Photos by: Ryan Patrick (White Rhino Photographics)
Story by: Kyle Rutherford
Another year is in the books for The Werk Out Music & Arts Festival and it definitely was another crazy one. The funk-fueled festival solidified itself as one of the top music festivals in the Midwest; generating buzz across the nation and achieving its largest attendance number, to date. With many ups and only a few downs, The Werk Out was an amazing, beautiful success.
As the gate opened on Thursday afternoon, the crowd seemed to fill the beautiful grounds of Legend Valley in Thornville, Ohio much quicker than the previous year, and in much larger quantities. Festivalgoers rushed to stake out their campsites underneath the coveted trees that are minimal scattered about the festival grounds. The whole weekend was extremely hot so these spots paramount.
After setting up camp, everyone took some time to explore the grounds before music began, checking out the various installations, vendors and the beautiful art located in the Symbiosis Gallery.
Music began on the main stage with Cheezcake, a trio that included current guitarist of The Werks, Chris Houser, founding bassist of the band, Chuckie Love, and longtime friend and percussionist, T Bone the Metronome. The locked in jam partners really got the day off right with some jams that combined the best of classic rock and grunge, backed by super thick bass grooves and excellent guitar riffs.
Columbus-based group Love Alive were able to draw a multitude of people to the Woodlands Productions stage with their funky tunes. Vocalist/guitarist David Lurie always has the ability to put on a spectacular show, with the stage presence reminiscent of a performer with decades more experience. Cleveland based Yosemight was also able to bring dancers out of the shade and to the side stage to get down to their funky, southern rock tinged tunes.
Another Columbus group, Sassafraz, really turned up the energy on the main stage as the evening progressed. The typical six-piece group brought out a second drum kit, which really increased the power of the group. Ripping through funky tunes like “A Funk,” the classic rock inspired “Live Rock N’ Roll,” and the epic “Shreddy Krueger,” the group showed by they keep getting asked to return to The Werk Out. It was also a nice surprise to see Jake “Baby Hands” Goldberg perform “Life in the Fast Lane” with Sassafraz after leaving the band in January to join The Werks.
As the sun receded beyond the tree line and shade engulfed the main standing area, Manic Focus took to the side stage. Being one of the only electronic based acts at the festival, JmaC (née John McCarten) had some pretty big shoes to fill, and he genuinely ripped right through them. The set included his beloved remixes of “Dani California,” “Mad World,” and “Give Me One Reason,” collaborations from Marvel Years, Break Science, and Artifakts, as well as an excellent sit in from Higher Learning percussionist Rohan Prakash.
With the strike of the grungy “Psycho Nature,” Dopapod began their sunset set. Though Manic Focus brought the crowds out, the ever popular four-piece really got everyone out and grooving. Many of the music played was less vocal heavy and more instrumental based, but when vocals were involved, there were a lot of very nice soulful elements to it, like on “Priorities.” Halfway through the set, the band brought out a cake for lightning manager Luke Stratton’s birthday. They then chimed into a cover of Ween’s “Buckingham Green,” then ripped through other tunes like “Sleeping Giant,” “Cloud World,” and “Cure.” The lack of vocal tracks really allowed the band to explore their instrumental jams phenomenally. Keyboardist Eli Winderman really had a field day with his Moog too!
Back to the side stage, Turkuaz had the crowd dancing into a fever pitch. The funk group’s stage presence was like that of old school funketeers like Parliament and The Ohio Players, with the horn section and background singers dancing together in synchronization. I’m sure George Clinton and Bootsy Collins would have loved their set, grooving along to the sounds “Bubba Slide,” “Chatte Lunatique,” and the rest of their killer set.
After a year of waiting, The Werks took to the main stage in full tracksuits at their seventh Werk Out with their classic, “For Today.” As they continued on through “For You,” you could really tell that the band was extremely comfortable at the venue the group has called home for so many years. “Fire Eater” was pretty insane and allowed each band to show off their chops. It was also the first time that Jake Goldberg had gotten to take the stage with the band at Legend Valley, and he definitely blew the crowd’s minds with his insane bass slaps.
