With a hearty “here we go, Rothbury ’08” from String Cheese Incident keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth, the latest entry in the burgeoning U.S. concert festival scene got underway yesterday (July 3) in western Michigan.
Hollingsworth and his solo band got things going with a long, instrumental rendition of the Beatles’ “Taxman,” setting a field full of tie-dyed and Moosejawed fans in twirling motion for what’s planned to be more than four days of jam band heaven.
The rest of the weekend will see performances by the likes of the Dave Matthews Band, Widespread Panic, John Mayer, Phil Lesh and Friends, Gov’t Mule and others of the ilk — more than 70 acts playing in six performance areas.
Billed as “a music festival revolution,” Rothbury is also presenting circus-style acts and yoga classes. “Guitar Hero” set up a stage for weekend competitions, and members of 311 planned to hit the batting cages at the Major League Baseball Roadshow installation. Rothbury’s extensive environmental initiative includes seminars that will feature academics, activists and musicians such as Citizen Cope and Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam.
Music, however, is Rothbury’s driving force. Yesterday was a truncated day, with the main Odeum stage dark and performances not starting until early evening to allow festival goers to arrive and situate themselves in the camping area of the 200-acre site on the Double JJ Ranch, normally a summer camp and resort. With a reported pre-sale of around 30,000, organizers said yesterday that they’re still hoping to reach the 50,000 capacity during the weekend.
Once inside fans found not only stages but interactive sculptures and special areas such as the Tripolee Domes, where they could dance in and climb on three geometric structures, and Sherwood Forest, where trees were wrapped in glitter paper, hammocks hung from the trees and lighting and other decorations created a unique chill-out area away from the music.
With sets by Hollingsworth and Underground Orchestra getting things moving, the Mickey Hart Band’s 90-minute set was last night’s focal point. His Grateful Dead credentials giving him patron saint status among this crowd, Hart and his still-young ensemble — featuring Hollingsworth, guitarist Steve Kimmock and legendary New Orleans bassist George Porter — worked their way through a varied 90-minute set on the Sherwood Court stage.
Three new, as yet unrecorded songs written with lyricist Robert Hunter: the Caribbean-flavored “Manilla Farewell;” the hard-rocking “Wrecking Crew;” and the spacey “Tolongo.” The group also touched on Dead favorites such as “Fire on the Mountain,” “Sugaree” and “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad.”
Over in the Ranch Arena, Dweezil Zappa led his Zappa Plays Zappa troupe through a set that focused on his father’s “Sheik Yerbouti” album, with former Frank Zappa band member and Michigan native Ray White on hand for songs such as “City of Tiny Lights,” “Flakes” and “Broken Hearts are for A*sholes.”
Other first-night musical highlights included Michigan roots band Greensky Bluegrass’ rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe,” hot sets from the Disco Biscuits and Perpetual Groove — whose delivery of “Three Weeks” was jaw-droppingly fierce — and late-night dance parties by EOTO and DJ Roots.