By Andre Reddy

The Summer of 2012 has been nothing short of an all you-can-eat buffet for festival junkies. Fans have had an array of tasty dishes to choose from, with events going down literally every weekend. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end folks, and festy season is no exception (at least in the Northeast). Luckily, there is solace in the fact that summer came to a close with the incomparable Catskill Chill Festival.

Set on beautiful CampMinglewood in upstate New York, “The Chill” is 3 days of unparalleled music, vibe, and community. In only its third year, the festival reached maximal capacity, drawing 5,000 strong to the mountains for what many might call a “family” get together.  Every possible nook and cranny of the lakeside campground was littered with tents and hammocks.  Additionally, cabin options allowed for groups of friends to have rule over their own bunk houses, many of which became sites for round the clock parties and live music sets.

With headliners like Yonder Mountain String Band and Lotus, the lineup speaks for itself. However, it isn’t the music alone that defines the beauty of the Catskill Chill; of equal merit is the undeniable sense of community and togetherness in which you are enveloped the minute you enter the gates. Returning attendees refer to this lovingly as “ChillFam”, and rightfully so. In sharp contrast to larger, more commercial festivals, like Bonnaroo or Coachella, the Catskill Chill promotes a brotherly vibe that you just can’t achieve with those others. It is very much the same as the experience described by JamCruise or JazzFest regulars. The diversity of music available also promotes this type of environment. As one fan put it, “The ChillFam is a special subgroup of all the scenes. The music at this festival is so very different in that it is split down the middle between electronic and more traditional jam acts…and even within those genres there is a very eclectic grouping of artists. Competing sets are no big deal if they are not the same kind of music. Your choices are clear of where you wanna be. So many wonderful people flying their freak flags high….Gypsy Love!”

That being said, music is still central to any amazing festival, and the Catskill Chill had all bases covered. Besides a group of headlining acts that would blow your mind on paper alone, it’s the lesser known acts and hidden gems that emerged throughout the weekend, which truly impressed. Personally, I left the Chill a new fan of more bands than I can count on both hands. So without further delay, let’s take a look at what went down musically over the weekend at the Catskill Chill.

Swing folk band Caravan of Thieves kicked off the festival Friday afternoon with both a traditional and acoustic set for gypsy Jazz fans they’ve dubbed as “freaks”. Following a high energy set by Vermont quartet Twiddle, spinning and hooping ensued to the sounds of JGB with Melvin Seals. As the sun set over Camp Minglewood, Disco Biscuits drummer Allen Aucoin donned his alter ego, Dr. Fameus, for a truly intense set of beats. This may have been the perfect lead-in for the start of the evening’s “fireworks”.

Super group, Conspirator, took the main stage at 8pm for what was nearly 2 hours of jaw dropping insanity. The brainchild of The Disco Biscuit’s Aaron Magner and Marc Brownstein, this collective also includes members of Chris Michetti and human drum machine KJ Sawka. Fans were dancing hard all set as they clung to one drop after the next. Highlighting the set was a filthy sequence of Accent> Scarlet Begonias > Accent. Taking a look around heads were truly stupefied.

Killer sets from Kung Fu, and Royal Family darlings Lettuce, reminded everyone that nasty funk and deep grooving jazz rhythms can get a body moving just as hard as the EDM guys can. Kung Fu fans were treated to sit-ins from Neal “Fro” Evans (Dopapod) and Chris Michetti (RAQ) for the song Stratus. The incomparable Nigel Hall brought the house down with his performance during Lettuce’s cover of Curtis Mayfield’s Move on Up. Late night on day one belonged to EOTO. High-energy percussion and deep progressive beats had the floor packed till 4AM. Notably, the duo stirred up the crowd with an extensive, and quite badass tease of Phish’s First Tube.

Those just waking up or still raging from the night before started day two with the uniquely Middle Eastern, sci-fi jazz sound of Consider the Source; the set included sit-ins from members of Fikus, Shwizz, and Kung Fu. The band later played an acoustic set under a serenely gorgeous weeping willow tree on the camp ground.

Shortly after 1pm, event staff made their way around the grounds warning guests of an approaching storm. Rumors of 70+ mph winds, and even a tornado, spread around camp quickly. Forced to break down their easy-ups and find shelter, The ChillFam remained undeterred from its mission as storm parties ensued over the course of the next hour or two. Thankfully, the storm didn’t quite live up to its hype, and music returned to the masses with a rain shortened dance set by The Alan Evans Trio.

Next, two extremely talented up and coming outfits, The Indobox and Shwizz, shared the same slot on opposite stages. These two bands played like it was their last show, and the crowd appreciated every second of it. Shwizz closed out their set with Pink Floyd’s Have a Cigar which was simply awesome. If you are unfamiliar, definitely give both of these acts a listen as soon as possible!

