Amberland is about family – one that faithfully gathers every Memorial Day weekend for a festival of Perpetual Groove, and nothing but PGroove. This may be the only festival of its kind and the fans wait all year to make the trek to northwest Georgia to spend time with the band and their friends.
PGroove gets a great deal of respect from promoters and festivals – they have already made appearances in 2008 at Jam Cruise and Langerado, and they will be appearing at Rothbury and All Good this summer. Despite this, they have yet to break through and find the success of Umphrey’s McGee or the Disco Biscuits.
Regardless, their fans are dedicated and at any given show you will find them fans greeting each other, happy to be amongst their peers. Amberland is basically a party thrown by the band for their friends. This seventh annual celebration hosted around 750-800 people who found their way to a normally quiet part of Georgia the weekend of May 23-25 to get their fill of Perpetual Groove.
Cherokee Farms is great place for a small festival. Camping is somewhat segmented – the trees leave room for just small groups of tents. there’s family camping and then the big field – those who plan to rage all night. The stage is centrally located so that any camp site is only a short walk from the stage.
There’s plenty of vending and food available, including the annual Barbeque by Mark Day. This year’s hog, named Squishy, weighed in at 330 pounds. In other words, there was plenty for everyone.
One of the great things about holding a festival with just one band is the accessibility – a lot can be crammed into one weekend. The fans who can’t afford the time or money to tour can hear songs they might miss by attending only a few shows a year.
Also, this sort of festival allows the host band to go further into the jams because their audience is the most passionate group assembled all year. More than a dozen songs hit the 20-minute mark over the this year’s Amberland.
Because Perpetual Groove performed for over 20 hours, they covered a large part of their catalogue and everyone got to hear their favorite songs. Friday night opened with a jam which segued into " Perihelion," followed by "Andromeda." Tom Petty’s “Girl on LSD” showed up midway through the set, performed by Brock Butler solo.
The second set kick-started with Funkadelic’s “Can You Get To That," and the night closed with Rage Against The Machine’s "Bulls on Parade."
Saturday arrived and it was hot – temperature-wise. The songs chosen for the afternoon set all showcased Brock Butler’s thoughtful, soulful lyrics. What sets Perpetual Groove apart from so many other “jam” bands is their reliance on songs that echo experiences with love and life – themese common to everyone.
The band opened with “For Now Forget,” which had only been played 5 times in the past 18 months. There was an “All This Everything” sandwich – part 1 was followed by "Long Past Settled In," "Cabulo Monstrosity," and "TSMM" before closing the set with "pt. 2."
The band took a break and returned for the second set. PGroove came right out of the gate, blasting the audience to “Thinking Those Thoughts,” a song very much in the vein of “Take Five”, the great jazz composition that was first played seven years ago but that’s been heard only about four times a year since.
The Chemical Brother’s “Sunshine Underground” was a crowd pleaser, and it was followed by a rousing "Crapshoot" and a 22-minute version of "Occam’s Blazer."
Third set arrived at sundown, and the band returned to the stage with bassist Adam Perry’s brother Damien, lead guitarist in Red Giant. With Damien on Butler’s Fender Stratocaster, PGroove came out with a heavier sound to open the set with “Speed Queen” and “Echo.” They extended the jams over the course of the lengthy set, and eventually launched into “Macumba.”
"Macumba" led into a Brock Butler rap, where he borrowed from Jay-Z’s “99 problems,” threw down a little “I want to talk to Sampson” from the movie Half Baked, and added in a little Wu-Tang Clan and Beastie Boys. During the rap, Brock moved to the front of the stage and gave the mic to a member of the audience to help out. After PGroove gathered themselves, they finished the set with 20 minutes of “Teakwood Betz.”
The crowd moved to another tent around 2:00am to hear Matt McDonald’s latest solo creation, a 40-minute techno mix that used soundtracks from various movies, like “America Beauty: and “Network.” Much of the mix was done in real time as Matt moved between audio files and live sounds.
