Monday, August 23, 2010

Review of Maine Vocals' Hempstock Aug 19-22

HEMPSTOCK in Harmony, ME! Hosted by Maine Vocals!

Hempstock is a celebration of marijuana culture that has been happening annually for more than a decade. Put on by Maine Vocals, Maine’s primary grassroots marijuana activist organization, you can’t miss what this festival is really all about. From Captain Joint, to the plants on stage, people everywhere at Hempstock are blatantly standing up for their rights. Marijuana prohibition is ridiculous, unjust, profoundly unconstitutional and this festival is one way Maine activists can join together and be proud of their values and make a stand against failing laws.

Hempstock has a proud history in Maine. That all being said, no one can escape it; attendance is seriously down at this festival. It is not obvious why this might be… it’s only recently still that Maine Vocals split from Harry Brown’s farm, so maybe it is due to the fame of the Starks location. Maybe it’s the economy. Maybe it’s the remote Harmony, ME location or the music selection? Whatever it is, it’s a damn travesty, because the people that put on Hempstock are fighting for a right many of us take for granted everyday… the right to smoke marijuana.

The location at Harmony may be remote, but if you haven’t yet, you should really see it. The field is big, flat (such nice camping compared to a steep slope!) and the secret that few actually realize… there is another field just as big and connected to the main festival area by a short dirt road. By short I mean a very short, enjoyable walk. The potential for this festival to grow and fill both fields is limitless… as I walked the road I could just picture the Shakedown Street that could form there; the vendors that could line that road, it would be incredible!

My main criticism of the festival was their music choices. The few bands that stood out were real gems, but the rest were pretty much just cover bands. It really felt endless after a while. I heard three or four covers of Bill Wither’s Use Me, and so many Grateful Dead covers (not even by the Grateful Dead cover band) that it really got old quick. For the people who go to festivals mainly for the music, it’s a real turn off. However, I do have to reiterate the few bands really worth seeing were excellent. Following is a short summary of a few of those great bands.

The first show that WLSB caught was Soul Robot. We knew we loved these guys from their show at The Dime last year… really talented musicians. The dueling guitars in many of the songs seemed to challenge the guitarists to greater heights, bringing out some seriously sick jams. They played quite a few covers like I Know You Rider and Fire on the Mountain by The Dead and Back on the Train and Down with Disease by Phish. Lots of Phish and Grateful Dead. I often find myself wishing for more originals, yet I cannot deny that these guys do what they do so ridiculously well that I think I really enjoy it just as much. My main complaint; this show was relatively similar to the one I saw at the Dime. These guys are great musicians, but I would like some more originals, and maybe for them to mix the covers up a little bit more.

That night (Friday) included Supernaut, a Black Sabbath Tribute band. The band was really solid, but the vocalist was pretty rough on quite a few of the songs. These guys were fun though, and I do have to say the singer can pulling off a flying leap with some serious style.

The next show was New York Funk Exchange. We were a little bit concerned at first about a female singer, but really felt she held her own and we really dug most of her songs. She had a great voice, and was good at belting it out when needed, and then letting the band really represent when it was time for that. These guys started off a bit slow, but they were a lot of fun and really represented the funk genre well at this festival. They did seem to take a while to warm up, starting off fairly structured and not doing a lot of jamming, but in the end they loosened up and each musician really got a chance to shine. Don’t kid yourself, these guys weren’t just good for the Northeast funky style, they were damn good.

Their second set on Saturday was even more playful. They were more jammy, with more spacey riffs and jazzy references. They really laid down on Stevie Wonder’s Keep On and Higher Ground. All the musicians proved on Saturday that they are seriously tight and talented, separately, and together. The bassist may have stuck out to me the most, just because it was quite apparent that he was having a great time ripping his bass apart! Other covers included Bill Withers and James Brown. Congrats NYFE, we were impressed.

Big Rhythm Wine has a rep at these festivals. These guys have been playing Hempstocks and Harvestfests for as long as I can remember. They are a “Grateful Dead Experience” band, but they really transcend the Dead sound into their own unique understanding. At this show they played a lot of older stuff, including some slower songs, so in my opinion it wasn’t the best late night show… but they really are great musicians and have a great way of invoking the old days. Especially when they play a marijuana activism festival like this… it becomes even more of a genuine GD experience. Unfortunately, their second set Saturday night was rained out… so we didn’t get another chance to really assess these guys.

Most of the day Saturday we recall hearing cover after cover… quite a few talented musicians really ripping it on stage, but after a while the cover thing does get old. However, festivals like this are a great place for local musicians to get on stage and get a chance to be appreciated for their music, and we do appreciate that role. Two of our favorite shows of the weekend were Saturday night though, and they really represented the true feeling, solidarity, and cohesion Hempstock in Harmony has the potential to be. The first was Prof. Louie and the Crowmatix. These guys were awesome. Buddy Cage, the slide steel guitarist of New Riders of the Purple Sage, came on stage and played a bunch of songs with these guys.

