While Folk Yeah has been putting on Huichica West for a solid decade, their efforts on the eastern side of the country are relatively new. This past weekend was the third event held at the amazingly bucolic setting of Chaseholm Farm, nestled in the rolling fields and scattered forests of the Hudson Valley. Folk Yeah honcho Britt Govea has been carefully picking at the fringes of the folk and rock scenes while crafting the lineups for Huichica, and this weekend was a pretty diverse slice of music that the bots at Spotify won’t be pushing on the Mumford and Sons crowd.
The layout was ideal; a gradually sloping yard led to the main stage, and the upper part of the yard had various vendors, selling vintage clothing and handmade kombucha, serving wine and beer, and of course the ubiquitous pop up record store (I parted with some of my money to buy the Performance soundtrack, a Sylvia Juncosa record I’ve been on the hunt for, and took a flyer on a private press folk LP which looked interesting). The entire weekend was the most laid-back event I’ve ever attended. It felt like you were invited to someone’s private backyard party, only with outstanding bands playing for hours each day. Walking a few yards back from the stage drilled in the fact that this was indeed a working farm, with milk cows in the stables and raw milk and cheese available for purchase, tasting of the fresh grass that sprouted everywhere.
The first day was super relaxed, with Mail The Horse kicking things off in their rustic Americana style, some tight harmonies and slide guitar easing right up next to each other. The Essex Green took on the sunny side of the psychedelic movement; think about when the Beatles were singing about “Good Day Sunshine” rather than the unhinged rants of “Revolution Number 9.” Alex Bleeker and his band of Freaks got a nice, mellow jam going, enough to distract from the hordes of tiny ants who wanted to crawl up on you and say hello. Here Lies Man was the first outlier, and aggressively riffy-happy (but in a friendly way) like a meatier, less Summer Of Love version of Wooden Shjips. The immaculately crafted soul interpretations of Bettye Lavette got the first signs of a dance party going, and she focused on the songbook of one Bobby Zimmerman, a figure well-known to the gathered crowd. The arrangements were surprisingly supple and unfolded in unexpected ways but still true to Dylan’s vision of what he meant to convey. Sterling performance.
The next piece was the crown jewel of the night. The lineup announcement was somewhat vague, listed as Mercury Rev doing a live score to a film. Well, the film turned out to be the ’60s horror film masterpiece Carnival Of Souls, and Grasshopper and Jonathan Donahue enlisted a pretty amazing ensemble to join them in crafty the creepy, eerie soundtrack that the film deserves. John Ashton (Psychedelic Furs) and Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) helped form the rhythm section, legend Garth Hudson (The Band) and his organ tone was a perfect fit, Robyn Hitchcock helped out with guitar duties and sax man Anthony Thistlewaite (Waterboys) gave some texture. The clear star though was Mimi Goese (Hugo Largo), who donned a wig, a dress and a plastic mask and mimed to the action unfolding on the projection behind her. Incredibly well executed, and an unexpected high point. Hudson and his sister Maud took on the closing duties, but the roller rink organ lines couldn’t hold me attention after what came before.
Day two kicked off with a spirited set from Pearl Charles (I thought a cover of “Out My Way” from Meat Puppets was playing as I entered the grounds, but it wasn’t) and a more languid, lazy beach day feel to Martin Courtney’s, that was heavy on material from his main band, Real Estate. Not that I’m complaining, mind – I could listen to “Suburban Dogs” or “Green Aisles” any day of the week, but was also glad that “Foto” found its way to us; “we’re not the same as who we were before” can apply universally. Though the Allah-Las and Amen Dunes had the stage at the end of the day, the real highlights were Espers and Robyn Hitchcock. Don’t get me wrong; Allah-Las turned in a perfect splattered west coast paisley psych set with the hanging full moon accentuating that, and Amen Dunes had a solid, danceable groove of bedroom psych pastiche. And Vetiver wheeled out the now decade-old Thing Of The Past, an easy going listen of well chosen covers that went down well with the assembled lawn sitters. Hailu Mergia’s keyboard-fueled Ethiopian jams transformed those lawn sitters into lawn dancers.
Robyn Hitchcock has written more perfect songs than pretty much the total of the entire festival lineup, and he chose wisely between new and old. The oldest was the classic Soft Boys’ stormer of “I Wanna To Destroy You,” a song Robyn said was conceived before Trump was even a concept. New material like “I Pray When I’m Drunk” and “Mad Shelley’s Letterbox” shone just as brightly, interspersed with Hitchcock’s brilliant and obliquely angled between song banter, often directed towards the sound man to make it sound like Bryan Ferry in a massively expensive studio, or to have the soundstage pan hard and left to make it like a Kesey acid test. “My Wife And My Dead Wife” is a succinct synposis of his peculiar and rewarding world view, and a lost opportunity was to ask him his reaction to Lavette’s set of Dylan covers. Maybe next time.
The true centerpiece of the day, nay the festival, was the re-emergence of Espers. A uniquely forged hybrid of ’60s Brit folk and the California acid rock sound a la Quicksilver Messenger Service or the Airplane, Espers reactivated after a nine year drought and just threw down an enormously satisfying and life-affirming hour of music. The harmonies of Meg Baird and Greg Weeks should be trapped in some sort of audio ember and delivered to the Smithsonian for safe keeping, and the textural low end of Helena Espvall’s cello carried duties for both melody and rhythm. “Mansfield and Cyclops” took a light soaring approach, whereas the opener of “Widow’s Weed” kicked up clouds of sonic dust that slowly and softly settled down. Weeks slyly talked up the powers of the recorder and the tone it lent to closer “Byss and Abyss” was sublimely perfect. There have been a lot (and by a lot I mean at least dozens) of reunions that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing over the last ten-plus years and this clearly ranks near the top. Thanks, Espers. Don’t be strangers.
Day three dawned and another perfect, sunlit day greeted the smaller crowd. This decidedly lower key day started with ARD (aka Acid Raindance) throwing down some Berklee-inspired jams of Beatles and stretching out until you heard the limits of the song give a slight wince of pain and to gradually recede into a comfortable zone. Ryley Walker was next and the Chicago native has mapped out a pretty interesting path over his handful of records. He’s definitely got some deep roots in the Fahey/Dylan/Van Morrison end of the orchard but brings a double shot of the free jazz ’60s Impulse! recordings into what he does. Drummer Ryan Jewell has a decidedly loose and natural swing to what Walker lays down, bursts of static interlocking beautifully with finger-picked precision. Walker’s stage banter with approximating various personas even had Hitchcock laughing.
Mapache played some sweet Simon and Garfunkle-inspired acoustic duet pieces but soon enough they dissembled to take their place in Grateful Shred, a last minute substitute for Circles Around The Sun. The West Coast ensemble is known for their energetic take on the songbook of their adopted namesake. I’m not exactly the target audience for anything Dead-related but the band obviously has a deep affection and reverence for the material and holy shit I think I started to do a mutated old white man dance when “Scarlet Begonias” hit the sky. I swear there was no brown acid involved.
Check out the gallery for more photos of the festival:
Created with flickr slideshow.