Written by Bill Whiting
Photos by Bernice Whiting
There were inspired performances and surprises galore at the second annual Werk Out Music & Arts Festival, held on September 8-11 in Bellefontaine, Ohio. Presented through Funky Bean Productions and Alchemy House, Werk Out gave it’s largely camping community an opportunity to socialize, and make new connections on the sprawling Zane Shawnee Caverns grounds while enjoying cutting edge improvisational jams from the nation’s beloved masters of the genre.
On Friday, September 9, the afternoon picked up pace early on with String Cheese Incident keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth, who delivered a riveting hour and a half swing through percolating rhythm and blues originals, including the bracing opening track, “Way That It Goes,” from his 2009 long player, Then There’s Now. On the smaller side stage, hammered dulcimer wizard Jamie Janover held court with a growing Werk Out audience that sat for an hour listening to Janover’s cruising power chords in rapt amazement. During Friday’s early evening hours, String Cheese drummer Michael Travis mixed electronica with dub step as his partner in EOTO, Jason Hann, drummed and sang with a strikingly original ear for wide sweeping arrangements and intimate urban melodies. Friday’s denizens quickly learned to ride one soaring musical wave after another
as the festival’s headliners, The Werks, floated a cascading note rippling tsunami double set extravaganza, replete with dry ice, lazers, fire eating dancers and carnival costumed stilt walkers. The Werks summoned the jazz rock giants of old, bolstering the evening’s festivities with a pounding cornucopia of String Cheesey, Phish fevered and raw Zeppelinesque fury. The only possible topper to The Werks amazing “Werk Out” was the star filled concert from Matt Butler’s groundbreaking onstage circus, The Everyone Orchestra. Butler had support from members of The Werks, along with Hollingsworth, Travis, Janover, veteran Johnny Neel, and the string bending dynamics of The String Cheese Incident’s expert axeman, Michael Kang. Butler had the EO buzzing and whirring with a ferocious intensity, and Friday’s Werk Out experience proved to be one of the best festival entertainments of the year.
Saturday at Werk Out began slowly and quietly. Kentucky’s Canago found new converts with their laidback style, covering Steely Dan and basking in the early morning sun on the second stage. West Virginia’s Fletcher’s Grove took command on the main stage, ripping across Werk Out’s sound system with a deafening bass, drums and guitar feedback laced attack. Indianapolis, Indiana’s The Twin Cats’ mixture of funk and jazz echoed vibrant memories of Primus and Frank Zappa alternately, guiding the listener on a distortion based journey that was both pleasing and effortlessly instructive. Saturday’s Werk Out peak arrived in the form of the Donna Jean Godchaux Band featuring Rob Barraco and Jeff Mattson, formerly of The Zen Tricksters. Barraco, Godchaux and Mattson seamlessly worked the jam sandwich of “Don’t Let Go-Scarlet Begonias- Don’t Let Go” with a brilliantly fluent efficiency, allowing the twirlers near the front of the stage a heady environment populated with tasty, greasy lead soloing from the keyboardist and lead guitarist. Chicago’s Family Groove Company also
impressed, influencing the packed infield area with relentless harmonies and piano/bass rave ups that previewed a musically hot Saturday night to come. The Dark Star Orchestra welcomed Donna Jean Godchaux as they navigated a perfectly rounded set recreating a Jerry Garcia Band concert from March of 1978 at Washington, DC’s Warner Theater. Once again, Barraco and Mattson shared the spotlight, trading instrumental duties on favorites such as “Mission in the Rain” and “Cats Under the Stars.” Werk Out’s swelling masses were pleased by DSO and Godchaux’s unique chemistry, giving the group several standing ovations. When Godchaux appeared with The Werks on “Shakedown St.,” the place went absolutely ballistic, and The Werks peppered their evening with choice covers like “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” along with the terrific rhythmic one-two punch riffing of drummer Rob Chafin and bassist Chuck Love. Guitarist Chris Houser ruled through Werk Out’s early September weekend with searing, blistering bravado, and The Werks comfortably filled their roles both as gracious host to all involved, and mind blowing collaborative entertainers. The Werk Out Festival 2011 was a graceful, ending high point note to the summer, and it left one in anticipation of next year’s festival, as well as future live and recorded “Werks” dates down the road.