Trinumeral is ocho bueno!

 

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On August 8th Trinumeral organizers, venue staff, volunteers, artists, musicians, and attendees set the bar high for small festivals with a massive and stellar lineup.  The 3 day celebration of music and arts is an annual event held on the date in which the day, month, and year align in a numeric sameness. Trinumeral began on January 1, 2001 (01-01-01) and has expanded to become a multi-disciplinary event held each year on the synchronized dates.

This year Deerfields hosted the event at the breathtaking retreat located 20 minutes south of Asheville, NC.   Being an August event in North Carolina, one would expect steamy weather and late summer rain.  However, the temperatures were comfortable both day and night, rain was at a minimum, and when drops from the heavens did come, it was only for a few moments… just long enough to knock the dust down.

Attendance was near capacity, as would be expected with a strong lineup of more than 80 bands, DJs, and visual artists that included top national and regional acts from around the country and the auspicious magic of 08-08-08 was confirmed as we stood under the stars on Friday night.  With clear skies overhead, a meteor shower made the night sky twinkle and shimmer as if programmed to synchronize with the music. For the most part Trinumeral was worth every penny for what it gave in return.  Throughout the weekend there was a sense that attendees were as much a part of the festival as the scheduled performers themselves.   It’s easy to compare the 08-08-08 experience to a smaller version of Burning Man in the early years…. great experience, promising future, but a little disorganized.

Entering the festival site on Friday, we were met with kindness and understanding of camping requirements.  This is most unusual for festivals these days; where organizers generally pack campers into very cramped spaces, regardless of their pleas for additional real estate.  Before the first notes of music echoed through the valley, there was a strange calmness amongst the campers who were setting up homesteads.  That would soon change.

booty1.jpgLike opening a valve, excitement instantly filled the air when Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band took the stage. Many of us made the short trek to the Ba Stage in migratory fashion, passing a pond teaming with swimmers and inflatable toys.  Along the shoreline was a spectacular piece of work by Victor ‘Sandman’ Leong, internationally acclaimed builder of sandcastles.  His 08-08-08 castle was as much an attraction to adults as it was to the imaginations of children.  The Booty Band made for a unique kick off to the festival.  Highlighted by a special appearance by former front man, Josh Phillips, the funk was thick as mud.  Phillips and the Booty Band bounced there way through a tight set of Booty standards, while overhead aerial performers from Asheville Aerial Arts performed feats of courage and artistry.  "Oohs" and "aahs" blended nicely with the hoots and hollers from the appreciative crowd.

Later in the evening, Deerfields’ main amphitheatre (called Ba Stage), was decorated spectacularly with lights strung throughout the trees.  Cables adorned with colorful streamers stretched from the top of the amphitheatre to the stage, adding to the visual experience attendees were already enjoying.  100′ trees encircle the gently sloping natural amphitheatre, forcing the sound to remain within the valley and keeping all in attendance in aural bliss.  The topography of the amphitheatre offered lighting technicians a 360 degree canvas for their own artwork, adding to the spectacle.  Built of pine logs taken from the Deerfields property, the large main stage offered plenty of space for performers and stage crew making stage changes, for the most part, fast and efficient.  Another pond filed with skinny dippers backs up to the stage, making Deerfields, as described by one performer, "one of the most beautiful back stages around."

Continuing along a path that divides the upper and lower sections of the amphitheatre, we met up with a tall plateau that was home to the Ocho Stage and VIP lounge.  A brief but steep walk was the short cut to some of the best music of the weekend; A longer more gentle walk brought you to the same place, passing numerous vendors and art galleries along the way. Once on top of the plateau we were treated to a breathtaking nighttime view of lights, fire, and reflections overlooking the festival grounds.

Time and time again, the Ocho Stage, a large tent complimented by great lighting and large sound system, morphed into a sea of gyrating bodies.  At times the sound may have been a little too loud but this was a minor inconvenience.  A step towards the back straightened out volume issues yet left fans with full view of the spectacular light show.  With a capacity of about 300 people, Ocho exceeded all expectations for a third stage.  Many live music lovers walked away from Ocho claiming, "Best set of the weekend", "Best stage at Trinumeral", or "Who needs the pond (Huit) stage?"

trinumeral2.jpgThe Ocho plateau was also home to the VIP lounge, cornhole games, and Frisbee golf.  The VIP entrance was in a public area so fans were able to meet some of their favorite musicians as they entered and exited the lounge.  Festival organizers did a tremendous job of making the artists approachable to their fans. Throughout the weekend Ocho was a who’s who location for fans, musicians, and music professionals to co-mingle and enjoy the magic of Trinumeral together.  For many Ocho was THE place to be during the festival.

