Family Roots Fall Festival
Kaeppners Woods -Logan, OH – 10/11 – 10/14
By Ryan Neeley exclusively for Appalachian Jamwich
Photos by Mark Moye, Ryan Neeley and Princess Starshine
There aren’t many must-see major festivals north of the Carolinas in the late fall due to the bone-chilling temperatures most nights, but BeeRaye Productions has stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park with the 2nd annual Family Roots Fall Fest, held the second weekend in October at Kaeppners Woods in Logan, OH. As with most festivals, additional activities, acts and attractions were added this year at the new venue, which was also the site of Papadosio’s Rootwire festival in the spring, and the motto of the weekend was “GET ROOTED.” Except the first few nights, Festival Gods blessed the gathering with fantastic fall weather, sun shining down on the grounds, with beams of light peeking through the tall oak and maple trees, illuminating the carpet of leaves in the woods. With plenty of room to stretch out and everything within proper walking distance, the festival was big enough to not get run over by golf carts yet small enough that you were within a few minutes walking distance of music, bathrooms, and vendors. While I definitely like the larger festivals because of the star-studded lineups, these mid-size festivals offer the best energy because the people you meet are easily located later – At festivals like All Good or Vibes, you might rage with someone on Friday and never see them again.
Unfortunately, I could not make it out on Thursday to see the lineup, but I heard the Cliftones and New Riders of the Purple Sage started the weekend off proper. After a three hour tour of Ohio’s backroads, I made it to the festival early Friday afternoon, and was greeted at the gate – We hurriedly got our gear out and golf carts were waiting to haul our gear from the parking area to the camp (nice touch!) – As we rode through, we could see tents and campsites dotting the woods, with colorful flags and ample port-o-johns. There was even a heated bathroom for VIP and artists! Being a bit of a festival nomad covering shows this summer, I could already tell that the production was done right, and the venue looked gorgeous. Kaeppners Woods is 200+ acres of rolling Ohio hills with a fantastic owner, pristine pond and gently sloping grassy hillside that allowed for fans to spread out their blankets, throw Frisbee, hoop, or dance with ease – Even the spinners had lots of room to do their thing without bouncing off everyone like a pinball! As I walked through the woods, I saw plenty of vendors selling their wares and food, and a familiar art installation that I’ve seen a few times this summer called Fabric of the Universe. It consists of a giant geometrical sphere with seating in the middle. At night, it comes alive with stunning lighting and looks like it’s alive. Look for a larger piece in Appalachian Jamwich coming soon on the artist who created this ever-evolving masterpiece. A stage in the woods and a projector and screen showing Sponge Bob Squarepants during the day thrilled the younger ones in the audience (and a few of us older ones too).
Friday’s musical highlights included Ohio jammers Jones For Revival, with Jim Deputo’s vocals and substantial lyrics starting the day off right. Another Ohio up and comer, Akron’s Aliver Hall fired through their set – The guitar duo of Alex Hall and Jim Tauscher traded licks on their original song Shake N Fly, with impressive fretwork and nasty fillers. With nightfall came the electronic funkified sounds of Boombox. Zion Rock Godchaux on guitar and DJ Russ Randolph whipped up a balanced set of thumping bass, with Godchaux throwing down some psychedelic licks while steam came off his fedora covered head – the set was infectious and Conspirator, who is touring with Boombox this winter, came up next and kept the crowd raging. Sylvester the Cat boogied down, posting up in the front row for the whole set – I doubt he would have moved from that spot, even if Tweety Bird was layed out next to him. After Conspirator’s set, I was able to interview Zion Godchaux and drummer of Conspirator during EP3’s rockin set, and decided to lay down for a few moments before the band I came to see, the Rumpke Mountain Boys set, which was from 3:30 – 5am. Wrong move – my body decided it was CURTAINS time, and I woke up at 5:45am with my alarm blaring, freezing my butt off, just in time to talk to the Boys before they left for the day – Luckily they would be back that night for an earlier set, but a tear of disappointment did roll down my face when I realized I had missed them.
