Deep Roots Mountain Revival 2016
Marvin’s Mountaintop, WV
Festival Experience Archive
for The Lot Scene by Bill Rudd
There's something to be said for being an early adopter. Normally that term is used for technology but it's equally applicable for music and especially the festival format. Like buying the newest iPhone, attending the first incarnation of a festival is always a bit of a gamble. Sure you can read up on the information provided by the organizers ahead of time, but it’s difficult to accurately anticipate how the details will fall into place in person. Could you be one of the first folks to have an amazing new festival experience? Absolutely. Could you be walking into complete discombobulation? Also a possibility. There are always pros and cons to consider but if you conclude to make the trip determined to have a phenomenal time, you could be rewarded with memories and bragging rights to last a lifetime.
Deep Roots Mountain Revival is an extremely interesting case because of its storied location on Marvin’s Mountaintop in Masontown, WV. This legendary venue played host to tens of thousands of people at the All Good Music Festival from 2003 to 2011 and earned a reputation for parties of epic proportions. Folks familiar with the site’s history couldn’t help but wonder how the first Mountain Revival would compare with All Goods past. The impressive multi-genre lineup lead us to believe that the music would be plentiful, but would the festival goers be as abundant? The only way to find out was to attend. Or read this review. Either way, it looks like you’ve come to the right place!
After exiting I-68 somewhere across the West Virginia line, we quickly found ourselves winding down narrow back roads, up and over hills as the sun started to set over the mountains. With a Deep Roots approved playlist pumping from the stereo, we were welcomed to WV by a randomly selected Hillbilly Gypsies track, “West Virginia My Home” off their One Foot in the Gravy album. We were confident in our GPS directions and the abilities of the all-wheel drive Subaru that transported us, but these were still some extremely legitimate country roads, with deep ruts and potholes seemingly springing up with each passing turn. Just as we thought we must have gone too far, having not passed a car for miles, we finally merged with a main road, right before the entrance to Marvin’s Mountain Top. We had arrived at the storied grounds of festivals past, ready to embark on a brand new experience. It was time for Deep Roots Mountain Revival.
After a smooth check in at the front gate we traversed the looping roads around the property until coming upon an expansive field with a collection of RVs and cars camped along either side of the road. We quickly encountered a bevy of friends from far and wide and left our vehicle and gear to come back for later. We’d familiarized ourselves with the layout a little and determined it was time to make our first hike up the rugged hillside towards the Highland Outdoors Roots Stage. The rock and root-filled trail was significantly steep and seemed to get a little more lengthy with each subsequent ascent. The sun had sunk below the horizon, but thankfully the festival team had illuminated the path with an array of ever changing lights. We followed the shifting circles of color until we reached the summit, a forested grove surrounding a full-size temporary stage which faced a grassy hillside beyond the tree line. The festival had a roaring fire pit ready to go nearby, not far from the handy beer vendor tent and a Shady Grove Wraps booth, standing by to fuel the raging that was about to go down atop the hill.
First up for this reporter was Megan Jean and the Klay Family Band (KFB) a married duo, perpetually on tour, known for making a raucous style of genre-mashing music that sounds something like a gothic rhythm and roots version of Lady Gaga. Simple, right? Megan Jean has moved on from the snare/kick/washboard combo she’s rocked for years, and was now seated behind a full drum kit where she belted out her intricate original lyrics as her husband Byrne strummed an electrified banjo. Her booming vocal talent was on full display during “Mr. Boneman,” a song about friend’s ex so awful Megan couldn’t help but write a breakup song about him. She pointed out the audacious and just about full moon that had risen overhead, appropriate as the next song, “Feel Alive,” made mention of a moon that seems absurd, as was indeed the case Thursday night. Or was it a spot light? Megan thought for a moment before determining, no, it was definitely a gorgeous glowing orb circling the earth, shining down on those of us gathered in celebration. The KFB continued with “Ain't No Daughter of Mine,” a once forgotten original with a distinct gypsy vibe, accentuated by the synthesized pitch effects Byrne used on his banjitar. As the band played on with Megan Jean’s reggaeton tinged song “Spider,” we decided it was time to dance our way back down the hill to construct our campsite for the weekend.
