From Aural Innovations #4 (October 1998)
There are few things in the world I love more than setting up the lounge chairs outdoors with my cooler of food and drinks and settling in for a weekend of non-stop music. And having an outdoor SpaceRock festival practically in my backyard was guaranteed to be a weekend of bliss. Strange Daze '98 was held Friday through Sunday August 14-16 in Ohio at Nelson Ledges Quarry located halfway between Cleveland and Youngstown. Here is the weekend as experienced by the AI staff.
We entered the festival site about 3:30pm and loads of people were already camped and milling about. We drove down by the lake, but this was clearly prime real estate and the early birds had scooped up all the seaside property. Undeterred we quickly saw that any spot would be comfortable and close to both stage and lake and made our final decision based on outhouse proximity.
Camp AI was set up in minutes and we sat down to relax for a while before taking our first walkabout. Across the drive from us was a busy vendor table from which few seemed to be leaving empty handed. When we did go for a stroll I saw that this was the place for loads of Hawkwind and related vinyl. I wisely kept myself from browsing knowing that the result would be a temporary blackout and waking up to an empty wallet.
The music was scheduled to begin at 5pm so after acquainting ourselves with the festival grounds we headed back to our campsite. Little walking and carrying of essentials was necessary as our tent was pitched barely 100 yards from the stage. Sitting in my lounge chair I heard someone call my name and saw Keith pulling in. He set up camp and we soon started out to make our nest at the music site. Not many people came over, but the atmosphere all around was an active one as people walked around, mingled, ate, drank, and swam (the lake was also barely 100 yards from the stage).
The show kicked off with weekend master of ceremonies Thom The World Poet greeting all and introducing the first band. Thom is tough to describe. A freeform, improvising poet, Thom is the epitome of energy and enthusiasm, and was a part of the festival throughout the weekend.
I had never heard of the opening band, Kid From Cleveland, and their name conjured up images of a rap act. But surprise, surprise, this lineup of guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums played a kick ass set of good old fashioned jam rock. They also played a couple of covers from Dark Side Of The Moon and a tune from Dave Gilmour's About Face album. These were actually kind of disappointing given the strength of the band's original material. Much more exciting as a cover tune was their rendition of the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" which they extended and totally made their own. Hope to hear more from these guys.
Given my comment about the band's name I should mention the explanation I found on their web page. Guitar and bass duties are handled by the brothers Craig and Curt Schultz. Ten years ago their father Al had written a letter to Roger Waters asking him to drop his battle with the other members of Pink Floyd and signed the letter as "Kid From Cleveland." They claim no relationship, but on Waters album Amused to Death, the kid from Cleveland is mentioned in the song "Late Home Tonight, Part I."
Next up on the roster was Architectural Metaphor, but due to problems following a show in New York the previous night the band had to reschedule for Sunday. What to do? Though Thom announced that the replacement would be a band called Finally Balanced, it was actually members of that band in a separate group called Canis Minor. Talk about luck. The musicians had brought their instruments with them and had been performing at their campsite, thus simplifying the issue of filling in for Arch Met.
Canis Minor is a two piece of Joe Silver on keyboards and Thom Karshish on Chapman stick. Joined by a tablas player recruited at the fest and fellow Finally Balanced member Billy "Capt. America" Capozzi on.... we'll call it aggressive spoken word, the band played a form of ambient space. The tabla/stick/synth combination produced some interesting music and Capozzi's wild monologue style vocals resulted in this being one of the more unique bands of the weekend.
Before their set Capozzi held a contest giving away a Finally Balanced CD to the person who could come up with the strangest object. With confidence Keith dashed over to the stage and produced a Teletubby winning the contest hands down. He didn't take me up on my suggestion that he then hold his own contest giving away the Teletubby to the person who could show him the strangest object. I don't think he wanted to part with his Teletubby.
Soon the sun went down and the Midnight Sun Lightshow prepared to do their magic with Friday's headliner Pressurehed. The Midnight Sun lightshow was phenomenal and perfect for Pressurehed's music. All the expected psychedelic swirls and colors were there, but it also included old Superman cartoons and other, obviously old, alien cartoons.
When Pressurehed hit the stage they launched into "Altitude". The set was heavy on tunes from last year's Explaining The Unexplained, but they also did their version of "21st Century Schizoid Man". I think I also heard "Soul Herder" and "Audio Energy". The energy level was peak, but Tommy Grenas' vocals were so laden with efx that you couldn't make out a word when he was talking. But it was good rockin' space fun and a great closer to the first night.
