Photos by: Brien Vincent
Story by: Kyle David Rutherford
Festival season has officially kicked off and Essential Productions and A-Town Roots really did it big! Paradise Music & Arts Festival, held for its first time at Wisteria Campground outside of Albany, Ohio, was the largest in the event’s years of existence. Even a decent amount of rain didn’t keep over 1300 festivalgoers from dancing all day and all night.
Festivalgoers navigated the winding Appalachian roads Thursday and were greeted with a warm “Welcome to Paradise” by those at the front gate. They were then greeted by the beautiful site of an old strip mine turned into a beautiful festival and camping ground tucked away deep in the woods. Those living and working at Wisteria had a vision 20 years ago to create a residential community in harmony with responsible land stewardship, all while helping themselves and others create a deeper understanding of nature and all of its beauty. On the 50 acres of land they built things like a coffee shop, special mounds reminiscent of those created by Native Americans, a wooden amphitheater stage and cut miles of trails.
Essential Productions and A-Town Roots really worked with the beauty of land to create an awesome festival experience. The main stage was built at the bottom of the hill with tall trees in the background and a gorgeous crystal waterfall right in front. Geodomes were tucked away into multiple locations and contained various workshops as well as sound lab where musicians and DJs attending the festival played during the evening as well as in the early morning hours all the way up to sunrise. The Symbiosis Gallery displayed gorgeous art created by local artists like Logan Walden, Vince Dibiaso and many more. Fire spinners had special spots by all three stages and phenomenal food stands and vendors lined the path to the main stage.
As music lovers found their friends and setup their campsites, the music began in the late afternoon with Partyboob. They kicked off the festival with a bluesy sound and soulful vocals intertwined with their relaxing jam rock. Athens based six piece Waivada got things going on the main stage thereafter with many locals and Ohio University students coming out to support them. The young group had a very diverse sound, varying between uptempo, psychedelic grooves, a hint of grunge and some super nice soul. Some of their standouts included a beautiful rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe” as well as a chilled out version of Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.”
Next up was Oh Kee Pa, a Phish tribute band consisting of Dino Dimitrouleus [then] of The Werks and a group of other Dayton musicians that have been jamming Phish tunes together since early 2011. Beginning with “Wolfman’s Brother” and ending with a funky “Boogie on Reggae Woman,” the foursome glistened through their set of classics with phenomenal skills and improvisational synergy that could only come from years of playing together. The set was very much enjoyed by many of the more veteran festivalgoers, several of which brought their kids along to dance with them.
Throngs of people then ascended on the main stage for the first of two Papadosio sets. Many Athens residents snagged a one day pass just to see them, many of which had known the band since their beginnings. With the strike of rising angelic voices, their PA set began. It was at some points mystic and somewhat suspenseful, and at other times straight up in your face with heavy psychedlia. But overall it was a phenomenal intimate set that showed the true talent and symbiosis of the band. Even a short cloudburst created a sense of magic to the set, causing the audience to cheer and dance with absolute happiness. Unfortunately due to generator issues, the set was cut early to fix the issues. During this time Cincinnati based producer Aytiko played a serene experimental set on the side stage to keep anxious fans held over until the second set began.
After the issues were resolved, the band struck the music back up. The retained much of the same undulating energy as the PA set, keeping things tranquil and spirited over and over. The set was a really nice mixture of some of their classics as well as some of their most recent releases. “All that I Knew” contained a phenomenal, laid back jam and “The Wrong Nostalgia” turned into an epic headbanger, aimed towards the radio station the band listened to while living in Ohio. Anthony Thogmartin’s lyrics really seemed to resonate with the crowd like a pastor giving a sermon, with people raising their arms high, as if accepting some sort of deity into their soul. This was extremely during the bridge of “Cloud Found,” when Thogmartin sang “When the fever has taken its toll/ all the animals under control/ you surrender then take back your soul.” “Epiphany” also created a happy, sing-a-long environment during the choruses. After leaving the stage, the band was obviously called to play one more song. Upon returning, the band performed a gorgeous “We Are Water” in honor of the waterfall built at the front of the stage.
Unfortunately due to some personal issues, Pink Talking Fish cancelled three of the four performances. In place of the Pink Talking Fish is Dead set was Peridoni; a staple of Essential Productions concerts and festivals. It was a perfect replacement set, due to their psychedelic jams being great for a late night set, especially after the festival was on cloud 9 after the Papadosio set. Their bass grooves were hypnotic and the stage’s light show was mesmerizing.
The first late night tent tunes began with Cincinnati-based Ernie Johnson From Detroit. No one in the band is named Ernie or even from Detroit, but they did wear really cool jumpsuits with a patch reading “Ernie” on each one. The energy throughout the set never really seemed to stop. Their uptempo Afrobeat funk just kept going and going, barely breaking for a drop in tempo. Their highlights included Eric Osmanoglu insane bass slapping as well as their great wind section.
