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Postcards: Perpetual Groove’s Amberland Round-Up

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Memorial Day Weekend boasts many traditions to mark the unofficial start of summer. In the world of HT faves Perpetual Groove, the holiday weekend saw the 13th installment of Amberland, the group’s annual festival. Holding court at Cherokee Farms in Lafayette, Georgia, not too far from the band’s home base of Athens, PGroove drew and expanded on one of my favorite festivals. Although I wasn’t able to make it this year, we wanted to share some of the sights and sounds of Amberland 2012.

[All Photos by David Shehi of Honest Tune]

The festival kicked off with a late night set on Friday that featured guests from many of the other bands on the bill and other friends including former keys player John Hruby.  Amberland’s PGroove and Friends’ “Super Jam” started out with Bobblehead Funk, and featured a nearly half-hour Drink Then Fill  This set, which always kicks off the festivities, is what Amberland represents in a nutshell. It’s loose and casual, with musicians sometimes switching off mid-jam, but it also represents the beginning of what is a relentless onslaught of music from all sensory angles. Covers included Paul Simon’s I Know What I Know, Foster The People’s Pumped Up Kicks and Funkadelic’s Can You Get To That.

With six “official” PGroove sets on Saturday and Sunday, there were highlights around every corner. Saturday’s sets featured a pair of creative “sandwiches” in Cabulo Monstrosity > God’s Gonna Cut You Down > Cabulo Monstrosity and Mr. Transistor > Only Always > Mr. Transistor. The band also debuted a pair of new tunes in My Favorite Color and Fend For Your Life. Yet the event wasn’t just PGroove. With performances from The Heavy Pets, Under the Porch, Moon Taxi and Consider The Source, this was definitely the biggest Amberland to date.

We’ve got more photos, a video and a few songs for your streaming pleasure…

As keyboardist Matt McDonald said about the weekend, which was his first since his departure from the band in 2008 at this very event: “Amberland brought everything full circle for me personally this year. It was more a family reunion or backyard BBQ with 800 of your closest friends rather than a festival. It was great having Under the Porch, The Heavy Pets, Moon Taxi, and Consider the Source on the bill with us this year. It was my first time with other bands at Amberland and it’s a welcome change. The band definitely played some of our best sets of the year and some songs were even best versions ever in my opinion. Even when we all lost our voices by the last set on Sunday having Hruby and other musicians on stage to help out felt completely natural and we never lost momentum as a band. Really, some of the best playing we’ve ever done.”

Saturday’s sets also saw former keyboardist Hruby join his old mates on For Now Forget and The Butthole Surfers’ Pepper as well as the return of At The Screen, which also saw Mark Montrella sit in on bass. The show closed out with two bust outs: Andromeda (first since 5.29.10) and Green Light Go (first since 4.25.08), showing just how much attention to detail the band puts into their admittedly favorite weekend of the year.

Sunday highlights have to start with another aspect of Amberland – many patrons’ favorite part – the early morning “Brockfast“. Each Amberland, front man Brock Butler treats the crowd to an early morning set (often stretching well past two or three hours). This year, as he mentioned on the band’s message board about fans calling this the best Brockfast ever, but how things don’t always go as planned. “I very much wanted it to be [the best]” Butler said. “I truly wanted not for folks to go from Amberland as a whole, talking not of how I still could walk or play at all after being up for days, etc. I really made an effort to think out the sit ins, and introduce newer instruments I’ve picked up over this past year (the smaller and smaller guitars). [I] tried to pace [myself] and take care. So of course , of all the Amberlands, the one where I truly wanted to express my gratitude through my craft? My voice crapped out. Typical.”

Don’t worry Good Reverend, this set still sounds amazing. Guests included each of his PGroove band mates, McDonald’s wife Kelly, Ayinde Bryant on bass and Jeff Lloyd of The Heavy Pets as well as Brock’s roommate and collaborator Michael Blair. Among the many covers were Bon Iver’s Holocene, Wilco’s One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend), Alice In Chains’ Rooster, DMX’s Crime Story and The Only Living Boy In New York by Paul Simon.

Here’s a cover of Pearl Jam’s Release that he played with longtime friend Tye Munn on guitar…

Sunday’s PGroove highlights included a deliciously delicate Luthien & Beren that floats and drips upwards into the ether, led by Butler on a myriad of strings, and a raucous, yet complex, delicate odyssey through Sunday afternoon’s set closing Decepticon Structure. The second set saw Heavy Pets’ keyboardist Jim Wuest accompany the band through Space Oddity and a disgustingly dark Speed Queen, while the eventual start of the encore for TTFPJ saw not only Wuest, but Hruby, longtime collaborator Gary Paulo on sax and Heavy Pets’ guitarist Jeff Lloyd cap off the weekend.

Overall, Amberland showed tremendous signs of growth this year and holds promise to keep the beginning of summertime in Georgia as refreshing as a Sweet Tea for years to come.

We’ve got a few more treats from Amberland. First off, our friend David Shehi of Honest Tune filmed this incredible backstage performance of Butler, McDonald and Matt’s wife Kelly performing Ashtar Command’s Deadman’s Gun…

Also, here’s links to recordings of Friday’s Super Jam, Saturday’s PGroove sets and Sunday’s PGroove sets as well as the Brockfast set from the final day. There’s also recordings of The Heavy Pets’ Friday and Sunday performances on the Live Music Archive as well as Under The Porch’s set from Friday. Finally, Mr. Shehi has shared a few more photos with us…

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