Each year as the long, hot days of summer give way to hints of cool fall air, one gloriously long weekend presents itself to the masses. Plans for this one last hoorah of the year can be months in the making and are full of meticulously organized details to achieve the paramount in both leisure and diversion. The second annual Head Jamz Music Festival, held on September 3-5, 2010 along the banks of the Red River among the rolling hills of northern Tennessee, proved to be both a relaxing and entertaining way for music fanatics to spend a Labor Day weekend, and for most, to close out another festival season.
This grass roots festival held in Adams, Tennessee offers the ideal getaway for anyone and everyone seeking to experience peaceful surroundings and to welcome new friends to the beats of melodious music. Head Jamz 2010 sought to bring together music lovers of all ages and walks of life for one glorious weekend of tunes and nature. It thoroughly succeeded.
Friendly faces were the name of the game at this year’s festival. Each campsite situated amongst the shady trees and graveled nooks held campers, tents, buses, and cars full of contented people, both young and old, who prepared to enjoy the good vibes to come.
No matter where one’s temporary home was found, every attraction the fest had to offer was well within walking distance. Each site was a stone’s throw from the river. Many of the festival goers spent much time sitting on the banks of the calm water reading, talking, or just relaxing.
A short stroll up the vendor-lined path led to the historic-looking venue. Antiquated wooden buildings dotted the main festival area like an old ghost town. Among the dilapidated abandoned structures stood a livery, saloon, sheriff’s office, and bank attached to the one and only stage, a weathered clapboard stage labeled the Mystery Stage which came equipped with a paint-chipped fireplace, wagon wheels, and rusted saw blades. The added decorations of three large tie-dyed tapestries spoke volumes of the music that would be performed in the small venue over the next three days.
Friday’s acts kicked off the celebration with a bang. As the bands got going on the stage, cool breezes wafted the transient sounds into the woods, bringing out the festival goers like beckoned wood nymphs. Hyryder took to the stage with a multitude of pleasing originals and covers in their own mellow style. A jam band’s jam band, the musicians’ tie-dyed tees and patchwork shorts matched their colorful sound. Highlights of the band’s set included some Phish classics such as "Suzy Greenburg" and "Run like an Antelope" and a cover of the Beatles, "A Day in the Life," which has taken on a whole new life amongst jam-hipsters as it made heavy rotation over this past Summer’s Phish tour. The crowd showed great appreciation for the band’s song selections as they sang along and swayed to the hypnotic rhythms.
Next to take the stage on Friday night was Emmitt-Nershi Band. Drew Emmitt (Leftover Salmon) and Billy Nershi (The String Cheese Incident) answered the crowd’s desires with their country and bluegrass sounds. Both musicians interacted with the listeners, relating personal stories and dancing in unison with the audience. Most interesting though was when Emmitt, a native to the Nashville area, relayed tales from his youth about the Bell Witch, the most documented haunting phenomena in American history. The Bell Witch stories were certainly pertinent as their derivation stems from the very area on which the campgrounds were situated.
In spite of momentary spookiness flowing through the gathering, the crowd’s excitement was not quelled. Rather, as the set progressed, the aforementioned excitement reached a peak as the band performed Leftover’s "Down in the Hollow " and encored with SCI’s "Jellyfish," complete with an extra scrumptious jam. As if the audience wasn’t pleased enough with this fulfilling performance, the guys stuck around to meet and greet the crowd that was before them and rather than retreat to their bus, they instead chose to hang back listen to the musically polar opposite sounds of Future Rock.
Future Rock’s electronic-infused sound flooded the stage with a tingling energy that rallied the crowd. Beyond the button-pushing monotony of some electronica groups, the band’s set delivered a dynamic and emotional performance that was felt in the depth of each rousing song and served as a spectacular way to end a truly magical night.
Saturday brought a calm, tranquil hush to the festival folks. As early bands tuned up on the stage, people began to meander in that direction, stopping for some fish tacos, gumbo, or something else of the vendors’ eclectic and refreshing fare with the ales, Fat Tire and Yuengling, always on hand to wash it all down. During set changes and sound checks, the festival goers occupied themselves with hacky sack gatherings, frisbee tosses, or hula hoop sessions.
As only one stage was present, a real sense of community was easily garnered as everyone was acquiring the same musical experience. A festival portrait captured the group setting of the newly formed family. Flea Market Hustlers entertained the fans with an eclectic mix of throwbacks and pop standards imparted with their own rockin’ bluegrass twist. The Hustlers’ version of "If I Only Had a Brain" from The Wizard of Oz delighted listeners as they reminisced about Scarecrow and his dopey adventures. Driving percussion beats were aided by some homemade instruments such as the stump fiddle-a glorified stick attached to a metal pan, bicycle horn, and pick-ups. Queen’s "Fat Bottom Girls," Culture Club’s "Karma Chameleon" and The Beastie Boys’ "Girls" rounded out the diverse set list. The Hustlers however, were not done. They would continue to entertain festival goers throughout the weekend with sunset and midnight mini-concerts at their campsite, complete with a disco ball and dance floor.