As day two began, more people began to trickle into the venue. It was definitely a much nicer day compared to the first, with not a single drop of rain falling throughout the day. People ventured out to the geodome to learn from the various workshop instructors, campers sold bloody marys and everyone seemed to enjoy hanging out with other music lovers before the day truly began.
Music started a little later than scheduled, but Jones For Revival got things started on the main stage with a pretty wonderfully chilled out set. The Youngstown group had a great rock n’ roll centered jam sound, with awesome keyboard driven melodies and a bit of grittier vocals, somewhat reminiscent of that of when rock n’ roll and funk began long ago. Modern Measure got the side stage going with a great live electronic based sound, including a mystifying cover of A$AP Rocky’s “L$D.”
One of the most anticipated sets of the weekend, Aqueous’ tribute to Red Hot Chili Peppers, definitely exceeded the expectations of all those who watched. Ripping through classic tracks like “Aeroplane” and “Suck My Kiss,” their improvisational jams stuck to the group’s funky roots and really matched the time-honored sound of the Chili Peppers. “Soul to Squeeze” had an ecstatic keyboard driven tone, “Higher Ground,” a cover of a cover, had some amazingly groovy energy to it, and the sing-a- longs during “By the Way” really showed the crowd’s connection to the legendary band’s music.
The Ohio grown veterans, Ekoostik Hookah, saw some of the largest side stage crowds throughout the entire festival. Their Friday sunset set brought out festivalgoers of all ages, from the seasoned festival fiends down to their young children. They really know how to show off their years of experience and talent, even though it seemed like they held a bit back; possibly teasing the crowd before their Saturday set. Playing songs like “Breathe” and “Start It All Over,” amongst many others, Ohio flags flew and the multiage crowd enjoyed every single note. Colorado based Greener Grounds filled in for Pink Talking Fish on the main stage with an awesome, high energy set. They had a strong, even epic feel to their sound, with funky bass lines and a phenomenal keyboard driven backbone.
Every time I see Turbo Suit, they just keep getting more incredible. Their recent EP, Back to Life, showcased their move from more of a live electronic group to a true full band sound. After years of just sounding like a DJ set with live instruments, they blew me and so many others away with their complete musical synergy. Opening with “Rewind 2,” producer David Embry really showed his performance chops by his ability to deconstruct his electronic parts, looping them, then picking up his guitar to create a more jammier feel to the music with Nick Gerlach and Jeff Peterson. David also really surprised me with his awesome vocal parts on “Sex Journey,” modifying and glitching out his voice live without missing a single beat. His middle level vocal tone gives the band of a more uptempo, funkier Depeche Mode. On the main stage, headliners BoomBox seemed to perform in the same essence as Hookah. They definitely seemed to hold back a bit, making sure fans would get dance even harder at their Saturday set.
I asked around the campground a few times before Saturday evening and asked what set people were most excited for, and it seemed like the resounding answer was the Manic Focus live set. JmaC (John McCarten) and friends, which primarily included his drummer and Marvel Years, brought forth downright insanity and perfect vibes to the late night tent. Their phenomenal mixture of uptempo, funk grooves, to heavy hitting dubstep work tantalized the crowd into a whirlwind of dance. JmaC also took this opportunity to show off his live keyboard chops, as well as play unreleased collabs he created with the likes of Artifakts as well as Late Night Radio. He also brought out Nick from Turbo Suit, which really brought the whole entire sound together to create a truly amazing live band performance.
After an introduction from a turned up David Embry, Marvel Years got things going into the late night. His bass was heavy, his funk was funky, and his guitar licks the perfect touch to his live sound. In keeping with tradition, the smiling Vibe Street started got his set popping at 4:20 am. The Colorado based producer initially kept people from going back to their campsite with his awesome remix of Papadosio’s “Find Your Cloud,” and kept them there with his concoction of psychedelic, uptempo bass sounds to his deep, psychedelic grooves. He kept things going until past 6 am to a crowd that couldn’t just stop dancing. Ben Davis also has one of those things that many producers/DJs dream of; a super talented girlfriend who travels with him and hoops during his sets.
After a short cease in music and an even shorter amount of sleep, the final day began with a drizzle of rain falling throughout the campground. The precipitation didn’t stop people from showing out to the early sets. Those at the side stage swayed along to the spacey vibes of SolEcho, while others rolled in the mud and got down to the epic sounds of Strange Mechanics.
Columbus based young guns Love Alive got things going good into the afternoon with their brilliant psychedelic funk rock. Frontman David Lurie had the stage presence of a rock god, with great dance moves and a falsetto that could make any funk icon jealous. Though they aren’t much of a jam band, they still can funk with the rest of them, laying down great originals and awesome covers of Prince’s “1999” and Beck’s “Debra.”
Since Pink Talking Fish could only make their evening solo set, the Paradise Ensemble was not completely cancelled. After Peridoni brought it hard to the main stage, they brought in a few different musicians to jam with them. Nick from Turbo Suit threw down his sexy sax vibes over the band’s epic sound, while Greener Grounds guitarist Matt Buelt perfectly encompassed himself into the band’s groove.
