Saturday 30 August 2014

Hoverfest 2014 Festival by Ben Ianuzzi

Ben from Mountain God here.

The whole purpose of this piece is to give readers a sense of what Hoverfest 2014 was like, how Mountain God got there, and how the event came together. Additionally, rather than give a minute by minute account, I’ll take the risk of getting pretty personal to show you all just what this event meant to our band.

For those of you who don’t know, Hoverfest was a single day festival held in Portland, Oregon on August 23rd, 2014. The event included such acts as Mountain God, Holy Grove, Wounded Giant, Eight Bells, Witch Mountain, Acid King, DANAVA, and Yob. The impetus for the show was to gather bands and friends together in one setting, all of which/whom were connected by the genre of doom/sludge/stoner rock, or to brilliant amp builder Nial McCaughey of Hovercraft Amplifiers. The event was an absolute, rousing success, with huge props given to Todd from Cravedog Entertainment, the legendary Billy Anderson, as well as Nathan Carson from Witch Mountain and Nanotear Booking.

A little background….

While this piece isn’t intended to give a complete story of Mountain God necessarily, readers should have a touch of information about whom we are so as to provide context for how we got to Hoverfest (have faith, you’ll see how everything will unfold…). Mountain God’s story began in May of 2012 when Ian Murray (drums) and I (vocals, guitar) got together to jam. I had decided the previous fall that I wanted to get a doom band off the ground, and when I couldn’t find players in the suburbs I opted to make the hour trek weekly into Brooklyn, where there is fairly awesome underground scene. Ian and I found one another through craigslist and instantly hit it off, with him adding killer drums to the riffs I had written previously. The band’s lineup was finalized that August with the addition of Nikhil Kamineni (bass, engineering) and Jon Powell (keys). We put out one EP called “Experimentation on the Unwilling”, and have a second tentatively called “Forest of the Lost” ready to be mastered. While our lineup has changed due to the travails of work and schedule, Mountain God is still going strong as a three piece with the addition of Dickler Dialogue on drums. They are all such great people, past and present members alike, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed creating music with them.

Hovercraft Amplifiers…

Right around the time MG started recording our first EP, New York was blasted by Hurricane Sandy. Our studio in Gowanus was pretty much washed away, with both Nikhil and Jon losing the vast majority of their gear. I remember looking at a pic of a collapsed wall inside the space and thinking, “we’re done”. I was devastated for them, as they collectively lost in the neighborhood of 15,000 dollars worth of gear not to mention the destruction of their facility. Many bands and studio owners had their livelihoods taken by this act of nature.

Mountain God regrouped, finding a new space in DUMBO, and temporarily using my own subpar gear that I pulled out of my apartment living room. Now, I can’t remember what particular day it was exactly, but I distinctly recall Nik uttering the word Hovercraft in response to what the hell we were going to do. He had been surfing the net and came across Nial McGauphey, who at the time had just started his company and had been putting his amps up for sale. Nik raved about the sound and talked about the innovative nature of how Nial would use recycled parts to create these beautiful, vintage sounding tube amps that easily could take on any Marshall, Orange, Matamp or Sunn.

So, Nik bought a cool looking orange Falcon for a totally affordable price and we eagerly awaited its coming. When it arrived and was fired up, we were blown away by what came out. It was no different than hearing that first chord or sound off of a great transformative album….we just sort of knew that these were the amps that were going to define our tone. For me personally, it rivaled and in many ways surpassed any head I had ever played. We got hooked across the board. Sure enough, we currently own multiple Falcons, Dwarvenauts, and a single Baltar for bass. It also doesn’t hurt that Nial is easily one of the most knowledgeable builders in the field, and incredibly fun to interact with. His passion for the craft of amp making and music in general is refreshing given our world of cookie cutter, poorly designed products and mass consumers who only want the cool, hip thing regardless of quality.

Hoverfest 2014….

This past spring, after ordering the Baltar, I was sitting on my couch in front of my laptop and randomly asked Nial if he had ever thought about holding a festival, representing all the bands that used his gear. He said yes, that it was something that he would love to work on. Having put the conversation out of my mind, I was struck a few months later when Nial and Nathan Carson followed up with our band and told us about Hoverfest. They finished by saying that they held an opening spot for us if we wanted it. I was pretty taken aback, even more so when I found out whom we would share the stage with. While it made absolutely zero financial sense, as often happens in this industry, it was decided quickly within the ranks of the band to spend a few days in Portland and play this show.

Most squares, those soulless cadavers that walk the streets each day with only thoughts of money, conformity, and keeping up with the Jones’ can’t understand this concept. I ran into a few of these types in the weeks preceding our little adventure, those mundane characters who say things like, “travel all that way for 30minutes of playing??? How do you even know anyone will be there to see you at noon???”

It’s true that the trip literally cost thousands and none of us in MG are particularly wealthy. For us, though, sharing a stage with Yob and all of the other awesome bands on the bill means far more than having a few extra bucks lying around in the old bank account. Money can be made again, but opportunity doesn’t always knock twice. It’s not everyday that someone gives a band the chance to play with genre definers like Witch Mountain and Acid King, with their wealth of experience, hard work, sweat, and devotion to music so paramount. For us, the chance to share the stage with these giants was never a real question. Not to mention meeting the man who helped MG find its sound, tone, heart, and soul through the production of the most badass amps around. Not to mention working with Billy Anderson. Not to mention meeting new, awesome people who like to go to festivals to listen to the kind of music we play and enjoy. No brainer.