Saturday started off with Cincinnati’s Manifest Station, and flowed into one of my favorites, Columbus, OH reggae rockers The Ark Band – I first caught wind of these guys with the best dreads in the game about a year ago, and have been following them since. Think Bob Marley mixed with Jimmy Cliff and a touch of Michael Franti’s positive energy and infectious Calypso grooves. One of the highlights of their set was the song Fire Dub, wrote shortly after co-founder Terry Bobb lost his daughter. In speaking to dreadheaded vocalist Mark Hunter , Eustace Bobb (brother of Terry and also co-founder) was in his studio and he (Mark) came in and heard this beat on the computer. Their fill in drummer at the time asked Terry to burn it. By the time the drummer had his gear loaded and we went around the block, I had lyrics in my head. “Eustace always has CNN on mute in his studio, and up popped a headline about the guy who predicts the end of the earth and rapture, and how it didn’t come true again. So the third verse goes, ‘See how you wait for God to come – Rapture promised, no one come.’” With lyrics like this, keep your eyes on these guys with dual keyboardists and go see them when they come to your area. They are some of the most spiritual souls I’ve ever met.
Next up was Jahman Brahman – Originally from Columbus, OH and now based in the musical hotbed of Asheville, NC, this genre-defying 5 piece brought the funk on a stage filled with foliage, then proceeded to shred it up right in front of your eyes. Last seeing them at Dark Star Jubilee, this phenomenal group once again impressed me with their vocal harmonies, interesting and unique guitar riffs, psych-funk keys and a sturdy rhythm section. And then it was time for some good old bluegrass with Yellow Springs, OH quartet Blue Moon Soup. And what a tasty soup it was! With flavorings of Ralph Stanley, Grateful Dead, New Grass Revival, Sam Bush and a pinch of the Beatles, these boys may be the next “newgrass” band to hit the big time. With fresh, youthful faces and infectious energy, the 3 year old band came out and gave the crowd a real treat. Any time BMS comes to a town near you, grab your friends and go so that you can brag about being there at the beginning – MMMM – Fresh Soup!
Following Blue Moon Soup was an extremely important message from a NORML speaker whose name escapes me. He provided the fans in attendance with great information regarding their rights under the law, and provided suggestions to keep them and their friends safe. It seemed that many people were paying close attention, but we need everyone to not only pay attention to the message but to also spread the word and educate other people about our rights before they get taken away. Maybe I should have PAID ATTENTION to his name – LOL – I do appreciate him!
The next few hours would be the highlight of my weekend in Logan, OH, with Melvin Seals/JGB and Rumpke Mountain Boys back to back for five hours of musical joy! Melvin came out and sat down at the Hammond B-3 and smiled at the crowd. In speaking to him in an phone interview prior to the festival, he stated that he would be playing “the songs that Jerry loved. You see, the Grateful Dead voted on everything. In JGB, JERRY picked out what HE wanted to play.” And the choices for this night would be something that the crowd would remember for a long time to come. They came out with a rip-roaring Cats Under the Stars and went into an Sugaree with achingly lovely piano piano touches. Jimmy Cliff’s The Harder They Come was another memorable sing-along, and Melvin had the keys smoking in a touching They Love Each Other. Guitarist/Vocalist Dave Hebert and Bassist Jimmy Tebeau, both formerly of the band The Schwag, shined throughout the entire night. Though he’s not trying to replace Jerry in any means, Hebert (or “The Bear”) is doing a fantastic job at honoring the man that so many of us love and adore, with his Jerry-esque vocals and phenomenal fretwork. Tebeau has a stage presence that not many bassists bring to the table, with a knuckle sandwich of throbbing bass pumping from his headless bass. Other highlights included a fun and swinging Aint No Bread in the Breadbox and the Peter Rowan song that Jerry played in Old and in the Way – Midnight Moonlight. The song has some powerful lyrics, “If you ever feel sorrow for the deeds you have done, / With no hope for tomorrow in the setting of the sun.” JGB also pulled out a Dear Prudence that thrilled the crowd, and in a rarity with JGB, they came out for an encore, a magical Shakedown Street that had the hillside bobbing and shuffling. While many fans of Jerry Garcia stayed away from JGB shows after Jerry died as a sort of boycott, we’ve all been enjoying the songs that the iconic guitarist loved to play done by a group that is not attempting to replace him, but rather, honor him.
