Home again! Snow Ridge Ski Resort in Turin, N.Y. has been the site of the moe.down festival, hosted by improv rockers moe. for 12 years. Since it was first held over the Labor Day weekend in 2000 the event moved to nearby Mohawk N.Y for two years from 2010-11, before returning to the original location last year.
Despite some cool sprinkles and overcast skies, the annual moe.down Charity Golf Tournament took place at Turin Highland Golf Course, with a beautiful view of Snow Ridge. The tournament crowned new champions this year, with a score of 3 under par, in the pair of Sal Pinto and Mike Moran.
For more than fifty years, The Del McCoury Band has represented the traditionalism and professionalism of the bluegrass genre stronger than any other band and their afternoon set exemplified those traits. The sun had finally burned through the haze of the day and here was a quintet dressed to the nines in full suits. McCoury’s guitar playing was crisp and inviting on songs such as the classic “Vincent Black Lightning” and the Appalachian tinged “Mountain Song” and the sentimental “My Love Will Not Change.” Taking crowd requests, they made the crowd gathered at the main stage feel a part of the show. Like father, like son, McCoury’s sons played gloriously along-side dad, as they have for more than 15 years, on the closing gospel classic, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.”
Friday evening truly belonged to festival host moe.,and the band owned it with two sets of intricate, tight jamming. Guitarist Al Schnier set the mood early on a blazing solo on “Bring You Down,” and “Blue Jeans Pizza” was a high point with uplifting peaks and lows, drawing huge cheers. Honoring the memory of Jerry Garcia, who passed away 18 years ago on this date, moe. played two wonderful Grateful Dead covers. “Casey Jones” was played sweetly and without veering from the original, while later in the second set, “Deal” – sung by drummer Vinnie Amico – was the highlight of the night, featuring an upbeat tempo and three part vocal harmonies. Set closer and fan favorite “Mexico” had the crowd singing along in unison on the euphoric chorus.
The second set opener, “St Augustine” exemplified the tight improvisational skills of this five-piece band. Though it’s been played more than 600 times over the years, tonight’s version featured trippy and dark guitars that took the song in new directions. “Time Ed” was an improvisational jam that moved into a drum and percussion jam, which segued into the heavy, psychedelic rock of “Water,” which in turn segued into the sing-a-long “Brent Black.” Amico’s instrumental ode to his wife and daughters, “MarDeMa” featured a percussion jam with he and Jim Loughlin that found its way back into the rocking closing version of “Time Ed.” One would certainly be hard pressed to find a band that has the musical chemistry on par with the five members of moe. as featured through this improvisational movement.
Conehead Buddha is an upstate New York band that began playing in the early ’90s that took a hiatus for several years but is now writing songs and performing again on their own terms. Siblings Shannon and Terry Lynch have been playing music together for decades as a horn section. There really couldn’t have been a better way to start the day – quite literally, as the sextet stated in the day’s opening song, “Ain’t No Better Way,” with a funky, jazzy three piece horn section blowing gloriously from the small stage drawing fans in from tent city early in the day. On “My Side Of The Story,” the sibling harmonies were apparent on both the horns and vocals and the bands’ boundless stage energy was infectious. Conehead Buddha is another in a long line of New York bands that didn’t get the attention that it so deserved, but at moe.down, they certainly capitalized on a beautiful day and with a whole bunch of fans.
Over on the main stage, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe was funkin’ things up. Greeting the crowd, Denson spoke of a new KDTU recording due in October, it’s first since 2009. “Apres Ski” was the first of several new songs the band performed for the crowd. The KDTU funk classic “Check Out Your Mind” featured searing guitar solos and Denson’s resonating vocals, and moved infectiously into The Bestie Boy’s “Sure Shot,” a move that drew quite a cheer.
Guitarist Schnier’s side project, the nu-grass band Floodwood performed its first gig at a previous moe.down festival two years ago. Promoting a debut recording due in the fall, Schnier mentioned the album’s Kickstarter campaign and a unique gift of offering fans a chance to sit in with the band at future performances. Under a cerulean sky on the small stage, the band was thrilled to be performing to such a large crowd and original songs such as “Anyone But Me” gave Jason Barady and Nick Piccininni the chance to step out and showcase their deft playing on the mandolin and banjo respectively.
Floodwood’s version of “Working On A Building” was far more upbeat and sped up in tempo than that of the more traditional reading from The Del McCoury Band the previous day. And closing out the set, Schnier again made reference to the late Garcia and offered a rousing run through the traditional blues song and a staple in The Dead’s rotation for many years, “I Know You Rider.”
With dusk just settling in behind the mountain, the temperatures quickly dropped, as they’re known to do at Snow Ridge once the evening arrives. And as they always do, moe. warmed fans’ spirits with another epic run through the crowd pleaser “Timmy Tucker” with multiple time and tempo changes signaled by the percussion team of Loughlin and Amico. Loughlin’s vibraphone playing was particularly enjoyable here. The first of the evening’s two guests, Chris Michetti, of Conspiritor and RAQ – both bands that played at the event – sat in on guitar for a blazing wail through the 70s Blue Oyster Cult classic “Godzilla” adding fierce fills to Garvey and Schnier’s harmony guitars.
The second and more notable sit in came when the three-piece horn section from Conehead Buddha joined in on an epic set closing “Plane Crash.” The song began with the horn section reinterpreting the notes of the string section introduction of the recorded song from moe.’s 1998 album Tin Cans and Car Tires, before blasting into a jazzed and funky run through the song. moe. with a horn section is something this long time fan has been clamoring for, for many years and “Plane Crash” was an epic moe.ment for sure.
