Review by Cassidy Maley
Photography by Keith Griner (Phierce Photography)
In its first year, Phases of the Moon festival was one of the most challenging and rewarding festivals I have experienced this summer. It was held just outside of Danville, Illinois over the weekend of September 11-14th, this year. It was a festival with some huge names and a great staff to support having such acts. Due to some unforeseen weather issues, the beginning of the festival was a rough start, but as the weekend blossomed, things got easier and easier. The crowd was resilient and determined to see the music they loved; good weather, bad weather, cold weather, line or no line, everyone wanted a weekend to remember and for this first year festival to be a success.
Thursday September, 11th was by far the most tested and challenged my patience has ever been at a festival. Days and days of rain before the festival made the gates and ticketing almost impossible to navigate by car. Everyone was getting sunk in the mud causing a huge back up for many of the visitors. Despite numerous attempts by the festival staff to bring in gravel, hay, and to dry the land with helicopters, the mud continued to be a huge challenge. At one point there was nothing the staff could do but improvise and start parking everyone at the county fair grounds and shuttling patrons to and from the festival grounds. It was a great plan that ended up working out very efficiently once it got up and rolling. For the most part, I and many of the other visitors kept in good spirits, understanding that the weather is uncontrollable and that this was this location’s very first gathering of this size. We were comfortably housed at the fairgrounds for the night, hoping for better conditions in the morning.
Friday morning broke, unseasonably chilly, but the light of day brought new hope of finally getting to see some live music. The Phases of the Moon staff teamed up with the local schools and started a shuttling system of big, yellow buses that would bring everyone to and from their cars. Once the shuttles started, they never stopped and I was most impressed with how friendly and dedicated the drivers were to making everyone have a good impression of their town. They drove tirelessly day and night, working 8 hour shifts to get everyone shuttled to where they needed to be. The love and openness with which this small town in Illinois greeted such a diverse crowd, was very impressive. It was hard to be angry when everyone was working so hard to make this festival a success.
Twenty-four hours after first arriving to the line, followed by a five mile hike into the venue, and after discovering there was still a line Friday morning, I finally saw my very first band. With an amazing breakfast burrito in my hand, I was graced by the rewarding sound of Boombox. It was everything I needed after a difficult 24 hours. Live music always heals any sore spot; as Boombox played an energetic set, the trials of the last 24 hours melted away, and I was able to let the good times roll.
One of the highlights of Friday was the energetic Grace Potter set. The energy this female lead brings to the stage is almost impossible to describe. The energy just bubbles outwards from her and envelopes the entire crowd. She is absolutely irresistible, dramatic, and her soulful voice is powerful and entrancing. She switches from guitar to keys to percussion and is a talented musician as well as singer. Her set included several original songs as well as an amazing cover of “Not Fade Away.” One of the moments that stopped me in my tracks was when the band left the stage and Grace began to sing “Nothing but the Water.” As red stage light illuminated her silhouette, she belted the familiar lyrics and time stood still. She closed the set with the familiar “I Bid You Good Night,” a perfect segue into the String Cheese Incident.
String Cheese Incident took the stage and as the familiar melody of “Roll Over” opened the set, I realized that all of the trials and tribulations over the last 24 hours were worth it. A light rain began to fall, which only made the light show more impressive. The stage set up was elaborate, the live stream was projected on either side on large screens, and in the center was the magic that is The String Cheese Incident. There is no other band I can think of that can play bluegrass and electronic dubstep in the same set list. Their set included “Song in My Head,” “Jellyfish,” and “Best Feeling.” The crowd never stopped dancing; as the rain fell and turned to sleet, the band closed with “Roll Over.”
The stage area of the festival was decorated elaborately. There was a man powered wheel, a light up rectangle of ping pong balls, and a sanctuary where workshops were held all weekend. The Sanctuary that was set up in the middle of the festival grounds was really neat. There were a ton of places to sit down or lay around and take a load off of those beat up festival feet. The design was amazing; it looked other worldly. It had the art displays and set up of a huge festival, while numbers were still relatively low. The Moon Stage was wide enough so that during shows, the crowd was dispersed such that you could get there right as the band started and not have a problem getting relatively close or having a full view of the band. The Harvest Stage had a lot of very interesting art exhibits and swings to play around on while you enjoyed the music.
On both Saturday and Sunday, Widespread Panic was the big highlight. Each night they played one extended set. They absolutely crushed it each set and made the festival for me.
Saturday’s Panic set began with a great “Henry Parson’s Died”> “Chilly Water.” By the beginning of Chilly Water, it was as if everybody was by the stage, ready for something magical to happen. JB’s voice during Chilly Water seemed to have the entire festival moving in unison. Then came the melodic “Can’t Get High,” followed by “Let It Rock.” which transitioned into a fantastic “Radio Child.” By this point the lights were in full effect. The highlight of the first Widspread Panic set was a power packed continuous jam of “Shut Up and Drive > Ride Me High > Hatfield > Space Wrangler > Walkin’ (For Your Love).” After that came another seemingly endless segment of bliss: “Holden Oversoul->Do What You Like->Me and the Devil Blues->Driving Song->Wondering->Papa’s Home->Driving Song.” Panic then closed the first night with “North”.
By far, the Sunday Widspread Panic set was my favorite night, and a real quality set of music from start to finish. It opened with “Imitation Leather Shoes,” followed by “Weight of the World,” which included one of the best jams of the weekend. Other noteworthy moments in the set included “Rebirtha,” “Party at Your Mama’s House,” “Pleas” > “Bust It Big” > “Help Me Somebody,” “Conrad the Catepillar,” and “Action Man.” I could feel the energy smack me in the face like a brick wall during the last 2 songs of the set, which were my favorite songs of the whole weekend. The “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” had the entire crowd singing along, almost teary eyed, which transitioned into a very intense “Chainsaw City.” There was no better song I can think of for the band to end the weekend with; it took the last of the energy everyone had leftover in their tanks and sent them off to the Town Stage to wind down with Rumpke Mountain Boys and David Gans one last time before we all went back to our respective campsites to lay our tired heads to bed.
A few hours after Panic ended their Saturday set, Poor Man’s Whiskey gave us a special treat by playing one of their albums in its entirety: Dark Side of the Moonshine. It is an all bluegrass tribute to Dark Side of the Moon including blue grass jams, giving a different life to this classic album. It was unlike any other cover I have heard of this album. The band kept true to many of the qualities that Pink Floyd brings to the album, but also added blue grass jams that made it unlike anything I have heard before.
Although it was a rough take off, Phases of the Moon turned into a beautiful festival. The town of Danville came together to make this weekend a unique and friendly experience. The staff worked so hard to keep order and artistry protected. Overall, I would say the first year of the festival was a success and I can’t wait to see what it will hold in the years to come. Thank you to the town of Danville and the dedicated staff at Kennekuk County Park for bringing us a weekend to remember.