With tents pitched and coolers loaded we made the trek back up the sloping trail to the Roots Stage where we found The Jakob's Ferry Stragglers preparing to bring the first strains of bluegrass to back the Mountain Top. The four piece kicked things off with guitarist Gary Antol singing lead on “The Legend of Gandy Grey,” the opening track from their first album The Lane Change and followed it with fiddler Libby Eddy singing “Mannington #9” from the same record. Gary and Libby are a couple who share the lead duties in the band and hail from western PA and northern WV respectively. Their mountainous upbringing is instantly apparent in their lyrics, filled with vivid tales straight from the country’s coal mines. Next up was a personal favorite of this reporter, “Scattered Pieces,” a sweet slower song that shows off the band’s stellar songwriting, like this excerpt from the chorus “I’m dirty and I’m humble, now I’ll do what I do best: scatter the pieces and study the mess.” Gary’s wordsmithing is also a big part of “Beaumont Butler’s Blues,” a bit of a JFS origin story, in that it tells the tale of a man who sued The Weedrags, Gary and Libby’s previous project, because he worried folks might confuse them for his group The Weedhawks. A weed is a weed, after all. Fittingly, they followed that up with “Tumbleweed” a bouncy number that goes back to those Weedrag days but persists in the band’s catalog thanks to its catchy chorus. Miss Eddy again mesmerized the crowd with her vocals on “Country Melodies,” which included a bit of an homage to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in a section of the verse. Very nice! Jakob’s Ferry finished things off with an excellent rendition of the mostly instrumental “Sandy Boys,” leaving us all without doubt that we’d be front and center for their main stage set the next day.
While in search of sustenance and beverage replenishment, we heard the sounds of “Lay Down Sally” make their way to our encampment and thus we knew that Melvin Seals & JGB had taken the stage. Atop the hill they raged, with Melvin exploring the range of his electric organ’s keyboards in short bursts which encouraged immediate replies from the sizzling guitar on the other side of the stage. After an impressive extended instrumental jam came to a thoughtful conclusion we were treated to a lovely “Sugaree” sung by Zach Nugent. The Dead Set and Cats Under The Stars guitarist recently joined JGB but already seemed like a natural fit, bringing refined vocals in addition to his instrumental musicianship. Their version of the Garcia/Hunter standard stayed nice and mellow for a long while before ramping up into a heavy jam and then instantly dropping back, like someone taking a pot off a burner just before it boils over. Melvin asked the audience "Is anybody having any fun yet?" and quickly answered himself with a "Shit yeah" that he followed by belting out some soulful song about still being in love after all these years. Clearly the crowd was still in love with Mr. Seals and company based on their heartfelt reaction. A Peter Rowan tune was next with an extremely appropriate and peppy “Midnight Moonlight” that had everyone dancing away as the golden celestial body still shined overhead. The Jerry Garcia Band classic “Don't Let Go” featured a fantastic example of the lengthy improvisational interplay expected from a band bearing the JGB moniker. The keepers of the flame made sure that it burned as bright as the campfires that kept our bodies warm while our minds continued the Mountain Revival party.
Fletcher's Grove is a band built for a late night mountaintop throwdown. Born from the legendary WVU party scene that rages like a blazing couch in Morgantown fewer than 15 miles away from Marvin’s, this band was the perfect choice for the inaugural festival’s first 2am set, and the hometown heroes definitely delivered. Fletcher’s blues rock anthem “All The Way Home” brought the necessary heat to fire the crowd up on a chilly evening and the addition of a long outro jam morphed into a very welcome “Not Fade Away” that tied together the grateful spirit of the evening. The guitars of Wes Hager and Ryan Krofcheck took center stage, a hollow bodied Les Paul and straight Fender Strat respectively. The duo employed an assortment of effects to elevate the performance, from echoing spacey tones to grungy distortion, all while Wes showed off his dexterous fingering of the fretboard. Speaking of fretboards John Ingrahm’s six string electric bass was a sight to behold and be heard. The dude was busting out some seriously funky bass lines with varying slaps and plucks all night long. The whole band is a cohesive unit and would shift from a genuinely heavy riff immediately into a fast dance groove as the stage was enveloped with circling lights to match. Some festivarians wondered, “Is ‘Satellite Party’ next?” Nope, it's “Don't Take My Peace,” a funky number with a definite blues rock basis. The Fletchies weren’t anywhere near finished, and there would indeed be a “Satellite Party,” but right then it was time for this reporter to get some shut-eye. Friends who stayed till the end confirmed that Fletcher’s Grove prolonged their set past 4am, including a “five-minute warning” from festival organizers that lasted well over half an hour. It was obvious from Thursday night’s performances that all of the bands were prepared to bust out much more memorable music at Deep Roots Mountain Revival.