Catskill Chill – Review
Words by Michelle Babin
Photos by Nick Irving
Camp Minglewood provided an intimate, picturesque atmosphere along with a stellar line-up for the viewing and listening pleasure of those attending the second annual Catskill Chill Music Festival. Bands included the likes of Umphrey’s McGee, Conspirator, Jerry Garcia Band with Melvin Seals and 7 Walkers among many others. For a smaller festival of a few thousand people the incredible list of bands on the menu should’ve satisfied any musical appetite.
Despite Hurricane Irene’s recent trample through not only New York’s Catskill Mountains, but the entire Northeast, this venue and the surrounding area seemed to be left rather unscathed. Small, tan cabins dotted the hills over-looking a small lake donned with an infamous “Absolutely No Swimming” sign. Intermingled among them were trees providing shady relief from the sun perfect for hammocking or setting up tents underneath. Camping was free and cabin rentals ranged from $225 to $900 (42 people can fit in the largest). Some people said they only spent an additional $25 to the ticket price to rent a cabin with friends. Depending on how many people were willing to cram, they provided ample dry space, a covered porch, a private bathroom and even a hot shower. Cabin bunking was comparatively luxurious for attendees at this time of year while upstate New York straddles the seasons.
Shuttles provided rides back and forth from the campgrounds to the parking lot which was more or less a once field turned treacherous mud pit. It’s usually the case to worry about the hassle of lines getting into a festival, but lines were nonexistent unless your timing happened to be a bit inopportune. The problem was that cars were actually getting stuck on the way in. Thanks universe for nearby friendly residents with tractors.
The Main Stage overlooked the lake at the bottom of a hill only a few feet away from the second stage (Stage B). As a result, the weekend’s back and forth shuffle from the Main Stage to Stage B hardly felt like the herding of sheep from one destination to the next as can be the impression fans get at most larger festivals. There was also a brand new indoor spot dubbed “Club Chill” on the opposite side of the grounds where DJ’s played into the wee hours of the morning. One couldn’t help but feel as if they were at a huge party with a thousand or so good friends to dance and laugh with.
JGB and Melvin Seals played one of the first sets to open up this year’s Catskill Chill on Friday urging the crowd to get down to some pretty funky bass-driven tunes. Later that night, the party really got going with Conspirator’s set featuring Mike Greenfield of Lotus on drums. The electronic beats and pulsating lights were somewhat mesmerizing at least for the first hour. Their rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” was a standout.
Rain held out for Friday and Saturday making the weather perfect for festival-goers willing to soak up some of the summer’s last hot rays during the day and welcome in the cool fall air by night. However unsurprisingly, campers awoke Sunday to rattling thunder and the sounds of rain pelting their tents. It seemed only a matter of time. The rain broke but the cloudy overcast and chilly morning air appeared to prompt many people to leave. Either that or they felt the pressure of their Monday morning jobs and classes creeping in; the woes of summer’s end. Unfortunately for them, Sunday showcased an interesting mix of performances from bands such as Particle, Dopapod, The Pimps of Joytime, John Brown’s Body and Bill Kruetzmann’s 7 Walkers.
Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds from Brooklyn, New York played to a smaller crowd on the Main Stage early Saturday afternoon. The nine piece ensemble played a highly energized and soulful set that made it hard to stand still. The combination of sultry yet resonating vocals by Arleigh Kincheloe and a piping horn section made this band a highlight of the weekend.
The party was certainly kicked up a notch (or try 10 notches) when headliner Umphrey’s McGee took the stage. They played two songs on their new album “Death by Stereo”. However, what seemed to get the crowd going best was an epic sounding guitar battle during “Der Bluten Kat”.
Perched atop the wooden bleachers one had a most serene view of the lake showcasing a magical reflection of the trees and sky. Beginning with Cabinet’s set at around 1:45 on Sunday heavy rains on the metal roof competed in volume with the musicians themselves. At one point, dancers and “chillers” alike turned their attention to the lake as the rain became too loud to ignore. Everyone, band included, heeded to the power of mother nature. After about 15 seconds the moment was over, and the bluegrass sounds of Cabinet and their extended jams recaptured everyone’s gaze. The drama of this moment certainly proved appreciation for the set-up of this venue keeping those dry and comfortable and still outdoors. Ironically, as soon as the set ended the rain died down almost to a halt.
Another highlight was the Sunday set by The Pimps of Joytime who seem to only be getting better, louder, funkier and more captivating with each performance. Their Latin rhythms and pimpin’ vibe can’t help but move your spirit and feet. Playing a number of songs from their new album “Janxta Funk” they surely infused a unique energy into the crowd. One can’t deny the personality and charisma of lead singer and guitarist Brian J, which engaged the crowd showcasing his utterly “rock-star” persona. If attendees failed to make it over to the second stage for this, they undoubtedly missed out.
Sometimes the most memorable and innovative performances of a music festival are created through unexpected collaborations. Catskill Chill had a few of these to offer fans. For instance, after his DJ set as KRAZ over at Club Chill, Eric Krasno joined Ian Neville’s New Orleans based band, Dumpstaphunk, at around 2 AM contributing on both organ and guitar. By the end of the set they had the crowd belting out lyrics to “Put it in a Dumpsta”. For those less familiar with this tune, it wasn’t difficult to catch on and join in. It almost seemed more of a challenge to refrain from doing so. Later on that night, Perpetual Groove’s Brock Butler sat in with Wyllys and the New York Hustler Ensemble during their set beginning around 3 AM.
The weekend culminated in one of the best ways possible. Late Sunday night after packing up camp and making the sad yet fulfilled trek back to the parking lot, it was realized that shuttles were no longer running. Not to fear, a friendly farmer with a large hay-filled tractor was there on the spot to load up people and their belongings making them wonder what better way to provide transit. Capping it off, generous young men with banjos provided much appreciated music for the short journey carrying on the spirit of the festival. In comparison to last year’s festival, Catskill Chill has grown significantly in size and scope but remains to provide a friendly, inviting atmosphere welcoming both familiar and unfamiliar faces back again. It’s humbling to see how a small production team who’s clearly in it for the love of music can continue to bring it up a notch while retaining the essence of what makes this festival great.