Nateva plants musical roots in Maine
OXFORD, Maine — While many were kicking back over the holiday weekend, Frank Chandler was planting seeds. And if those seeds take root, there will be many more Nateva Music & Camping festivals in Oxford, Maine, in summers to come.
Chandler’s inaugural Nateva festival, a three-day event nestled into the Oxford Fairgrounds, brought Furthur, the Flaming Lips, moe., and more than two dozen other acts, many rooted in the jam ’n’ groove scene, with additional nods to modern rock, reggae, bluegrass, and techno.
But beyond simply plopping a bunch of bands into the gateway to Maine’s ski country, Nateva created a vibrant — albeit temporary — community. Pitching their tents at the site, attendees ranged from a family arriving three generations strong from two states to a pair of happy-go-lucky 20-somethings on a summer road trip from Louisiana.
The July Fourth closing program saw the most consistent turnout, which was not surprising as it was also the least eclectic lineup. Furthur — the latest project helmed by bassist Phil Lesh and guitarist Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead — topped the bill, taking a page from buddy Bob Dylan’s playbook and rearranging old concert faves to create some of the most exciting Dead music of the post-Jerry Garcia era. The earlier part of the day was stacked with Children of the Dead bands such as Mark Karan’s Jemimah Puddleduck, Moonalice, and Max Creek, while the midday offerings of Zappa Plays Zappa and George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic fit the flow, and the new Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi Band sealed the deal with a powerfully soulful performance that nicely set the stage for Furthur’s arrival.
On Saturday, a consistently large crowd never materialized until Sound Tribe Sector 9 and the Flaming Lips arrived to deliver that night’s one-two punch of groove and glitz. That’s not to say the earlier part of the day lacked great performances. Experimental popsters Grizzly Bear played one of the festival’s finest sets, which unfolded during a dramatic sunset that made the band’s show that much more memorable.
Maine-bred talent Rustic Overtones and regional reggae standard bearers John Brown’s Body worked well, and the radio-friendly Crash Kings, who killed with a set-closing cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,’’ brought the kind of rough edge that gives a multiband fest a bit of personality. Drive-By Truckers and She & Him fleshed out Saturday’s lineup with various shades of the alt-rock spectrum.
The Newton-based Chandler, a first-time promoter, set his goals high, and for the most part hit them. While volunteers were crucial to the festival’s operation, Chandler acknowledged that relying too much on them for parking logistics resulted in a traffic jam on Friday.
Yet throughout the festival more people were pointing out what he got right. Crystal-clear sound traveled from the twin main stages all the way back to the 1960s Ferris wheel running at the opposite end of the fairground. The festival unfolded in a whimsical wonderland of giant rainbow-colored pinwheels, kids parades, visits by the freakish and funny giant Big Nazo puppets, and Independence Day fireworks. A secondary barn stage was a place of discovery where you could find teenage phenoms the McLovins or chest-thumping dub and techno played until the wee hours.
Chandler patrolled the campsites, polling attendees about what they wanted to see changed in the future, and those he spoke to were impressed that he even bothered to ask. Team Nateva ruled with a gentle hand, while being strict about keeping nitrous oxide use out of the festival.
Chandler said he sold out of reserved-camping tickets and VIP packages, which no doubt buoyed his declaration that he wants to make Nateva an annual event. Day sales were softer on Friday and Saturday, while Sunday just about hit the capacity of 15,000. But that doesn’t mean Nateva should book only jam bands in the future. While Furthur delivered a fantastic show, there’s no denying the sheer entertainment value of Saturday’s wide-ranging lineup.
Chandler said he went heavy on jam bands because the audience for those groups is keyed into the multiday camping scene. Tennessee’s Bonnaroo employed a similar strategy and eventually blossomed into the sort of festival that now welcomes Jay-Z as well as Dave Matthews.
It’s fair to say that Nateva is poised to blossom into a signature music event for New England.
Scott McLennan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org