The lucky 1,500 or so who attended Soulive’s sizzling Royal Family Affair were treated to talent on an immense scale. This was not merely a line-up of favorite bands doing familiar songs and long-winded jams, but pure improvisation that sometimes surprised the musicians themselves, with nods of appreciation and laughs with each other over what just went down. One of the ticket options was called a “Full Rager,” and that’s exactly how you could describe the entire weekend. The Friday and Saturday late night DJ sets could be considered “Full Ravers,” as well.
The concert-goers, who included plenty of music students and musicians, had an appreciation for the high caliber of music that was experienced. The level of playing exceeded all expectations and had the entire audience dancing from beginning to end. It was impossible not to dance with the emphasis on funk, classic soul, jazz, rock, reggae, R&B, electronica and improvised jams. When they weren’t dancing, participants hiked, rode the lift to the top of the scenic mountain, strolled the Stratton Mountain Village or played volleyball, tetherball, four-square and frisbee as they soaked in the music. The weather was cool and breezy, and the skies were clear at night to take in the full moon hanging over the pines, as well as the Persied meteor showers streaking overhead.
The festival kicked off Friday night with the Sam Kininger Band, who brought funk-jazz grooves that he built up and broke down, launching the never-ending-dance marathon with horns, guitars, keyboards and drums. This was the basic combination for the entire event, which had so much diversity, it never became monotonous. Saxophonist Kininger pitched a double header – first playing with his own band before joining Lettuce’s Shady Horns. He stepped in frequently during the fest, as his well-wrought playing was in demand throughout the three days. Kininger decided he was “going to keep it funky” and laid down a great opener.
Lettuce killed it with raging jazz-funk explosions that had the entire crowd (and band) jumping and waving at the unbelievable throwdowns. Neal Evans played conductor with a James Brown twist, exclaiming “This sounds so damn good!,” “Bring it!” and “Can you hit me?” This is by far my favorite band, and every time I see them, I’m blown away by the style and dangerous dance grooves. A few of the songs they played were “Blast Off,” “By Any Schmeeans Necessary,” “Last Suppit,” “Break Out> Relax,” “Mr. Yancey,” “Mr. Huff’s Flying Raging Machine,” “Squad Live” and “Counting Jam.”
Members of the super-group Lettuce include guitarist Eric Krasno (of Soulive), guitarist Adam “Schmeeans” Smirnoff (who plays with the Robert Randolph Band), bassist E.D. “Jesus” Coomes (who’s worked with Britney Spears, Eminem and Dr. Dre); keyboardist Neal Evans (Soulive); drummer and producer Adam Deitch (Break Science), saxophonist Sam Kininger and saxman Ryan Zoidis (Rustic Overtones). The name Lettuce derived from members showing up at underground jazz clubs after the scheduled gig ended and asking “Will you let us play? We never got around to changing the name and it stuck”, according to Krasno. The band’s chemistry is palpable, and you could tell they inspire and challenge each other each time they play.
The Friday night closer was the Montreal electro-funk duo Chromeo. With lasers, a light show and two equipment platforms supported by lit-up, high-heeled, plastic ladies legs, it was a throwback to the ’80s. Guitarist-vocalist Dave One (David Macklovitch) and keyboardist P-Thugg (Patrick Gemayel) created a house dance party sound with “Hot Mess,” “I’m Not Contagious,” “Don’t Turn the Lights On,” “Mama’s Boy” and “Needy Girl,” while fans danced as a unified field to the heavy-bass beats.
Eric Krasno as Kraz continued the dance party late into the night with a DJ set similar to his mix tape, “The Funky President.” He looked truly joyful as he spliced the tunes and danced. He mixed samples from James Brown to Sharon Jones to Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind.” Dancers wore funky glitter costumes, large afro wigs, and crowns honoring the “Royal Family.” Paper Diamond continued the party with heavy dubstep beats and hooks.
Review by Janet Kwiatkowski
Photographs by Mike Wren