Per usual, the band always plays some phenomenal covers. As if out of nowhere, Dan Shaw tickled in Elton John’s “Circle of Life,” which united the crowd into an epic sing-along. Keyboard god Todd Stoops also joined the group on “G-Funk,” effortlessly ripping his hands across Shaw’s keyboards, all with a maniacal smile across his face. After an excellent segue back and forth between “Hard to Find” and “Cloud Hopper,” the band finished their set with the classic “Carry On My Wayward Son,” a first for The Werks.
The crowd then cleared back to the late night tent, which always contains some of the festival’s headiest sets. Lettuce took to the stage to piercing screams from their crowd, starting off slow with “Phyllis” and progressively getting funkier. Festivalgoers outside the tent were treated to amazing fire performances on The Propane Dancefloor, and those inside the tent were treated to an amazing intimate set from the funk powerhouse group. No one seemed to want the set to end, with songs like “Madison Square” causing the tent to nearly fill to capacity.
Following the funk were some great electronic vibes. Todd Stoops and Rob Chafin’s Trakstar act didn’t slow anyone’s dancing, but only kept it going harder. It was a really cool spectacle to witness, with Stoops impoving over a list of electronic tunes. The two’s uptempo style of playing really matched along with the high BPM songs that they were playing over. Columbus based Ghost Gardens kept nearly the same vibe going, but with vinyl scratching and more electronic based percussion work.
As Friday “morning” came, the grounds of Legend Valley were buzzing a bit early. The morning heat and lack of shade camping caused many festivalgoers to be out and about a little bit earlier to escape their oven of a tent, myself included. Luckily, morning yoga and drum circles were present in the shade, providing stretch sessions and cool rhythms to begin the day’s festivities. Local concert production company My Best Friends Party also had DJs spinning chill house music in the Symbiosis Gallery; an oasis of beautiful art and fans to keep everyone cool as the days got even hotter.
One of the most memorable sets of the entire festival came from The Big Damn Jam’s full rendition of Abbey Road by The Beatles. The Big Damn Jam was the creative outlet of Norman Dimitrouleas, late keyboardist of The Werks. He brought together many Dayton, OH area musicians together for jam sessions at bars and small festivals, pushing the boundaries of each individual’s skills at the same time as putting on amazing live performances for all those in attendance.
The tribute to Norman was one of the many beautiful tributes that happened during the week. The Big Damn Jam featured a constant rotation of musicians that frequently performed with Norman, including many of his Dayton collaborators, as well as Todd Stoops, brother Dino Dimitrouleas, saxophonist Kevin Dumont. It was an extremely emotional performance that would sometimes see up to 15 performers on stage at a time, while the energy within the tent was nothing short of breathtaking.
As the afternoon progressed, the stages increased in attendance and power. The Woodlands Productions stage played host to Conscious Pilot, a young Columbus based four piece with a nice, classic jam rock feel. At the same time, power funk heavy hitters Kung Fu got the main stage started up. Their insanely high energy set had throngs of people out dancing endlessly inn the blistering heat.
Tropidelic kept people’s dancing shoes going as well with their reggae tinged funk rock. Starting with the upbeat “Freak Stomp,” their locality and fun lyrics had the crowd singing along throughout much of their set. Not only is their music high energy, but also so are the band members; dancing and jumping around to the music without missing a single note. Their trombonist rap verse on “Police State” was extraordinary, shooting off bars with a velocity similar to that of fellow Clevelanders Bone Thugs N’ Harmony.
As the sun retreated behind the clouds for the first time of the day, Twiddle took to the main stage for their first ever Werk Out performance. The set itself was very energetic, with much of it containing more of their bluegrass-tinged tunes. Dopapod guitarist Rob Compa joined the quartet on “Apples,” which created remarkable chemistry between he and Mihali Savoulidis. After tearing through “Indigo Trigger” and segueing into “Polluted Beauty,” the group finished with a bluesy, yet exceptional cover of “Mad World.”
