an ocean of fish, they had the majority of us totally hooked. The crowd was participating and singing along. They transformed the main stage into an interactive theatrical production. It was the first time that I saw them and it definitely won't be the last. Frank Zappa was a musical genius, point blank. His music has influenced some of the most creative musicians of our generation. Not many people are capable of doing the things that Frank Zappa did. To see his son Dweezil on stage, continuing his father's legacy was awe-inspiring. It was easily one of the most interesting and original sets of my entire weekend.
The sun was down and the moon sat above Camp Minglewood with a calming sense of delight. Stars were scattered throughout the darkness. Sacred consolations formed shapes in the night sky. I was eager to see Horizon Wireless throw down a special set. The brainchild of Harrison Waxenberg has really evolved over the years and it's been cool to watch it grow. The addition of drummer Dan Lyons has really turned things up a notch but their Catskill Chill set got turned up even higher with a sit-in from guitarist Wiley Griffin. After seeing them do a song or two together earlier in the year, I recommended that they should do a full set at The Chill. They did and they nailed it. A mixture of deep house with drum n bass elements backed the sweet sounds of Wiley's hollow body Ibanez. The three of them created an elegant new genre of tech-jazz-tronica. It was organic and balanced. The festival's headliner may have been playing to a packed crowd at the main-stage but that didn't stop Horizon Wireless from throwing down one of the hidden gems of the weekend. I was thoroughly impressed. I can't wait to see them do it again soon.
I was pumped up after Horizon Wireless and Stratosphere All Stars was exactly what the doctor ordered. Yet another great scheduling choice by the fine people of Catskill Chill. A super jamtronica side project with Mike Greenfield on drums, Steve Molitz on keyboards, Marcus Rezak on guitar, and David Murphy on bass. The four of them jammed out a deep set on the B stage with a solid selection of different songs. They improvised really well and the crowd was having a great time. Marcus Rezak is a serious shredder, he is one of the most underrated guitarists in the scene. They played some some tightly knit jams once they got locked in. One of my favorite songs from their set was a futuristic version of David Bowie's classic Let's Dance with Hayley Jane on vocals. I have a strong feeling that the project is going to progress into something memorable. Their set at Catskill Chill was just the tip of the iceberg. I have a feeling that the Stratosphere All Stars will be coming to a city near you sooner than later.
Once Sunday had arrived everyone had their heads in the clouds. There was a real sense of connectivity. Everyone grew closer to each other since arriving two days earlier. The weather was alluring and the magic was thriving. I was looking forward to spending my afternoon with The Motet and American Babies, two bands that really fit the weather and vibe of Sunday. The Motet brought Catskill Chill to church. They gave upstate New York some Colorado soul, a breath of fresh Rocky Mountain air. From the Rockies to the Catskills, The Motet laid down exactly what the crowd needed. The smooth, soulful funk was an ideal fit with the Sunday afternoon sunshine. We all disappeared into our true selves - letting go of guilt, regret, and worry. Bathing in the sun rays and bluebird skies. It was a glorious day that God smiled down upon with pure satisfaction.
American Babies picked up right where The Motet left off. After interviewing Tom Hamilton a week before Catskill Chill, I was excited to see him play with his band. They were everything expected and more. Old school rock n' roll with a new school flavor. Wise songwriting with risky jamming that is both patient and authentic. They laid down some seriously spacey jams with groovy, minimalistic beauty that reflects itself into the eyes of those who believe. Tom Hamilton and Clay Parnell easily have some of the best on-stage chemistry in the scene.
You can't help but feel happy for Tommy and all of his recent success. After being an extremely underrated guitarist for fifteen years, the world is finally realizing how special he is. He's a true artist on all fronts. American Babies is a seriously well rounded band. They combined the best from a variety of genres and used it to their benefit, they've continued to evolve into an almost perfect blend of old and new. Hamilton's songwriting has a refreshing wisdom that shatters boundaries and unites fan bases. His lyrics exemplify the good times and bad times of life, he doesn't waste time on the glamour and glitz. The improvisation is equally as awesome as the songwriting, seriously top-notch. American Babies is a full unit that is able to lock in and breathe life into audiences everywhere.
I walked back to my campsite and prepared myself for the final night of Catskill Chill. I was alone and I was happy. I spent a few moments observing and absorbing the priceless scenery that surrounded me. My eyes and ears were pleased with the sights and sounds. As I moseyed down the path I came face to face with the Headcount booth. I'm a young millennial who has never voted before and I can proudly say that Catskill Chill is the reason that I finally registered. It was yet another reason to be happy and embrace this beautiful weekend. The ChillFam was ready to end the sixth annual Catskill Chill with a proper farewell to Camp Minglewood. Electron and Particle were elected to close out the festival with back-to-back sets. Both sets were outstanding.
Just like last year, Electron delivered an exceptional set of risky improvisation and developed jams. The song choices were balanced and they had the crowd at their fingertips. The super side project threw down a huge set that included stand-out versions of songs from bassist Marc Brownstein's Chemical Warfare Brigade. The beginning of the set was packed with a Kamaloe Sands sandwich that had an intense Run Like Hell and an inverted Grass is Green. It wasn't long before everyone realized that we were in for a treat. My feet were stomping the cement dance floor with fury during the inverted Grass is Green.
