Words by Chadbyrne R. Dickens | Photos by Matthew Enbar
“You’re crazy fun and I think I like it” are the vocals from Tash Neal of the London Souls which succinctly encapsulate the musical adventure weekend at Equifunk Music Festival over August 16th – 18th in Equinunk, PA. Only two-and-a-half hours from New York City and just over 150 miles from Philadelphia, it is conveniently located at Camp Equinunk, in the heart of the Poconos in Northeastern Pennsylvania. With over 1,000 in attendance ready to embark on a memorable and euphoric summer camp type experience, fans indulged in two non-stop days of top quality musical entertainment, a Saturday pool party complete with water slide, usually exquisite summer weather, and endless beer and food. At an all-inclusive price, the festival, now in its sixth year, was a smashing success.
After attending the festival last year I claimed, “Equifunk is a model of how a Festival should be run.” There are a plethora of reasons why Equifunk sets the bar for quality festival programming. At the event, one will never have to dig into their wallet in order to procure another beer or food item, as it is all included in the initial ticket price. With all amenities included, it proves a good value for one’s money but with the bonus addition of high level funk and jam music. One must attend Equifunk to know how exemplary an experience it is – a video or second hand story does not do it justice. A deep and diverse lineup is what sets this festival apart.
With over 30 different acts and no over-lapping sets, the ardent concert-goer becomes fully satiated with stellar musical selections. The varied talented eruption included, but is not limited to: Keller Williams, Anders Osborne, The Heavy Pets, John Medeski, The New Mastersounds, JJ Grey & Mofro, Boombox, Mother’s Wine, The Nigel Hall Band, and artist-at-large Arleigh Kincheloe of Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds. Equifunk founder Eric Kamen summed up the musical experience, “Equifunk provides the relaxed intimacy of a club, but it’s situated at an outdoor venue – the artists play at a size where the nuance of the performance is not lost (like at a large venue) – there is nothing like it.”
The accommodations split between the Equinunk Cabins located on the main campground and the Blue Ridge cabins located nearby across a quaint wooden walking bridge overlooking a glistening lake which offers spectacular sunrise and sunset views. One could also camp in a set-up approximate to the main stage. Equifunk is not simply an excuse for debauchery and self-destruction like some other festivals, as activities such as a pick-up softball game, 3 on 3 basketball or yoga were offered. Also of note, for the first time in the festival’s rich history, vast and varied musical selections were included in the music ticket for Sunday. I obtained a day pass and experienced this very first special musical Sunday.
Sunday, August 18th
Highlights: Marco Benevento :: 1:45pm – 2:30pm :: Campfire 4:00am – 9:00am
Marco “The Wondeful Wizard of Weird” Benevento is a touring machine and veteran of many festivals, and he was unquestionably the MVP of this year’s festivities at Equifunk. After performing a set in the early evening, he came back for an intimate campfire set after midnight. The New Mastersounds followed to conclude all scheduled music for the day. However, Marco decided to restart the action by the campfire with the help of some friends. Over the course of the next 7 hours – until 9am! – Marco turned a middle of the night interlude into a sunrise super-session by playing a series of familiar and obscure covers in addition to a sprinkling of his own compositions. At times Nigel Hall sat next to him to simultaneously bang the keys and occasionally Arleigh Kincheloe would sing, despite her voice being desperately sore and lethargic after a weekend of sit-ins. Corey Frye from The Main Squeeze added flare to a few songs too as a small band of late-night revelers wallowed in the beautiful music created. People were heard screaming, “We need more wood, Marco is still playing!” Bottles of alcohol were swiftly passed among participants as party goers danced about the circle created around Marco’s piano. A surreal and stimulating party that no one wanted to end, even as the gorgeous morning sun came up over the horizon, Marco kept doing what he does best while clad in a tie-dye and pants designed to look like they were made up by an American flag, Benevento looked like a modern day hippie and delivered the everlasting set to die for.
Partial Set List: Limbs of a Pine, Axel F, Rock & Roll (The Velvet Underground), The Ocean, Fly Me To The Moon, Linus and Lucy (Vince Guaraldi), Breakfast in America, Thank You > Everyday People, I Saw Her Standing There, Yellow Submarine, Funiculì, Funiculà, The Shape I’m In, Dancing In The Streets, Why Don’t We Do It In The Road, Gimme Some Lovin’, Walk On (Neil Young), Frankenstein (Edgar Winter Group), Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough, Fearless (Pink Floyd), I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Like a Rolling Stone, My Girl, Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight (The Spaniels), Such A Night, Let The Sun Shine In (Hair), You Know I’m No Good (Amy Winehouse), Lean On Me, Bennie And The Jets, Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing, Imagine, Home Sweet Home, Old Man, Some Kind of Wonderful (The Drifters), I Got You [I Feel Good] (James Brown), With a Little Help from My Friends, Saturday In The Park, Light My Fire, Let’s Make A Better World (Dr. John), Shake Your Tail Feather, Sunshine Of Your Love, Jam with Nigel Hall (Set List courtesy of Jake Krolick)
London Souls :: 2:10pm – 3:00pm :: E-Rena
New Yorkers Tash Neal (guitar/vocals), Chris St. Hilair (drums), Stu Mahan (bass) comprise The London Souls and they have been on tour in support of their January 2013 record, “Here Come the Girls.” They play heavy and contagious improvisational music that keeps the crowd dancing due to the alluring hard rhythms. They have been opening up for various acts across the country, but are poised to bust out on their own as their star is rising. Highlights included “Honey” which is fueled by heavy blues riffs throughout and “All Tied Down” which is inspired through more complex and intense guitar work with smooth vocals. Neal exudes a confidence and contagious energy that brings attention to his passionate delivery in a positive way.
Set List: Lucille>Honey, All Tied Down>Workin>Sweet Thang>Under Control, The Sound I Think I Like It>Apostrophe>I Think I Like It
Equifunk All-Stars :: 3:25pm – 4:25pm :: Equifunk Pool
The All-Stars are Eddie Roberts (New Mastersounds), Stanton Moore (Galactic), Nigel Hall (Lettuce), Pete Shand (New Mastersounds), James Casey (Trey Anastasio Band), Mike Dillon, Carly Meyers (Mike Dillon Band), Tash Neal (London Souls), and Joe Tatton (New Mastersounds) a modern-day super group of professional musicians. The lineup is slightly different than previous incarnations including the Equifunk Halloween concert last fall at Beekman Beer Garden, but the superior quality is the same. Jam cruise veteran, Eddie Roberts, has been playing with the New Mastersounds since 1997 and is the unofficial leader of the set’s cast of musicians. Although sitting down with crutches by his side and nursing a foot he broke the day prior, Roberts displayed exemplary guitar chops on song after song. This band is linked to the festival in perpetuity and the fans enjoy participating whenever they play. To witness the interplay between the members, it’s as if they had been performing together for years.
Set List: Jackie, Ruben, Pretzel, Pennies 2, Tulsa, Lookout, Borderline
The Main Squeeze :: 4:50pm – 5:40pm :: Equifunk Pool
The Main Squeeze, hailing from Indiana, consists of Ben “Smiley” Silverstein (keys), Max Newman (guitar), Corey Frye (vocals), Jeremiah Hunt (bass), and Reuben Gingrich (drums). They are a quickly-ascending funkadelic, guitar-driven outfit adept at a myriad of genres including soul and jam music. While showcasing their abundant chops, they were led by the angelic talent of jovial lead singer, Frye. Equifunk veterans, who have been known to tear up the late night stages in years past, brought another electrifying barrage of music to Sunday’s show. “In a Funk” is a celebration to anyone who has had a bad day and brought thick and heavy funky bass lines intertwined with Silverstein’s sly noodling on the keys. They delivered an impressive cover of The Temptation’s “Papa was a Rolling Stone” but if one wants to further groove you should discover their cover of “Eyes of the World” from the studio on YouTube. This soulful band is here to stay.