Trinumeral was so overstuffed with eye candy, beautiful people, and good vibes that it made it easy to forget that this festival included a fantastic lineup of music.  Eliminate the music and Trinumeral would still be one heck of a party. That being said, with so many bands, DJs, and stages (3 in total) it was impossible to take in all of the fantastic music. Picking and choosing the sets you wanted to catch and watching the clock was critical.  This has to be expected at large festivals but not at a small gathering like Trinumeral.  Schedules were difficult to find and if you did found one it was near impossible to read the tiny print… making it next to useless.  Fortunately, we brought our own from home and it didn’t require a magnifying glass to read.  Realizing that with best efforts we’d only be able to catch a few minutes from each band, and faced with spending more time walking between three stages than catching the great music that was scheduled, we decided to forgo all shows at the Huit Stage.  Many of those bands and DJs playing I had seen numerous times so thought it wise to narrow our sets to those at the Ba (main) and Ocho (plateau) Stages.

On Friday, following Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, and after a walk around the festival site, we headed up to the Ocho Stage for Roots of Creation, best described as a guitar driven jam band that can play reggae as opposed to your typical reggae/dub band.  I’m not a big fan of reggae but they had me dancing within moments of walking into the tent. Their high energy set, along with an approving crowd reaction, earned them an unscheduled 5:00 am insomniacs/early bird set. Unfortunately I was unable to make the late, late, late set but heard it was just as much fun as earlier.  Definitely a band to check out when they come through town.

Not being a fan of rap either, I skipped the GZA set at the Ba Stage in favor of staying on top of the Ocho plateau to await The Mantras.  Best known as a founding member of the hip hop group the Wu-Tang Clan, GZA left very little buzz at Trinumeral.  I’m told that during a lackluster set he appeared disinterested in putting effort into his performance.  This was disappointing to hear since I had seen him last year and he was one of my surprises from Echo Project.  Maybe he was just having a bad day or not feeling the magical vibes of Trinumeral.

Due to sound issues at the Ocho Stage, and after a short delay, The Mantras proceeded to make jaws drop.  They utilized every moment allotted to them to make good on a promise from front man Keith Allen (guitar/vox), "to rock your faces off." The funked up prog rock quintet worked the crowd into near frenzy with guitar mastery from Allen and his equally adept counterpart, Marcus Horth (guitar/vox).  Allen and Horth, along with Justin Loew (drums), Brent Vaughn (percussion), and Brian Tyndall (bass) are an impressive unit with funk, jazz, and rock laced chops that are as tasty as they were tight.  A very special appearance by Will Little (East Coast Dirt/Duende Mtn. Duo) during fan favorite ‘Jabberwocky’, left the crowd screaming for more…. long after the band had left the stage.  Fans of The Mantras could be found lingering outside the tent wide-eyed and debating, "Will the boys be able to bring the same heat at Mantra Bash," their own festival taking place near Greensboro, NC in October.

kang1.jpgNext we headed towards the Huit Stage to catch some of The Mahavishnu Project. We soon realized that by the time we would have gotten there, The New Familiars would be taking the stage back up on the Ocho plateau from where we had just come from.  There was way too much good music going on simultaneously.  For many, The New Familiars were the surprise of the weekend – I call them punkgrass; others call it folkcore; whatever you call their sound… it’s just damn good ‘feel good’ music.  By touring heavily and recently adding rock/fusion drummer Daniel Flynn to the lineup, The New Familiars have melded into one of the most unique and entertaining acts in the southeast, combining bluegrass, folk, and rock.  At times singer/mandolin player Justin Fedor looked like he might pop a blood vessel as he stomped around the stage during ass kickers like "The Storm" and "Got The Disease."  Their own arrangement of "My Girl" had the girl next to me teary eyed but smiling from ear to ear… a tribute to their ability to smack you upside the head before they give you a heartfelt hug.  Throughout their set Pat Maholland assaulted his upright bass with fervor as Josh Daniel played his acoustic guitar with a perpetual grin.

