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New York's Harvest Fair Rallies Through with Hot Jams and Cold Weather

Festival goers from all over the country gathered October 10th for a weekend stay at Hancock, New York's Camp Minglewood for the Harvest Festival & Freedom Fair. Despite the extremely sunny days and the bitter cold nights, thousands came prepared to hear some groovy music and, of course, to celebrate this year's harvest.

Ol' Camp Minglewood

The Harvest Festival celebrated its thirteenth year and third at the beautiful Camp Minglewood located in the western Catskill Mountains. Chartered in 1995, the Harvest Festival and Freedom Fair began as a small get together for activists in the movement to reform cannabis laws. It has since blossomed into a widely- recognized festival and is the biggest fundraiser for New York NORML (National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws) and the New Yorkers for Compassionate Care billboard project. While combining live music with activists, such as this years key speakers Jack Herer - known as "The Emperor of Hemp" - and original High Times magazine columnist Ed Rosenthal, the festival aims to motivate individuals to support legalization.

Over the years the festival has changed venues from its first years in the apple orchards around Lembo Lake in Modena to the Earlton Hill Family campground in Earlton in 1997. In 1998 the festival was held at the Logging Camp at the Pine Mountain Reserve in Johnsburg and at Echo Lake from 1999 to 2003. The 10th Annual Harvest Festival moved locations to Moose River Park in Lyonsdale in 2004 for two years. Finally in 2006 the festival came to the beautiful Camp Minglewood, which is used during the summer as a performing arts camp. With acres upon acres of beautiful foliage, the 13th annual Harvest Festival and Freedom Fair has found the perfect venue.


Political Rally

As far as the political component of the festival went a lot of good ideas were delivered from the speakers, but there still seemed to be a lack of political organization. Gathering this many people at the grassroots level for such a cause is obviously the hardest part. However, when it came to the actual substance of the argument little seemed to be done to help get people mobilized. Of course the NORML tent was available to write your name down, become a member and receive some information. Other than that petitions of any sort weren't made available and the focus of many people seemed to be lost amongst the smoke.

Both key-note speakers, Jack Herer and Ed Rosenthal, as highly regarded in the cannabis community as they are, seemed only to complain about the problem rather than providing plausible solutions. Unfortunately Herer had suffered a stroke a couple years ago and he clearly lacked the motivation and support in his speeches. Rosenthal was a little better in addressing issues but still didn't seem to offer many solutions. He does believe, however, that if Barack Obama were to become the president-elect, it would mean a step in the right direction for legalization issues.

I had the pleasure of meeting a man by the name of "Redwood" who was kind enough to offer some information about his history with the speakers and the cause.

"I used to work with Jack Herer back in the mid-90's on a state initiative in Oregon to try and legalize cannabis. It actually got pretty far, believe it or not, but it ended up failing. Really though it just gave us more motivation to fight against this war. Jack and myself have been to all types of festivals like this to promote legalization I think it's a great way to get people involved. Unfortunately Jack suffered a stroke a couple years back but he still comes out to show support despite losing his dynamic speaking ability that really used to draw crowds."


Groovy Tunes

Although the political activism of the festival wasn't quite in full force, the exact opposite was the case with the music.

For myself and I'm sure many others, the highlight of this festival, besides the amazing scenery, was the groovy jams thrown down by so many talented musicians. The music began early Friday evening and continued throughout the weekend into sun-up on Monday morning.

The capstone of Friday night's music was far and away Tony Vacca's World Rhythms. The group was founded by Vacca in 1993 to reflect the global nature of music while featuring local, regional and internationally known performers. Tony Vacca and World Rhythms have been a reoccurring group at Harvest Festival since 2001 and although the group tends to change personnel and instrumentation on a somewhat regular basis, this year's ensemble gave nothing short of a great performance. Musicians performed on West African balafons (a percussive instrument similar to the marimba), alto saxophone, electric violin, electric bass and numerous types of elaborate drums. The music, characterized as "world" "tribal" or "afrobeat" but with underlying bass grooves and melodic lines, set the tempo for the weekend ahead.

On Saturday morning the jams kicked off around noon with Agent Moosehead, an electronic jam band out of Philadelphia, PA. The band was without saxophonist Dan Peterson and trumpet player Tom Madeja, but featured the original vibraphonist and Latin percussionist from Frank Zappa's band, Ed Mann. The band went through a couple of their own charts, but highlighted the end of their set by playing "Nintendo music" from the Mega Man 3 series.

Playing down at the Circus stage in the middle of the afternoon was Moonalice, a bluesy, greasy rock band comprised of many well-known rock and rollers from previous groups. According to the Moonalice Legend, which the band would read from in between songs, they emerged from a Native American tribe that evolved into two major clans. One clan was agricultural made up of hippie farmers who cultivated hemp, while the nomadic clan wandered the continent surviving on their wits and music. From time to time the clans would come together for pow-wows known as "gigs" from New York to San Francisco as a precursor to modern festivals. In a new dawn of music, this sextet evolved to revive the tribe and its legend. With guitarist G.E. Smith from the Saturday Night Live Band, pedal-steel guitarist Barry Sless from Phil Lesh & Friends, keyboard and accordion player Pete Sears from Jefferson Starship, percussionist Anne McNamee and guitarist Roger McNamee from The Flying Other Brothers, and drummer Jimmy Sanchez from Dr. John and Boz Scaggs fame, the group drew from all sorts of influences for a solid rock and roll show.

At midnight on Saturday the Connecticut-based funk band Deep Banana Blackout took the main stage by storm with Ithaca College alum Jen Durkin wailing on the vocals. Accompanied by fire dancers on a raised side stage, the band gave a great performance of many of their classic funk tunes and kept the audience dancing into the wee hours of the morning. Songs included "Breakfast at Volo's" "Getch'all In the Mood" "Homo Lingo" and their incredibly funky version of "Coming Round the Mountain" among many other hot numbers.

Jazz/funk turntablist extraordinaire DJ Logic began his set at 4AM on Monday morning for all those who were still up and wanting more. The show took place in a rather strange venue for hip-hop, but an intimate one at that. In what looked to be a rustic former barn, Logic set up two turntables on a tiny stage, and the audience was left to dance somewhat uncomfortably around chairs and benches. When it came to the music, however, Logic wasted no time. With a giant visualizer behind him, and smoke covering the stage, the man did what he does best - mixing funk, jazz and drum & bass beats to lift the audience to their feet. Some of his samples throughout the set included songs from Daft Punk's Discovery album and a particularly interesting version of Radiohead's "Everything In Its Right Place" mixed with some funky beats. DJ Logic kept the music blaring until the sun came up when most of the festival folk began to retire to their respective bunks.

On Sunday the music picked up where it had left with performances from Blue Turtle Seduction, Thousands of One, Earth and Dead By Wednesday. Moonalice and Deep Banana Blackout also played sets on Sunday evening for those ardent music lovers who didn't want the weekend to be quite over yet.

The Harvest Fair and Freedom Festival at Camp Minglewood proved to be a very interesting take on the legalization movement. Despite some organizational breakdowns in politically mobilizing those in attendance, the festival was a great place to get away for the weekend, meet new people and listen to some great jams.



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