Music festivals are marathons, and most marathoners hit the wall near the end of the race. My wall came at 11:45 Sunday morning, as the music from Uproot Hootenanny wafted through the trees. We could hear it just fine over in Short-Cut Camp, but for a while I was still horizontal. The time change didn’t help one bit. I never saw the band, but they sounded great.
What is a bluegrass quartet doing at a funk fest, you might ask? There’s no drummer. Uproot Hootenanny was the perfect antidote for mild to severe cases of funk overload. Their music was a gentle wake-up call on this beautiful and warming Sunday.
I made sure that I got to the Vibe Tent in time to see Fat Mannequin, yet another subset of the Heavy Pets. At last year’s AURA, I found them playing by accident and was truly knocked out. No bass. No drums. Just guitarists Mike Garulli and Jeff Lloyd picking acoustic and singing. My award last year for the best performance at this funky festival was this duo performing a stunning version of “Eleanor Rigby.” My award for this year? Same thing. Garulli and Lloyd were joined by bandmate Tony D’Amato, who added great richness to the sound.
TAUK was revving up for round two at the amphitheatre. I tried to speculate about what they had left in the tank after the previous night’s blow-out performance. They apparently decided to top themselves. Bassist Charlie Dolan confided that this was “our afternoon set; that was our night set.” The amphitheatre crowd bobbed and danced to a superb show.
Mike Geller of Grateful News said he had heard that the band had retired their cover of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” but the boys decided to roll it out one more time, and it was awesome. They play it with several false endings; my favorite was the one where you could hear drummer Isaac Teel sing “She’s so…” and then the drum crash. The tunes from Homunculus and recent release Collisions were terrific.
The McLovins were playing a joyful, bouncy set on the porch stage. The quartet plus three horns had a big sound that at times sounded Dead-ish. I need to see them again. Meanwhile, the Emily Carroll Band was in the Vibe tent. Carroll has a great voice and plays guitar in a sextet that features — surprise! — Heavy Pets Jeff Lloyd and Jim Wuest. A note about Wuest and other musicians at the festival. It is a great compliment to the other musicians and great for us festival-goers to see musicians listening to and appreciating each other. This is a fabulous community.
There was great anticipation about the Main Squeeze tribute to the King of Pop. Recently, we had seen Ajeva do a Michael Jackson tribute. There are two ways to approach such an event. Ajeva used the opportunity to play in and around the sounds, reinterpreting, almost reinventing. That truly worked for them. The Main Squeeze took the direct approach, because they could. Singer and frontman Corey Frye was perfect in the role of Jackson.
It was a sing-along all through the set, from “P.Y.T.” to “Man in the Mirror.” The Shady Horns were helping to funk things up, and Teel from TAUK was smiling, singing and playing percussion. Guitarist Max Newman worked some “Shakedown Street” into his “Off the Wall” solo. Jamar Woods of the Fritz joined keyboard player Ben Silverstein for a while.
The band hit two true emotional peaks. The first was during “Black or White,” with the lyrics resonating with everybody in attendance. The other was the closing “Man in the Mirror,” taken to beautiful gospel proportions. WOW.
Kung Fu was just glad to be able to play this year. They were impossibly snowed in during last year’s AURA and never made it. Keyboardist Todd Stoops (also with RAQ, along with drummer Adrian Tramontano) mentioned the no-show. They played a hard-driving funk set, with Tim Palmieri reminding us why he is truly one of the most underrated guitarists on the planet. After “Scrabb,” Rob Somerville had a blast launching into their SiriusXM hit, “Hollywood Kisses,” with its deep funk and wild changes. And they closed with probably the hardest-hitting tune I’ve ever seen them perform. It was time for Break Science Live Band. But it was also time for me to leave. Festival organizer, guru and king Daryl Wolff was introducing them as I made it to my car. It sure sounded good before I drove off. This was my 18th festival at the park, but I had never seen the bats come out of the bat house at night. My drive was perfectly timed. What a magnificent spectacle!
Thank you to everyone who made this festival possible. It was a heavenly event at the most heavenly place. As many are saying online, I CAN’T WAIT ‘TIL NEXT YEAR!
My wristband is still in my pocket.