Tom Hamilton showed off his experimental skills on his custom Becker guitar while Aron Magner reflected the rhythm with crystal clear synthesizers. Marc Brownstein stood in between them with a smile plastered across his face. The middle of the set erupted with a passionate cover of Pink Floyd's classic Have a Cigar. Magner belted the lyrics with heart as his hands danced along the black and white keys below.
They followed it with another four song sandwich that included a sensational version of Brownstein's new song Miracles. They proved how much potential the song has. Electron never ceases to impress me with their outlandish abilities to build up and break down jams together. There aren't many other side projects that can play such creatively, in depth sets. Electron is pretty special. Marc Brownstein and Mike Greenfield showed off their rhythmic compatibility throughout the entire set. On the melodic front, Tom Hamilton and Aron Magner consistently challenged each other with wide open interplay that was deeply intertwined. They closed the set with a ripping Scarlet Begonias into an energetic I Know You Rider that had the entire crowd singing and dancing. It really kept the magic of Dead50 alive, it's not hard to tell how much the Grateful Dead has influenced them. The set ended and the crowd's energy was pulsating. Electron filled Sunday night with lively jams and genuine respect, both were felt by everyone in attendance.
The last set of the weekend had finally arrived. Everyone at the festival piled into the main-stage area for one of the most memorable sets of music at the magical Camp Minglewood. Although it was a bittersweet moment, everyone was focused on a marvelous ending to such a phenomenal weekend. Particle, the only band to play at every Catskill Chill, ended the sixth and final year at Camp Minglewood with skill and spirit. It was billed as Particle & Fam so I honestly didn't know what to expect. Well, their set blew my expectations out of the water. Even after three days of non-stop musical excellence, their set stood out above most. Particle & Fam brought the noise for the final set of the weekend, it an all out dance party with high octane space-funk jams that were well-oiled. A cast of characters joined the band on stage in a collaborative effort to blow the minds of everyone in the audience. From start to finish, the band's energy was full force. I took my eyes off the stage for a minute and when I looked again Tom Hamilton was shredding lead guitar and Mike Greenfield was on the kit (for his fifth set of the weekend). I was hysteric with happiness. The beginning notes of Brothers Past's Let's Start a Gang echoed through the late night air and I was in momentary paradise. They laid into one of my favorite songs from a band that I won't see any time soon. It wasn't hard to tell who realized what was happening because their faces were lit up with instantaneous bliss. Guitarist Ben Combe backed Tom Hamilton as he released his passionate feel and elastic tone. Hamilton shouted the lyrics, "No Rules!" with affectionate devotion. It was a moment that I'll never forget.
Every musician on stage played an important role in the development of jamtronica. It was significant to see them jamming together, closing out such an extraordinary weekend of music. The David Bowie jam with DJ Logic was also exotic and engaging. During Triple Threat, Aron Magner and Steve Molitz delivered an all out synthesizer attack with a full arsenal. Particle showed younger music fans that they have been a pillar in the scene for years. They closed out the festival with two absolute classics that were more than appropriate - Sly & The Family Stone's It's a Family Affair and Sister Sledge's famed We Are Family. More than a dozen musicians joined Particle for the final songs in true ChillFam fashion. They sent us to bed with love in our hearts, freedom in our spirits, and imagination in our minds. I couldn't ask for more.
The rain falls on my windowsill and I think back on the past two weeks. Overcast skies are stretched for as far as the eye can see. Summer is over and we've all returned to our places in society. Even so, the flame of Catskill Chill will internally burn for eternity. The masks that we sometimes wear can strangle the liveliness from our spirits. We must force ourselves to remember the lessons that The Chill taught us. The times, they are-a changin'. It rang true back then and it rings true now. There's a sense of connectedness, a true feeling of love for each other, real love. Catskill Chill is a vacuum that pulls you into a special place, far away from the walls of the world. This year, the schedule was put together like an extravagant puzzle. The further you got, the more illustrious it got. Each day brought new beauty. It was a true celebration of life, of existence - no matter the good, the bad, the ugly. Catskill Chill allowed us to slip away into a euphoric utopia that outstretches the reality of time and space. Freedom hummed through the air like crickets in the dead of night. The weeping willows hung overhead in an eerie yet wondrous way, one that was both elegant and haunting. I can still see them in my mind. It's a pretty spectacular feeling to be on the same wavelength as thousands of other people. Catskill Chill presents a platform to do just that, to slow down and absorb the infinite love of the universe.
The weekend restored people's faith in humanity, even if it was just for three days. Songs of joy filled Camp Minglewood with hope for the future, and faith that everything's going to be okay. I'm beyond grateful to consider myself a part of Catskill Chill. I really do love it. I don't know what next year will bring, I don't even know what tomorrow will bring. Two things are for sure; there will always be hope and I will always have faith. They may come and go like sunrises and sunsets, but both will always be there. Wherever Catskill Chill ends up next year, I hope that it's half as special as Camp Minglewood and I have faith that it will be.