While Backup Planet put on a shred fest back in the big tent, The Mantras kept the spirit of the afternoon going with some brilliant, high-energy progressive rock on the side stage. As if Primus and Tool had a love child, their sound went from deep, bass guitar driven songs to bright, keyboard & guitar-based onslaughts. The highlight was their ending song, “Burning Down the Mountain,” which expertly mashed up The Grateful Dead’s “Fire On the Mountain” with “Burning Down the House” from The Talking Heads.
As The Mantras ended and the lights went up on the main stage, host Jonathan Schwartz said that it was now the time of the night when the mood shifts. It truly did shift into a full on party when Dopapod took the stage, strumming into a super spacey “Super Bowl.” Per usual, Eli and Rob smashed their improv parts, especially the organ section of “Black and White.” Contrary to the previous evening’s set, this set contained a lot more vocal aspects and sing-along portions, especially during a 12 minute “Trapper Keeper” and closer, “Present Ghosts.” Almost four minutes into that latter song, the PA cut out, which was an unfortunate prelude to the rest of the evening.
With the theme of the night being Outer Space, festivalgoers quickly changed out of their summer festival clothes so they could throw on their intergalactic threads. Bootleg spacesuits and astronaut helmets were scattered about and glow in the dark clothing seemed to be the top outfit choice. Zoogma got everyone warmed up on the side stage with their killer live electronic. Much of their setlist contained a lot of new and unreleased tunes, much of it with a nice, glitchy undertone and amazing guitar work.
As the music ended on the side stage, you could almost see the energy rippling through the crowd as they awaited the weekend’s main event. The house music and lights shut off and five astronauts came out onto the Legend Valley stage. Keyboardist David Phipps got his synths going, Alana Rocklin set a steady bass groove, and the STS9 spectacular began with “Vapors.” Guitarist Hunter Brown’s epic guitar part seemed to trigger a spectacular light show all on its own, and the crowd was left stunned in fascination.
Musically, “Frequencies 2” began without a hitch, but after about 90 seconds, something happened that almost every concert/festival producer dreads. A young female fan casually climbed up on stage, walked onto Zach Velmer’s drum kit, and just seemed to trust fall onto him. Some people in the crowd thought it was part of stage and the band seemed confused as she was pulled off by security. Velmer took it extremely professionally, telling the crowd “Sorry! That’s never actually happened! Can you just give us a second? I’ve never had someone tackle me on stage! There’s a first time for everything, just let me get my bearings straight!”
Like the professionals that they are, they moved right into “Frequencies 3,” a hypnotic “Glogli,” and a groovy “Poseidon.” Unfortunately, more problems arose as the PA died in the middle of “Move My Peeps.” This created an opportune moment for set break.
After a short time, the band came back on and struck up “Shock Doctrine.” The synthesizers rattled the festival grounds and everyone began dancing like insane aliens. Once “Hubble” came on, I chose to sit at the top of the hill and watch everything from a distance. The dancefloor was pretty intense but watching from further back with the beautiful night’s sky in the background just made everything seem too perfect. With all of the lights from the stage glistening over the trees and shooting off into outer space, it almost seemed as if STS9 was communicating with beings outside of our realm. It was truly one of the most gorgeous experiences I’ve ever had.
As if anyone could even dance anymore after the evening’s already amazing festivities, the late night tent was about display another showing of musical superiority.
The Werks started their annual Friday late night with one of their new songs, “Lights Out,” which got everyone running back to tent. The group then quickly moved into “Transformational,” which was a fantastic surprise since they hadn’t played the song since November. It’s a phenomenal classic rock tinged sing-along tune that really should be played out more often.