With temperatures dropping, we made a quick dash from Ocho to the opposite side of Deerfields to grab warmer clothing from our campsite.  Along the way we caught some of Galactic featuring controversial hip-hopper Boots Riley.  I’ve never been very impressed with Galactic, and hip-hop usually bores me to tears, but tonight I found it difficult to pull myself away.  Riley’s stage presence is undeniable as he brought an interesting twist to Galactic.  This was not one of the usually mundane sets that I’ve seen from past Galactic shows.  As we approached our campsite I had to admit that I wished I’d been up against the rail for Galactic.

After donning a hoodie, I made another attempt to head down to the Huit Stage for a few moments of Pnuma Live PA.  A check of the time caused us to detour over to the Ba Stage for EOTO with Michael Kang.  EOTO is the looping project of Michael Travis and Jason Hann from The String Cheese Incident.  Each EOTO show is improvised with loops and samples from Travis and machine gun drumming from Hann.  On this night SCI bandmate Michael Kang would be sitting in, much to the excitement and anticipation of the numerous String Cheese Incident fans in attendance.  Arriving at Ba we found the three on stage, diddling and noodling, appearing to be ready to play but without cymbals for Hann’s drum kit.  I asked a member of the production staff about the delay and was told that they had to wait until Pnuma was done because they were sharing cymbals.  WHAT!  They don’t have enough cymbals to stay on schedule?  Were EOTO not the Friday headliner? Frustrated that I could have seen the entire Pnuma set with plenty of time to get a good spot for EOTO I stood near the rail amazed by the artwork of Lebo and Michael Garfield, but confused as to why the schedule was falling further behind over a set of cymbals.

After waiting nearly 45 minutes, EOTO began their improvised set. EOTO was hot; Michael Kang was not. Standing in front of Kang, I could see that he didn’t appear ‘into’ what he was doing.  I had seen EOTO with Kang before and it was good.  I’ve seen SCI more times than I can count and feel I know a good Kang night from a bad one.  At Trinumeral the ‘Korean Cowboy’ did little more than noodle, never showing the virtuosity that his fans have come to appreciate.  On a few short occasions he picked up his electric fiddle to the delight of the audience, but then nothing.  He merely played with his effects, never stringing more than a few notes notes together.  If he was attempting to leave room for Travis and Hann’s improvisation, then at least he accomplished something.  It appeared as if he was on stage to merely stretch new strings or tune his instruments.  Travis and Hann on the other hand were ON POINT!  Each time I see them, Travis’ looping gets better, sample more interesting and Hann more machine gun-like while pounding out blistering fast tempos and ‘on-a-dime’ breaks.  Their 85-minute set was really good but they should have left Kang at home.

Knowing that Saturday was going to be an all night affair and with the main stage running behind, we decided to grab some sleep.  I would miss the Conspirator set.  With three of the four members of The Disco Biscuits at Trinumeral I had a feeling I was going to hate myself in the morning.

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As I lay in my tent, I could hear what sounded like a frenzied crowd and LIVE drums echoing throughout the valley.  The kick drum pounded me in the chest from nearly a quarter mile away and it was only sound check! I kept thinking, "I need to go down there…. it’s gonna blow up." As the set began I was reminded by my wife that I needed to try to get some sleep.  As usual she was right, but there wasn’t going to be any sleeping…not while Conspirator was on stage.  Conspirator is the side project of Marc Brownstein and Aron Magner of The Disco Biscuits.  A loop stating "I’m George W. I am Satan" opened the Conspirator set to the delight of the late, late night crowd, On this night they were joined by a third tDB member, drummer Allen Aucoin (aka Dr. Fameus) who had performed a solo set earlier at the Ocho tent.  Aucoin later handed the sticks over to Lane Shaw from Pnuma Trio.  I listened to the entire hour and 15 minute set from inside my tent, glued to every note, beat, and loop.  I wondered if the rest of Deerfields was thinking the same thing as I.  Conspirator made the EOTO set sound like child’s play.  A little poking around the next morning confirmed that what I thoroughly enjoyed from the comfort of my tent my tent was a neck breaking Conspirator set and a freakfest ta boot.{mospagebreak}

