DEEP ROOTS MOUNTAIN REVIVAL 2016
Marvin’s Mountaintop, WV
Festival Experience Archive
for The Lot Scene by Bill Rudd
We awoke Friday morning to a gorgeous late summer day, the sky bright blue and the sun so warm that tents were uninhabitable shortly after 9AM. It was a welcome wake up call as we looked forward to the 10 world class acts scheduled to take the dual main stages of Deep Roots Mountain Revival. The massive festival stages were set up side by side, similar to the All Good days, in the corner of an expansive grass field facing a long sloping hillside that provided an abundance of additional viewing angles. A collection of vendors were set up along the entrance to the meadow, with Steal Your Plate, Shady Grove Wraps and several other tasty dining options to the right and about a dozen of the funkiest festival clothing and craft booths situated to the left. Things got started on Stage B around noon with Matt Mullins & The Bringdowns, West Virginian rockers who literally blend alternative and country to create hard edged twangy tones that filled the lawn and hillside. As we approached to investigate further it became immediately apparent that there was almost no one in attendance for the early afternoon’s first set, with only about 20 people who had mostly gathered near the shade of the soundboard’s canopy. Truth be told we must have been late arrivals ourselves because the set quickly came to its conclusion with an Uncle Tupelo cover, but not before we enjoyed a brief moment to bang our heads and stomp our feet simultaneously. Music was officially back in the heart of Marvin’s Mountain Top!
Megan Jean & The KFB were set up to the left on Stage A and after the previous night’s Roots Stage set we were extremely excited to hear Megan’s bold voice booming through the festival’s biggest speakers. Our high expectations were confirmed when “Playground Queen” began blasting across the mountaintop at a thunderous volume, sure to reach those just arriving, or yet to break camp for the day. Despite their loud volume the KFB specializes in stripped down tales of twisted knives and voodoo that rely on the rhythm of the duo to make you involuntarily dance to the madness. It was a little out of place to hear such dark imagery sung on a crystal clear sunny day surrounded by rolling green mountains. The next song, however, provided particularly poignant lyrics given the sparse crowd circumstances so far “Foxes in the hen house. Ain't it a shame nobody's home.” Indeed it was a shame that more people hadn’t made it to the festival in time to experience the pair of honest and energetic performances put on by Megan Jean and the Klay Family Band.
Up next were the rowdy Ohioans knows as The Rumpke Mountain Boys and they were more than ready to entertain the several dozen Mountain Revivalists that had assembled for their 2PM set. The four piece has evolved over the years, refining their brash style of bluegrass as they’ve crisscrossed the country honing their craft. After our back road journey to the mountaintop their lyrics “99 roads to travel but I'll get there someday” were felt wholeheartedly by the audience. Guitarist Adam Copeland sang “Fourdinaire” a descriptive story about their preferred partying lifestyle that can be found on their latest album High Time, Low Tide. They followed up with another song that couldn’t have been more apropos, calling out the “West Virginia Appalachian Mountains that I love.” Speaking of shout-outs it was nice to hear the Boys reference another former All Good location, the Sunshine Daydream Memorial Park in nearby Terra Alta, WV, a venue that helped the band build a tremendous fanbase among the region’s festival community. Mandolin player Ben Gourley switched to a similarly strung tenor guitar for a trashgrass take on the Grateful Dead’s “Althea” which signified a theme that would carry throughout the festival, with many more band members switching instruments and plenty of Dead covers to come. While the Rumpke Mountain Boys wrapped up their Friday set with a tune glorifying life in the medicine show we decided to mosey on back to camp to get prepped for the rest of the day’s music.
We hurried on back to Main Stage A where The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers were locked and loaded and off with a bang, breaking out the roaring instrumental “Old Joe Clark” which unleashed the picking prowess of every member of the five piece. Five piece? Yep, you read that right. The Stragglers had gained a member overnight with the addition of PA’s Fiddlin’ Ray Bruckman who was joining the band on mandolin. Guitarist Gary Antol sang lead on an original swing tune called “Get Along Gone” before JFS took things up another notch with a blistering version of Flatt & Scruggs’ instrumental “Lonesome Road Blues” anchored by expert banjoist Joe Dep. They drove that one directly into their outstanding original tune “Checkmate” for a fantastic combination of old and newgrass. But don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself!
Awesome right? The talented Libby Eddy was back singing lead on a pair of covers, first the appropriate “High On A Mountain” written by Ola Belle Reed, and then the Peter Rowan penned “Thirsty in the Rain,” a song that fits her beautiful voice so brilliantly the band recorded it on their latest album White Lightning Road. Newcomer to the Stragglers and former Brummy Brothers bassist Dave Brumberg stepped up to the mic for “Joy Bells Ringing” a traditional bluegrass number that suited his voice nicely and showed off his bass abilities a bit too. The band’s original instrumental “Red Prairie Dawn” was next with some exceptional fiddle work from Libby which they followed with “White Lightning Road” about the time honored tradition of bootlegging moonshine. The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers finished up with “I Know You Rider,” a traditional tune made famous by the likes of The Grateful Dead and Seldom Scene, that’s become a festival staple and thus a fitting choice to close out a their second stellar Mountain Revival set. Well done!
