O+ Festival

Last weekend I attended O+ Festival in Kingston, NY. Founded three years ago, O+ is a music, art, and wellness festival with a tag line of “Bartering the art of medicine for the medicine of art.” The purpose of O+ is to provide medical, dental, and mental health care to artists who don’t have benefits and can’t afford coverage for these services. The event takes place over three days, and the 2012 schedule boasted over thirty visual artists and over forty musicians. Some came from NYC  — such as the Hungry March Band, Howard Fishman, Dead Heart Bloom, and Lucius — but most of those performing were local. The festival is city-wide, with a total of 29 venues participating, and a weekend pass of $25 gets you access to all events (unfortunately, I had other comittments the rest of the weekend and could only attend the first concert, but it was a great performance).

Kicking off the music on Friday night were Richard Buckner and The Felice Brothers — both local acts, Buckner being from Kingston and The Felice Brothers living in the Rosendale/New Paltz area — who played a co-bill at The Old Dutch Church on Wall Street. It’s a beautiful building with a magnificent arched ceiling, a wall paneled with stunning stained glass above the alter which the musicians played in front of, and phenomenal acoustics. Although Richard Buckner is a Kingston resident, he tours overseas a lot and doesn’t play in the Hudson Valley very much. I love his music and was thrilled to find out he was playing at O+, but I talked to many music-lovers from Kingston who had no idea who he was or that he lives there. After his set at the fully packed venue, however, I have a feeling that’s going to change. A burly guy with a long beard and even longer hair, Buckner is coarse around the edges with a well-worn attitude about him. It comes as a suprise, then, to hear a clear and powerful, yet disarmingly tender voice come from such a big, if not a little unruly, presence. Buckner was roaming around before his set but people just ignored him, probably because most didn’t even know he was the one playing, but as soon as he started they were captivated. The low-key musician told the audience that he bought the guitar he was playing at the Salvation Army down the street and that he was excited to have gotten $700 worth of dental work done at the festival that morning but skipped over the mental health booth, which he probably should have stopped at, drawing laughs. Buckner’s ironic, wise-cracking, dry-humored personality between songs is in contrast to the songs, which are incredibly intelligent, witty, poignant and sometimes devastating in an incredibly artful and prolific way. His style of writing and singing is really unique, and I can’t say enought great things about this completely underrated musician and poet of our time. Playing with him at O+ Festival was Otto Hauser, a fantastic drummer who lives in Hudson. (Hauser was also playing the next night in the same venue with his drum duo, “The Anders Griffen/Otto Hauser Drum Deluge.” I’ve seen the two drummers before and was blown away, so it was a performance I was very sorry to miss — especially because of how great the two drum sets must have sounded in the acoustics of the church.)

After Richard Buckner and Otto Hauser’s set, The Felice Brothers came onstage amongst cheers from the crowd. Dave Turbville left the the band and the new drummer, who has known Farley for a while, is also named Dave. As for the rest of the musicians, they switched it up during the show, with James on either accordion or piano, Ian on guitar or piano, Farley on fiddle or guitar, and Christmas on bass. They played a stripped down acoustic-electric set, performing a lot of the country and bluegrass covers I haven’t heard them bust out in years as well as a mix of new and old originals, and the band sounded really great. Although I have liked every album The Felice Brothers has released, there’s something indescribably comforting about the band’s down-home early style and music. Highlights of the night at O+ included a warm country cover of Hank Williams’ “Tennessee Border,” a rousing version of Reverend Gary Davis’ “Where’d You Get Your Liquor From,” and a rollicking cover of the Appalachian folk song made popular by Woody Guthrie, “Cumberland Gap,” that got the crowd dancing in the aisles. The set also included touching renditions of The Felice Brothers’ early originals “Trouble Been Hard,” “Got What I Need,” and “Her Eyes Dart Round” (see a much younger version of the band playing that song here), as well as some swingin’ songs like the more recent “Honda Civic,” “Frankie’s Gun,” and “Run Chicken Run.” Sometimes The Felice Brothers’ shows can get a bit wild and out of control, both on the part of the audience and the musicians. I’ve been to concerts where members of the audience were drunk, rowdy, and rude, and the band’s playing wasn’t that great. However, the performance at O+ was really special and I have to wonder if the fact that there wasn’t any alcohol being served played a role. In any case, the musicians look so darn happy to be doing what they’re doing, and although they may be in their mid- to late-twenties they still retain a distinctly goofy boyishness and have an unassuming presence on-stage. On a bad night they might be a little bit of a mess, but on a good night The Felice Brothers are pure magic. On Friday, it was the latter.

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