Saturday

Saturday morning found most everyone in good spirits but looking a little dazed from the activities of Friday night.  It had clearly been a long night for everyone.  I spoke with Arieh, tour manager for Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, who was trying to wrangle the band up for a drive to their show in Greensboro that night.  As we parted ways he vowed that they would return after their show.  This turned out to be a promise he kept as, like most of us, he felt Trinumeral was just too much fun to miss.

trinumeral3.jpgFood, rest, and reviewing of music from the day before was the main theme at our campsite.  However once Hope Massive took the Huit Stage, it was time for more great music.  Yet another reggae band that I’ve seen a few times before, I chose to pass on the Hope Massive set and head over to see what was up at the Ocho Stage.

I was fortunate enough to catch the last two songs from The JeanMarie.  Self proclaimed as, "Miami’s jangliest, danciest, post-punkiest band," I wish I had arrived earlier.  Walking into the tent I found a bunch of girls boogying like there was no tomorrow. The band seemed to have an abundance of energy and catchy, tasty hooks.  This was another excellent and interesting band on top of Ocho plateau.  With the high level of performances from the day before, and the remaining lineup for Ocho including Stephanie’s Id, Eymarel, Incognito Mosquito, Art Vandelay, East Coast Dirt, and others… the Ocho lineup would have made for a good small festival by itself.

After a leasurely walk from Ocho to main stage (we chose to take the long but easy route this time), we mingled with friends prior to my first experience seeing Custard Pie.  Yet another Led Zeppelin tribute band, Custard Pie features the ever-so-talented Woody Wood on guitar.  Surprisingly, the band is lead by the beautiful and equally talented Rhett McGahee on vocals who, with one’s back turned, makes you forget that it’s not Robert Plant on stage. Her range is a thing to behold, climbing octaves effortlessly, and her stage presence is nearly as mesmerizing as Plant’s once was.  After I made this observation to Daniel Flynn (The New Familiars) he agreed and pointed out, "It just doesn’t seem as creepy when you stare at her."  Trinumeral was packed with live music lovers of all ages so I think Custard Pie was a good addition to the festival and a needed break from all the ‘untz’.

With my legs already burning from multiple hill climbs, we managed to make it up to the Ocho Stage for what was expected to be a HOT set from Eymarel, the duo of Mary Frances (vocals, organ, Fender Rhodes, synthesizer) and Lee Allen (drums, samples, and keys.)  Choosing their band name by scrambling the letters of their first names, Eymarel has a sound that I can only describe as heavy multi-layered grooves mixed with sultry pop melodies.  Throw STS9, Evanescence, and Tori Amos into a blender and you might begin to understand what an Eymarel show is like.  They are about as SEXY HOT, both visually and musically, as you will ever find but done naturally and without pretense.  Men and women alike can’t help but get sucked into the sensual vortex that these two create on stage.  Only two songs into their set the tent was filled with gyrating bodies including the sound and light technicians who were getting down as hard as the rest.   It’s rare that such a huge, multi layered sound can come from a duo but Eymarel pulls it off effortlessly.  Really good stuff by Eymarel and from the Ocho Stage (once again).

laurareed1.jpgHot and bothered from the Eymarel set, we headed down the hill to Ba for the last few minutes of The Afromotive.  Fortunately for us, the main stage was again running behind.  We were able to catch the last 35 minutes instead.  Always entertaining, their afrobeats seem to wake up a sleepy festival without anyone realizing it’s happening.  As one guy said, "That’s a whole lot of rhythm coming off the stage."  I was told that Laura Reed had made an appearance earlier in the set and that she was wonderful.  Asheville Aerial Arts performed overhead, followed by a hooper from Asheville Hoops, adding another dimension to an already high energy set from The Afromotive.