The accordion player, Prof. Louie, was excellent and at one point he and Cage and the guitarist of the Crowmatix got into a crazy guitar vs. slide guitar vs. accordion battle that was outstanding… I have never heard an accordion used in such a way! All three instruments so elevated and wonderful sounding…. I didn’t know an accordion could wail like that. They played covers of The Band, Dead, Dylan, and some great originals too. Our only criticism; their original Century of the Blues was good, but the sound effect on the keys was a little cheesy, we think they could have chosen something with a little more soul and a little less electronic. All in all though these guys were awesome and were definitely one of the high points of the festival for us.

The highest point of the festival was Gent Treadly with guest Buddy Cage. These guys are wild. One of my favorite aspects, after their ridiculously incredible sound, was how the bassist of Gent spoke about Hempstock. I think the importance and real point of the festival was sort of over my head the whole festival. But when Gent spoke about how long he has been coming to Hempstock, about how fucked our marijuana laws are, and how much Maine Vocals has done to work to change the current state of marijuana laws, it was then that I really felt some solidarity with the whole mission. In between acts Jon Pothead of Maine Vocals did a lot of serious and intelligent speaking about changing laws and activism, but Gent’s emotionality and connection with the festival really got me. Calling the laws “obtuse” and “fucked up” and just praising Don and all of Maine Vocals for all their hard work, I think he really got the attention of a lot of festival-goers. Of course, that could also be due to the fact that seconds before this speech he had completely rocked your face off with his nasty bass riffs… but either way, he had our attention.

The band as a whole was so powerful and playful; the bassist and guitarist did a lot of intensive back and forth playing while the drummer really held down some intricate, tight rhythms. Also, the guitarist’s voice was awesome. Prof. Louie came out and rocked the accordion with them and Cage’s unendingly ambient and otherworldly slide completed the deal. These guys were amazing. I have never heard a bassist play so many different styles all in a single song; slap, funk, slide, and pickin it… in every single tune. The man is so in tune with his bass it literally looks as natural as an arm or leg on him. They were all shredding one second, breaking it down into an ambient, encompassing jam the next, and then totally whippin’ out the funk and getting you dancing again. And again, they were all so in tune with what the festival was all about… they were really easy to identify with. People really came out of the woodwork for these guys and I’m glad… if you have never heard Gent Treadly before…. Check these guys out. Covers included Superfly, Zappa, and Dead.

To wrap it all up
… start going to Hempstock guys. It’s all about solidarity, freedom, and marijuana activism. Music was touch and go, but as I said the few gems that were there were more than worth the money. As is the freedom to be peaceful and smoke. As for those of you who are hardcore Harry Brown Farm fans… me too. Just, make sure you fit in one festival at both locations; each has something different to offer and it’s really worth supporting a good cause, good tunes, and good times.

Visit to check out more upcoming festivals in Harmony, or for information regarding medical marijuana in maine, petitions, etc!

For more pictures from the festival (and to 'Like' us! :)), visit our facebook page- The Way Live Should Be

Pictures taken by Kim Morrison and Tyler&Heather Omand
Written by Heather Omand
Edited by Kim Morrison


  1. I agree that marijuana laws are ridiculous. But I disagree with the suggestion that Maine Vocals is the primary organization working to change them, or that the festivals in Harmony are somehow more linked to the marijuana reform movement than the festivals in Starks.

    Maine Vocals has done some good work in its day. But it was the Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative and Maine Citizens for Patients Rights that succeeded last year in passing Question 5 which for the first time provided medical marijuana patients in Maine with ways of getting safe and reliable access to their medication. Maine VOCALS attempted to sabotage this effort by organizing a campaign against the referendum.

    Since the election, MMPI and CPR have worked tirelessly to advocate for the rights of medical marijuana patients and caregivers, and have helped to launch Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine, a trade association for medical marijuana caregivers.

    The festivals at Harry Brown's Farm help to fund the work of MMPI and CPR and are organized by the same people who led these successful efforts to secure concrete changes that have made a real difference in the lives of medical marijuana patients.

    And Harry Brown himself has spent 20 years dedicating his time and energy and opening his farm to this movement.

    The festivals at Harry Brown's Farm always have been and always will be deeply connected with the struggle to change Maine's marijuana laws.

  2. I was at hempstock 2010. I wish they would adjust the times when some of the bands go on. why would they have the best bands start at 2 am. the last 2 bands were the best and only played for about 15 people due to the fact it was between 1:30 and 4 am.