Afterwards the band, in a more acoustic arrangement with Brock on his Gibson acoustic and Matt on the Fender Rhodes, took the stage again and started with a jam that was created as Brock shouted out the key changes. This morphed into three brand new covers: Bob Dylan’s “Too Many Mornings,” STS9’s “Breathe In,” and then even more surprisingly into the Disco Biscuits’ “Home Again.” It was followed by a “Soprano’s Theme.” Adam Perry really stood out, playing a laid back line to augment the guitar and piano work. By 3:30am the crowd was tired but still alive, and the band launched into a crowd favorite, their cover of the Talking Heads “Native Melody” which became a sing-along to end the evening.
The temperature dropped into the upper 50s, and some headed off to sleep. Brock’s solo set had been scheduled for 8:00am but was rescheduled for 10:30. Everyone was looking for shade under a hot sun by then. The revelers wandered to the stage in groups as the show started. Like so many things, pacing was crucial because there was still a long way to go. Butler played for nearly two hours, and his set was highlighted by Steely Dan’s “Do It Again,” The Beatle’s “Norwegian Wood,” and a new, as of yet untitled song.
Around 4pm the whole band took the stage and started with a set of songs not commonly played; “No Decorations,” “Fifty-Three Things to Do in Zero Gravity,” “Tu Sevun,” and “A Moment Ago,” which hadn’t been heard in nearly a year.
Everyone in the crowd, and especially the band, was aware that this was the last time Matt McDonald would perform as a member of Perpetual Groove after touring for seve years. McDonald’s piano work shone brightest on “Tu Seven” and “Under Lock and Key.” “Breeze,” which appeared later in the set, picked up the mood – how can it not, as the song discussed the virtues of monkey life and offered the opportunity to make jungle noises. The band stretched it out for15 minutes.
PGroove concocted a surprise for the fans during the second set, and managed to keep it a secret. The band, still off-stage, milled about with a nervous energy. Damien, an excellent guitarist but very different than Floyd axeman David Gilmore, discussed how he’d have to adapt his style to cover the songs ahead. Finally he grabbed his brother Adam and they went off to rehearse the chord changes only minutes before they were to go on.
The sun had set by the time the band climbed the stairs to the stage and launched into an entire set of Pink Floyd. The band chose songs from Obscured by Clouds, Meddle, Wish You Were Here, and Dark Side of the Moon. The crowd demonstrated their appreciation with an enthusiastic response to the music. Three of these songs – "One Of These Days," "Brain Damage," and "Eclipse" – were new to the band and they pull it off admirably.
Once back on familiar ground, the band seemed more relaxed and with no reason to hold back they reached deep and performed their best. Adam demonstrated why he is one of the best bassists in the jam world. His rock solid tempos held down the beat and allowed drummer Albert Suttle to accent at will. “AIM” and “TTFPJ” were examples of how Perry can anchor the rhythm and hold a song together.
For “Mayday” and “TTFPJ” Damien rejoins the band on lead guitar. "TTFPJ" (Too Tough For Freddie Prinze Jr.) is a song that allows the band to give shout outs for various occasions. Tonight, a larger than life-sized cut out of Sarah Michelle Geller was placed beside Adam, and Freddie got the shout out, very old-school. Once they move into the jam, everyone but Albert and Adam wandered off in different directions. Eventually the song was deconstructed until only Matt and Adam were playing. Adam began to play with the melody and Damien joined and teased AC/DC, and finally Adam pounded out the notes that brought the band back into the song.
The final encore of the weekend consisted of four songs, including a first-time cover of Modest Mouse’s “Float On.” The show ended with arguably the best “Robot Waltz” the band has ever played. Matt’s piano rained down the chords, and it was evident he will miss playing with the band he helped to create.
Morning came too soon. Everyone knew they have seen history made, and a major milestone in the evolution of this group. PGroove will go on, but the direction they will take is an unknown for a band who thrives on it.