Friday, 24 July @ 10KLF

One landmark gig at this year's 10KLF was Everyone Orchestra – a staple of this festival, playing their fifth consecutive year.  EO is an ever-changing super-group of musicians collected by conductor Matt Butler to jam on extended guided improvisations.  Using a dry erase board, Butler (looking sharp in a blue Hawaiian shirt and leopard print fedora) tells the band to "take it anywhere" or use "small punches," asks them if they're cool to start with a "disco [in] A," or tells saxist Dominic Lalli it's his turn to "rip heads off."  The whole thing is like watching a flock of birds in flight – rollicking heavy high-octane jams turn on a dime into sensuous marches, then repeating "1/2 step up" commands ratchet the ensemble into evermore intense wail-a-thons.  With three female vocalists (one on a five-string violin) and Steve Kimock soaring on electric guitar, the orchestra got pretty angelic at times.  I caught my first whiffs of burning sage as some itinerant soul blessed the audience, and was surprised by the first bubbles I'd seen all weekend.  Reed Mathis delivered his high-concept-but-still-funky-as-hell bass and Kimock's drummer son showed us all how hard a guy can rock out on his birthday.  And it IS the EVERYONE Orchestra, so Butler didn't fail to get and keep the crowd involved, jumping up and down with "YES!" on his dry-erase board, the whole event swaying to one giant breath.  He thanked the audience for participating – and temporarily gave the stage over to a rep from the Rex Foundation, who was raising money to buy instruments for schools.  Overall, one of the most feel-good, virtuosic, high-energy sets of the weekend.

Next on the Field Stage was Steve Kimock Crazy Engine, genre-hopping instrumental quartet with Melvin Seals of JGB on organ.  Kimock has a gift for nailing other people's guitar language, melodic fragments, and soloing styles, and this band felt like a guided tour through the various idioms of electric guitar jam music.  Afrobeat became dub became guitar ballad became 12 bar blues.  Many of the numbers borrowed tonality or attitude from other music to such an extent that they perched on a tribute; one slow roller late in the set wobbled between "Sexual Healing" and one of Mark Knopfler's tracks for the Local Hero soundtrack, without ever quite planting a foot in either.  It would have been a more delightful experience had the stage not been permanently positioned in full sunlight (a terrible, terrible oversight for the festival grounds architects), and in the late evening the entire band was hiding in a sliver of shade on the very back of the stage platform.  Consequently, they were hidden behind the speakers, invisible to anyone not directly in front of the stage – which was most of the crowd.  And the set was riddled with long, awkward, windy passages between songs...I'd be painting and realize, suddenly, that there was no music, and there hadn't been for a minute or two.  Otherwise, a solid performance from four highly competent players who could take the music wherever they wanted to go.

After painting all day in the sun, I couldn't dance fast enough to keep up with Trampled By Turtles, but it sounded good from camp.  My friends and I caught some relaxation at camp, during which time campground shenanigans provided us with cheap entertainment:  I saw two girls speeding on a wheeled cooler down the Northwoods avenue, laughing uproariously, and one of our neighbors walking from camp to camp offering people dubious licks from a seemingly-empty Pyrex tray.  After a few hours of this, we headed back out to the Saloon for Big Gigantic (a fabulously well-developed laptop/saxophone and drums project which, for the uninitiated, I highly recommend).  This summer has been their debutante's ball, and I was tickled to paint for Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken yet again for the fourth festival in a row.  From where I'd set up at the Saloon's front door to catch traffic with my art, Widespread Panic on the main stage downhill was a distant mess.  Looking out across the festival at that raging party was akin to watching a tornado tear past your town across the valley...huge, loud, and ominous, even from a safe distance.  Meanwhile in the Saloon, the normally demure Lalli was donning his kinda thuggy stage persona, too sweet-tempered to be convincing but getting an A for effort.  The crowd loved them.  I hope they'll be invited back.

The last show I caught on Friday was the Barn Stage late-night by Boombox – the weirdo disco tour of Memory Lane for which Grateful Dead lovechild Zion Rock Godchaux licks electric homages to numerous bands of yore on top of Russ Randolph's classy turntablism.  A killer lightshow by their newly-employed engineer, my friend JC, took the party to a whole new level, and there was a constant flow of crazy costumes and sweaty dilated smiles past my easel all night.  Quote of the night:  "If glitter is like herpes, then I LOVE HERPES!"  If that gives you an idea of how hairy a throwdown Boombox's shows can be...  And then, after the show, the night wound down with a stroll through Northwood's enchanted forest, ambling back to camp past the alluring sounds and lights of parties dotting the deeply sloping wooded terrain.

Check out more photos from the 2009 10KLF.

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