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Rib Fest America—Military Park—Indianapolis, IN 8/31-9/02/12

Labor Day weekend marked the 16th annual Rib Fest America held at Military Park in the heart of downtown Indianapolis. Though the weather was not necessarily cooperative, the talent present as well as the tantalizing food ensured that regardless of the rain good times would be had by all. 

Local artist and blues powerhouse Duke Tumato and the Power Trio kicked off the weekend with the instrumental prowess of indisputable veterans.  Tumato was a great way to start such a feel good weekend with his comical and slightly mischievous lyrical hits from the Bob and Tom Show.  The melodic mayhem of the Power Trio got the early comers on their feet and even hungry passersby could not help but pause for a moment to appreciate the bluesy rock resonating from the stage. 

As the first act wound down, many people took the opportunity to explore some of the delectable choices offered by the nine rib vendors and countless and diverse merchants carrying anything from grilled corn to ice cream, including seemingly endless fried options.   Clearly there was something for everyone including delicious barbeque sauces and pork in nearly every form you could dream of.

As Eddie Money took the stage there were noticeably more people present, ready to kick off their long weekend with some nostalgic rock and good eats.  Eddie delivered a show with the polished, blue collar rock n roll finesse he has had since the late 70s.  His hour and a half set was filled with catchy hits that practically everyone could sing along with regardless of age or musical preference.  Money opened with “Baby Hold On” as the crowd took a stroll down memory lane with this gregarious performer.  Eddie Money and his band kept up the tempo by bringing some of his favorite hits to an intimate setting with a beautiful backdrop of the city skyline as the sun began to set. Money pummeled the crowd with his hook laced classic rock hits including synth-pop hit “Walk on Water”, “No Control” and bluesy “Call on Me” which had the ladies swooning over the soaring guitar solo.  Money also serenaded the group with a cover of the Smokey Robinson hit “You Really Got a Hold on Me” a lovely little gem from the evening.

As the end drew near, Eddie Money played yet another chart topper “Take Me Home Tonight”; and when Eddie introduced “Two Tickets to Paradise”, the band launched into the emblematic intro as baby boomers and youngsters alike crooned to this rock anthem. Closing the set with “Shakin” a predictable yet pleasurable closer, Eddie Money, who may have had the most fun out of everyone there with his onstage antics, left the crowd in high spirits.

After a brief break between sets to allow for those present to sample some more of the festival’s offerings, the ever influential George Clinton and his 15 piece band Parliament Funkadelic took stage to let their freak flag fly for the two hour set.  Despite the fact that Dr. Funkenstein’s feathers and rainbow dreadlocks are no more, the roar from the crowd as he took stage indicated that he still had the gusto to get the crowd funked up. George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic certainly proved that there ain’t no party like a P-funk party as they unearthed a lengthy version of “Atomic Dog” which got all the long-time fans to put down the ribs and get off their feet and dance.

The loose arrangements allowed plenty of room for improvisation, and banter and classic party anthems from the founding father of funk were not in short supply.  “Give up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)”, yet another highlight, had all the ladies in the crowd singing along.  George Clinton and his formidable army, the Parliament Funkadelic, were a perfect way to end a great evening of diverse beats and delicious eats and I could not wait to come back for more of both the following day.

Saturday rolled around and I felt as though I already had my proverbial plate full from the previous day. However, despite the cloudy weather, I was ready to see what treats and eats the day had in store, and boy was it an enthralling day of diverse sounds.

Though I missed the day’s opening act Upshot, the Infamous Stringdusters were a perfect way to start the day as they seamlessly moved through their set of infectious jamgrass ditties.  Despite the loss of Chris Elderidge, Andy Falco and Chris Pandolfi have taken progressive bluegrass to another level. In the words of bass player, Travis Book: “we are more than just bluegrass, not quite country, always progressive and energetic.”  Although the band is fairly new to the scene, members have played with legends like Earl Scruggs, Drew Emmitt, and Dolly Parton, to name a few. Each of the members is a jack of all trades, as Falco can often be found playing guitar alongside Joss Stone, Hall is a recipient of countless awards for his astonishing skills on the dobro, and Pandolfi has studied at Berkley School of Music. The Stringdusters also host their own music festival “The Festy Experience” in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The band is not afraid to stand their ground as they continue to cross genres of music and establish their own sound: High Country. “High Country is like taking bluegrass, add some foot stomping with a twist of a psychedelic sounds to make for a memorable night.”  

With the break in music I decided to take a walk around the grounds to see what festivities were going on. There were definitely more people present than the previous day as people filed in to grab a late lunch.  I was excited to catch a blind BBQ taste test between the Indianapolis Police Department and the Fire Department. Smelling the unique undertones from the various cooking methods used was enough to make one’s mouth water. 

Next one of Indy’s very own premier touring acts came back home for this year’s Ribfest and took the crowd by storm. This five piece jazz/funk band was formed in 2004 by identical twin brothers, Adam and Seth Catron, and is one of the Midwest’s fastest growing jam bands.  As the Twin Cats took stage they had no problem getting the crowd to fuse with their electrifying funkadelic sound. The fans filled the VIP area for an hour and half and danced their you-know–what’s off. It was as if the Cats were released from a cage and were going to get revenge by funking up your face.  Saxophone/electric flute player Nick Gerlach let loose on sax in a memorable jam “Face.” Phil Geyer added a twist with his talented keyboarding skills. The band likes to refer to their style as Face Funk, and if you have never heard Face Funk then I highly recommend that you experience an evening with the Twin Cats; I guarantee you will be sold on this electrified jazzy funk!  

Next up was a pleasant surprise, The Werks. Though I have seen these guys a few times, I never fully appreciated them until this weekend.  Despite the fact that the weather had taken an obvious turn for the worst, their fanbase seemed unaffected as they danced and partied with the band regardless of the torrential downpour.  The clouds cleared and there was a break in the rain as I experienced this genuinely crafted live musical experience.  The guys opened with the upbeat vintage psychedelic sounding “Moetry in Potion”.  The Werks definitely play off the energy of the crowd—and there was plenty to go around as the boys moved into “Sweet Content” seguing organically into “Carry Me Back home” and back to finish “Sweet Content.”  These guys have so many influences and channel the best aspects from each while putting their own definitive and oh so unique twist on it.  I began to understand why everyone was dancing despite the glum weather:  it was because it is impossible not to dance to the electro-dance beats.   A definite highlight was “For Today”, a song that takes the listener in so many different directions they may leave your head spinning; and the closing hit “Duck Farm”, a funky drum and bass heavy tune filled with a plethora of jams. This Ohio based band balances perfectly improvational jams with more structured ones.  The Werks played a high energy set to warm the souls of those who braved the rain.  

The clouds cleared for the next act, and the five-headed behemoth of booty shaking known as Dumpstaphunk took the stage. As the band got started with “Britknee” it was apparent that rhythm section differentiates these guys by establishing its thick and swampy sound.  Funk is in these guys’ DNA as the band with its two bass players, three guitar players, a keyboardist and a drummer have a lineage connected to the Neville Brothers and the Meters. As they strode through another favorite “Everyone Want Some” it was obvious that the chemistry not only between the members of the band but between the band and the crowd was completely electric.  Those who were present were handsomely rewarded with a killer one-two punch of a funkified cover of David Bowie’s “Fame” that segued smoothly into Dumpstaphunk’s signature song “Put it in the Dumpsta”.

That combination enthralled the crowd as many were clearing out seats to make more room for dancing in front of the stage.  The extra space was needed as the guys moved onto “Meanwhile” and closed the show with “Water”, which was all too appropriate given the monsoon that had passed through just before the set.  Dumpstaphunk brought a little New Orleans up to the ribfest with their funk-infused fun filled set. These guys really know how to get the crowd involved in songs which sound like they could be playing off the balconies of the French Quarter, and the excitement of the set lingered in the air as the final act of the night took stage.

Finally moe. took stage just after the sun had set and the drinks had begun to flow.  Though moe. is constantly either in the studio or on tour, they are still always eager to take on new musical terrain; their set was a treasure trove of classics, new tunes and unexpected jammy detours.  It was a glorious affair that left the crowd enlightened by the band’s improvisational prowess. They opened with “Crab Eyes” and with the first familiar licks the crowd was set in motion and chanted along with all of the booms and the bangs.  Next, the guys moved to a well-known feel good “Nebraska” and though the song doesn’t allow for too many improv jams, it is always a crowd pleaser.

A new song “Pueblo” followed as bassist Rob Derhak laid down a funky foundation, echoed in a dark guitar riff under a psychedelic slide guitar. “Pueblo” has fit nicely into setlists as a launchpad for intricate jamming and creative segues.  Moe. then transitioned into “Timmy Tucker”, a classic which feels as though one is slipping on a comfortable pair of shoes every time I hear it—comfortable and pleasurable.  Next came a lengthy jam kindly reminding the fans why we love these guys, as they took the crowd through an elaborate “Head”>”Time Ed” > “Head”.  This combination perfectly illustrated just how unfathomable these guys are with their exploratory jams and seamless transitions. Moe. then took stage for an encore filled with two fan favorites “Captain America” and fast paced “Seat of my Pants”  both of which showed the band’s roots in classic rock and big guitars while allowing plenty of time for the band’s improvisational spirit to shine.

As Military Park cleared out for the evening, I couldn’t help but marvel at the amazing music and delicious food that had filled my weekend. The funk filled sets of Dumpstaphunk, the improv jams of moe. and the Werks, and the nostalgia of George Clinton and Eddie Money ensured for a memorable weekend.

Written By:  Kelly Burns and Mark Loveless

Edited By:  Rosemary A.W. Roberts, www.jamsplus.com

Photos By: Keith Griner

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