A bit tired, we headed back to our campsite, pulled out the boombox and settled in for some music and beers. Lights were bright at nearly all campsites and some people relaxed while others partied. Drumming in the distance made for a tribal mood and we later discovered that a drum circle had formed at the Quarkspace campsite. The entire atmosphere was mellow but merry and sometime after midnight I crawled into my tent and fell asleep, the drums beating away in the background.
Stuffed full of my famous camp omelets we relaxed for while as the rest of the grounds slowly emerged from their tents. At about 10:30 we packed up and headed over to the stage area where we decided on a spot under the trees. Not only would I be selling AI's, but we were handling the Quarkspace vending as well. And with Keith selling a load of used CD's we were quite the little rag-tag market area in the middle of the crowd. This proved to be a real benefit as the people we attracted allowed me to put faces on several internet email pals and many new contacts were made.
So Saturday was to be the big day with six bands performing. Quarkspace took the stage shortly after 11am and began the day with a great set of songs and space jams. Thom The World Poet was sitting stageside relaxing and early in their set joined the band for an impromptu monolog as part of an extended intro. "Space is inside of us!", he shouted. For something unrehearsed it really worked well. When Thom finished, the band launched into "Close To The Whipping Post", one of my favorite tracks from their Live Orion CD. With a lineup of guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards, Quarkspace set the tone for what was to be a great day. Quarkspace excels at mixing improvisation with their roster of tunes and were in great form having just played a few weeks earlier here in Columbus (four hours with no break at that show!). The crowd was clearly impressed as I had a small flood of people buying their CD's after the set.
Next up was ST 37 who had driven over 50 hours from Texas to perform. Prior to this show my only exposure to the band had been the album Derobe in which they shared sides with Vocokesh. Consisting of two guitars, bass, drums, synth, and guests on vocals and violin, ST 37 plays excitingly tripped out instrumentals that carry a harsh edge. All this is interspersed with songs. And like Quarkspace, the vocal numbers are backed by music equal in adventure to the instrumentals. Lots of great fuzz-screech guitar, and they even did a Can cover... I believe it was "Vitamin C".
After ST 37's set I strolled over to the lake to take some pictures. Looking around I saw that several campers had pitched their tents on the opposite end of the lake and, still at their campsites, could clearly hear the music from there. Several families with children played on the beach making for a very relaxed scene.
The third band of the day was F/i who blasted the audience with their brand of jamming, often metallic spacecore. The band played several tunes from last year's Helioscopium. My favorite tunes of their set were "The Evan Walker Presidential Inauguration March", and a tune that they announced was from their contribution to the Cleopatra Space boxset which featured keyboard player Grant Richter playing some great flute. F/i is best when playing the heavier stuff, but they often eased the assault with lighter moments. A pretty good set by these SpaceRock veterans.
Next was Melting Euphoria who played guitar driven, though not particularly heavy SpaceRock. Like most of the bands with recent releases their set was heavy on tracks from last year's Inside The Gardens Of The Mind. A good set.
After a bit of dinner we settled in for Alien Planetscapes, often called "America's oldest SpaceRock band". AP played a smoking set of heavy SpaceRock, each song blazing into the next. I don't know the title, but the second tune was one of my favorites featuring Doug Walker's screaming synths reaching earsplitting pitches while Rob Alphonso's Frippoid guitar played along. Also memorable were "Radiation King" and "Soft Martian" from their Life On Earth CD, the later featuring some cool space flute from Walker. Along with ST 37 and Quarkspace, Alien Planetscape's set was the highlight of the festival for me.
Throughout the day rumors had been circulating that members of Hawkwind were having trouble getting into the U.S. The first I had heard was that Ron Tree was having problems. Then the word got around that both and Ron and Dave Brock were being held up by immigration in Canada. The end result was that indeed neither Dave nor Ron were able to make the festival. But the show must go on so Richard Chadwick, Jerry Richards, and Captain Rizz were joined by Steve Taylor on bass and Steve Hayes on keyboards.
Whatever the intended set, this version of Hawkwind played several old favorites like "Brainstorm", "Space Is Deep", "Time We Left This World Today" and "Golden Void". It was cool hearing the old songs and the Solar Fire Lightshow crew did a great job, though the 11pm curfew cut the set short. The entire stage area was packed like we hadn't seen for any prior band so most of these fans couldn't possibly have been near the stage before Hawkwind, a shame given all the great talent that had come before. Taylor and Hayes filled in well and Captain Rizz was all over the stage.
