Sleepy Creek HarFest: The Place Where We Belong
Each time I go to Sleepy Creek, it feels like coming home. Although I attend a few bigger festivals each year featuring the bleeps, bloops, and synth-knob twiddling of Jamtronica I love so much, Sleepy Creek owns my heart. It’s like that favorite worn in pair of jeans that fit just right or a pair of super comfy pajama pants perfect for lounging at home. Just as importantly, the truly wonderful people who run, staff, and attend Sleepy Creek Presents events create the perfect environment for family, fun, creativity, connection, enjoyment of musical artistry as diverse as the American landscape, and, perhaps most importantly, Sleepy Creek gives festival attendees a place where they can be themselves.
During my weekend adventure at HarFest 2019 in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, on Oct. 4-6, I saw a bumper sticker on an RV that sums up my experience; it read: “There is no alternative to being yourself” — and Sleepy Creek is exactly that: a place where we can be ourselves, a place where we belong.
I am grateful to festival organizers Danny and Jen Moore and campground owners Cindy and Dave Zembower for all the vision and hard work they put into creating this magical space where we can truly be ourselves and shine. Although I didn’t know many of the bands on the bill before the event, I have to say HarFest 2019 is one of my all-time favorites: a perfectly relaxing weekend full of festival family, friends, and some of the best music I’ve heard all season as I once again enjoyed helping out my better half Tara and festival fam Stevie, Doug, Jess, and Marley keep the musicians comfortable in artist hospitality. And while I’m at it, a big thank you to Sandee Taylor for everything she does.
Watch the Sleepy Creek HarFest 2019 Parade in this video by Chester Simpson:
Here are the highlights of my weekend:
Friday, Oct. 4
The smell of a campfire and a slight chill in the air greeted us as we arrived mid-morning to start working. We figured out our game plan and knocked out some duties, leaving plenty of times for smiles, hugs, and laughs. Before we knew it, we were reveling in the powerhouse voice and stompy bass and banjo sounds of Megan Jean & the KFB from backstage. The duo played an intoxicatingly seductive mix of gypsy, vaudeville, rockabilly, and just dark enough to be cool Americana, to keep us whistling as we worked, and Megan Jean was every bit as entertaining backstage. Next up, Mama Corn provided us with an outstanding jamboree of the Appalachian-tinged bluegrass my dad loved so much. Trailheads dazzled us with their fun brand of funkiness, and, by that point, we found some time to make it to the other side of the stage to bust out our dance moves with the wonderful Sleepy Creek fans! A special shout out to Trailheads guitarist and vocalist Jacob Halfhill for being so expressive of his gratitude for this place we call home.
Friday’s showstopping highlight came with Dangermuffin’s set, which I got to soak in from the side of the stage. Wow! this South Carolina based-band blew me away with their array of sounds — everything from roots rock to folk to bluegrass to reggae celebrating the incredible variety of American musical influences and embodying that Sleepy Creek spirit — with vocals and guitar that hit me right in the heart and bass and drums that moved the rest of my body. They started off big right out of the gate with a cover of the Bob Marley classic “War” and played a magical set that also included Manfred Mann’s “The Mighty Quinn” and a Pink Floyd cover (which took some stones to play right before a Pink Floyd tribute act). I enjoyed good conversations with drummer Adam Williams and lead guitarist Mike Sivilli afterward. I’ll keep an eye out for the nice guys and outstanding musicians in Dangermuffin so I don’t miss out the next time they come around. Eat Yer Meat, a Pink Floyd tribute band featuring members of ELM, Moogatu, Staycation, and Second Self, closed out the main stage in style with their cool takes on Floyd classics. Their ability to give the songs room to breathe, and more importantly, space wherein the members could improvise all made sense because what else could I expect from a band composed of members of other jam bands. Last but not least, we adored the Colorado-based Grant Farm’s gorgeous late- night acoustic, campfire-side set; it was the perfect way to close out our Friday with the glow and warmth of the fire at our backs and all the warm, glowing smiles and good vibes to match the sweet nighttime magic of the music. Ready for another big day on Saturday, off to bed we went with visions of moonshine jars in our heads.
Saturday, Oct. 5
In keeping with tradition, Mateo Monk, Sleepy Creek’s favorite one-man band, eased us into Saturday with his eclectic world-music and good vibes. Like always, Mateo got the positive vibes flowing and set the tone for the day ahead. Tara, Stevie, Doug and I were treated to a fantastic Saturday brunch from friends Marley and Jess, and I savored a Bloody Mary which was gifted to me by the magical Cole Shenebeck. The biggest musical surprise of the weekend came next with Twisted Pine’s set. Although I hadn’t heard of this Boston band before, I will not soon forget them. Their gorgeous rendition of The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” featuring lush vocals from fiddler Kathleen Parks and intricate playing pulled me to the stage like a moth to a flame. Don’t miss this delightful ensemble’s innovative blend of bluegrass and dreamy, layered pop if they play anywhere near you.
Watch Twisted Pine perform at Sleepy Creek HarFest 2019 in this video by Chester Simpson:
Next up, Carrie Nation & the Speakeasy wowed us with their unique musical mixture of bluegrass, jazz, ska, and punk-style delivery. It was a blast watching everyone romp around during their set. I even had to buy a t-shirt. Getting dressed up and taking part in the truly fabulous Sleepy Creek parade was a blast. We headed backstage to take care of some business and enjoyed grooving to the bluesy sounds of the Ben Miller Band. Afterward, we were treated to a fantastic electric set from Grant Farm, featuring a superb cover of The Dead’s “St. Stephen.” Somehow, the guys managed to outdo their fantastic acoustic set from Friday with their good vibes and plugged-in, soaring melodies. And speaking of melodies, Cris Jacobs Band treated us to a soulful and intelligent set that sounded like it was conceived at the crossroads of R & B, country, and rock. The tunes had Tara and me swaying at the side of the stage as our festival duties wound down. Their sweet cover of Elton John’s “Rocketman” blasted us off into a stratosphere of bliss.
Little did we know, the best was yet to come with my personal favorite set of the weekend: High and Mighty Brass Band. This incredibly fun nine-piece from Brooklyn brought down the house with a barn-burner, New Orleans-type dance party that closed out the main stage. Tara and I had great fun burning up the dance floor with Doug, Stevie, and Jen Moore. They played super cool covers of TLC’s “Waterfalls,” Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” (yes, I have a 14 year old daughter who is a huge Billie fan), and “Take Me Home Country Roads” which brings me back full circle to how much I appreciate the home and family I have been blessed enough to find in Sleepy Creek! Once again, well played Danny and Jen. Thank You. I couldn’t ask for a better way to close out festival season at a “place where I belong.” Home. Until next time… stay well everyone. I’ll see you soon.
Watch High and Mighty Brass Band perform at Sleepy Creek HarFest 2019 in this video by Chester Simpson:
Here are some pictures of Sleepy Creek HarFest 2019. All photos copyright and courtesy of Chester Simpson.