Organized by jazz-jam-funk trio Soulive, the inaugural Royal Family Affair was a fun ‘n’ funk-filled three-day festival at Stratton Mountain featuring the host band and many of their label mates, as well as musically like-minded friends.
It wasn’t all about the mindblowing performances, however. On Saturday and Sunday, the musicians took time out to host interesting and intimate workshops on various aspects of music, performance and the art of improvisation.
Sunday morning began with a workshop with Adam Deitch called “The Science Behind the Beats.” Each of the workshops were well attended and received. This clinic was “an intense study on the break beats that have influenced the music of all modern genres.” According to Deitch, “My whole drive to drumming is to get people to dance. It’s like a secret code to feel the audience and change things if necessary.” Both of his parents were drummers who influenced him tremendously. Deitch played various drum styles from different eras from 1900 to the present – including New Orleans swing, James Brown, the Meters, Sly & the Family Stone, P-Funk, Bernard Purdie, Tower of Power and his parents’ favorites Earth, Wind & Fire. New beats are still being created with hip-hop, crunk, bounce, electro and dubstep – the possibilities are infinite.
Eric Krasno of Soulive taught “Expanding Your Musical Vocab and Improv,” explaining that he had attended the other workshops and even learned some new things from his own bandmates. He reiterated the theme of learning your instrument and incorporating a unique sound and tone that will give you infinite possibilities. Some of Krasno’s major influences were the Meters, the Funk Brothers and his idol, John Scofield. He also taps into the audience and can feel when they are having fun. When their hands are in the air, he knows he’s in the right place.
At Berklee, he met friends who had similar tastes in music, who locked in on each other and are still playing together today. Krasno’s mom offered some insightful stories from his childhood: Eric’s grandfather was a master violinist, and his older brother is also a fine musician. He could sing Beethoven with perfect pitch at eight months old and was enrolled in music school at age four, where he would go limp and refuse to play. She became frustrated, and her father gave her the advice that both boys showed real talent, and if they loved it, they will pursue it and find their own influences. This seemed like a prophetic story of Krasno, even at an early age, refusing to color within the musical lines, to becoming the master at improv that he is today.
The final workshop was delivered by Soulive’s Neal Evans on “Songwriting and Composition,” and I don’t think there is a person more passionate about music than Mr. Evans. He began, “Music absolutely moves me.” He played a beautiful piano piece and talked about currently creating music scores for films and commercials. His tools are “tapping into the emotions, being aware of your surroundings and listening to every little sound around you. Your emotional palette is the totality of your experiences, and your greatest influence is the interaction and reaction of people to your work. And, of course, to know your instrument of choice inside and out.”
Each of the workshops was a reflection of personal philosophies, spirituality and massive amounts of experience and wisdom playing and working in the music business without compromising your vision. The participants who attended all of the workshops received a certificate and happily had their photos taken with Soulive.
Caveman started the Sunday line-up with intriguing drum beats and harmonies. Neal. – as in Neal Evans, who can play both bass and keys at the same time – put together his own group in support of his new album. The band consists of the usual suspects- Krasno, Deitch, brother Alan Evans on bass and the Shady Horns, who provided a powerhouse of experimental jams.
The eight-piece John Brown’s Body served up a progressive reggae/hip-hop/dub sound, complete with a horn section, and changed the rhythm of the festival for a short while. It was fun to dance to a different beat and witness a phenomenal band.
Eric Krasno commented on the festival, saying “We are looking forward to next year, and we had so much fun. Everyone is saying how kind the managers, production team and Stratton Mountain staff have been, and everyone has had such an amazing weekend.”
The clouds rolled down the mountain as Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk took the stage and began with the Isley Brothers’ funk classic “Fight the Power.” Ivan is Aaron Neville’s son and has played with Keith Richards, the New Orleans Social Club, and the Spin Doctors and has recorded with Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt and Robbie Robertson, among many others. Joined by trumpeter Jennifer Hartswick, they played selections from their new CD, “Everybody Wants Sum.” They brought that New Orleans-style funk with infectious dance beats and pumped everyone up for the final jam with the Royal Family All-Stars.
It began to rain when the last act appeared, but that didn’t stop anyone from leaving or raging their faces off. It seemed like the entire stable from the Royal Family and special guests were all up on stage – Soulive, Jennifer Hartswick, saxophone master Karl Densen, the Shady Horns, Lettuce and Dumpstaphunk.
It was a funk-jazz-soul melting pot with Hartswick and Densen trading slow burning solos on trumpet, sax and flute with Soulive; then Lettuce joined Dumpstaphunk for fiery jams with Deitch and Nicky Gillespie, the female drummer from Dumpstaphunk, keeping a steady beat. Nobody seemed to overshadow anyone else, and the set was monumental. Everyone made it look so easy and was having a great time ending with Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” and the encore of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.”
This feel-good event rolled along nice and easy, proving once again that there are infinite possibilities when you know your instrument.
Review by Janet Kwiatkowski
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk