This recap was written by Sean Reinhart aka “Seanzo” (see bio below) who attended all three days of Farmageddon Fest in West Yellowstone, Montana July 20,21, & 22nd. All pictures are Sean Reinhart, with layout and editing of the recap by The Triggerman.
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So first of all, for all of you that couldn’t make it to the Farmageddon Fest, I’m sorry. Don’t worry though, since it went so well you will probably have another chance to catch it next year. But to give you an idea of what the music festival was like, this is the story of my experience down on “The Farm.”
All I can say is, it was the best four days of my life. The reality of what I was going to witness didn’t really hit me until driving through the festival gates. It was around midnight when we arrived Thursday night. The place was dark besides the brightly lit up stage. We got our wristbands and a bear warning then went to find our camping spot. The festival grounds were quiet except for a few party animals down the way playing loud drunken sing-alongs.
The next day I woke up in the unbearable sauna that was my tent, and made my way to the main stage by noon. The first grand performance I got to see was the bold and the beautiful Molly Gene and her One Whoaman Band. The familiar feline growls always strike a primal appreciation for the blues. Then the Howling Wolf-like vocals really slap you in the face until your jaw drops to the ground. It that sounds like the kind of blues that came right off the chain gang but on turbo mode.
Next up was the Shivering Denizens. If it weren’t for the accordion in the band I’d have taken these guys as a backwoods band from the Deep South. With songs like ‘Burn that old Shack Down’ I could see where their name came from. They all did seem to be shivering, and with each strum they seem to bounce up and down while strutting their necks like a group of chickens in a cockfight.
I soon found out that I could barley catch every other set in that mid-day heat. I kept having to take a break to save my energy and hydrate. But once I heard Carolina Still come on I rushed back over to the stage from our camp in the far corner of the festival. Their songs are all relative to good ol’ country traditions like taking care of the family, making moonshine, gambling, and having gun duals.
I had to take a nap after that so I missed Sean K. Preston and Thee Swank Bastards, but got up in time to see headliners Southern Culture on the Skids. For many people this band was the reason they came to the festival. They were also one of the most expensive bands to get on the bill. I had never listened to them myself. Though I thought they were going to be a little too mainstream for my liking soon changed my mind with their Americana blend of country swamp rock.
Saint Christopher was up next to through a wrench in the gears for those who came for traditional country music. With a punk rock edge and narrative vocal style he is one person that truly speaks for rebel culture as a whole. He’s not so much root’s music in sound but in the sense of it all, the angst and the passion in his music is how early blues came about. To follow up along those same lines came some of the legends of punk rock, Sean Wheeler from Throw Rag with Zander Schloss from the Joe Strummer days and bands like Circle Jerks. They threw together a terrific set including everything from punk to folk, country and ragtime.
By that time the night was full blown, and to top it off was Tales from Ghost Town. He threw down some impressive country punk blues and after that point I thought the night was over. But no, Danny Kay had to show up late and then really rock the socks off the place. I passed out after that but apparently Sean K. Preston and Cutthroat Shamrock continued rocking around the camps into the night.
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I woke up even more unpleasantly on Saturday than the day before. After getting a good hearty breakfast and town and re-uping on beer, I was ready to go around the time McDougall came on stage. Seeing this guy is more like a spiritual experience than a concert. He’s not a pretentious preacher man per se but more of a humble messiah who has seen the light. He’s got the force of a fully loaded gospel choir packed into a one-man band. Each song seems to take you on an adventure, like you were hopping a train boxcar at night. You feel the darkness but at the end of the song you feel relieved to have made it through the night’s journey and you feel joyful to greet the next day’s sunrise. Yes most of his songs are travelin songs but they’re not your average travelin songs that make you long to hit the road and do what you hear in the lyrics. They actually make it seem like you were there. From Irish banjo tunes to rock-your-face-off folk songs McDougall never ceases to amaze me.
Up next was another one-man band by the name Phillip Roebuck. He put on yet another fabulous display of musical multitasking. With his kick dumb on his back, attached to ropes tied to his feet he could also play guitar and harmonica at the same time making a powerful sound that makes you feel alive and want to get shit done. It was going to take a lot for me to be impressed after McDougall but surprisingly I was.
The lovely Izzy Cox came up next with a band backing her though I’m at a loss of words on how to describe the set besides beautiful, eerie and a dab of old fashioned tasteful risqué. The talented duo Whiskeydick also took it away with a rough and rugged display of outlaw country. Their game consisted of kickin’ ass and takin’ names, drinkin’ whiskey and chasin’ dames. All you really need to know about this band is in the name.
From there it just kept getting rowdier. The ill and insane Black Eyed Vermillion got everyone’s blood pumping and even started a mosh pit. With rockabilly punk rock attitude they certainly fit the bill and got the job done right. They finished off the set with a song that always gets me going with the lyrics, “Good bye to my friends and my lovers. Goodbye to my enemies as well. You all brought out the worst in me, you also made me stronger so goodbye, good luck and go to hell.”