After perusing the food options some more and refilling our beverages (gotta stay hydrated out there folks) we made our way back to Stage B where we expected to find Shooter Jennings. What we found instead were Waymore’s Outlaws without Shooter, and they were playing his father Waylon’s classic “Good Hearted Woman” as a tribute to their former bandleader. They followed that with... a set break? Really. A fifteen minute set break amidst an hour and fifteen minute set. Interesting time management to say the least. Our patience was rewarded when Shooter finally took the stage, solo at first with an acoustic guitar in his arms as he stood behind an electric keyboard. He wailed a country ballad first, strumming the guitar while letting his powerful voice command the audience which was still no more than a couple hundred folks at most. Shooter switched over to the keys and demonstrated his instrumental ability with a haunting composition that built around an extended intro before segueing into his hit “All Of This Could Have Been Yours,” which was gained popularity thanks to its appearance on the television show Sons of Anarchy. The Outlaws returned to supply backup to Shooter as the group finished out the set with a heavy dose of the hard hitting country rock that they’re known for.
The country vibe increased considerably when Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives took the to the A Stage in all their sequined glory. This is a real deal country western rock and roll band, complete with coordinated outfits and the twang to match. They proved it further with their spot on take of the genre’s standard bearer “Country Boy Rock & Roll,” which proved they meant business with speed and precision in addition to excellent harmonies. Next was another appearance of the infamous “I Know You Rider,” a song that some might consider too popular for its own good. This was the third or fourth time it had been played at the Mountain Revival (Looking at you Jakob’s Ferry). They followed that with Marty’s original "The Whiskey Ain't Workin'," a hit as a duet with Travis Tritt in the 90s and still a hit with the fans in the field on Friday. It was extremely interesting to watch the composition of the crowd change with each band. Older folks with tucked in Harley t-shirts sat in folding chairs where tie-died and dreadlocked people had been swaying to Rumpke Mountain Boys a few hours prior. No stranger to the spotlight Marty lead His Fabulous Superlatives with an epic “House of the Rising Sun” as the setting sun began to sink over the West Virginia mountains, ending another marvelous set of music.
It was time for a diversion from the Main Stages as Grand Ole’ Ditch was set to perform on the VIP Stage, which was under a medium sized tent and separated from the common festival folk in a forested grove atop a nearby hill. The 7 member progressive bluegrass collective from Cumberland, MD, had ingeniously managed to have about a dozen of their friends and fans shuttled up to the secluded venue, by allowing their friend (me) to commandeer the band’s very own van. Talk about going the extra mile to get good folks in front of your music! And what great music it was, as Ditch started the intimate performance with a rocking rendition of banjoist Craig Miller’s “Take Me Back” which they followed with the breakneck instrumental “Chester's Breakdown.” The band kept the original tunes coming with their recent release’s relatable title track “Unwind,” that featured an extended intro before merging immediately into “Whippoorwill,” as smoothly as it does on the album. Jody Mosser mainly plays dobro with Grand Ole’ Ditch but switched to his Martin D-28 guitar for an extended solo that lead to his lovely instrumental “Pickin’ For Breakfast.”
A fantastic aspect of the VIP stage is its close proximity to the Main Stages, complete with a handy wooden deck which allows you to look overlook them without leaving the hilltop. We took full advantage of the perch to catch a couple songs from Fruition who had already begun rocking on Stage B. The Portland based folk rock band performed “I Can't Stop,” a rootsy song sung by guitarist Jay Cobb Anderson. Mandolinist Mimi Naja was up next singing “The Wanter,” a really fun tune with a bluegrass bounce about someone with a phobia of wedding rings. The last song we caught from high above the main field was the appropriately titled, “Above the Line” off their recently released Labor of Love record which features the fancy drum work of Tyler Thompson and the vocals of guitarist Kellen Asebroek. We rambled back over to the Grand Ole’ Ditch set in VIP just in time to hear Fiddlin’ Ray Bruckman, fresh off of mandolin duty with Jakob’s Ferry, shredding some bowstrings on his incendiary instrumental “Dragon's Breath.” Up next was “Dark Rider” an original that recently made its way back into the band’s rotation and nicely summed up the experience we felt approaching the festival grounds. “Gaze upon the mountain, leave it all behind. Lay my tracks on down the road for someone else to find.” The band wasn’t about to leave anything behind in their allotted time, finishing the set with a raucous reggae-fied version of The Dillard’s “Old Man at the Mill” that’s become a favorite among Ditch diggers, in this instance requested by Libby of The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers. Musicians appreciating and interacting with other musicians was a special part of the Deep Roots experience and something we would see much more of over the course of the weekend.
