For the third edition of the Werk Out Music and Arts Festival the producers, Alchemy House, Funky Bean Productions and the host band the Werks, picked up stakes and moved the party to the historic Legend Valley (formerly known as Buckeye Lake) a venue that has hosted many legendary Grateful Dead shows and more recently become a hot festival site having already hosted All Good and the Dark Star Jubilee this summer. With tents ringing the lower concert bowl the set-up and atmosphere were more intimate than All Good but the big show vibe that permeated the air had many immediately dubbing the experience as smAll Good. And with the same side by side stage set up, albeit on a slightly smaller scale, there was the same promise of non-stop music until the very early morning.
The pre-party proceedings began with a side stage set from the Akron based quartet Aliver Hall. I had never seen these guys before but their upbeat proggy set was a nice surprise and set a great tone for the weekend. Next up was a country/punk set from Shreveport based Dirtfoot, another band which I had never experienced before. True to their Louisiana roots, this band creates a musical stew full of Cajun/gypsy tones and jazzy rhythms that brought a smile to many a face. The beat intensified when Indianapolis based Cosby Sweater took the side stage for an early (by their standards) hip-hop tinged dance set. While saxophonist Nicholas Gerlach (from the Twin Cats) and DJ David Embry (Embryonic Fluid) are probably the best known members of this new side project, it is the drumming of Richard “Sleepy” Floyd (from The Native Sun) that truly propels this dance party and has made them popular on the late night festival scene.
Papadosio was next on the mainstage, marking the third time in a month that I had seen these Asheville based psychedelic rockers. With a new album, named T.E.T.I.O.S. (To End the Illusion of Separation), ready to be released this band was champing at the bit to unveil their new material to the festival crowd and they delivered a forceful set that had the appreciative crowd screaming for more. Dr. Famous provided a nice soundtrack for a very late dinner.
Day one concluded with the first of three sets from festival hosts, The Werks. With Rob Chafin and Dino Dimitrouleous comprising a fierce rhythm section that continuously pushes the pace while allowing keyboardist Norman Dimitrouleous and guitarist Chris Houser to exchange raging riffs this is a band that brings a sharp prog-rock edge to their dance party. They delivered a potent set that continued to build in intensity (and included the debut of the new song “Going Round”) until it culminated in a raucous version of Phish’s “Slave to the Traffic Light.”
A quick glance at the watch revealed that there was plenty of time for a meaty encore so I was worried when stagehands to the stage in force. But it was quickly apparent that the roadies were not tearing down the stage but actually setting up more gear. And when both The Werks and Papadosio returning to the stage for a joint encore, the crowd roared in appreciation. The ensuing Werkidosio suite (augmented by Nicholas Gerlach on sax) was a funk jamboree that no one, least of all the performers, wanted to ever end. But all good things do seem to come to an end and as quiet finally swept over the festival grounds both the attendees who retreated to their tents and those who sought to continue their rage at the remote stages did so with a smile on their face.
With an exceptionally deep lineup and my aversion to any stimulant stronger than caffeine, I knew that I had no choice but to sleep in and miss some early stuff (although I was able to enjoy parts of Roster McCabe, Funktion and the MacPodz from my cozy campsite as I napped). As a result, my day two began with a dose of Strange Arrangement. The Chicago based quartet, as always, delivered a tasty set full of bouncy jams that highlight the deft interplay of keyboardist Joe Hettinga and guitarist Jim Conry.
My first mainstage act of day two was Michigan bluegrassers, Greensky Bluegrass, an acoustic quintet of immense songwriting prowess and musical talent. While Mike Devol held down the bottom end on upright bass, Paul Hoffman (mandolin), Anders Beck (dobro), Mike Bont (banjo) and Dave Bruzza (guitar) cast a melodic spell over the audience with a set of songs full of catchy hooks and lush harmonies. Highlighted by exceptionally sweet versions of “Lose My Way” and “No Lies,” this set truly soared.
Next up on the side stage were New Haven, Connecticut based jazz/funksters Kung Fu, a band that I had heard good things about but had never seen. With a musical ethos deeply rooted in seventies funk, spiced with a bit of cutting edge electronica, this is a genre bending band in the best fusion tradition. I will definitely be on the lookout for the next time these New Englanders find their way to the Midwest.