As the sun began to hang low in the sky, a buzz of excitement became evident.  Walking back to our campsite for much needed nourishment, we ran into a number of people who had one thing on their minds… Lotus.  The conversations may have started with complimenting other performers but eventually the discussion would turn into one about Lotus: how good they’ve gotten, their upcoming tour, what songs might be played…

After filling our stomachs and changing into evening festival attire, we set out on a journey for light up toys, stopping by Ba for a few moments of Midnite, another reggae band that did little for me.  I think I was spoiled by the jamminess of Roots of Creation the day prior. Finding nothing interesting or original about Midnite we continued our journey, taking in some of the wonderful artwork in the galleries.  Before long we realized it was time to check out Stephanie’s Id on the Ocho Stage.

I had seen Stephanie’s Id twice before and was impressed with the complexity of the band.  They could be described as experimental indie-pop.  I was curious about how they would be received by the ‘untz’ loving Trinumeral crowd and it didn’t take long for the crowd to discover what I had at previous Id shows.  Stephanie’s Id is surprisingly complex and flirts with going over the top without ever doing it, almost like they’re teasing the listener into thinking they know where the band is heading.  At Trinumeral, Stephanie’s Id was well received but for me it was not my best Id show to date.

lotus1.jpgThe excitement could be cut with a knife as we stood at the Ba Stage awaiting the much anticipated set by Lotus.  Whereas the previous night’s sky was filled with a spectacular meteor shower, Saturday night brought clouds and a brief rain shower causing some to scamper for rain gear while others rode out the storm.   As smoke filled the stage and a monstrous light rig cycled through multi colored hues, the rain began to come down harder.  Mother Nature must be a fan because the rain ceased the moment Lotus took the stage.

On any given night Lotus serves up a unique live experience filled with the dynamics of an arena rock band, a face melting light show, and the sophistication of modern electronic music… all with minimal use of laptops on stage.  Opening with "Bellwether," the band looked intent on turning Deerfields into a huge dance club.  Lights bounced off the trees that encircle the amphitheatre while the Trinumeral crowd gyrated in synchronous fashion. After "Bellwether," Jesse Miller (bass/samples) welcomed former Perpetual Groove keyboardist Matt McDonald to the stage for "Suitacases and Sandwiches" off their 2004 album, The Brass Lantern.  Unlike the EOTO set Friday night,  the five members appeared dead set on proving why Lotus deserve to be a festival headliner.  Next came "Hammerstrike," "Spiritualize," and "Plant You Root."  The first notes of "Wax" brought a resounding roar from the throng of loyal Lotus fans, many of which made the trip down from their hometown of Philadelphia.  The band took what was already a spectacle of a festival and morphed it into a spectacular frenzy.  "Tip Of The Tongue" closed the 90-minute set.  The "Jump Off" encore was highlighted by Jesse’s show ending leap from atop his bass rig.  This was yet another fantastic Lotus show from a band that continues to get better and better.

Thinking we had no more left in us, we headed… you guessed it… back up to Ocho for a late night set with Incognito Mosquito.  Their improvisation and instrumentals have earned them critical acclaim opening for The Disco Biscuits.  The band fuses electronic dance grooves filled with crushing crescendos, improvised funk, and spacey jams. Much to the delight of the Trinumeral crowd, they make it work.  Their impressive late night set was driven by machine like timekeeping from Will Stone (drums) and Ryan Persuad (percussion).  Bass player Chad Miller funked it up with slaps, pops, and lightning fast chops, while guitar player Ansley Wynn added tasty jazz influenced hooks mixed with spacey improvisations reminiscent of a young Zappa.  Unfortunately,  the PA volume had become so deafening that several people sought relief by dancing near the back or outside the tent, leaving the front of the stage mostly empty.  Nevertheless, Incognito Mosquito played an impressive set.  In lieu of the fact that this may have been one of the more difficult slots to play (after Lotus), along with questionable sound, the band was an excellent choice for a Saturday late night set.

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Now well into the early morning hours, Particle was already on stage when we wandered into the main amphitheatre.  The best thing about this set was the lights. They were great! I like the work of Steve Molitz but with each member change I have less interest and more confusion with what Particle is doing.  At Trinumeral they were just plain boring. This is unfortunate since while I was polling random people earlier, nearly as many people who told me they were looking forward to Lotus, EOTO, or Conspirator, also mentioned Particle as a must-see.  I never understood the addition of vocals.  I was left scratching my head when they added a second guitar.  I certainly didn’t get the metal-esque Particle of last year.  As a bass, drums, and keys trio, this was probably the last time I’ll make a point to see Particle.

willbradford1.jpgGrateful the Particle set was over, I moved up to the rail for SeepeopleS.  There’s something about the presence of front man, Will Bradford, that commands an audience to take note and listen, and thought-provoking lyrics make them one of the more interesting bands on the jam band circuit.  Tonight, with former Perpetual Groove keyboard player Matt McDonald sitting in, they were simply amazing on stage.  Impeccable musicianship, polished and dramatic showmanship, state of the art lighting, and fantastic sound.  SeepeopleS may have been better suited for a slot before Particle, whose ‘Sominex’ set left late night spunions more interested in ‘untz’ than the issues facing our world as we know it.   SeepeopleS are a ‘must see’ act.  With eleven dates in support of Lotus, they’ll be an excellent opener on the Hammerstrike Tour.

Following SeepeopleS was DJ Eliot Lipp from Brooklyn, NY and much to my surprise I thoroughly enjoyed his hip-hop influenced drum programming with vintage synthesizer sounds, tight drum beats, and early techno influences.  Not one to gravitate towards DJs, I found myself, along with the few people still at the Ba Stage, entranced by his set.

With sunrise just around the corner, we made our way back to our campsite for a few hours of sleep.  Sunday was to be a more relaxing day of music with a solo set from Matt McDonald who I heard was fantastic from one person yet strange from another, proving once again that music is subjective.

Sunday

Sunday was a chance to say goodbye to friends, old and new.  Earlier in the weekend I had spoken with Will Little, the keyboard player from East Coast Dirt, who sat in with The Mantras on Friday and Incognito Mosquito during their late night set.  I mentioned that I planned to see ECD’s set on Sunday at Ocho.  He told me that Andy Pond, banjo player from Snake Oil Medicine Show, would be sitting in with ECD.   Regretfully, I overslept on Sunday, missing ECD’s late morning set which I heard was excellent. Apparently very few people had shown for their set on top of Ocho plateau which is both a surprise and not.  By Sunday, after a weekend of 80+ great acts, performing day and night, late night sets, late late sets, late late late sets, and an insomniac/early bird set, The party people of Trinumeral 08-08-08 were wore out so an 11:00 am set was unfortunate for the talented East Coast Dirt.

Later Sunday, during an entertaining set from Snake Oil Medicine Show, Little and I sat down to discuss the ECD set I’d missed earlier.  In mid sentence he stood claiming, "I’m up." Only then did I find out that he was going to be sitting in, with yet another band, the third of the weekend (excluding his very own, East Coast Dirt) .  Looking up at the stage I could see no keyboards and when Little emerged from stage left he held a mandolin in hand and proceeded to join Snake Oil on "Lotus Queen."  Not knowing that Little played the mandolin, I was impressed.  Not only is he one of the top keyboard players and samplers in the southeast, he could plays a mean mandolin as well.

After an entertaining set by Snake Oil Medicine a winner was drawn for a Mercedes Benz but nobody was present to claim the prize.  Another was drawn with the same results, then another, and another.  Eventually the car was won by a lucky woman and Trinumeral 08-08-08 came to a close.

All in all Trinumeral was a great time.  A little disorganized, somewhat understaffed, but still a tremendous weekend filled with great performances, friendships, and undeniable magic on and off the stages.  There were big surprises, like Roots of Creation, The New Familiars and Eymarel, without fillers in the lineup.  There were a few disappointments but that’s to be expected from any festival. 

Crowds were a little thin in front of the stages, mostly due to conflicting sets, long walks, and a plethora of activities. I’ll take that over not being able to see the bands, standing in the hot sun with tens of thousands of drunk and/or chemically altered youth.  It might have been wiser to have had fewer acts with only two stages instead of three, but I would bet the organizers have already figured that out.

As with any undertaking of this magnitude there’s always room for improvement and Trinumeral is no exception.  If I had to pick a single festival to attend next year, with an equal lineup, and the above mentioned minor adjustments, my choice would be Trinumeral 09-09-09.

Click the thumbnail to open up more photos from Trinumeral 2008!

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