For their second sunset set, Ekoostik Hookah definitely brought about a heavier rock sound to the side stage. Lead guitarist Steve Sweney effortlessly shredded his way through every single tune with ease, continuing to lead many to believe that he truly is an alien. They blistered through every song with the crowd singing along to each one, including the epic “Black Mamba” and their crowd favorite, “Schwa.” Lead vocalist/keyboardist Dave Katz either had steam from the rain or smoke coming off his keyboard, because his hands were blistering across his keyboards to keep up with Sweney’s shredding.
Once the set had set, BoomBox got things going on the main stage. Their concoction of a chilled out house vibe, psychedelic guitar work and borderline angelic vocals was absolutely mystifying. It’s awesome to see them keep to their old school electronic roots, with a backbone reminiscent of that of old school tech house and deep house. Their hard bass lines were super tight, and their overall sound makes them one of the few electronic acts that could fit in at all breeds of festivals; from mainstream EDM festivals, to old school house/techno ones, back to festivals just like Paradise. The constant drizzle didn’t keep people from coming out, but only cooled down the dancing crowd.
Finally making it to one set, Pink Talking Fish didn’t pull out any stops to create a monster of a set. Their jams and breakdowns were super tasteful, keeping the exact same vibe and structure of the song they were coving. You won’t find any cover band or tribute acts as talented as the four piece, both as players and musicality conscious individuals. Their cover of the Dead’s “Tennessee Jed” made up for their missed Dead tribute set, and their cover of Pink Floyd’s “Time” was downright gorgeous. One of the few Prince covers of the whole festival, their emotional cover of “Purple Rain” was only made better by their purple background lights shining into the falling rain. After a quick tear down, Vibe Street came back out for a short set. Compared to his more bass heavy set as the previous evening, he kept to his more grasshop roots; quick mixing to play as many tunes as possible, such as his remix of Bob Marley’s “Positive Vibration.”
Striking up their remix of “Shakedown Street,” The Floozies began their destruction of the main stage. Calling it “the perfect start to festival season,” the Kansas brothers ripped through their insane set with precision and musical ingenuity. The two do a great job at creating an awesome set that flows perfectly; throwing around tracks with a chilled out vibe, to funky glitch hop and heavy bass bangers. Aside from just playing out their tunes like a DJ set, the two have phenomenal synergy as an actual band. Matt Hill really knows how to throw down some funky guitar licks as well as cut up and distort the music to help show off Mark Hill’s percussion chops. Playing originals like “Birfday Suit” and “Love, Sex and Fancy Things,” as well as throwing down remixes of Bon Jovi, Toto and Queen, they definitely gave the festival one of the most memorable performances. Similar to Pink Talking Fish, their closer was an expert cover of “Purple Rain,” with Matt distorting his vocals to create a truly unique cover.
Since The Floozies went a little over on time, Turbo Suit’s tent set started a little late. They didn’t waste any time getting things going, playing a set more akin to their classic electronic based sets compared to their full band sound from the other night. Surprising everyone, Matt from The Floozies came in to jam on his guitar for a song, but ended up staying on stage for 40 minutes. Performing their remixes of Sublime’s “What I Got” and their crowd favorite remix of Escort’s “Cocaine Blues,” the tired crowd kept on dancing far into the AM.
Also starting their set a little later, Aqueous brought the funk to the tent. Opening with a drawn out “Don’t Do It,” the extremely talented group kept the energy going strong with uptempo funk, blistering guitar parts and groovy, relaxed psychedelia. This set was super experimental and full of teases and covers, with a little bit of Papadosio’s “Epiphany” thrown into their turn, “Numbers and Facts,” as well as a tease of Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up” during “Warren in the Window.” The dual vocals from Mike Gantzer and Dave Loss made for a perfect cover of Toto’s “Africa,” while their encore of “Peaches” by The Presidents of The United States of America was fun and silly.
As the sun rose over the foggy campground and festival goers struggled to pack up for the ride home, there was an aura of satisfaction throughout the venue. No one seemed to be sad about leaving, but happier about how phenomenal their weekend was. New friends hugged goodbye and made plans to hang at upcoming festivals, and some people even continued their musical weekend by seeing Widespread Panic in Dayton, OH. For Essential Production and A-Town Roots, Paradise was an amazing success. It saw their largest crowds to date and some of the best acts to cross their stages. It was the perfect small festival and truly the perfect way to begin the exciting festival season.
EP’s next festival will definitely be just as great Paradise. Resonance Music & Arts Festival will be taking place at Legend Valley in Thornville, Ohio from September 22-24. Headlined by Papadosio, Shpongle, and Tycho, with performances from Emancipator, Keller Williams, Wookiefoot, Desert Dwellers, Dark Star Orchestra, and Ott. & The All-Seeing I, this festival will definitely be another killer weekend.
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