As evening took hold, EOTO delivered the most visually beautiful set of the weekend. Tucked into a set shaped like a lotus flower, Hann and Travis began one of their totally improvised dance parties. As the duo raged with their trademark intensity the flower came to life with a myriad of projected visual delights. The complete melding of sound and light created a delightful musical/visual symbiotic experience that I will remember for a very long time. Having seen the Twin Cats five times this summer, I am beginning to run out of words to describe my affinity for this band. Suffice it to say that the Indianapolis based jazz/funk quintet delivered another one of those sets that have made them a “go to” band in my book.
The Werks’ night two set again featured sit-ins from other festival musicians. But unlike the previous night where the guests all sat in on the encore on this night they were spread over the whole set. Guitarist Tim Palmieri and sax player Robert Somervile, both from Kung Fu, sat in on “Music” another Werks tune that debuted at the festival and percussionist Aaron Armstrong sat in on “Hard to Find.” But it was toward the end of the set when the Werks unleashed a moment of whimsical genius. Rob Chafin turned over his drum kit to Jason Hann, and Kung Fu keyboardist Todd Stoops joined Norman at the keys, for a hard rock jam that eventually saw Chafin return to the stage, in an eighty’s hairband wig, to lead the ensemble in a version of the Swedish band Europe’s classic hit “The Final Countdown.”
Watching Matt Butler get ready for an Everyone Orchestra performance is almost as fun as the performance itself. It is part chaos (“there was a Kung Fu drummer around here a second ago”) and part meet and greet as Butler assembles his ever changing roster of festival musicians for a wholly improvised musical journey. The Werk Out cast started with the Werks (less Rob Chafin who was supplanted on the kit by Kung Fu’s Adrian Tramontano, but retook his seat halfway through the set) supplemented by Kung Fu, Danny Sauers on sax and Paul Hoffman and Anders Beck from Greensky Bluegrass. The resulting jam, especially the section inspired by Butler’s comical lyric “what kind of fish, what kind of fish (swim in Buckeye Lake)?” was another of the weekend’s highlights and made for a fitting conclusion to day two.
Day Three began as I awoke during Glowstik Willy’s set. The Muncie based funk trio was a nice breakfast soundtrack and helped me regain my senses. My first real set of the day was from Rusted Root who are celebrating the twentieth anniversary of their debut indie release Cruel Sun. The Pittsburgh based roots-rockers have become festival favorites due to their ability to engage their audience. This was never more the case as when the power went out in the middle of their set, forcing Glabicki and company into an impromptu drum circle, which included the drummer climbing the light rig in order to bang his sticks on it, to keep the party going. As the power was restored the band finished their set as if nothing had been amiss. First up on the side stage was Elemental Groove Theory who was playing their penultimate show before disbanding. This set was the only true disappointment of the weekend as the band seemed never to gel on stage.
Next up on the mainstage were the buckeye state’s own Ekoostik Hookah, a band that has hosted several of their own Hookahville festivals at the same location. For those who love a more traditional jamband feel with sweet melodies full of soaring guitar solos this band always delivers and their Werk Out set was no exception. Highlighted by a sit-in by the Werks’ Chris Houser on “Look Out Below,” this set allowed the festival to regain its momentum. The ZOOGMA set was sacrificed in favor of dinner and shooting the VIP meet-and-greet where the band traded laughs and memories with their fans.
Having missed the Lotus set at All Good due to a lack of stamina (which was unfortunate as many named their set the best of that weekend), I was looking forward to their Werk Out performance as a make good and the band obliged by delivering a stellar set of dance-rock. The brief set from Break Science was my first exposure to the Brooklyn based duo, although I had seen drummer Adam Deitch several times with Lettuce. While I did not become an instant convert their funkier take on the late night dance party was certainly appreciated.
The final set of the weekend was left for the festival hosts who topped off the weekend with a monumental set. With a sit-in by Space Panda (on keys) during Rollin’ (which smoothly segued into a killer version of Duck Farm) and Danny Sauers lending his sax to “Fall,” this set was full on intense jams. And their cover of the Beatles’ “We Can Werk it Out” (as spelled on the setlist) had everyone singing at the top of their lungs. But the most memorable moment for me, and perhaps of the funniest moment of the whole weekend, came during their encore when the band’s road/stage manager tried to tell the band that their curfew was quickly approaching. The look that Houser gave him was equal parts “you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me” and “go ahead pull the plug - I dare you” was greeted by a simple shrug of surrender (although a quick call was made to the soundboard to turn down the volume a bit so as not to unnecessarily provoke the authorities). It was this attitude of maximizing the party until the very end that made the Werk Out the perfect way to end the summer.