“MantraSplash” was definitely one for the books. The skies were grey and the ground was wet, but everyone’s spirit was anything but gloomy this weekend in Ferguson, North Carolina.
It turned out to be Psylo Joe who kicked off the weekend, instead of The Mad Hatters, who were experiencing travel issues. They went into the beginning rifts of “Shotgun” as the rain began to slowly fall. This did not stop the party though, as the lead guitarist, Brian Quintard, informed everyone to help themselves to the cooler full of Jell-O shots at the front of the stage. And thus, Mantrabash began.
Big Something was up next with a lively and fun show as the sun was going down, and the lights were coming up. Midway through the set, the rain began to pick up considerably, but that wasn’t going to stop anyone. It was an amazing set that lifted everyone’s spirits up for the ensuing five hour block of Jamtronica.
Broccoli Samurai took the stage to get things started before the legendary Ozric Tentacles. Once they took the stage there was an immediate feel of respect in the air for this family that pioneered Jamtronica music. Two synthesizers brought things to the next level on this wild intergalactic ride. Samurai was back after that, throwing us right back into another frenzy of heavy bass, wild synthesizer sounds, and technical guitar riffs. The funky foursome known as TAUK played a dirty, groovy set that kept the party moving right along. Dr. Bacon closed out the night with their first ever late night festival set.
Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands was the first band to play on Saturday. Crystal had a phenomenal voice, and played a saw and the keys while leading a band consisting of many eclectic musicians creating what they describe as gypsy cabaret music. Then came the appealing balance of funk and soul courtesy of the Travers Brothership.
This was followed by Groove Fetish, when the rain started really coming down hard. The crowd responded accordingly by turning up the intensity in time for The Mad Hatters. The ska punk rock band raised the energy for a sit in by former member Brian Tyndal, currently of The Mantras.
From Chattanooga, Tennessee, Soul Mechanic was up next. Their blend of reggae, roots, and rock always leaves audiences in amazement and a little sore from all the dancing.
The Mantras finally graced the stage, and as always, brought the rage. Starting off the set with an mysterious suspenseful vibe, Dustin Klein, the man behind their insane visuals, was projecting cards onto the 3 screens behind the band, hinting at their infamous “House of Cards” as a set opener. They also debuted a new cover, “21st Century Schizoid Man” by legends of prog-rock, King Crimson.
As the Mantras came to the end of their first set of the night, local favorite Nomadic was getting things set up on the side stage. The whole set was exactly the boost everyone needed to stay up and enjoy the rest of the great music to come.
The Mantras came back for one more set, and kept the music flowing for a crowd that was completely soaked at this point. They played one of the most important songs in the history of rock n roll, “Jessica” by The Allman Brothers Band, and did it the highest honor. They also busted out “Abacus,” a song they haven’t played in almost two and a half years.
Consider the Source invited the entire crowd to hop onto a magic carpet and we were off for a mystical middle eastern sci-fi journey. During the hour and a half set, Source transitioned smoothly from one song to the next, and by the end of it everyone was begging for more.
Empire Strikes Brass, the eight-piece brass band from Asheville, was up next on the main stage. All eight of them including drummer in a straight line. They have a nice collection of originals, but also unexpectedly break down into some funky horn covers.
Electronic Love Machine from Baltimore, MD played a very seamless set, putting an electronic vibe on some things you wouldn’t expect, like Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf.” They played until almost 5:30 in the morning, when the sheriff showed up and shut the music down for the night.
The reggae band Treehouse, hailing from Myrtle Beach, was definitely ready to get the day started and bring the tropical vibes, regardless of the weather. The rain actually stopped for a second during their set, which had to have something to do with the sunny beach magic they brought with them, but sadly it was very short lived.
Meanwhile, I decided to head back to Boone for the day to get some dry clothes, better footwear, a shower, and a nap in a warm house.
When I returned, The Broadcast coming out of Asheville were taking the stage. This group has such a unique sound. Mix a little bit of rock, blues, jam, funk, soul and top it off with lead singer Caitlin Kirsko’s Joplin-esque vocals – it’s impossible to stay still during one of their shows. They brought up their friend and former keyboardist from the Mantras, Justin Powell, to jump on the Nord and add even more funk to the second half of their set, finishing it off with a classic cover of the Beatles “With a Little Help From My Friends.” It was an emotional moment for all, coming from the amount of energy and feeling the entire band put into that song for the many friends hugging and smiling in the rain.
The most anticipated show of the weekend started shortly after. The Mantras’ famous“Talking Dead” set featured none other than Bernie Worrell, of legendary fame with The Talking Heads and Parliament Funkadelic. As they all took the stage, Keith Allen looked over at the icon, and told the crowd that he couldn’t believe this it was actually happening, but he was definitely ready for it. They played an incredible alternating set of Talking Heads hits intertwines with Grateful Dead classics that everyone in the crowd was singing right along with. Ending the set with two mashup songs “Born Cross-eyed and Painless” and “Burning Down the Fire on the Mountain,” they had every person out there screaming for more. The boys came back out on stage and played the Parliament Funkadelic hit “One Nation Under a Groove,” explaining exactly why everyone was there that weekend, to straight get down for the funk of it.
Imperial Blend was on the side stage next, and they filled in The Mantras’ sandwich set very nicely. They played a rare cover, choosing “Beat It” by the great Michael Jackson. Without singing a single lyric, Brennan Fowler, synth master extraordinaire played every single note on his Moog just like Michael would have hit it.
The Mantras got back up again to play their final set of the weekend, and it was arguably the cream of the crop. The rain had almost stopped, either that or everyone had just gotten used to it and wasn’t phased anymore, and everyone was getting down and raging properly. Starting off the set slowly and ominously, they immediately jumped into some of their groovier songs followed by some of their heavy middle eastern melodic songs. Covering Radiohead’s “Optimistic” mid-set was a nice transition into the rest of it, including a 20-minute encore featuring Jason Hann, of Eoto and String Cheese Incident, joining them onstage to play percussion with Brent Vaughn.
The Family was next with their sing along style of southern rock and funk that was a nice transition from what The Mantras just unleashed to the madness EOTO was about to melt our minds with.
EOTO took the stage, and everyone was feeling it. All ages were getting down to the live and improvised blend of dubstep, grime, drum & bass and hip hop these guys were laying down on us. It is was fascinating to watch the experimental set, with Michael Travis looping various styles of synths together to create a track in the production program Reason, then picking up a bass or guitar and looping riffs and grooves in Ableton, all while drummer Jason Hann doesn’t miss a beat, laying down rhymes and other various additions, just to lift it up to a breaking point and bring it back down to start all over again. This cutting edge music creation continued for nearly two hours. The Fritz brought up the rear, delivering texture and jubilance to leave Mantrabash on the highest note.
Written by Joshua Scott