Head Jamz 2011: Your happy place


head_jamz-50.jpgAs a particularly hot Southern summer comes to a close, music lovers looking for a fun way to commemorate the Labor Day weekend found a gem of a festival in Adams, Tennessee.

If you shut your eyes and imagine a place full of smiling, friendly faces, upbeat, buoyant music, and natural, picturesque scenery, this happy place you conjure could easily be compared to the serene atmosphere of the Head Jamz Music Festival.  Water activities, disc golf, kid’s fun center, and calm campgrounds are just a few items on the long list of amenities available at the 3rd annual Head Jamz Music Festival, once again held on the banks of the Red River just north of Nashville.

Friday’s festivities kicked off with a well-selected group of rousing performers. The Ragbirds played for their excited flock of fans with a sound that varied drastically from Middle Eastern drones to Italian dances as the group crooned about a “tango with my new friends.” The one musical constant that remained throughout the diverse set was the incredible quality. With the electric violin and world percussion dominating the group’s eclectic sound, listeners were treated to a host of songs ranging from the Ragbird original “Brand New Beat” to a jovial cover of the Caribbean (of Beetlejuice notoriety) classic, “Jump in the Line.”  Fingers crossed; if we say “Ragbirds” three times over we may be graced again with their enigmatic presence.

head_jamz-9.jpgKeller Williams and the Keels took to the stage and played to the packed outdoor covered stage with such joy that it was impossible to not share in the trio’s smiles. The greatly anticipated headliners did not disappoint, performing energetic bluegrass twists on some great tunes like Cee Lo Green’s “Fuck You” coupled with crowd sing-a-longs in Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone” and The Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper.” The latter came complete with the mouth trumpeting for which Keller is so well-known.

Williams and the Keels also included favorites such as “Local” and “Breathe,” seemingly making it their personal mission to ensure that everyone was “feeling good at the Head Jamz.” The mission was most definitely accomplished.

Papadosio and their jam-tronica stylings concluded the evening’s events on the main stage.  The Ohio quintet’s open musical lines and flowing, trance-like sound bathed the fans in a wash of colorful lights and spacy electronics, and eventually sent them to their abodes along the banks of the river.

Saturday got off to an artful and tune-filled start with a morning serving of Fresh Hops. The group’s funky conglomeration of Latin beats, African jams, and instrumental accomplishments proved to be a successful musical assembly. Their original song “Happy Lettuce” highlighted the band’s appealing combination of technical skills on their instruments and whimsical personalities.

Ballhog continued the morning’s efforts with some twangy bluegrass and dense Americana refrains. The Nashvillehead_jamz-30.jpg band drawled with songs about the “Holy Ghost” and the “County Jail” before concluding their solid effort with a uniquely catchy version of Lindsey Buckingham’s National Lampoon’s cult classic “Holiday Road.”

The audience’s attention was then stolen by The Blow Jays‘ heavy rock and impressive jams that produced a quality performance full of strong back beats and trance-inducing keyboard grooves. When the impressive band sang reminiscently about one of life’s great joys, “Birthday Sex,” the crowd was left with a buzz about the unexpected stellar performance that lasted throughout the weekend.

Donna the Buffalo drew a big crowd on the humid, star-filled night. The group blazed the stage with a great zydeco interpretation of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” and continued the reign from there with a meld of danceable bluegrass, jazz, and reggae inspired hits.

Though the quintet experienced some technical difficulties with the organ’s oscillations early in the set, it didn’t slow the party down. “Blue Sky” came at the irresistible request of Stella, a young super-fan who submitted her suggestion on a sign full of glitter, dolphins, and sea horses. Donna the Buffalo entertained the involved crowd with the most-expected long jams and singable melodies.

Fronted by former Dirty Dozen Brass Band member, Sam Williams, Big Sam’s Funky Nation brought a non-stop, implausible energy to the anxiously awaiting mob. The New Orleans crew, clad in their Saints gear, opened with an incredible medley of familiars that included The Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing,” Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon,” Blackstreet’s “No Diggity,” and Digable Planets’ “Cool Like Dat.” The familiarity of the numbers contained in the medley easily got the crowd dancing, cheering, and singing with immediacy while the onstage party demonstrated a proficiency of both James Brown and Soulja Boy-like dance moves.

The energy-driven head_jamz-34.jpgcover overload continued with the likes of The Commodores’ “Brick House,” Otis Redding’s “Hard To Handle,” Prince’s “Sexy M.F.,” Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” and Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” Hard to imagine, but this obscenely energetic session was jam-packed in the space of an hour and a half set.

For those that weren’t tapped from Sam’s kinetic surplus, The Twin Cats brought their take on electronica and jam to the late night tent. The group, accompanied by two ethereal feline statues of their namesake, used an ocean of lights and a bevy of electronic wind instruments to set the hypnotic mood. Hyryder followed suit and opened strong with “Gimme Some Lovin,” originally of The Spencer Davis Group, and dove right into some note-for-note covers of Grateful Dead and Phish classics. “Cumberland Blues,” “Mike’s Song,” “Chalk Dust Torture” and “Shakedown Street” served as the culmination of the stellar late-night tent session.

Sunday morning started with a classic bluegrass jam session. Nashville Acoustic Jam w/ the Danberry’s and Friends brought back Ryan Cavanaugh and Flea Market Hustlers member Jake Winebrinner (both of whom had played previously) and other Head Jamz family members to collaborate on traditional jams and other pleasing covers. The group eloquently described their set as a “Head Jamz casserole” before playing the set out with a chillingly harmonic arrangement of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.”

A mid-day drizzle pulled the large crowd out of the woods from their lounge chairs and swaying hammocks just in time for a particularly riveting Captain Midnight Band set. The group sported some Japanese apparel, got an edible bubble machine going, and donned their bubble-gum pink wigs and heart-shaped glasses to play their catchy and kitschy melodies in the rain. The Frank Zappa-esque group with their throwback feel rocked the crowd with tunes such as the original toe-tapper, “Witch’s Tit.” The rain did not hinder the fest at all; rather, the fastidious crew tarped the exposed equipment and kept the show rolling.

head_jamz-57.jpgThe crowd really got riled as Cornmeal took to the stage. True to form, the psychedelic bluegrass jam sensation wowed the crowd with mesmerizing fiddle lines, deep bass hooks, and dance-inducing drum beats. Paul Simon’s “Slip Sliding Away” and their own “Girl with the Short Brown Hair” pleased the awaiting audience to no end. Never one to disappoint, Cornmeal put on a show that satisfied their current fans and permanently hooked some new ones.

To close things out The New Mastersounds concluded the extremely successful weekend with their own New-Orleans-by-way-of-Great-Britain invasion. The funky four-piece group brought an up-tempo energy that left the audience and the festival on an elated high.

In a time where some might say music festivals are becoming overcrowded, commercial, and generally devoid of their original musical notions, a mellow gem lies in the Tennessee hills. As the heat died down on 2011, the hustle and bustle melted away from the minds of the attendees at their happy place:  Head Jamz.

Click the thumbnail for photos From the Fest by Brian DeGaetano