Dino finally made an appearance with the band, not taking Jake’s place but joining him for an insane double bass onslaught on “Rollin’” He and Jake started the song with an insane back and forth until the rest of the band chimed in. The song itself has an amazing bass line already, so having two bassists perform just made the song so much cooler. Each member, especially Dan Shaw with his Moog, as well as Dino figuratively passing the torch to Jake through an epic bass battle, crushed their improvisational parts. It almost doesn’t even need to be mentioned that Hauser slayed, just like he always does. “Find Your Way” and “Not Alone” created even more sing-alongs, genuinely showing the loyalty the fans show to the band.
After a little bit of a rearranging of the stage setup, another one of the weekend’s highlights commenced. The Werk Out always plays house to some amazing multi band collaborations, and the Twerkapod Tribute to the 90s was another one of those spectacular occurrences. Everyone inside and outside the tent, both young and old, were constantly singing along to each song that the conglomerate performed.
While it seemed like a night of drunken karaoke, it was still one of the coolest things to witness. Mihali was extremely impressive with every song he took the vocal reigns on, including Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Blues Traveler’s “Run Around,” and “Give It Away” by Red Hot Chili Peppers. Dino nearly created a mosh pit with his notorious rendition of “Killing In the Name Of” after his duet with Rob Chafin on “Gangsters Paradise.”
It was also great to see band members sing that you never really get to witness take to the mic, even if it was hilarious to witness at the same time. Dan Shaw surprisingly knows how to do a great “Flagpole Sitta,” Dopapod’s Chuck Jones brought out his sexy side on “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” and Scotty Zwang impressed us with his falsetto on “Mmmbop.” After a wonderful duet between Scotty and Mahili on TLC’s “Waterfalls,” Chris Houser closed the evening’s music with a fantastic rendition of The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony.”
Due to a nice rain shower early in the morning, Saturday started off a bit cooler than the previous two. It gave everyone just a little bit more time to relax after the previous evening’s festivities.
Cleveland based jamtronica outfit Broccoli Samurai got the afternoon started off properly on the main stage. Their spacey set was technically great, but not too in your face, which was the perfect was to start the day. Unfortunately, Glostik Willy wasn’t able to perform at the festival, so New York progressive funk group The Shwizz took their spot on the side stage. Also from New York, Teddy Midnight got the tent warmed up with the killer electronic based grooves. Both their keyboardist and guitarist helped create a really high energy sound, with the former effortlessly switching between multiple synthesizers and the latter nearly burning his fingers off from so much shredding.
Festivalgoers took to sitting on the side of the hill during much of the afternoon’s music, which was the perfect for watching the Everyone Orchestra set. The lineup included members of The Werks, Twiddle, Greensky Bluegrass and Big Something. The improv jam session, orchestrated by Matt Butler, really brought a lot of energy into the afternoon, with each member bringing their unique technical skills to make something magical. Whether it was starting out with some acoustic bluegrass, electronica, or funk, each member was able to effortlessly join in to create something truly organic and special.
Big Something kept the party going strong on the side stage with some nice, downtempo grooves. Having never seen them before, I was extremely happy with their electronic elements. It’s always great to see someone using an Electronic Wind Instrument, especially one that plays it as well as Casey Cranford. They sound like a perfect combination of STS9 and The Werks, and I’m pretty stoked to start seeing more from this talented group.
If a perfect timeslot ever existed, Greensky Bluegrass’ early evening set was one of them. It began as the sun was just beginning to settle along the tree line and ended with shade completely covering the dance floor. The Michigan boys really created a frenzy with their upbeat progressive bluegrass picking, with the crowd dancing and hooping nearly nonstop. Aside from a plethora of originals, they brilliantly covered Prince’s “When Doves Cry” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady.”
One of the distinct beauties of Greensky Bluegrass is their varying vocal tones. From deep, classical sounding bluegrass bars, to more higher range stuff with a nice, southern twang, and even some soulful crooning, you never really knew what kind of vocal vibe was going to come from those speakers. Twiddle vocalist/guitarist Mihali Savoulidis’s vocals fit in perfect during his sit in on “Last Winter In The Copper County,” and his guitar skills meshed perfectly with dobroist Anders Beck.