I heard a little grumbling but overall everyone had a great day. Promoter Jim Lascko had made arrangements for a complete Hawkwind to perform, but fate took its toll. My own feeling is that this was a SpaceRock festival and not just a Hawkwind concert. And given the great time and all the marvelous bands during the weekend as a whole I'd call it a raging success. With nearly 1000 in attendance we can only hope that Jim is even now making plans for next year.
After 15 minutes or so, the Drumplay quartet (with guest Chet Santia of quarkspace) strolled onto the stage and positioned themselves amidst all things percussive. Following the Pythonesque announcement "Now for something completely different...," the music commenced. James Onysko was a madman on his xylo-marimba, while Warren Levert generally remained calm and steady behind his congas. Doug Turner manned the more standard rock drum kit, and together the three created interesting rhythmic (duh!) jams, improvising all the way. Saxophonist Chris Berge came out a few times to fill out the sound with some free-form jazz soloing. Later in the set, Thom reappeared and 'rapped' a few musical verses over Drumplay accompaniment. After about a hour, the drums went silent and rather than feeling bored (as I imagined would happen), I found myself sorry to see it end. More than simply a change of pace, Drumplay et al. was serious music.
After a refreshing dip in the 'pool' (aka the quarry lake), I headed back to my spot in the shade just as Boston's Architectural Metaphor powered up. ArcMet is a hard band to figure out...they're very adventurous and daring, ranging from beautiful and ethereal to chaotic and downright spooky. Guitarist Greg Kozlowski, a man with more pedals that the Tour de France, creates some of the most cosmic sounds I've ever heard. Paul Eggleston handles the keyboard duties, also supplying the low-end soundwaves for this trio. Drummer/vocalist Deb Young has a strong, pleasant voice with a haunting quality that fits right in with ArcMet's peculiar style. The unfortunate thing about this band is that their complex compositions sometimes thwart their attempts to cleanly perform them on stage. For the most part, these tightness lapses only last for a second or two, but they can be rather distracting to the listener. However, their 50-min. set gathered strength as they neared conclusion with tracks like the particularly chilling 'Creature' and the spacey 'Kairos.' The latter track featured ambient synth parts a la Harvey Bainbridge and later a cosmic jam with some stellar guitar soloing. 'Welcome to the Future' topped off the strong finish continuing the Robert Calvert tributes into Day Three.
During the break, I snagged a tasty lunch from the local grill, and noticed that this day was turning out to be real scorcher. The music soon heated up likewise as New Jersey's Born To Go cranked up and went for it. This band has written plenty of strong original material, though they've yet to produce any official CD's. That's a deficiency I'd like to see soon remedied. Bassist/vocalist Marc Power provides a solid foundation and keeps the pace and energy level high throughout. With synth handler Professor Electron suffering an untimely illness back in their home state, friends Carl Howard and AP's Doug Walker filled in most ably.
Born To Go sweated it out for a full 80 minutes and really got the growing crowd energized with a barrage of Doremi-style heavy space tunes. 'Navigator' was a highlight, as was 'Propulsion,' a track reminiscent of Calvert's 'Ejection' (and not in title alone). The topical tune 'Millennium Crash' (referring to the Y2K computer glitch timebomb) was introduced by England-native Power with recollections of Nostradamus' prediction of said catastrophe. Interesting commentary preceded most tracks and provided welcome introductions to each song. The real tribute to Calvert came later with renditions of both 'Lord of the Hornets' (a refreshingly different version) and the classic 'Orgone Accumulator,' as well as their own 'Radio Calvert,' a product of Strange Daze '97. All in all, a great set and the Day Three highlight for me.
By 3:30, the temperature on stage was 94 (F as closing act Nucleon powered up. A trio from Cleveland, Nucleon plays synth-heavy space-doom with aggressive vocals, countered by occasional ambient-ish interludes. Early in the set, we heard 'Navigator' (Wait, didn't we already hear this one? Nope, a different track), starting out with a spacey guitar lead over swashes of synth, but then delving into a deliberate and doomy spacecore style. In general, the slower tunes (Sabbath/Orange Goblin territory) failed to get me excited, but later in the set, we were treated to a couple of tunes ('Saturn' and 'Green Acid') that really moved. It took awhile, but Nucleon started to show more dimension to their music. Day Three finally wrapped up just before 5 PM, and the large contingent of space fans, fully sated, headed out for long journeys home.
Aural Innovations tips its hat to Jim Lascko and all the bands for a great weekend of music and fun. For more information on the Strange Daze festival visit the Strange Trips home page.