Shadyside All-Stars followed up to the stage with a purity of sound rarely found in musical ensembles. Their clean and lucid guitar lines melded tightly in seeming musical conversations. With soaring phrases and unyielding intensity, this assembly of musicians, reminiscent of moe. or Umphrey’s McGee, managed to capture the audience’s undivided attention in spite of the fact that they are little known at best.
Ladymoon graced the stage next. Prior to their entry, they were described by the emcee as "explosive" and "dynamic." The lead singer’s young Anastasio-like vibe radiated from the stage in tunes such as the nostalgic Creedence cover of "Long as I can see the Light " as a clear liquid, presumably moonshine, was passed around the audience in mason jars. Highlighting the set, was the youngest festival attendee toddling in front of the stage in his "Dude, your girlfriend keeps checking me out" tee and golden curls, proving that Head Jamz was as family friendly as it was jam gracious.
Ryan Cavanaugh and No Man’s Land both surprised and pleased the audience with their bluegrass and jazz influenced tunes. Cavanaugh, an accomplished banjo player, fronted the group of talented performers through complex rhythms, energetic driven solos, cool bass grooves, and atonal keyboard lines. The band paid homage to their musical influence, Miles Davis, with an inspired tribute with Flecktone-like hooks. The set left the satisfied audience lifted to a Zen-like high. With ska era sounds an punk laced reggae styles, Midwest Hype would linger in the air as the sun sunk down over another crisp festival day.
By night, illumination was provided at the campsites by torches, fire pits, and the occasional Chinese lantern. The stage glowed with the twinkle of white Christmas lights, sweeping over the crowd like a wash of warm water. Artists positioned painting easels adjacent to the stage and created eclectic artwork during the concerts. Old Union brought much needed warmth to the stage as cold chills whipped through the atmosphere. Heads bobbed to the good ol’ Southern sounds while the light show on stage married well with the strong guitar voices and Skynyrd-like ballads. Old Union delivered the down home, family style set the crowd was craving.
Feeding off of a thoroughly energized crowd, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk brought New Orleans to the Tennessee Mountains. Neville’s keyboard grooves, along with the bass riffs from Tony Hall, had the crowd chanting along with songs like "Shake It Off" and "Put it in the Dumpsta." The buzz among the people increased exponentially as fire batons, torches, and flaming hula hoops blazed near the stage. Everyone jumped at the opportunity to shake, move, and groove into the late hours of the Dumpsta inspired evening and did just that as Saturday’s festivities came to a close in a very funky way.
Sunday got off to a tasty start with The Incredible Sandwich. The quartet, prefaced as a "melodious and whup ass" band buy the set announcer, provided repetitive loops accompanied by long solo jams. Each song soared like ocean waves, ebbing and flowing over the crowd. Trancelike ballads faded into nothingness as the drummer clicked off a fresh and energetic tempo. These sandwich artists provided a delicious experience for all. The Last Straw nailed the next set with a Widespread Panic meets Gov’t Mule power quintet. The distortion filled guitar licks were as thick and gravely as the lead singer’s raspy voice.
In contrast to their predecessors of the weekend, The Captain Midnight Band offered up an entirely different musical experience than any previous performers. Costumes adorned both the stage and the crowd. There were platinum wigs, heart shaped sunglasses, fake moustaches, and sequined bell bottoms as far as the eye could see. The band’s kitschy style carried over into their songs about the love of Mary Jane, witch’s tits, and medicated goo. Although strange, the whimsical air established by the group endured for the rest of the festival.
American folk ensemble Cornmeal electrified with a high energy bluegrass set. Dancing, singing, laughing, and cheering fans soaked in the fiddle solos and banjo picking. The group performed one mesmerizing song after another, concluding with an epic cover of Talking Heads’ "Naive Melody" which never ceases to ignite a crowd.
The whole event was capped by a much anticipated performance from England’s own New Mastersounds. This progressive, driving funk band brought some serious power to the people in the crowd. Each song flowed into the next with a buzz to keep everyone on their toes. The band requested for the crowd to interact not by cheering and clapping but by creating animal sounds. As the excitement mounted, the zoo noises paralleled. As promised, New Mastersounds brought the festival to a satisfying close.
Head Jamz Music Festival offered the perfect escape for anyone seeking a leisurely enjoyable experience for their Labor Day weekend. The water, the people, and the "jamz" established the ultimate trifecta of musical excellence. Here’s to a third annual Head Jamz down by the riverside.
Click the thumbnail for more shots from Brian degaetano