Twiddle kept the southern feel going well with their side stage set. They got their set kicked off with “Earth Mama,” which began a phenomenal onslaught of vocal based tunes. “Be There” started a nice stretch of sing-along songs, while “Lost In the Cold,” sounded more like a livetronica band was playing. After a wonderful “Syncopated Healing” and closing with “Frankenfoote,” the vibe they created and the love the fans showed made it clear that they’ll be asked back to The Werk Out many more times.
In true fashion for The Werks, their double Saturday sets are always the greatest. They really knew how to progressively build excitement, with their opener “Alive” being fairly relaxed with nothing too flashy. “Give or Take” continued on with the chill vibe, while “Moving On” brought up the energy with some next level keyboard runs by Dan Shaw. Dino came back to the stage to join the band on their classic, “Cruel Stone Blues” and the epic “O.G.,” which always has the best light show out of all their songs. “O.G.” is truly the epitome of the band’s sound. Continuing on with an arsenal of fantastic covers, they ended their set with their cover of Phish’s cover of Edgar Winter's “Frankenstein.”
After a short set break, the band returned in full suits and chimed into “Drop,” and boy was it a heater. It almost seemed like it was going to be the only song they would play, with the song lasting about a half an hour, full of insane solos by each member. It featured a young boy in a Slender Man costume breakdancing during the jam, only to be carried off by manager Kenny Holmes, as well as a killer “Immigrant Song” tease. They also did a crazy mashup of “Finding Destiny” and “Galactic Passport,” constantly going back and forth between the two tunes for another 20 minutes. They closed with the always insane “Onslaught,” then left the stage, only to return with a white suited Dino.
I was certain that they would close with “Carry Me Back Home,” but I wasn’t prepared for the level of emotion that would come over me. The song was written by Norman and was always one of the songs everyone would play in remembrance of him. The song was played beautifully at his memorial jam back in January, but this one really topped any live performance I’ve ever witnessed. You could hear the emotion in Chafin’s voice as he sung, with his voice shaking and scratching, and each member wiping away tears as they performed. They then brought out the whole Werk Out crew to sing the last verse, hand in hand, and it really showed the beauty of the close-knit family behind The Werks. On a side note, the last time The Werks alone performed the show was at their Werksgiving show in November, which included Norman on keys.
After the emotional display on the main stage, The Motet got everyone back in the sprit of dancing in the late night tent. Their classical funk nature was extremely impressive, while their dancing horn section was an indefinite nod to the funk pioneers. Vocalist Lyle Divinsky really knew how to work a crowd, creating an indefinite aura of sex appeal that engulfed the stage. His vocals on “Extraordinary High” were super soulful, while his dance moves on “Shake” had girls in the front row gushing over him.
The last performance of the festival was also one of the greatest. New Orleans based quintet Earphunk had the whole festival buzzing in excitement for their Daft Punk tribute set. Starting with an excellent cover of “Robot Rock,” which moved on into a “Technologic” tease and a full on version of “Da Funk,” it was obvious that these guys were jamtronica champions.
Similar to Daft Punk”s Alive 2007 record, the band did an excellent mash up of “Human After All,” “Around The World” and “Television Rules The Nation.” They dropped into some soulful Daft Punk tunes as well, including “Give Life Back To Music” and “Get Lucky.” It was cool to hear “Harder Better Faster Stronger” with guitar riffs in place of vocals, and their closer, “One More Time” kept everyone dancing far into the AM.
Even with the trials and tribulations that any festival sees as it grows, The Werk Out was an amazing success. The family atmosphere enshrouds itself around Legend Valley, while the music just continues to get better every year. We can only imagine the stops they’ll pull out when it returns next year, and we can only dream of yet another beautiful weekend in Thornville, OH.
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