“Are you leaving for the country?
You say the city brings you down
Leave the iron cloud behind
And feel the circus moving on”
Karen Dalton’s memorable words echoed through my mind as we crested the golden hill that overlooked the From The Ground Brewery.
In this pastoral spread that lay before us was where Andy French, of Raven Sings The Blues, chose to host his Deep in The Valley festival.
“Let the spirit move you again
Are you leaving for the country?”
Wavy orchard hills stretched out to the horizon, only being interrupted by a rustic chocolate colored barn, a white silo and a small stage, which sat casually in a barren field beside a large tent and bar.
The stage area sloped downwards to a lush and inviting pond, which oftentimes appeared like a green and blue oasis amongst a sea of dry grass. Whatever stress we encountered on our drive out of New Jersey that day began to immediately melt away.
We were among some of the first to arrive and the sun was already glaringly bright, but the large dining tent provided some pleasant relief (with close proximity to good food, beer and most importantly—water!)
As the first group, Dominick & The Family Band, took the stage around 11:30 AM, some of the early comers got off their feet and danced as buzzards circled overhead. The tie-dyed country rock band blessed the field with positive vibrations, rolling melodies and swirly jams. It was hard not to be reminded of bands like Color Green and the Cactus Blossoms. Yet, when these guys jammed, they jammed hard, sounding like a fried Americana version of Garcia Peoples. I certainly look forward to seeing them again someday!
Joseph Allred came to the stage next, opening their set with the spectral beauty of “Branches and Leaves,” which transfixed us all.
Allred’s soaring vocals carried out over the valley, while their reedy harmonium hummed supportively with the warmth of a church organ. It felt sacred to behold, like we were witnessing a form of worship rather than a performance. We held our breath from sheer awe, but also out of respect, as it felt like a single additional sound could possibly break the spell Allred was casting over us all.
Then the Tennessee-born musician switched to acoustic guitar, and deepened their incantation over the audience by treating us to gentle streams of finely fingerpicked fantasias.
As sudden gusts of strong wind threatened to rip away the protective canopy that clung tightly over the stage, Allred held their own and retaliated with a gale of dazzling notes that cycled kaleidoscopically in all directions.
A truly sunning moment occurred when two killdeer suddenly shot upwards from behind the stage above Allred like a fountain. They ascended in graceful arcs and loops high over the audience’s heads perfectly in time with the music. It was such a perfect moment of harmonious synchronicity, it would be easy to believe the birds were drawn by Allred’s paradisiacal songs. It was like as though they were dancing to Allred’s melodies, as they curlicued up into the atmosphere.
Soon after, Elkhorn took the stage with percussionist extraordinaire, Ryan Jewell, who sat in on tabla as a surprise last minute guest (which was totally spontaneous, as I’ve been told). If Joseph Allred took us to church, then Elkhorn lead us through an intense transcendental meditation session.
The trio put us under a deep hypnosis with their acoustic raga-like rhythms and snaky guitar lines that seemed to sprawl and tangle like hungry strands of leafy kudzu.
The group exuded so much love for their craft. Jesse Shepherd tilted his head back, bobbing it side to side in time with the tune’s swaying groove, looking totally enthralled by the music. Drew Gardner meanwhile leaned back and let his fingers lead him through the group’s sonic mandala up and down his fretboard with a cool and serious look that immediately recalled electric-era Miles Davis…and behind all of that, Ryan looked like he was just having a ball! The amount of joy you could read in his intense focus and desire to grasp the right sound for the right moment was very palpable. You could tell that he lives for unrehearsed moments of pure improvisation like this.
As Elkhorn’s sound grew and grew, mountainous cauliflower plumes of cumulonimbus clouds rose over the horizon. Yet these potential storms slowly sailed away from the concert, as if the trio’s aural wizardry protected the event from severe weather.
While there may not have been a light show present at this festival, the colossal cloudscapes and wispy cirrus strands that crept from horizon to horizon more than made up for it. This ever changing sky was the perfect dramatic backdrop for the day’s rather elemental music.
After Elkhorn, Ashley Paul sent shivers down our collective spines with her haunting and wholly original free jazz. Bells jangled and layers of droning feedback churned like monstrous sludge while her saxophone cried and wailed like a tormented spirit.
This set was perhaps the most stunning of the day, as it was the most uncompromising and unpredictable. One moment, Paul could be whispering a few poetic lines with a ghost-like hush, and then stirring up hyper-dreamlike atmospheres with her wheezing saxophone the next. She tightly held the attention of the entire farm in her hands from the beginning of her set until its very end.
Shepherd and Gardner didn’t get a ton of time to rest, as they were due back on stage again after Paul’s set, to play as members of Jeffrey Alexander & the Heavy Lidders.
