After jamming through three hours of Dead classics on the Fourth of July, Phil Lesh grabbed the mike in front of 15,000 fans in the final hour of the Nateva festival in Oxford, Maine. “We have an appropriate tune for you all,” he said as Furthur kicked into the joyous “U.S. Blues” as Bob Weir traded solos with guitarist John Kadlecik amidst red-white-blue stage lighting. Fans tossed glow sticks, held up sparklers and joined in on the chorus, “Wave that flag — wave it wide and high.”
Weir and Lesh even remained onstage after their final bow to watch the event’s modest fireworks show, which capped the first-time fest. Though small by Lollapalooza or Coachella standards, Nateva was Maine’s biggest rock extravaganza in years, featuring more than 50 bands at the town’s fairground. The bill was a mix of psychedelic headliners (the Flaming Lips, Furthur), jam mainstays (Umphrey’s McGee) and indie college-rock staples (Grizzly Bear, She and Him).
Five thousand people camped on the fairgrounds, and thousands more traveled by school bus from remote campsites at nearby Oxford Plains Speedway — the site of two legendary Dead shows held the same summer weekend in 1988. Plenty of hospitable locals opened their yards to campers for a small fee, resulting in several mini backyard communes. “We’re just a regional northern new England festival,” said founder Frank Chandler. “If you’re tired of walking 45 minutes to your campsite at Bonnaroo, we’ve got a Fourth of July barbeque for you to hang with your friends in your backyard.”
Papier-mâché elephants grazed among the audience as She and Him played a mid-afternoon Saturday set in front scenic pine trees. Zooey Deschanel belted out sunny retro pop in a summer dress and giant sunglasses, initiating a folky sing-along on “Magic Trick” and slapping a tambourine during “Black Hole.” The group honored fifties doo-wop with a cover of Skeeter Davis’ “Gonna Get Along Without You Now.”
As a sweat-soaked Ed Droste led Grizzly Bear’s glazed-over harmonies, the Lips’ Wayne Coyne admired the band backstage. “They really do a lot of work up there,” he told Rolling Stone. “They manipulate a lot of stuff and really listen to each other when they sing.” Coyne said he wasn’t planning to stick around for Furthur, recalling his disappointment at a 1977 Dead show. “I always thought it’d be more freaky — strange and loud. A lot of it to me seemed to be basic traditional bluegrass country music. I like intense shit. But there’s a philosophy and a way that they did things I really admire.”
The Lips’ Saturday night set was indeed one blissful psychedelic freakout, full of orange stage dancers, streamers and mini hot air balloons flying into the sky. The band opened with “The Fear” in front of seizure-inducing lights and fog, and Coyne headed straight into the crowd in his space bubble. By song two, he was riding a fake black bear. The band didn’t touch its recent Dark Side of the Moon cover, instead playing a 16-song set heavy on tracks from last year’s Embryonic. “Silver Trembling Hands” was explosive, and Coyne strapped on a bubble guitar for a heartfelt “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.” He also stopped in the middle of the set to praise the staff, especially port-a-potty maintenance workers: “You could put your butts on those toilets all day and it would be pleasant.”
Despite the risk of objectionable outdoor plumbing, Coyne told Rolling Stone one of his favorite parts of his job is visiting festivals. “I don’t do drugs anymore — I wish I could,” he said, adding, “Acid freaks me out. I always think I’m going to kill somebody.” (His ideal festival mix: “The first night you want to do ecstasy and stay up. The second night, chill out. The third night, just get drunk.”) The real appeal of festivals, though, isn’t pharmaceutical but communal, he said. “With these audiences it’s about them. It’s about the trip that they’re on — it’s not just about seeing rock stars.”
On the fest’s final day, George Clinton gave the crowd plenty of time to chit-chat, waiting more than 30 minutes to hit the stage while Parliament Funkadelic jammed on the band’s deep catalog. When the funk legend did emerge wearing a P-Funk baseball cap, he looked spent. Occasionally, he muttered a word or two (“We Want the Funk”), but mostly danced amongst his 15 or so musicians as the band paid tribute to recently deceased bassist Garry Shider.
Derek Trucks and wife Susan Tedeschi played a soulful set with their new soul-grounded supergroup, fresh off a trip to Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival. “It’s a lot of moving parts,” Trucks told RS. “Two drummers, two background singers and two leaders.” The band delivered, and Trucks played mind-bending solos on tracks like Delaney and Bonnie’s “Comin Home” while Tedeschi channeled Janis Joplin’s wail on the Beatles “I Got a Feeling.” They also offered new tunes like the funky “Love Has Something Else to Say.”
Trucks said he soaked up the New England vibes all weekend, renting a lakeside camp with wife Tedeschi, his crew and brewers of the tasty local Gritty’s beer. “Everyone was swimming and fishing and shooting B.B. guns — it was ridiculous,” he said. “It really is Vacationland here.”
Nature obliged once again during Furthur’s headlining set, as Weir gaped appreciatively at a stunning sunset. “Let’s take a moment,” he said, “to admire the shine.” The Dead spinoff blazed through their longtime live staples with Lesh and Weir perched center stage, their rhythm instruments raised high in the mix while guitarist John Kadlecik replicated Jerry Garcia’s yearning vocals and intricate solos. The new band seemed to inspire Weir, who led a slow-burning singalong on “When I Paint My Masterpiece.”
The band exposed the laid-back blues potential of Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” sounded mystical as they grooved on “Slipknot” and busted out their Sun Records boogie on “Cumberland Blues” and “Goin Down the Road Feelin Bad.” Weir and Lesh still seemed road hungry, and channeled their Winterland glory on a swaying “Franklin’s Tower.” And before the fireworks marked the end of the fest and a truly scenic holiday weekend, the band said farewell with the a cappella gospel tune “And We Bid You Goodnight.”