I Witness: the Hudson Valley Green Festival

The first Hudson Valley Green Festival came to Staatsburg, just south of Rhinebeck, last Saturday, September 4. Set in the beautiful State Park grounds of a former stately home (hello Knebworth), the line-up was steered very much towards the audience that makes such a success of Hunter’s annual Mountain Jam, though with an additional focus on family. (Under-12s were admitted free.) I had to offer myself a wry smile at the fact that I found myself there, at a festival headlined by Blues Traveler, rather than Electric Zoo down at Randall’s Island in New York City headlined by the Chemical Brothers, but that was a reflection not of any change in musical taste, rather a change in attitude and desire. As in, I really didn’t fancy the prospect of a day surrounded by tens of thousands of young, possibly out-of-it New York ravers when I could hang out with friends, and especially, my five-year old Noel, at a relaxed event that much closer to home. Am I getting older? Damn right I am.

IMG_6401Beautiful location, shame about the turn-out.

I missed Mike and Ruthy, the Brian Goss Band, Lindsay Raker’s Band, and Voodelic up front. I didn’t stick around for Amos Lee and Blues Traveler at the end. In between all that, I got to enjoy a stellar performance by the Duke and the King, who move further away from the gentle sounds of last year’s wonderful Nothing Gold Can Stay (reviewed here) and closer to the jam band format with every show; was greatly impressed by John Brown’s Body, a mostly white reggae band with a reassuringly rootsy sound (you can download an album’s worth of music from the web site, for free); endured the amiable down-home noodling of Donna the Buffalo; as ever, loved watching my friend Robert Warren a.k.a. Uncle Rock work his magic with the kids; and wished I could have stayed longer for the BeauSoleil Quartet from New Orleans. Love Eat Sleep and Nina Violet both played the second stage and I found it hard to focus on them.

IMG_6380Uncle Rock and friends enjoy a shared moment.

It was especially pleasing to see real effort put into supplying an Arts and Crafts tent for the young-uns, though much like kids at Christmas playing with the empty boxes, my 5-year old Noel had just as much of a blast in the VIP area where a bunch of little ones took a couple of reclining camp beds, a couple of bean bags, and created a runway with a soft landing that entertained them for hours. There were multiple stalls from local green businesses, and Rhinebeck’s wonderful Terrapin Restaurant, which co-promoted the Festival, alongside Mountain Jam co-founder Paul Schiavo, provided the food and drink. Food seemed well-enough priced, but I was appalled that beer was priced at $8 and wine at $10. If you don’t want people to drink too much, give ‘em hand-stamps and a cut-off – but don’t rip them off. Please.

IMG_6399The Duke and the King playing Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage.”

That complaint would appear to be the least of the promoters’ worries. (Besides, I drank and ate for free in the VIP tent.) The event was sparsely attended, and that’s being generous. This was true also of the Truck Festival that came to the Catskills’ own Full Moon Resort earlier this year (reviewed here) and in each case, while it’s tempting, especially in this endless recession, to blame the $50 ticket price for what were each solid line-ups that nonetheless lacked a crowd-drawing headliner, I’m more liable to pin the lack of crowd on a lack of promotion. Much like Truck, I didn’t hear about the Hudson Valley Green Festival until just a week before the event, and I like to think I have my ear relatively close to the ground. If a festival like this is to become an annual event – and I do dearly hope it does, because it was a gorgeous location with a wonderful vibe, good music and a professional production – then word has to get out months in advance. We are spoiled rotten for weekend activities in the Hudson Valley, many of them for free, and people need to feel that this is something they can’t miss, and get the date in their diaries suitably far in advance – as has clearly become the case with Mountain Jam.

IMG_6410The BeauSoleil Quartet enjoyed a BonNuit.

On that note, we’re still not done with new festivals in the region for the year. This coming weekend sees another jam band/world music style line-up at Catskill Chill, way way way off to the west from here. And October 8-10, much closer to (my) home, the city of Kingston plays host to O Positive, an intruguing attempt to combine music and art with “a weekend health care clinic for uninsured participating artists” and a “public health resource expo.” I trust this won’t be just a sales conference for the health insurance companies that have brought so many American families to their knees, but rather an opportunity to learn about alternative health options and connect directly with health providers who care more about people than pure profit. O Positive appears to have got off the ground good and early: the web-site is up and running with a playlist featuring all the participating acts, ads have already appeared in the local media, as have advance features, and a three-day weekend pass costs all of $25. Confirmed performers include Phosphorescent, Mike & Ruthy, Tracy Bonham, Nina Violet, Hopewell, Common Prayer, Gail Ann Dorsey, Alexander Turnquist, my good friend Paul Dillon (the former bartender at our Step On party back in Brooklyn!), the Percussion Orchestra of Kingston (POOK) and nightly DJ Sets from Mercury Rev and friends. What’s not to like?

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