Experimentation On The Unwilling cover art

The Festival….

Rather than give a blow by blow account of the whole show (which would be difficult anyway due to the great amounts of PBR’s finished with spiced rum that I drank after our set) I’d much rather hit some of the high points, to give readers an idea of what it felt like to not just play, but simply be there on the grounds.

a) The bands.

I’ve never, in my whole life of playing music, ever encountered a group of more humble, kind, and interesting people playing in so many great bands. There were no egos, no walls between artist and fan, and a sense of camaraderie that quickly shined brightly over the venue. Simply put….everyone was so fucking nice. The music was incredible all day. Yob’s cathartic, epic riffs, the serenity and power of Andrea Vidal’s voice (Holy Grove), and the virtuosity of DANAVA’s chord progressions were all things that immediately stood out. I could go on and on about every single act.

b) The venue.

The show was held in an alleyway behind Cravedog, which gave the show a very intimate feel. There was a beer garden, several food trucks doing catering, and a merch booth for people to purchase albums, shirts and other cool band related stuff. Turnout was awesome. Even when MG went on at about 12:20, there were easily 50 people in the audience, and I’d surmise that by the end of the show 400-500 people were in attendance. I also felt very taken care of by the promoters, a level of respect that was so uplifting. Todd allowed bands to hang out in the Cravedog office, which was filled with snacks and the aforementioned treasure trove of PBRs (and I believe I mentioned spiced rum?) Pizza was ordered for all of us, with bands and event organizers meeting, sharing stories, telling jokes, and talking shop.

c) The gear.

For musicians, I think it is safe to say that gear collecting can be an obsession. When we arrived at the venue, there were about 15 or so Hovercraft half stacks, each one being unique and available to play on stage. That was fucking cool. Thank you Nial!!!

d) The fans.

Everyone was in good spirits, chatting, enjoying beverages (and possibly other substances, but I’m not sure I can totally speak to that…) and quality time with other people who equally enjoy music. There was a lot of love and respect in the air, something I’ve never really felt on the same level at a rock festival.

e) Portland

.is a very cool city. Great beer, tasty food with lots of vegetarian/vegan options as well as great swathes of meat for those that choose to embrace a more carnivorous nature. I personally had never been to Portland or the west coast for that matter, so it was a fun and new experience for me.

f) Nial…

is a fucking genius. If only the world had more people like him, artists and creators who are willing to put themselves and their art out there, society would be a far more interesting place. Our band got a chance to hang with him at his home, as he barbequed up all sorts of meats and vegetables. It was quite good, and I managed to sneak into the conversation that it would be great to have a 2x12/1x15 Hovercraft cab to go with my Emperor of the same caliber.

Final Thoughts…

For a new, underground band like ours, playing Hoverfest was a dream come true. We work pretty hard and take our music seriously, so to see everything pay off felt joyous. On a personal level, I had one singular moment that stands out more than any other. Those that are “too cool for school” so to speak may find it a bit lame, but I’m going to recount it anyway, regardless of how I’m perceived, to answer the question posed earlier by the squares, the one that goes, “why would you spend thousands to go all the way out there to play for 30minutes???

After our set I was totally shot, soaked in sweat, and frankly, unsure of how we sounded. For those people that don’t play, music sometimes can sound very different on stage than it does to the crowd, particularly when playing outside. So, as I gathered my gear and started carrying guitars back to the rental car, my mind wandered with thoughts of apprehension. If you’re an artist and not constantly thinking about whether your work is being presented accurately, you’re probably not a real artist anyway.

After throwing the gear in the car, I made a bee line back to the stage area to find the guys, my wife, and something cold to drink. That’s when Mike Scheidt came walking by on the other side of the lot. With Yob being one of my favorite bands, I waved, said hello, and was sort of leveled when he rapidly made his way over to me. Believe it or not, I really had no idea what I was going to say exactly, despite knowing for months that it was more than likely that I’d get a chance to meet him along with many other musicians. I conjured up something along the lines of, “I’m a fan” or something in that vein. Mike gave me a firm handshake and simply said, “you guys sounded great”, and went on for a few seconds about the performance. We talked for a bit and eventually shared a space in the merch booth, at which point I got to meet Aaron and Travis at different points in the day. One probably can imagine how surreal this was for me.

Lame? Maybe. Idol worship? Possibly. The way I see it….one of my favorite bands thought our little underground band was good. And ya know what? Maybe some other people at Hoverfest thought we were OK as well. And that, in closing, speaking for myself, is one of the coolest things about travelling all the way across the country on a financially ridiculous trip to share a stage with bands that you admire and respect. Cause maybe, just maybe, people will end up respecting your art just as much as you respect theirs.

So, thank you to Nial, Nathan, Billy, Todd, all of the bands, and all of the people that came out to make Hoverfest what it was. I can honestly say that playing this festival was as transformative, spiritual, and uplifting as any other experience in my life. Thank you all.

If you were at Hoverfest, I would highly recommend that you post some comments here about your experience, reach out to the bands via social media, or contact any of the people I mentioned here to stay thank you. I’m tired of so many shitty things in our society getting praise. Let’s for once praise something that deserves praise. Or if you’d rather, spend some time posting ridiculous cat videos which will get 1 million hits on You Tube. Your choice.

Written by Ben Ianuzzi

I want to thank Ben for writing this awesome article on Hoverfest. Thanks Ben.

Check Out Mountain God from the links below