Next singer/songwriter Graham Lindsey came on stage to mellow everyone out. Not only is he a great musician, but he is one of the hardest working man behind the scenes. The festival couldn’t have gone so smoothly if it weren’t for Graham. Aside from running around the place making sure things were in order, he was on stage thorough most of the festival playing with other musicians. It goes without saying his set was terrific. Accompanied by his wife Tina, he sang beautiful songs of desperation and heartbreak. His sound is solemn and sorrowful, yet soothing and soulful. He has the ability to draw the crowd in with his dark and twisted googily eyes then lifts up their hearts like a saint while interchanging yodels and yells, banjo and guitar, harmonica and of course steel brush drum strokes by his other half. Oh and did I mention the man’s got better poetry than any musician I’ve listened to?
Next was James Hunnicutt, warming hearts and belting out notes few other men can reach. The big teddy bear was looking a little more scraggly than the last time I saw him with his slicked back hair but he still made an impression on everyone there. His style ranges from waltz songs like ‘To Wait Here and Want You till I Die’ to cabaret-esque songs like ‘Bad Girl’ country-folk songs like ‘One Last Kiss’ to punk rock songs like ‘Hybrid Moments’ by the Misfits. Aside from his music Hunnicutt always has very inspirational things to say. When he did Hybrid Moments with Nicole Pike you could feel the emotion like a freight train behind it as they sang their hearts out trying not to laugh and cry and the same time. Out of any musician I’ve ever talked to, no one is as sincere as Hunnicutt.
J.B. Beverley was the act I was looking forward to most. I heard him once through an elevator shaft at a restaurant I was cooking at in Livingston, MT but I’ve never had a chance to see him. However I remember thinking to myself that it was honestly some of the best country music I’d ever heard. Needless to say I had high expectations for J.B. at farm-fest and he exceeded them.
And just when I thought it just couldn’t get any better here comes the biggest name of the festival, Shooter Jennings came to take it away. I can’t say I was a big fan before hearing him there but that’s just because I wasn’t familiar with much of his music. Nonetheless, I was anything but disappointed with what I heard. The fact that he was accompanied by the “Farmageddon Boys” including James Hunnicutt, Jayke Orvis, and J.B. Beverley sure didn’t hurt either. Seeing my favorite musicians on stage all together just having a good time was worth every cent I paid for the ninety-dollar ticket.
Next up was Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. Wow. From seeing Slim falloff the stage to be smothered by the crowd to being mesmerized by the ghoulish Jay Munly summon the ghost of Hank Williams, all I can say is the performance gave me the chills. Those boys were ridiculously good. After that shell shocking performance it was time to get crazy with the devil’s son himself and his band of outlaw carnies. Bob Wayne was the name. Playing mean old country music like juggling blood and fire was the game. Wayne even had to apologize for some of the Outlaw songs he sang. He even offered his own guitar to Farmageddon owner Darren before playing the songs “Mack” and “Everything’s Legal in Alabama”.
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Sunday finally arrived and I felt barley alive. My throat was charred, lungs swollen, skin sunburnt, joints achy, and my feet was sore. But my heart was still pumping with adrenaline and I couldn’t be happier to be where I was. Our shantytown of tarps was barley holding up from all the wind that weekend was quite a sight. One festival goer’s tent was flipped over while he lay passed out next to it. Beer cans, cigarette butts, empty whiskey bottles and moonshine jars were scattered throughout the camps. The outhouses down the way reeked to high heaven. And everyone stunk just as bad, wearing odd sunburns caked with dirt sporting band T-shirts and Farmageddon memorabilia.
I went to the stage around the time The Perreze Farm was finishing up, also a very impressive show if you get the chance to see. Highlonesome was getting ready to play next. I only recognized two of the band members though, the singer and drummer. That band is always changing, but I thought the two new additions did the group justice. Ol’ burly Noah belted it out as usual and the ecstatic drummer played with an awesome amount of energy.
A guy by the name of Soda Gardocki was up next. Soda open his mouth I was enthralled by the raspy montage of soul and desperation. It was like Bukowski and Tom Waits morphed into one. You could see a rich history behind his tired eyes and sense the blissful remembrance of old blue skies in his poetry. Between songs he would lighten the mood by telling jokes in between sips and cigarette drags. I liked the fact that he was brutally honest about himself, bringing up his past and present various additions, the ‘eins’ as he called them. He also really tugged on the heartstrings when he played a drinking/love song he wrote with his grandmother. He called up the saw girl whom he met in New Orleans, a fiddle player named Lauren. Then Izzy Cox came up to play their rendition of “St. James Infirmary Blues”. The beautiful eeriness give me chills that reverberated through my bones for the duration of the entire song. I was absolutely mesmerized. My heart grew cold but my soul grew warm, and all I could say was “whoa”.
