An enchanted excursion: Rothbury:

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Pristine lands, green living, artistic expression, and 4 days of music. 

That sums up the second Rothbury Music Festival in Rothbury, Michigan, where attendees and artists have come to have the time of their lives. It began Thursday and flowed throughout the 4th of July weekend. Drenched in laughter and Michael Jackson teasers, the weekend was epic.

For those lucky enough to arrive early, Thursday kicked off the weekend with a frenzy of dancing. Starting with a special Toubab Krewe show and ending with the pulsing electronic rhythms of bands such as Lotus and The Disco Biscuits. But of course the evening didn’t end there. Rothbury has created a unique platform for all artists so after the concerts there was still more music to be found. Walk south out of the festival grounds through the colorfully lit Sherwood Forest and you will find the spontaneous creation of the Collab Project, two kats from California with a random stage setup next to their RV playing electric guitar and looping dirty beats until sunrise.

rothbury3.jpgThe sun is up, the sky is blue, and there is ohh so much to do.  Like many festivals it can be overwhelming and there is always the possibility of suffering from FOMO (fear of missing out) but the best way to enjoy the day is just go with the flow.  Friday afternoon began with an upbeat set by Brett Dennen.  This was a great opportunity to find a grassy spot, take your shoes off, and chill while listening to the feel good tunes of “Make You Crazy” or perhaps do a little old school moonwalk to Dennen’s cover of “Billy Jean,” a homage to the late Michael Jackson.

Everywhere you turned there was something for the senses. Free ice-cream was being handed out near the eco friendly fashion show presented by Mountains of the Moon.  After checking out the Farmer’s Market you could head over to Sherwood Forest, almost everyone’s favorite afternoon spot to relax. Find a hammock to nap in or stroll through “Reincarnation” an area created out of all recycled and natural art such as metals, pine cones, and flowers.  Make new friends in the fairy teepee and then keep riding the wave to the main stage for some groove time with G. Love & the Special Sauce.

rothbury4.jpgA prime example of the warm jazzy swagger that exudes from G. Love came in the form of his song “This Ain’t Livin.” Toss in members of Soulive and now we had some electric southern soul brewing on stage.

Meanwhile Rebelution brought a bit of that Roots Rock Reggae to the day, which always puts people in a good mood. After sharing the stage with G. Love, Soulive warmed up the evening with what according to Dave Hamilton creative director of the Bob Moog Foundation calls, “Funk in the most beautiful way.”

Did somebody say cheese please?

Well, if you’re into it then String Cheese Incident has returned to the playing field and they brought out all the stops during their two sets Friday evening. Their sound was cohesive and engaging, and their stage performance was over the top with Cirque De’ Solei’ style Acrobatics, giant balls floating through the crowd, and a gorgeous light show. Visually and audibly they were definitely a highlight of the weekend.

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The evening then closed with a late night set by Sound Tribe Sector Nine. A fixture in the Rothbury line up, STS9 never ceases to amaze with their live improvisational stage show and their growing presence within the festival. Members such as David Murphy can be found spinning a random set in the woods, backstage, or by the Eco Fashion Show.  If your feet haven’t failed you yet as the sun rises on another day, while dancing a top of an RV, a spontaneous beat box throw down by LYNX could be heard in the campgrounds. It is these special moments that make the festival experience really stand out. When artists mix, mingle, and create with their fans.

rothbury-rre.jpgChicago said it best, “Saturday, I think it was the 4th of July,” and after 48 hours of sounds, sights, and new experiences the weekend continued.

The day started slow and amongst the backdrop of the festival one almost forgot that it was the 4th of July, Independence Day, a time to reflect on the freedoms that we have been blessed with; the freedom to gather, to celebrate, and to express ourselves. And that we sure did.

Keeping up with afternoon wasn’t easy but pushing on through wasn’t a difficult task with Underground Orchestra, Railroad Earth, Zappa plays Zappa and Les Claypool all rocking out the three main stages.

The Black Crowes‘ Chris Robinson’s warm and gritty vocals shined through during his band’s performance. It was soulful music with a message with lyrics like, “make love, make love…,” and “Hallelujah Revolution.”

As varied as the music were the people decked out in their best red, white, and blue Independence Day costumes. And of course let’s not forget the consistent sound of fireworks and joyous hollering all over the festival and campgrounds. 

rothbury-dead.jpgSpirits were running high as The Dead took to the stage opening with “Sugar Magnolia” and “Eyes of the World.” A golden moment as the sun set and all present were drawn like fireflies to this one space freewheeling, spinning, and getting down to The Dead like the colors dancing in the sky. The first set was rounded out with a loose, “Loose Lucy,” a classic “Friend of the Devil,” and an appropriately peaceful “Into the Mystic.”

As the moon began to rise we were treated too a feverish “Saturday Night” and “Shakedown Street.” Their sound has been fine tuned, slightly modernized, and this show seemed to please everyone including all of the artists on stage. Set against a mesmerizing fireworks display The Dead’s show was a profoundly perfect 4th of July evening.

Saturday night ended with a nutty jam session by Umphrey’s McGee, a group who effortlessly transitions through high and low crazy rifts; and a crisp and highly dig-gable live PA set by STS9.

By Sunday the weekend was winding down, but there were still a few more musical gems to experience, people to meet, and good times to be had. What better way to start a hot Sunday afternoon than with Toots and the Maytals.  Picking up the pace like a church deep in the Mississippi, their funky stylings and interactive stage presence was infectious especially during the crowd favorite “Country Road” which had many dancing like James Brown.

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Yonder Mountain String Band’s psychedelic bluegrass, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ powerful Rock n’ Roll, and Matisyahu’s conscious hip hop kept the afternoon moving. Spirits ran high just as the giant bubble makers in the middle of Sherwood Forest kept everyone giggling.

rothbury-matis.jpgAlthough it was the last day, that celebratory spirit of Rothbury didn’t seem to want to die. But, it began to calm down when Willie Nelson and Family stepped onto The Odeum stage playing a sweet syrupy version of “Georgia” and a slowed down jazzy rendition of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” These old gospel mash ups really hit a touching moment when everyone in the crowd sang aloud to “I’ll Fly Away.” Simply quaint but full of goodness.

If you were able to stick it out, Sunday night came to a close with some slow roasted tunes from Gov’t Mule, Bob Dylan and His Band, and the low register and poignant vocals of Ani Di Franco.  A throw down occurred in the Tripolee tent with Alex B (of Pnuma) and Big Gigantic, who both created one last memorable electric dance party.

Four days! Oh what a time it was, from the crazy art work hanging in the trees, to the music collaborations, green education, new friends, to the magnificent environment, and the countless new and spontaneuos experiences. If there was a summer camp resort for adults, ROTHBURY would be it.

Railroad Earth bassist Johnny Grubb said it best: “It’s obviously the best thing going on in the entire face of the planet right now. I don’t know how it could get any better.”

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