Photos by Steven Philips, Story by Sara Agnew
As soon as I got to Liberation Music & Arts Festival, I knew I was in a special place. Greeted by smiling (and familiar) faces, each festival attendee was encouraged to pick a quartz crystal from a small basket of gems. After getting our wristbands, we made our way along the windy wooded paths of Sandy Valley Campground, a peaceful retreat away from every day life. The campground is home to a small lake swimming with fish, salamanders, turtles and other wildlife. Other amenities included a swimming pool, bathroom & shower facilities, and a general store with ice cream! After a short stroll through the grounds, we arrived at our lakeside campsite, which included a picnic table and firepit, providing us with warmth at night and a place to rest our bones throughout the weekend. As soon as our campsite was set up, I made my way over to the side stage to check out one of the first bands scheduled to play, Universal Transit.
Hailing from the Adirondak Mountains, Universal Transit is a 4 piece jam rock outfit with a turntablist that play along side them, giving the group a funky hip hop vibe. The band’s style had a wide range of influences including rock, Grateful Dead, hip hop and funk. The weather conditions were unbeatable for the evening, sunny and warm with a cool breeze.
Next up was local Philly favorite, Splintered Sunlight – A Greatful Dead tribute band. As always, they failed to dissappoint, playing crowd favorites like “Hell In A Bucket” and the classic “Good Lovin”. Right before sunset, the first of the night’s two headliners took the stage. Jennifer Hartswick is an incredibly talented musician, having taken the stage with greats such a Trey Anastasio, Santana, and The Rolling stones. She handles the trumpet and lead vocals, backed by a heavy hitting band of all stars specializing in funk, jazz, and r&b. The crowd was truly impressed with the group’s classic funk sound and Jen’s booming yet sultry vocals. Next up was the last act on the main stage for the night, New York 3 piece rockers Consider The Source.
Self described as “prog rock, fusion and jazz with alien sounds soaked in indian and middle eastern styles”, they are frequent players of the Northeast festival circut. With their non-stop shredding and incredibly unique sound, first time listeners are regularly left in awe at their talent. After being completely blown away by Consider The Source, the crowd dispersed and we made our way to the indoor late night stage. Festivities continued with sets like funk outfit The Royal Noise, New Jersey favorite and host of BeardFest, Out Of The BeardSpace, and the 5 piece Philly Jam Rock group, Catullus, “setting nights ablaze with funktronic rock & rage”.
All of the late night acts kept the crowd going strong throughout the entire night till the wee hours of the morning. Saturday Morning began with Liberty Fest’s own 10 AM Liberation Gong & Didge Superjam. The jam consisted of a menagerie of unique sounds, healing gong vibrations and fresh didgeridoo beats. Transonic, a 4 piece band from Philadelphia opened up the main stage with a delicious mix of funk and rock jams that made it nearly impossible to not dance. Next to take the stag were the Underwater Sounds, another Philly based band that I’m always sure to catch at local festivals. The Underwater Sounds have a chill funky reggae sound with an almost tropical vibe.
Front woman Sonni leads the band with her powerful but soothing voice and thought provoking lyrics. Next up was the Jonathan Scales Fourchestra, a group lead by steel pannist and composer Jonathan Scales with a jazz fusion sound. Paired with bassist Cody Wright’s unmistakable grooviness, the fourchestra created avant garde, improvisational and melodic masterpieces. Finally the time had arrived for the highly anticipated Liberation Super Jam featuring: Nick Cassarino (Lead Guitar and Vocals), Nate Edgar (Bass) and Weedie Braimah (Percussion) of The Nth Power, Joey Porter (Keys) of The Motet, Ryan Zoidis & Eric Bloom (Trumpet, Sax) from Lettuce’s Shady Horns section, as well as Alvin Ford Jr (Drums) of Dumpstaphunk.
This powerhouse lineup simply rocked the house, and was truly the highlight of the music that weekend. After a short break the final headliner of the night, Break Science, took the stage. Break Science is a DJ/Drummer duo featuring Adam Deitch (Lettuce, John Scofield’s Uberjam, Pretty Lights) and long time friend and producer Bohram Lee. The duo brings a deep rooted hip hop sound to the festival circut and has a refreshingly different take on electronic music. Following Break Science’s set was a performance by the lake and main stage by the Liberation fire spinning troupe, a group of several wildly talented burners wielding hoops, poi, and staff. Saturday’s late night proved to be another session of killer acts including a set from Burndown All Stars, DJ sets from DJ Strategy and Worldtown, a full set from Philly’s Worldtown Soundsystem and finally a surprise DJ Set with Adam Dietchon drums. Sunday morning began with more didgeridoo jams, this time being a sound journey featuring Casey Dixon of Ital Vibrations. Following that was a Sacred Energetics session presented by Josh Hilditch of Full Circle Holisitics and Kelli Joy of Vibrational Visionary. This session included forks tuned in solfeggio frequencies & Himalayan singing bowls paired with Reiki energy healing therapy. The music on Sunday continued to match the awesome energy and positive vibrations of the festival goers, proven by the all around smiles on the faces of said attendees. Mid afternoon arrived and it was finally time to catch some bluegrass. Pennsyltucky favorite, Still Hand String Band is an incredible bluegrass band consisting of a mandolin, banjo, guitar, bass alongside vocals from 3 of the guys. Playing super fast paced, up beat and jumpy tunes, Still Hand plays a ton of bluegrass classics as well as awesome originals. They tend to get the crowd so riled up that often a cloud of dirt will rise up from the dancefloor, being kicked up by the feet of rowdy bluegrass lovers. The rest of the day’s festivities featured reggae from Baltimore’s Jah Works and a crazy awesome set from Dynamo, a 9 piece band playing music with sweet insturmental jams paired with catchy vocal hooks. They sound a lot like Snarky Puppy, and you should check them out if you see them on a bill in the area. The last headliner of the festival then began, taking place at the indoor late night stage. Desert Dwellers is a DJ Duo producing psy dub music with a seamlessly psychedelic sound with mind stretching loops and tribal influences. They proved to be crowd pleasers as you could see people on the dance floor breaking out the dance moves reserved only for a certain special type of electronic music experience. After Desert Dwellers, Still Hand String band took the stage once again, closing out the festival with an all night set of dirty, moonshine drinkin, hoe down startin’ bluegrass music. Overall, Liberation Festival was truly an experience to remember, being a fun filled weekend with sound healng, workshops, lake acivities and swimming. Nothing beats dancing along side a jam packed line up with an incredible range of genres. I’m already psyched to see what the cats behind Liberation Music and Art Festival have in store for us next year!