The Lidders slayed with jams that were as sweltering as the sunlight we were all baking in.
Long whips of hot flames shot out of Alexander’s amplifier, while Gardner sliced around his solos with his own razor-like guitar lines. Meanwhile, Shepherd pummeled with his bass like a tank as Scott Verrastro attacked his drum kit with reckless abandon.
The group played molten acid blues rock that harkened back to the nuclear riff arsenals of bands like Sir Lord Baltimore and Leaf Hound, but with a frayed Crazy Horse-like earthiness.
Ashley Paul joined their set at one point, playing soft, crooning tones while the band dipped heavily into deep space.
A misty sheen of twinkling bells, Alexander’s eerie reverb-drenched vocalizations and the marbled chords that emitted from the two guitars gave the set an undeniably mystical bend. Paul’s sax blended so elegantly into the band’s sound, she should become a full-time Lidder some day.
They closed their set with an utterly face melting “Spoonful” that peaked multiple times, with each climax gnarlier and more corrosive than the last. This may have been one of the top guitar dueling moments between Gardner and Alexander ever (so far). Were their hands bursting into flames by the time they finished shredding and left the stage? We will closely analyze all footage and get back to you on that.
Once the earth stopped shaking from the Lidders’ set, Wet Tuna appeared and responded to the summer heat by submerging the entire field with a slow motion tsunami of healing astral guitar and electronic beats.
Valentine’s melty solos twirled and tumbled with shimmering brilliance in the late golden sunlight. If you stood at right spot at the top of the farm’s pond, you could hear the elastic slap of Valentine’s guitar ring out like a coyote bark, and ricochet 360 degrees around its great bowl. This sonic effect will stay in my memory for some time.
Wet Tuna kept a mellow shroomy ambience throughout their set, but being a Saturday night and all, they also delivered hard with their cosmic disco shoegaze side, too.
Their laser-warped barn-stomp dance grooves could have stretched on for hours, and I’m sure nobody would have minded. Any time with Valentine is a good time.
One of the most curious and highly anticipated moments of the festival was a new collaboration between Chris Forsyth, Bill Nace and Ryan Jewell. This trio absolutely blew away all expectations.
As the sun began to set, the three musicians bombarded the audience nonstop. They ripped. They tore. They rattled and exploded their sound into a thousand sharp splinters that rained across the brewery grounds. This was mutant jazz set to a speed-metal pace.
Nace and Forsyth fitfully battered their instruments (a Metal Machine tashigoto and an electric guitar, respectively) to produce bursts of jagged feedback that Sonny Sharrock would have adored, while Jewell fired off on his kit like a rabid machine gun.
Through the Tasmanian Devil-like juggernaut cacophony, moods and tones could be felt lurking beyond the mists of distortion that were at times somber and wistful, and at other times elated and celebratory. This music had so much going on within it all at once, it was overwhelming to behold all at once. We walked away from the set wanting to analyze each moment we heard, replaying the entire performance in our heads over and over again. Here’s hoping a tape of this collaboration reaches the public soon! (Edit: and it has! See below.)
When the great Laraaji began the festival’s closing set, he brought the coolness of the night with him.
With tides of pearly zither drones, frog and cricket song samples and chanting vocals, the legendary ambient and new age artist took the audience down from the excitement of the day’s events to a calm and collected state. It was as though he was blessing and ensuring us a peaceful and pleasant journey homewards with his bath of purifying sound.
Many people closed their eyes and got into meditational stances on their blankets in the grass as we all hung onto every vibration that floated out from Laraaji’s orange tie-dyed table.
After the crowd was suitably sedated, Laraaji introduced some thumping electro beats while tapping on his zither with brushes, gracing us with one final dance groove of the day.
With a sauntering heartbeat pulse and the echoing vocals and loving laughter of the new age icon, there was a warm sense of belonging that radiated throughout the farm.
This moment perfectly encompassed the true spirit of the festival. An overall comfortable and secure feeling of community and familial connection seemed to be in the air throughout the day. It reminded me of the vibe I experienced at Psychedelic Sangha’s Bardo Bath, back in June, but this went even deeper.
Many of the artists here were friends or at least fans of each other. A great deal of the audience were also either friends in real life, or had been friends online, and were finally meeting in person for the first time. Despite being so close knit, the event and its people welcomed all interested ears with open arms. There was no gatekeeping here.
Andy French put a place down for this far stretching and ever-building community to gather around to not only dig the same bands, but to really get to know each other. He shared his joy of this music with all of us, and we reflected that joy right back at him and the musicians.
Then, Laraaji seemed to tap into this loving, kindred atmosphere, and let it be the guiding light of his set, craftily sending us all home with a little bit of that light, that warm connection, packaged deep within our hearts.
“Let the spirit move you again…are you leaving for the country?”