The night, which was heated up an amazing 25 degrees from Friday evening from the performances of the day, was just getting started, with festival kings The Rumpke Mountain Boys taking the stage. Looking out into the crowd, there were not many drop-offs from the JGB set, and the Rumpke Mountain Boys, in true Rumpke fashion, wouldn’t disappoint. Energized by their amazing summer, playing with some of the greatest players in the game, their new album due out November 2nd, and their first festival, Snugglefest, Rumpke wasted no time displaying their picking skills and heavenly harmonies. With Adam Copeland on acoustic guitar, Ben Gourley on mandolin, Jason “Wolfie” Wolf on banjo, and their newest member, upright player JD Westmoreland, they are a force to be reckoned with. The highlight had to be when they thrilled the crowd with “Huck’s Song”, a heady nugget-themed anthem named for their beloved dreadlocked manager that has become a festival favorite. Watching these boys over the course of the last few years has been a joy – And I always make it a point to monitor the crowd for reactions, and speak to one person who doesn’t fit the “bluegrass fan” mold to check out their set and meet back up with me after to give me their thoughts. In speaking with Nick Mavromatis of Brilliant, OH, “I don’t even like country or bluegrass music, actually I thought I hated it, but these guys blew me away.”
The state of Georgia would be represented next when Perpetual Groove, added to the lineup when Bill Kreutzmann’s 7 Walkers had to cancel due to health issues, took the stage and put on a fantastic show that was pleasing to the eyes and ears, with a frenetic light show and electronic beats. They came out with Teakwood Betz, staggering their entrance instead of coming out together as a group. Girl on LSD had an intelligent and impressive solo by guitarist Brock Butler. Boogie Matrix was supposed to be the next act, but they had to cancel due to unforeseen circumstances. According to their FB page, “For a variable of reasons, we just could not make it happen. Our apologies to the loving staff and family of Family Roots Fall Fest, and all that attended.” “Everything is ok, and we do not intend on missing ANY shows in the future. Again, sorry and much love always!!!!!!!!!!” The last band to grace the main stage was another up and comer on the festival circuit – Glostick Willy – they brought the “Muncie, IN magic “ with them, fresh off some amazing performances at WerkOut and They are hard driving, in your face psychedelic rock with thumping bass lines and funk fueled chords, and are starting to make some noise.
But the fun was not over for the weekend, there was still a Sunday full of music, and the Rumpke Mountain Boys bus was still here. Many in the crowd, knowing that Rumpke is famous for their campfire tours, did their best to keep their eyes open, as by this time is was many hours after Cinderella’s carriage turned into a pumpkin. We pulled the Rumpke Mobile, named Sea Hag for the shrieking let out from it’s rear when you open the hatch, back to festival nomad Tour Bus’ campsite, neatly tucked into the woods past the parking lot, and the boys picked until dawn for a few dozen lucky fans. Not many bands that I cover have the personal connection with their fans that these boys have. Gracious and caring, there were times when a visibly intoxicated and slightly annoying patron – one that many people would run the other way from – would come up to them to confess his love for them, and they always took the time to thank each person, take a picture, or sign an autograph – a testament to their true character, and one of the many reasons why these boys will find mainstream (well, our mainstream) success in the coming year.
The next morning was pack-up morning for me, but I did take the time to enjoy Silent Disco, where the participants put on wireless headphones and dance like there’s no tomorrow. Some of the most comical moments of the weekend occurred during the few hours Sunday morning that I spent enjoying this – I would highly recommend other festivals pick this up, as it’s contagious to participate and highly amusing to watch. The entire production of Family Roots Fall Festival was well done, and every bump in the road was met with a viable solution. In speaking with Raye of Bee Raye Productions, she stated that she felt blessed that the weather cooperated and thanked all the volunteers and staff who helped make this event a true success. “Some of the people that we just met a few days ago worked the hardest – it was amazing to see these people that we didn’t even know go above and beyond to make sure this went on smoothly.” Even the artists were happy with the event, especially the heated bathroom and shower in the backstage area. The 2nd Annual Family Roots Fall Festival, in my opinion, was a big success, and I’m sure that next year we will see a lot of the same beautiful faces again, hopefully with a friend to make the event even larger. And as I left the grounds of Kaeppnners Woods, I thought about the wonderful friends I met, the friendly faces I got to rage with once more before snow blankets the ground and we have to settle for listening to our favorite bands in the confines of our local venues and watering holes. And if I can borrow a line from one of my favorite Dead songs, “Thank you (Bee Raye)…… for a real good time.”