Rubblebucket brought its eclectic sound to the stage delivering a funky, psychedelic, pop-rock dance vibe that had everyone salivating. Or maybe it was the mesmerizing Kalmia Traver on sax and vocals. Either way, Rubblebucket kicked ass.

Evening highlights were forged by headliners Yonder Mountain String Band, who brought it full throttle with their signature bluegrass rage. Commenting on how much they loved the place, the band’s energy was dialed in at maximum and this certainly translated to the packed crowd dancing in front of them. Not to be outdone, Soulive also played an exceptional set featuring The Shady Horns and Nigel hall on vocals. Fans went wild for covers of Everybody Wants To Rule The World (Tears for Fears), Eleanor Rigby (Beatles), and Jimi Hendrix’s Third Stone. Late night rage on night two was provided courtesy of Break Science’s bass pounding insanity and two hours of instrumental genius by jamtronica powerhouse Particle.

The dance party started heavy and hard on day three with a masterful set from The Jennifer Hartswick Band; Hartswick and drummer Nikki Glaspie (Dumpstaphunk) are two amazingly talented and soulful women who are truly awesome to see perform not only alone, but together as well. The set contained a cover of Stevie Wonder’s You Haven’t Done Nothing, which contained First Tube (Phish) teases. Hartswick also showed off her pipes with a rendition of Sharon Jones’ How Long Do I Have to Wait.

Mid-day standouts were abundant on Sunday. Young up-and-comers The Folkadelics was deemed by many as the “sleeper band” of the fest. Performing on the “Club Chill” stage, these guys had everyone bouncing around. A unique blend of rock, reggae, hip-hop and funk was cemented by four-part male and female vocal harmonies. Keep this band on your radar music lovers. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong is a funk jam electro-rock outfit from Baltimore. The band had a fun bouncy stage presence and really seemed to be enjoying things as much as the crowd. They even went a little crazy with a funked out version of The Ghostbusters theme song.  New Jersey natives Fikus also brought the heat with their signature style of “Electro-Funkadelic Hip-Rock”, but more on them later.

The general consensus Sunday night was that Philadelphia’s own Lotus was at the pinnacle of their game Sunday night. They amazed fans with a packed set list containing fan favorites and rarities. Also shining bright during the evening were Floridajam natives, The Heavy Pets. During Girl You Make Me Stupid, Chuck Morris (Lotus) sat in and aerialist Rachel Lancaster spun through the air with her graceful acrobatics. This was just too cool to watch. Horizon Wireless put on a performance that had the whole room going batty, making it one of the best sets of the weekend at Club Chill. Harrizon Waxzenberg and Sol Montoya are both true talents who continue to make a name for themselves on the festival circuit.

While many fans headed home following the Lotus set, those who stuck around were blown away by yet another mega group, Kick Rocks. Comprised of members of The Disco Biscuits, Dopapod, Lotus, and Brother’s past, I literally felt a tangible energy during this set that remains quite indescribable.  Lighting design for Kick Rocks was done by Luke Stratton, sound and lighting engineer for Dopapod. As usual, the guy just killed it with the lights. His work gets better and better every time I see him. I asked Luke about the setup at Catskill Chill and he explained: “Biggest rig I’ve ever designed on by far. The festival did a great job advancing the details and they let me check my programming after EOTO on Friday. I was programming till 8am!” Luke’s hard work was quite apparent as heads were blown! To close the set, Clay Parnell (Brothers Past) dropped the familiar baseline of Led Zeppelin’s No Quarter. An ethereal version of a masterpiece, fans could not have asked for a better song to close out the fest.

It is worth mentioning that music at the Catskill Chill was not restricted to the main stages alone. One of the best parts about this place was the pop-up, or “secret” sets. There are two instances especially worthy of mention. For the second year straight, bands Fikus and Shwizz, turned a cabin into the late night hot spot. These guys literally played music well beyond sunrise each night. Music in the “Shwikus” house raged for 6 hours non-stop and the vibe never faltered. Freaking awesome! For those who would rather spend the wee hours raging to electro, there was no better treat than that from The Ice Cream Disco. A real ice cream truck decked out in pink with a giant disco ball and lasers. DJ’s spun intense beats till the sun rose well above the lake. People could not walk by this truck without stopping to dance.

This event provided a bit of everything for everyone without the frustration of overcrowding, high vendor prices, or ridiculous ticket pricing. I miss the ChillFam already and am itching to get back to camp next year!

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Photos By Vernon Webb, Nick Irving, and Phrazz:

Photos By Vernon Webb, Nick Irving, and Phrazz: