Global funk and hybrid electro dance collectives, intelligent urban R & B that treads the line between pop and actionable cultural theory, theatrical groove bands, reverent and costumed retro and general high-production freakishness writ large: This is the kind of music that has been favored at boutique and artier festivals like the Wassaic Project for a number of years. It is, in its fashion, party music for smarties who don’t necessarily want smarts infecting their party music or their fashion. It is framed with theatrical production elements and attire, both concealing and manifesting its academic underpinnings. It is how Brooklyn parties.
The Wassaic Project Festival – a flurry of hip music, dance, film and art that goes down for a single weekend amidst the estate-studded hills of way-eastern Dutchess County (you can taste Connecticut on the breeze) – is the annual crowning event of a yearlong arts initiative that is based out of a reclaimed and repurposed silo and auction hall. For its music programming, the Wassaic Project, like Kingston’s O+, presses several venues, traditional and otherwise, into service. The Lantern, a combo venue and pizzeria, handles the late nights; the Luther Barn and the Gridley Lawn host performers all day.
This year’s music lineup features 25 bands – not so much names you know as ones you may well know soon – for the Wassaic Project is curated with an eye toward tomorrow’s parties. These include a silky modern R & B outfit called 79.5 that has quite high online visibility but curiously little music to check out (but what there is is choice). It’s all anticipation with 79.5; they’ve been signed recently to the boutique, soul-focused Big Crown Records and we’re all waiting for the debut to drop. In the meantime, let me just say that their name, it turns out, has nothing to do with my high school cumulative average. Nothing at all.
Saturday is music day at the Wassaic Project Festival. There is one band at the Lantern on Friday night (the big, hot Latin jazz and dance collective Spanglish Fly) and a Sunday comedown with some gamelan music and Grammy-winning solo performer, kindie-rock sensation and former Del Fuego Dan Zanes.
But Saturday is packed to the gills: Brooklyn’s Breastfist serves some truly outré and irresistible freaky Minimalist funk. Brooklyn’s Mail the Horse plays a doctrinal bardic American roots-rock, entirely in love with Graham Parsons and Mick Taylor-era Stones. Brooklyn’s Phony Ppl’s retro futurism channels everyone from Stevie Wonder to the Roots; it is ultra-musical and very high-end stuff. Brooklyn’s PitchBlak Brass Band fuses bawdy backline and funky horn charts with old-school hip hop. Brooklyn’s People’s Champs were declared by Deli Magazine to be “well on their way to becoming NYC’s de facto funk and Afrobeat experience.” Brooklyn’s Lady Moon & the Eclipse is a multicultural six-piece collective that traffics in R & B/Afrobeat-influenced rhythms and lyrics that shed light on social issues. The hermetically retro, time-capsule string group Cole Quest & the City Pickers are not from Brooklyn; they’re from New York City.
Scheduled for the weekend of August 5 through 7, the Wassaic Project also features a full weekend of short films and documentaries, dance programming by eight jury-selected choreographers and well over 50 exhibiting artists in non-traditional spaces. For a full breakdown of this remarkably hip countryside arts festival, including band time slots and stages, visit http://wassaicproject.org. The Wassaic Project is located at 37 Furnace Blank Road in Wassaic.
Wassaic Project Festival, Friday-Sunday, August 5-7, 37 Furnace Blank Road, Wassaic; http://wassaicproject.org.