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Rothbury Day 3: Dave Matthews Band Plays Epic Set

Of the Oakland Press

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ROTHBURY, Mich. -- When an act is designated a festival headliner, with the rest of the site cleared of any competition for the duration of its performance, the onus is on to deliver.

And the Dave Matthews Band did just that on Saturday night (July 5) for the third day of the inaugural Rothbury Festival.

Raising his arms in welcome and declaring "What a beautiful day!" as he walked onto Rothbury's main Odeum stage, Matthews led his band -- an eight-piece ensemble for this summer's tour -- through a three-hour epic set before what appeared to be nearly all of the 31,000-plus fans at the festival. With saxophonist Jeff Coffin acquitting himself well in place of the DMB's injured Leroi Moore, the group filled its show with intricate, solo-filled jams, reaching peaks on volcanic renditions of "#41" and "Jimi Thing."

Matthews was his typically playful self, telling the exuberant festival crowd that "it's a little bit overwhelming looking at you all looking so good and partly naked" and making several references to Sherwood Forest, the trippy, elaborately decorated woods area in the middle of the Rothbury site. And tens of thousands of camera phones lit up the field when he lurched into some robotic dance steps during "Corn Bread."

The DMB's show mixed fan favorites such as "Grey Street" and "Satellite" with "deep cuts" like "Rhyme & Reason" and "Proudest Monkey." Matthews and crew pulled out a phat version of Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" and finished the main set with a bomber's run of hits -- "So Much to Say," a fierce "Too Much" and "Ants Marching" -- before turning for an encore of "Gravedigger," "Louisiana Bayou" and a romp through Sly & the Family Stone's "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)" that had the crowd singing along with Matthews and company looked on.


With Rothburians staying up into the wee hours after Friday night's (July 4) festivities, Saturday got off to a relatively quiet start as many festival goers chose to relax, swim or check out the other amenities of the Double JJ Ranch. The quiet, however, was shaken by New York psychedelic rockers Secret Machines, which gave Rothbury a wake-up call with a speaker-rattling six-song set that premiered a pair of songs, "Dreaming of Dreaming" and the long, droning opus "The Fire is Waiting," due out this fall on the group's third album.

Akron blues-rock duo the Black Keys covered Captain Beefheart's "I'm Glad" during its hour-long set, while a frenetic Michael Franti and his band Spearhead had fans hopping and waving their fists in affirmation of both his consciousness anthems and a romp through Sublime's "What I Got" that incorporated bits of the "Sesame Street" theme song (flipped to reference Roth-bur-y, of course) and "C is for Cookie").

Allman Brothers Band guitarist Derek Trucks and his wife, Susan Tedeschi, brought a bit more musical rapture to Rothbury with an early evening set by their Soul Stew Revival, an 11-piece outfit that played 95 minutes of mostly R&B, blues and rock covers. While their two children ran around and blew bubbles backstage, the couple led the ensemble through the Allmans' "Stand Back," Stevie Wonder's "Sugar," Derek & the Dominos' "Any Day" and "Key to the Highway," Allen Toussaint's "Hercules" and the Aretha Franklin arrangement of the Beatles' "Hey Jude." Col. Bruce Hampton, who also sang with Medeski, Martin and Wood on Saturday, joined the Soul Stew crew for Bobby Blue Bland's "Don't Cry No More."

The rest of Rothbury kicked back up following Matthews' set, rocking well into Sunday morning with A3 performing "Woke Up This Morning," its theme for "The Sopranos," on the Sherwood Court stage while Sound Tribe Sector 9 played a two-and-a-half hour set of trancey electronic music for a packed field at the bucolic Ranch Arena Stage. New York's DJ Rashka played Indian Bangra music, accompanied by Bollywood film footage, for dancers at the Tripoli Domes, while Crystal Method rolled out three video screens and plenty of woofer power for its late-night performance.


Seen on Cleveland Road along the north end of the festival grounds -- a driveway sign asking "John Mayer -- Stop By for a Cold Drink, Autograph."

Mayer was slated to perform Sunday.


Rothbury has a bit of Detroit flavor behind the bar stands dotting the festival's 200-acre grounds.

A contingent of about a dozen Motor City bartenders -- mostly from downtown establishments such as Cliff Bell's, the Park Bar, the Fillmore Detroit and Vicente's Cuban Cuisine -- were recruited to work at Rothbury. "We figured what the hell -- it's a good time, we can come up there and listen to music and have some fun," said Derek Griffin, former bar manager at the Music Hall Center.

"It's been a great time. We're meeting people from all around the world."

Griffin said the bartenders worked minimum six-hour shifts each day for $2.65 an hour plus tips. They were stationed all over the festival grounds, including in the artists lounge. Their passes also gave them nearly complete access, and he was able to hang out with performers such as 311.

The only down side was arriving early and being in the staff campgrounds during Wednesday's (July 2) torrential storms. "My Blazer is now one of the stakes for my tent," Griffin noted.


Grateful Dead fans have long called it "looking for a miracle" -- a free way into the show.

West Bloomfield's Steve Herman got one on Saturday.

Herman, who operates a window washing service, and a friend decided to make the three-hour trek on a whim, even though the festival had already started, figuring they'd be able to find discounted tickets. Instead they threw caution to the wind and simply pulled into the artists parking lot, breezing by the attendant with a wave, setting up camp and simply strolling onto the festival grounds in time for Saturday evening's sets.

"It was meant to be," Herman said. "The energy just drew us here. Nothing was going to hold us back."


While Rothbury attendees roundly praised the festival's environmental initiative -- and, for the most part, cooperated in picking up and disposing of their trash in specially designated areas. But the Think Tank aspect of the program, featuring symposiums and panel discussions, proved far less popular than the music and other festival attractions.

Organizers acknowledged that despite the presence of artists such as Citizen Cope and Widespread Panic's John Bell, turnout was light at the session. "The people who were there were fantastic," said Dr. Terry Root, a Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment. "But it was dismaying to me that more people didn't attend."

Dr. Stephen Schneider, a Nobel Peace Price-winning professor at Stanford University who curated the Think Tank, said he, too, was "very pleased with the energy in the room" at the sessions" and was "confident" that their popularity would grow in future years. The most valuable part of Rothbury, he said, was being able to network its participants -- for instance, hooking up musician Michael Kang of String Cheese Incident, who operates a non-governmental organization called Our Future Now, and members of the non-profit Focus the Nation with Pacific Gas & Electric chief Robert Park for possible sponsorship opportunities and joint ventures.

"It's great to get kids in a room all hyped up about sustainability," said Schneider, who, along with his academic colleagues, was busy working the backstage area during the festival. "I'd like to have larger audiences, but on the other hand we're spreading way beyond that and putting together communities that normally wouldn't exist if they weren't coming together in a place like this."

Schneider's favorite anecdote of the weekend -- watching rapper Snoop Dogg, "him, not his staff," sorting his the waste from his meal into separate bins for recycling, composting and landfill trash.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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