After that I went back to camp to take a breather. I missed the Ugly Valley Boys play but the great thing about farm-fest is no matter where you were you could still here the music. I sat back in my chair humming along to the song “I don’t feel alright now, but maybe someday.” I walked back over the stage once I heard “Traveling Kind” being sang by Tom Vandenavond. He played a priceless set with the Calamity Cubes and Jayke Orvis. At one point they all got done on the ground and played as the crowd consumed them. Then the Calamity Cubes got back on stage to play their own set erupting with a sound of raw country roots blues. It was really an accumulation of everything backed by the reverberation of the lead singers deep melodic vocals.
The next act had a little different edge. Filthy Still got up and electrified the crowd with their own flavor of punk rock bluegrass. The crazy fast pace was enough to kick your ass and melt your face. All you could do was bang your head and stomp your feet in one place while the band rocked harder and harder on stage. And then it was Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy’s turn. All I can tell you is they played with an intense raw power of old time music and if you haven’t heard of them I suggest you check them out.
I was spent after that string of acts so I went back to camp to take a break, which meant I missed Eerie Von. But it was gonna be a long night so I needed the rest. Besides, I was about to see the man who helped start Farmageddon with his first album, Jayke Orvis. What to say… The man had a striking style unlike anyone else. Though he seemed to be trying to hide it he was obviously having too much fun up there on stage, playing depressing songs like “Feelings Like This” to chipper old traditionals like “Shady Grove”. I’d say he was impressive for not only playing steadily well for each set that he joined in, but for making his own an act to remember.
I have to tip my hat to all the ladies that got on stage and preformed. I already mentioned Molly Gene and Izzy Cox, but I forgot about the sexy violinist Liz Sloan. She played in seemingly every band over the weekend. And she seemed to be enjoying herself thoroughly in each heartfelt set. She kept her rhythm with ease for each song, swaying gracefully, rocking her knees, and tapping her feet. I remember at one point she closed her eyes tilted her neck back and seemed to be playing in pure ecstasy.
So after 4 long and unforgettable nights it was time for the bloody cherry on top: The Goddamn Gallows. They slowly eased into the grand finale by showing off their side projects first. The Pereeze Farm and Fishgutz and his Arrogant Band all played earlier in the day, and Mikey Classic’s solo performance did the job in preparing us for the Goddamn Gallows main set. Seeing a Gallows show is like having the spirit of a hundred demons summoned to jump into the crowd’s souls making them jump around like crazed Hooligans as the band plays. They somehow make you feel astonished and disgusted at the same time while performing circus acts on stage. Most of all they just melt your face, then keep rocking what’s left it right off. Usually it’s a test of both stomach and stamina. But all in all you’ll never see a band quite so exhilarating.
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Well, I think that’s everything. There’s so much that I missed, left out or don’t remember that I’m afraid this lengthy review is still inadequate but at least it’s something. I hope my rants might give you some insight on what it was like to be there in my shoes.
But surprisingly through all the drunken shenanigans that went down, nothing got out of hand. People were usually on their best behavior. There were a few close calls. At one point someone let off a firework. They didn’t catch him but luckily no fires were started. There were few complaints, not even from some of the West Yellowstone townsfolk who were scared to death to let the thing go on.
I don’t even think there were any fights, even with all the different groups of people there. I mean you had young crusty punk kids covered with tattoos hanging out with old conservative folk and there were no problems whatsoever. The Best part about it, is that it didn’t matter who you were, whether you were a hippie or a redneck, a tattooed metal head or a conservative country lover, or whether you liked to party or if you chose to remain sober. Everyone got along.
All in all it was a successful festival in the sense of safety and stellar performances. And the kicker of the whole ordeal was that ones putting it on even made a little money. So hats off to the farm-family. I’ll see you all again next year. And I have a feeling that it’s going to be even bigger and better than this one. Anyway I’m finally done rambling. Goodbye, and good luck!
Seanzo, over and out.
There is a 5 CD box set of the recordings from Farmageddon Fest plus a merch package available for pre-order at newrootsorder.com.
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Sean Reinhart Bio
My name is Sean Reinhart. Sometimes I go by Seanzo. I’m an ex-journalism student of the University of Montana. I grew up in Livingston Montana, a small town made up of bars, coffee shops, art galleries and churches. Growing up I noticed there was a split between hicks and hippies in my town, but I would say I’m a little bit of both and have always hated the division between the two. That is the reason I suppose I love music because it brings people together as human beings despite which category they fall into. I can’t say I’m a musician myself but I do some work with the pen. I began my writing career when I became a high school intern at a local newspaper by the name of the Livingston Weekly. My work there encompassed many things but to name a few I had my own column in which I would mostly rant about growing up in small town and various other life experiences. I was also assigned to review local music scene, which for us youngsters consisted of mostly punk rock. That was our roots that united and gave us something to stand for that was bigger than ourselves.