After an extended rest and recovery period back at camp we prepared ourselves for the impending session of world class jamgrass with Cabinet and Greensky Bluegrass scheduled back to back on the Main Stages. As we approached the infield to take our places up front we found the pop country act Love and Theft performing on Stage A with a straightforward cover of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” that a friend likened to a couple’s skate. They closed their set with a song about their fondness for Jesus and then it was finally time to get high on Pennsylvania bluegrass. Cabinet didn’t waste any time riling up the several hundred strong crowd with a fiery “Hit It On The Head” followed with a spectacular “Celebration” featuring Pappy Biondo on lead vocals in addition to the custom Circle Strings electric banjo he’s been playing predominantly as of late. His cousin, mandolinist JP Biondo took a turn singing lead on the long adored Cabinet classic, “The Tower” before the band transitioned to the cowboy anthem “Diamond Joe” which included some significant shredding from Mickey Coviello’s electric guitar. The fluidity with which the boys swap out instruments is always amazing, with Pappy switching back to his traditional Nechville banjo mid-song and especially impressive when Dylan Skursky’s bass changes from electric to upright without the band missing a beat. The spacey instrumental “Mysterio” was next and gave the dual drummers Jami Novak and Josh Karis a chance to show off their syncopation as well as some supplemental percussion that really adds to the breakdowns. Hot, hot, fire from all 6 of the band members there. "Watch out folks we're comin' atcha," exclaimed Pappy in his distinct drawl. JP was back lending his voice to “Treat Me So Bad,” which was a swingy palate cleanser before things got much heavier with the dramatic “Any Old Sign” which fell to “the Todd side” with a howling fiddle solo from Todd Kopec. The fellas really let loose after that with a wild and wonderful “Arco Arena,” which is derived from a snippet of a Cake song that they extrapolate expertly and often, this time with an added segment of “Shady Grove” to conclude what was already a monumental jam. And it didn’t end there — the band dedicated their rapid bluegrassy instrumental “Po's Reel” to a birthday girl named Candace and a couple called the Koons who were celebrating their 17th anniversary on the mountaintop. Interestingly it was the drummers who stood out on the song, demonstrating how a few well-timed symbol strikes can add gravitas to a bluegrass tune in a way that no mandolin can. The song’s usual “It Ain’t Me” tease was extended into a full on “Under the Sea” segment for all the Little Mermaid heads in attendance, before the band dove back in and finished the explosive mando lead reel. The grand finale was yet another extended jam that included a short diversion into “Shine Like the Sun” where it seriously seemed as if Pappy was communicating with both drummers solely via his eyes and electric banjo. For good measure they tacked on a hint of “Fire on the Mountain” to the outro, which made perfect sense because Cabinet had just set Marvin’s Mountain Top ablaze with a fire breathing monster of a set. Bravo boys, bravo!
That might have been a tough act to follow but if anyone’s up to the challenge it most certainly was Greensky Bluegrass. The Michigan powerhouse quintet opened the proceedings with a funky “Jaywalking” through thick billowing fog that engulfed the stage. Guitarist Dave Bruzza stepped through the mist and up to the mic for “Somebody To Lean On” in his unmistakable raspy tone. The crowd had swelled significantly by this point, with the flat part of the field mostly full, however it was still one of the most intimate Greensky festival performances you’re ever likely to find. Mandolinist Paul Hoffman, or phoffman as the kids call him, was back singling lead, dropping f-bombs and jaws with an emphatic “Windshield,” the emotion drenched ballad from their previous release If Sorrows Swim. With a full harvest moon overhead and stage lights eerily illuminating the smoke that persisted through the set, it seemed almost as if Paul was the mythical wolfman, leading his pack with an intense outcry of emotion. The track that contains their last album’s title line “Burn Them” was next, with it’s fast pace punctuated by Anders Beck’s dobro, which picked the party back up into a frenzy. Greensky won the competition for first Main Stage band to call the state by its unofficial title, “West, by God, Virginia,” a prestigious distinction to be sure. Bruzza was back singing “Doin’ My Time,” a number brought to bluegrass by Flatt & Scruggs and turned into a gravelly jamgrass interlude by Greensky. The boys took things to The Dark Side of the Moon with their awesome interpretation of “Time > Breath,” the legendary Pink Floyd piece that’s been a staple of GSBG sets for almost a decade. The evening’s festivities reached a grandiose pinnacle with an elongated exploratory “Don't Lie” that at times resonated across Marvin’s Mountain Top like a herd of bison stampeding across the plains. Back at the comfort of camp it seemed as if the echoes continued to reverberate for hours, though that was likely just BIG Something or Pigeons Playing Ping Pong crushing it late into the night on the Roots Stage. Without a doubt the Deep Roots team made sure that there was certainly no shortage of incredible music on Friday, with many more amazing Mountain Revival moments yet to come.