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Rothbury Day 1: Grateful Dead Drummer Rocks The Field

Of the Oakland Press

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ROTHBURY, Mich. -- If it's a jam band festival, then a member of the Grateful Dead would certainly rank as a patron saint of the inaugural Rothbury Festival.

In that regard Mickey Hart, performing Thursday (July 3) with his latest solo band, did not disappoint. Playing 90 minutes of heavily improvised music, Hart and company had the Deadheads ecstatic and twirling up a dervish in front of the Sherwood Court stage on the festival's 200-acre site at the Double JJ Ranch.

The group -- which features keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth, guitarist Steve Kimmock and legendary New Orleans bassist George Porter -- is still in its early stages, and at one point Hart even called out a mistake, laughing as he declared that "it's not about beginnings and endings, it's about songs and music!" The fans, however, thrived on the looseness and enthusiastically received the three new, as yet unrecorded songs (written with longtime Dead lyricist Robert Hunter) that Hart and company offered -- the Caribbean-flavored "Manilla Farewell;" the hard-rocking "Wrecking Crew;" and the spacey "Tolongo."

But the exuberance turned to rapture whenever the group cranked into Dead favorites, singing along heartily to "Fire on the Mountain," "Sugaree" and "Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad."

Over in the Ranch Arena, Dweezil Zappa led his Zappa Plays Zappa troupe through a set that focused on his father's "Sheik Yerbouti" album, with former Frank Zappa band member and Michigan native Ray White on hand for songs such as "City of Tiny Lights," "Flakes" and "Broken Hearts are for Assholes."

Other first-night musical highlights included Michigan roots band Greensky Bluegrass' rendition of Pink Floyd's "Breathe," hot sets from the Disco Biscuits and Perpetual Groove -- whose delivery of "Three Weeks" was jaw-droppingly fierce -- and late-night dance parties by EOTO and DJ Roots.


Thursday was a truncated day on the Rothbury schedule, with the main Odeum stage dark and performances not starting until early evening to allow festival goers to arrive and situate themselves in the camping area. The gates to the festival ground finally opened around 5 p.m., and before hitting the stages fans discovered interactive sculptures and several special areas such as the Tripolee Domes, where they could dance in and climb on three geometric structures.

The big hit, however, was Sherwood Forest, a wooded area that led to the festival's two main stages. Trees were wrapped in glitter paper, hammocks were hung between them, and orange, pumpkin-like structures and other decorations and lightings made for a unique chill-out area as well as a discreet setting for some of the festival's more illicit activities.


Out in the camp grounds Thursday, a group of fans from North Carolina sat around by their tents, some selling jewelry, artwork or decorative rocks to help allay the cost of their trip to Rothbury. Turned out they were students at Appalachian State University, returning to the state where their football team had the greatest victory -- an upset of Michigan last September -- in school history.

"Oh, we'll talk about it all you want, dude," said a smiling Erik Forsell, 21. "When we played them they were saying 'Where's Boone (N.C.). Now we say, 'Where's Ann Arbor?' "

"But," he added, "it's just fun. We're all here to have a good time."


Keith Barker of St. Louis is a strong candidate for father of the year.

For his son's high school graduation, he promised a road trip. Then HE came up with the idea of going to Rothbury. "I said get three friends and let's go...," said Barker, 50, while lounging by the quartet's tent before the Rothbury gates opened on Thursday.

Barker said that attending the festival "flashes back to my youth," although he has a taste for Rothbury headliners such as the Dave Matthews Band and John Mayer. "And there's some singer-songwriters I want to check out, too, like Brett Dennen and Both Orton. I still like to find some (artists) i don't know a lot about."

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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