Set List: Love Yourself, In a Funk, Mixed Up, Devil Was an Angel, Message to the Lonely, Tank X-ing, Papa was a Rolling Stone, Grow, Where Do We Go
The Revivalists :: 6:00pm – 7:00pm :: E-Rena
Ed Williams (guitar), David Shaw (vocals), Zack Feinberg (guitar), Rob Ingraham (saxophone), George Gekas (bass), Andrew Campanelli (drums) and Michael Girardot (keys) founded the band in 2007 and they are rapidly growing in popularity. Having recently played at Brooklyn Bowl, and continuing to tour in support of the “Vital Sounds” CD, this New Orleans-based outfit knows how to put on a show with a unique blend of eclectic energy spearheaded by Shaw. The front-man is a lit firecracker ready to explode as he prances about the stage tackling a multitude of genres but leaning towards heavy-tinged rock and roll. The steel guitar frames the sound and the vocal harmonies are luscious, but it is Shaw’s energy that makes one want to groove with the band on any of the genre-defying numbers. Highlights included the reggae-tinged rhythms of “Sunny Days” and the bouncy dance ditty, “Not Turn Away.”
Set List: Stand Up, Concrete, Not Turn Away, Bulletproof, Catching Fireflies, Sunny Days, Keep Going, Criminal, All In The Fam
Pork Tornado :: 7:30pm – 9:00pm :: E-Rena
Dan Archer (guitar/vocals), Joe Moore (saxophone), Aaron Hersey (bass), Phil Abair (keys) and Jon Fishman (drums). Founded in 1997, the band has not been able to perform as often as they’d like due to Fishman’s rigorous tour schedule with Phish. After years of inactivity, the band reunited for a show in Burlington in February 2013 and Equifunk was a treat for an eager fan base ready to soak up their brand of musical musings. The band is a fusion of country/western mixed with rock originals and standard covers. The most anticipated set of the weekend, due to the involvement of Fishman of course, did not disappoint.
Set List: Move With You, Guabi Guabi, Hip City (Jr. Walker & The All Stars), Take It Home With You Baby, Knockin’ On My Door, Trouble Every Day (Frank Zappa), Bim Bam Baby (Frank Sinatra), I’ve Got It All Over You, I Touch Myself (Divinyls), All American > Kiss My Black Ass.
The M&Ms :: 9:30pm – 11:00pm :: E-Rena
Introduced as the “Greatest Supergroup of all-time” with “music that melts in your mind and not in your hands”, the M&M’s are a play on words with the members of this all-star ensemble who either have a first or last name that start with M including: John Medeski, Marco Benevento, Stanton Moore, Maceo Parker, Rob Mercurio, and Papa Mali. This event marked only the 2nd public concert by this incarnation. The titanic set of tight jazzy musings contained Marco’s original party anthem, “The Real Morning Party” (which sounded great with a full band and guitar in addition to piano this time around) but was also ripe with some amazing cover choices. From the super jazzy and nuanced “Smoking at Tipitina’s” to the perennial reggae classic, Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come”, the band showcased their immense professional talent. The M&M’s delivered a pleasantly alluring and subtle instrumental cover of Neil Young’s “Walk On” before a bombastic attack on The Who’s “Eminence Front.” For a band possessing members from such diverse backgrounds, with limited experience playing together as a unit and no time to practice, it was astonishing to hear the result. To witness this assemblage of talent play together with the legendary Maceo Parker was a unique and unforgettable night for all of those in attendance.
Set List: Smoking at Tipitina’s, The Harder they Come, Real Morning Party, Bottled Up, Walk On, Eminence Front, Sister Sanctified, I’m a Ram, How Many More Times, Quiet Please
During a time where other festivals have seen complaints about theft and safety rising exponentially, Equifunk proves to be a respite from the masses and commercialism too inherent nowadays in the Festival Scene. Equifunk proves to be about family, fun and friends with a large dose of quality music – and now a completely stimulating Sunday schedule too – just the way it should be.
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