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Bluegrass in the Ozarks (Part Two)

This is a continuation of a two part post, please see part one here.

So, on to Friday and Saturday at Mulberry Mountain for Yonder Mountain String Band’s Harvest Fest!

Friday started off quickly, with our good friends in Useful Jenkins kicking things off on the Main Stage.  I had turned in early (“early” by festival standards…about 4 am) to get some sleep the night before, in order to be ready for UJ’s set at 12:30 pm, so I was feeling pretty good.  The Sun was warming up the fields and we had a decent day on our hands (at least at first).

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As with most daytime sets, it takes awhile for the crowds to get up and moving but once they did we had a nice turnout.  The PA and stage sound was excellent, all of the members of Useful Jenkins commented on what a nice job the sound crew did.  Being up on stage most of the time I wasn’t able to hear the set as well as those out in the crowd, but I had a blast shooting the boys while they played.

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Next on my agenda was Elephant Revival’s set.  I’ve known ER since catching them at The Hemp Hoe Down in the Black Hills of South Dakota way back in 2011.  I remembered that weekend so clearly because I happened to have also terribly sprained my ankle playing a game of kickball, so I’d been hobbling around with an ace-wrapped ankle for a couple days.  Luckily, I didn’t have to play any Kickball at Mulberry Mountain.

The weather began to take a turn for the worse just as ER was beginning, luckily their set was in the Harvest Tent and well protected from the elements.

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Elephant Revival is composed of five very talented members (Dango Rose, Sage Cook, Bridget Law, Bonnie Paine, Daniel Rodriguez) who all seem to come together to form a greater whole.  Multiple members contribute to the songwriting and composing of their music, and all step forward at one time or another to feature in their live performances.   Speaking of their live performances, their set in the tent at Harvest Fest was wonderful.  I don’t know of another band that can at times play so softly, but with so much power and energy.  They take hold of a room and draw everyone’s attention, even with the lightest notes.

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Some of their more foot-stomping tracks like “Grace of a Woman” really got the crowd going, and provided a nice contrast to some of their softer, more soulful moments.

 

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I was sad for ER’s set to come to an end and also dismayed at the rain that had begun to fall during their set and continued throughout the afternoon.  I decided to stay parked in the warm and dry Harvest Tent as I’d been advised to NOT MISS the Andy Frasco set that was following Elephant Revival performance.

Prior to Harvest Fest, I’d never seen or heard Andy Frasco, so I had no idea what to expect.  From the first measure of his set to the final note, Andy Frasco absolutely destroyed Harvest Fest.   A Funky Big Band Dance Jam party was held by Mr. Frasco and his many talented band-mates (including some guest musicians like Kris Lager, the stage was a veritable merry-go-round all afternoon), and the crowd ,which to this point had been exposed to mostly bluegrass, was more than happy to get down with them.

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Frasco not only provided a refreshingly funky block of party music Friday afternoon at Harvest Fest, but he also had much of the crowd in constant laughter with his irreverent stage antics and banter, at one time claiming to have had an inappropriate relationship with Stevie Nicks.

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No part of the Tent, on or off stage, was off-limits for Frasco and his band as they soloed on top of amps, speakers, sub-woofers, and crowd-members throughout the performance.  After wall to wall bluegrass all weekend long, I was very happy to have stayed in the tent to witness and participate in Frasco’s set.  It wasn’t one to be missed, that’s for sure.

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The rain continued throughout Friday and the muck level increased.  Luckily after doing over a dozen festivals in the Upper Midwest this spring and summer, I was well prepared for crappy conditions with enough boots and goretex to get by relatively dry.

Despite the rain Yonder’s 2nd set of the weekend warmed up the crowd in the Main Bowl.  The lighting and sound at the Bud Light Stage were top notch all weekend, and Yonder’s behind the scenes team did a great job of lighting up the band on this cold, rainy night.

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Thankfully the rain decided to take a break during a much anticipated set by the Tedeschi Trucks Band.  Susan and Derek looked like they were really enjoying themselves and it was evident Susan had taken some time to support the vendors by purchasing a flashy cape.  Susan’s soulful and powerful vocals shook the mountain and certainly got the crowd in the mood, while the uber-talented slide guitarist Derek Trucks slid his way through a jamming set.

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After Tedeschi and Trucks, Railroad Earth and Greensky Bluegrass were still set to play sets in the Harvest Tent, what a day!  The beauty of Harvest Fest is the multiple sets that so many of the bands get to play, giving you the chance to see many acts more than once, and also giving you the chance to catch acts you may not have been able to see because of scheduling conflicts.  After TTB, I decided to park my camera for the evening so I could enjoy the rest of the night without worrying about my camera.  I turned in around 5 am, it was cold and wet, but for a guy used to the Frozen North, I was warm and cozy in my sleeping bag.

The Final Day!  Wow, what a journey it’s been so far, from South Dakota to Minnesota to Arkansas.  The people have been wonderful and inviting, the weather has held out just fine, and the music has been spectacular.

There were some great sets early on in the day.  After waking up and getting some work done back in the media area, I caught the 2nd half of Elephant Revival (but apparently missed my favorite song, Remembering a Beginning).  Gangstagrass in the Harvest Tent was the first group I took pictures of on Saturday.  They provided an interesting dynamic and played one of everybody’s favorite tunes from O Brother Where Art Thou.

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Even though it was the last day, everyone was still raring to go, and the tent was packed again.

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Beats Antique provided an interesting, non-bluegrass option for those like myself who enjoy many different styles.  Their mix of stage elements along with unique instrumentation and sound was quite interesting.  I felt their performance would have lent itself better to a late night set in the Harvest Tent, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

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I jumped back and forth between Railroad Earth and the Shook Twins early Saturday evening.  It was a little bit of walking but I was rewarded with members of Elephant Revival joining the Shook Twins on stage at various points of their show.

The Sun had set, and we were down to the final evenings festivities.  Fire spinners lit up the ground and Chinese Lanterns flew up into the night sky, it was magical.

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Railroad Earth and Yonder had excellent, diverse sets once again, and as I’d taken many pictures of both groups already, I was able to sit back and enjoy for the most part, I still grabbed a few shots though, as some of the scenery was so beautiful.

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If you polled the crowds that attended Harvest Fest, I think many would point to the late night Everyone Orchestra set on Saturday night as one of the highlights of the weekend.  The energetic, passionate, and exciting performance was directed by Matt Butler, and featured many of the weekends top musicians in a free form improvisational jam like no other.  Orchestrating both the musicians and the crowd in attendance, Butler was in fine form in an intricately decorated set of blue overalls.

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It was certainly my highlight of the weekend, I couldn’t help but pick up my camera to grab a few final shots before the lights went out at Mulberry Mountain.

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To close out the weekend, Andy Frasco played a 2nd set following the Everyone Orchestra in the Harvest Tent.  It was the perfect ending to what was a wonderful weekend.  I laughed, cried, screamed, shouted, and other things ending in “ed”.  Sunday, we drove the 12 hours back north and ended up in Minneapolis around 1am.  I stayed around Minneapolis for a few days and then caught a ride back to my home in Sioux Falls, SD.  About 2000 miles on the road, several thousand pictures, and a million experiences.

Thanks to all the Pipeline Productions and Mulberry Mountain staff who worked so hard to put on such a great party for all of us.

–Rob Specht

Sioux Falls, SD.

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