Sometimes there are little gems buried within a festival trip. Maybe a friend’s house is close to the grounds and you can stop for a visit. Or maybe it’s in an area where you have strong sentimental connections. For Jammin’ On The Wolf — my first time up to this area of Northern Wisconsin — it was the last little bit of the drive. That last 40 minutes heading north on Wisconsin State Highway 55 before arriving at Raft N Rest Campground was two-lane road driving bliss. A rollercoaster of perfectly paved road — there wasn’t a straight stretch of more than 40 feet the entire way. It made me wish I could alchemy my Scion on the fly into a Subaru WRX, with a shitload of horsepower and a suspension system equipped to hug the insane turns and rolling topography. And the kicker was that this was perfectly timed with the sunset, complete with a misty fog hovering low over the Wolf River — which meandered in sync with the highway — all while the air was dense with moisture infused with an incredibly potent pine scent. The whole thing was pretty much perfect; this was the most fun I’ve ever had driving. This festival was definitely off to an excellent start… and I wasn’t even there yet.
Due to the ‘fuck it, why not?’ corollary, I decided to leave Chicago on Wednesday and get up to Wisconsin a night early. Sometimes the city feels like it’s closing in and fleeing on a whim is the only course of action. Wednesday night was quiet, exactly the kind of sanctuary I was looking for, and it set me up to meet my guests on Thursday morning. But the first guest that arrived on Thursday morning was rain. Lots of it. More on that later… My guests this weekend were none other than my parents (my first time ever festivaling with them) and my one of my best friends from high school (and he (Noah) had never been to a music festival before). So this weekend was set up to be a little different by design, a little more relaxing and vacation-like: there was quality time to spend with people I too rarely saw anymore and I took advantage of it.
One of the breaks in the rain was just long enough to cook these delicious ribs.
Rain at a festival can be a funny thing. This time around, instead of drenching us once good, it kept coming back, over and over again, all day long. It must have rained at least six separate times, each time proceeded by a brief & tantalizing bout of sunshine that led us on just enough to think it might stick around. The one thing this type of rain creates is lots of down time for drinking beer. And boy did we drink a lot of it. Noah and I even went down to explore the Wolf River since there wasn’t much else to do in the pouring rain. We brought a bag full of beer down to the river thinking we could float or swim and suck down beers in a nice aquatic environment. But when we got there, we found the stretch of the river close to the festival (less than a 10 minute walk) pretty damn treacherous. Slippery rocks lined the shore and there was nowhere easy to jump in. Not only that, but once we got in, the river was very shallow, never rising higher than mid-thigh. All in all, the river was pretty disappointing, but we still forged to the middle, double fisting beers, and experimented with howling at the rain gods to at least drench us in a wild storm while we were there. We got nothin. So we went back to the campground and proceeded to get fairly shithoused. Good day, good day.
People continued to trickle in with the rain on Thursday, but there still wasn’t a whole lot of them around by the time Brothers Rage played. These guys are always a lot of fun, bringing a rock n roll aggression that is sorely lacking in the jam festival scene. They have a really well-titrated chemistry that causes them to feel like a bigger band than they are. So it’s fitting that they can cover the band Rush so well, who is one of the most surprising ‘wait, they’re only a 3 piece?’ bands in history. Jeff Rainey played Alex Lifeson’s guitar parts from “Fly By Night” with force, meandering off course a bit to show off his shreddiness and establish Brothers Rage the hardest rocking band of the entire weekend before hardly anyone else played.
It seemed like the Brothers Rage set might be all the music we’d get for the night as the rain kept coming in wave after shitty wave. But somehow, Fifth World managed to squeeze a set in, though it was both delayed and eventually cut short. I’ve seen this band a number of times over the years and I’ve always felt like something didn’t quite feel right. But on this night, in this threat-of-rain situation, they really seemed to take the energy of the crowd and do something special with it. There still weren’t too many people out, but everyone at the stage was pretty much going crazy to the unique fusion of R&B, hip hop, and jam-funk. It’s always great to be surprised by a band, proving a previous judgement wrong, and that’s exactly what Fifth World did for me on this night.
The water came from the sky in spurts but stayed away long enough for a pretty decent set. Eventually the rain sustained and I finally made the decision to put my camera away and quit risking its life for a few drunken photos. I don’t remember a whole lot after this point, but I’m pretty sure I just fell into my tent and passed out like a reasonable human being. All in all it was a good first official night of the festival.