Festival Retrospective: Levitate

by on July 14, 2015

Posted in: Show Review

The Marshfield, Massachusetts, Fairgrounds are typically home to country fairs, agricultural exhibitions, and livestock displays, but for the third summer running they’ve been flooded by concertgoers for the Levitate Music and Arts Festival. I made the trek down to the site, about one hour south of Boston, to check out this budding event with a group of friends. The one-day festival is the brainchild of employees at the local Levitate Surf Shop, and though it seems to have garnered more and more attention each year, it retains a distinct and likeable small-town vibe. The fairgrounds are populated by two adjacent stages; a halfpipe, which saw plenty of use by skaters; food trucks; and a variety of mainly-Massachusetts-based vendors, selling wares ranging from tapestries to prints to hand-made, folding Adirondack chairs. Other interesting attractions included an on-site glass-blowing demonstration and a bone marrow donor sign-up station.

Levitate’s line-up was strong and cohesive, strung together by a focus on raw musicality and energy. It was undoubtedly party music, but not of the heavily-produced EDM variety—more like a rowdy folk festival. The list of bands included Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Galactic, Dr. Dog, and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, fusing genres from funk to jam to indie rock, and drawing a diverse crowd which included veteran Dead Heads, high school stoners, musically-minded families, and college kids weekending down from Boston.

As we piled out of our car and into the fairgrounds, Chris Robinson Brotherhood had just begun their set. I was mostly unfamiliar with their music, but after a few minutes weaving through the crowd, an older woman with long, gray hair placed her hand on my shoulder and informed me that CRB was “second only to the Dead” when it came to the live music experience. She happily told me a tale of her previous weekend at the jam forefathers’ Fare Thee Well concert in Chicago before sending me on my way to enjoy the remainder of CRB’s set, which included a satisfying blend of blues-rock number and drawn-out, Jerry-flavored guitar noodling. The performance guaranteed my future interest in the band.

Next up came Massachusetts-sourced group Stick Figure, playing a sunny, atmospheric blend of roots reggae and dub. Led by frontman Scott Woodruff, who resembles Shaggy from Scooby Doo, or any number of other stereotypical stoners, the band blanketed the fairgrounds with tropical island vibes. These guys did a commendable job of creating a textural ambience without losing the rootsy soul beneath.

Galactic arrived on stage at 6:30 to stir the crowd from their smoky reverie with a one-two punch of New Orleans jazz and funk. These talented musicians were joined, as per usual, by a guest singer—a New Orleans-based performer whose name I didn’t catch, but whose influence on the audience was undeniable. She got the whole crowd up and dancing with beautiful, gospel-esque vocals and a badass attitude to boot, all the while accompanied by Galactic’s grooving array of brass.

Things began to come to a peak as Dr. Dog took the stage. Being a long-time fan, and having seen a couple impressive performances from these indie rockers previously, I was absolutely chomping at the bit. Unfortunately, some audio issues marred the first couple numbers, and the band seemed tangibly off kilter, but they quickly regained their balance as the set progressed. Singer and bassist Toby Leaman threw himself completely at the mic, wringing every bit of emotion from his voice, and Scott McMicken delivered distinct, nasally, charming vocals alongside him. As in previous performances I’ve seen, Dr. Dog managed to deliver all the popish charm of their studio recordings while also rocking far beyond their conventional song structures.

The night closed out with an incredibly energetic performance from Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, drawing upon funk, jazz, and hip-hop influences. The sheer musicality of their performance cannot be overstated, with each and every note falling squarely into place. These were clearly veteran performers. Frontman Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews brought a very physical component to the show as well with an array of snappy dance moves. At times, it seemed as if he was physically interacting with, controlling, and manipulating the notes that escaped from his bandmates’ instruments, like a musical puppet master.

As Trombone Shorty’s set came to an end, I looked around and the success of the event was apparent on nearly every festivalgoer’s face—smiles all around. I would recommend that anyone interested in a homegrown, soulful day of music check out this event in future summers. Even though it’s likely to grow more and more with each passing year, it’s clear that the event’s organizers are interested in a subset of bands off the beaten path of the mainstream festival circuit—the sort of performers who exhibit raw musical talent, and who are guaranteed to get the audience up on their feet dancing.