Review by Danielle Look
Photos by Scott Preston
Under normal circumstances, a 12:30 a.m. start time for a headlining act would be disrespectful and wasteful of their time. At a typical festival, the community of fans attends for a variety of reasons, each with their own agenda and specific list of “must see” bands. But Tabfest, nestled in the backwoods of a rural north-west Ohio town, boasts the ability to pull every patron away from their campsite and to the mainstage for the weekend’s traditional closing act, Freekbass.
Countrified Cincinnati bluegrass band The Rumpke Mountain Boys entertained the masses on the Tabfest side stage while the Freekbass crew prepared equipment for their set. With an approximate depth of no more than 20 feet from the back of the tent to the stage, fitting the entire crowd under the canopy would prove to be impossible. A handful of dedicated fans staked out a spot early, engaging in preshow hype with drummer Chip Wilson. “UHH! Everybody say ‘Taaab-fest!’ What? Say ‘Taaab-fest!’ UHH!” Sensational guitarist T Sly emerged in full ninja mode to check his instrument with back to the crowd, sunglasses in place, and the hood of his jacket covering his head. World famous DJ and producer Tobotius took his turntables for a test drive, spewing beats, scratches, and other sound effects that excited the rapidly thickening crowd.
Tabfest security lined the front of the stage. Slightly mushy from an early-morning downpour, straw covered the ground in effort to dry the mud and puddles. And the congregation, after an entire weekend of camping in the woods with on/off rain, was moist, smelly, and more than a little dirty. Despite the conditions, this crowd was ready to be funked.
As the music began, Wilson resumed audience stimulation by leading a series of chants driven by his drum set. Fog covered the stage and T Sly’s guitar filled the air. Two large, customized bass guitars stood on racks, staring at the crowd like a pair of guards in front of Buckingham Palace. Suddenly, a figure dressed from head to toe in black surfaced from backstage. The man of the hour had finally appeared. The Freek donned a bucket-style marching band helmet with a matching drum major cloak draped across his shoulders and large, black, bug-eyed sunglasses attached to his face.
Within minutes, the cape was gone, eliminating any restrictions the costume might have imposed. The next two hours would prove to be a blur of bass-heavy instrumentals, clever raps, and groovy dancing. Interludes caused The Freek’s bottom lip to pucker, nearly creating a soured look on his face, as he slapped his guitar strings and rocked his entire body to the ear candy he was creating. Mid-show, Tobotius stepped away from his station, tambourine in hand, to join T Sly and Freekbass at the front of the stage. Without warning, they unleashed a choreographed set of dance moves as fans screamed in ecstasy and euphoria fueled their movements.
Later, Freekbass vanished, leaving his band mates to entertain as he enjoyed a short, but much-needed, break. Upon commencement of the encore set, The Freek re-appeared, this time dressed in an over-sized red shag jacket, matching red sunglasses, and a narrow black cowboy hat. Freek pulled a cell phone from his pocket and announced that he was calling his legendary friend and mentor Bootsy Collins. Speaking into the stage mic, he asked the funk icon if he could borrow the Space Bass for Tabfest. “Beam down one of your aliens from the mothership to bring it to us,” he so kindly requested. Standing at attention, an assistant, apparently from another universe, came into light at the back of the stage. He was dressed in a white body suit that loosely hung on his body, with the exception of the headpiece, which fitted him like a nun’s habit. By way of an other-worldly procession, he scooted to the front of the stage where he knighted Sir Freek with the special Space Base. And madness ensued.
Still not ready to say good-bye to Tabfest, the band took time to honor fans by pulling two front-row admirers to the stage. In the excitement of realizing their dreams, the lucky ladies pulled into the spotlight lost their footwear, one completely barefoot and the other with one flip flop on and the second lost somewhere in the audience. Stagehands emerged to assist the guests of honor, dressing them with the two bass guitars present at the beginning of the concert. After a 30-second instructional session, Freekbass had effectively inducted two new temporary members to the band and stood on a platform behind them to direct the entire group in song.
Now fully exhausted and entirely funked out, Freekbass regained his leading position as the band closed their set, thanking Tabfest for yet another successful year. The Rumpke Mountain Boys resumed on the side stage as fatigued fans began to file away, not ready to retire to their tents and still high on adrenaline. Running strong in its 12th year, Tabfest continues to provide a festival experience like no other. As Chip Wilson would say, “Ain’t no party like a Tabfest Party”.