Later in the second set, the band moved through originals “Recreational Chemistry>Akimbo” for more than 30 minutes of improvisational bliss. Here, Garvey and Schnier’s guitars were filled with vibraphone and percussion and deeply resonating rhythms. Again, one’s hard pressed to find a quintet of finer musical cohesiveness than that of moe.
Then hard to imagine something topping hearing one of your favorite bands add a horn section – but in the second set, moe. indeed topped themselves. Mentioning the recent passing of songwriter J.J. Cale and also the anniversary on this day of the passing of Michael Houser of Widespread Panic, Schnier dedicated “Traveling Light” in honor of both songwriters. Bassist Derhak’s vocals were mellow and subdued, gruff and achy as Cale’s own vocals. Schnier’s guitar playing was fluid and mellifluous, gorgeous and sinewy in tone and reflection of Houser. A debut performance of the song, might it be a future jam vehicle? One can certainly hope.
Sunday morning’s start was a pleasant and jazzy wake up call from the Stanley Jordan Trio. Jordan himself had performed at moe.down previously touring as a member of Umphrey’s McGee. Today, the guitarist played along-side his own trio of a bassist and drummer. His cover of “Walking After Midnight” was given a slow, sultry tempo and flare of a late night swanky jazz club. And at one point, he played solo on the guitar and piano himself – at the same time, sliding fingertips of one hand up and down the guitar fret board while tickling the ivories with the other. He brought the improvisation of the festival vibe around full circle, going the extra mile to just make up music on the stage, “…What if we just played whatever comes up?” he said to the crowd, receiving several warm cheers as he moved through a roughly 15 minute jam, and then closed out with an inspired instrumental run through Led Zepplin’s “Stairway To Heaven.”
Sunday’s big surprise was Dr. Dog as the band performed a mid afternoon set sandwiched between two moe. sets, and they certainly made the most of the opportunity with a raucous but melodic and infectious set that captured many new fans. Opener “Shadow People” began with a simple enough acoustic strum and a sharp, twee vocal, then built to a rolling, harmonious chorus of vocals. “That Old Black Hole” featured sweet, lulling vocal harmonies of the two front-men Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken. Playing to the specific crowd of a jamband festival, the band clearly added valleys and peaks and extended jamming between certain songs, such as on slightly psychedelic rocker “Heavy Light,” which came across as a much more rocking song live then on the studio recording. And with a percussive backbeat, the band enticed the crowd to clap along in unison on the set closing “Lonesome,” and left the stage with a gracious thanks and a wave to the appreciative crowd.
moe. is playing live as tightly and as expressively, while sounding as good as they ever have in their nearly twenty five year history. For the early afternoon set, the quintet strolled through relatively rote readings of “Stranger Than Fiction” and then Garvey’s comical punk rock anthem “Suck A Lemon.” Derhak’s ode to his blonde haired and blue eyed daughter, “Crackers,” followed and was a highlight as it was sweetly melodic and infectious, passionately sung with three part vocals, and a new song having only been played four times previously.
That lead to the family event, with a parade of children entering stage left, donning bear costumes and stuffed teddy bears in hand and joined the band in singing along and animating to “Bear Song.” Carly Meyers, of The Mike Dillon Band, also sat in on Saxophone, adding a funky flare. Closing out the afternoon set and continuing with the animals them, the quintet moved through the fan favorite anthem, “Buster” about a pig who dreams of flight. Here, the band moved through a musical interlude while crewmembers carried out two vibraphones to the front and center of the stage. Dillon joined Loughlin on an extended and improvised run of resonating bells and tubes that drew a huge ovations from an appreciative crowd.
As the dusk settled down behind the mountain and temperatures once again quickly dropped moe. began the final set of the weekend and fans were fired up. “Moth” was the first uberjam of the final set, and featured some bluesy wailing guitar fireworks from Garvey. It moved seamlessly into the more melodic and radio friendly song – if such a comment can exist in regards to a 10-minute performance – “High & Lo,” before moving into a spacey and atmospheric jam the segued into the floating dither of “Opium.” Here Derhak’s rolling low-end bass rhythms tied in nicely with somnambulant tones of Garvey’s mellowed and honeyed guitar tones.
Schneir welcomed Jordan to the stage to join moe. on a jazz inflected “Yodelittle.” Here’ Jordan added a third strain of resonating, echoing guitar effects to the song already filled with spiraling and dueling guitars. After (Al)nnouncements, including the Election of the new Mayor of moe.ville, (The Ditch of the south campground won a tightly contested race against Rex,) Jordan again joined the band on arguably the bands’ most beloved ode to a lover, “Rebubula.” This epic 35-minute version of a sea chantey tells the tale of a sailor lured off course by a sirens’ song, for a romp with the queen of the briny deep. Here, Jordan’s lulling and gentle tones played the part of the siren, an East coast mama for sure, and were juxtaposed with resonating vibraphone from Loughlin. With the crack of a snare, glowsticks were tossed at just the right moment of release, and Jordan surfed aboard a wave of speedy emotional build on jazzy intoned guitar, making an excellent addition to the final set. With a little more time before the fireworks were set to go off, the band gave one final, short encore run through “Happy Hour Hero.” – again, anti-climatic after such an epic jam – to none the less close out the festival in spectacular fashion.
Moe. has always maintained that the festival is about famoe.ly and such was the case again at 14. The line up may not have been as strong as in years past, and the resulting attendance down accordingly. But for a moe.ron, Snow Ridge, and moe.down will always be home for one weekend a year! Here’s looking forward to year 15.
A special thanks to Jay Blakesberg for the photos.