Phibstock: An Inaugural Experiment

July 27th - 29th, 2012
Hartsel, CO

Words, Photos & Video By Nicholas Stock

What began as a saucy conversation over beers in a bar manifested itself into a full-blown festival in the Rocky Mountains. Based in Hartsel, Colorado, Phibstock was an intimate gathering of few hundred likeminded music fans. With a lineup comprised entirely of local bands from this great state (many of which I have seen), it was more of an opportunity to camp in big sky country with friends than, to be exposed to new music. The community that sprung up around the festival was quite simply remarkable. The camaraderie and genuine kinship from people was tremendous.

-Friday July 27th-

Amy and I made the drive up on Friday morning arriving on the grounds at 1:00 pm. The drive in was down a gravel road that essentially leads to the middle of nowhere. Street signs marked grass infested tire tracks into the abyss. As we rounded the corner it was obvious we were at Phibstock. Tents dotted the hillside and perched across the valley was a small stage and a few vendors. It was the perfect setup for a clandestine event. We pitched our tent and relaxed before the first band. We struggled against some serious wind to set up a canopy but eventually gave up and chilled with our neighbors. It was a BYOB festival and the beer (among other things) was flowing. People seemed ready to tie one on even before the music started.

First on the stage was the Olora Brothers who got their name by taking the letters from the middle of Colorado. They are an acoustic-infused breath of fresh air. In fact they were one of my favorite acts of the weekend. Highlights from their set included an awesome “Deep Elum Blues” and a wonderful “Sympathy For The Devil.” During their set the sound cut out, but they kept on playing without missing a beat. They moved to the front of the stage and picked until the problem was fixed. A generator powered the sound and due to the fact that we were in God’s country there were some issues. Let me be clear minus this occurrence the sound was great for the audience. In fact the reverberation of the cliff wall across from the stage made for a natural amphitheater. The issue was in the monitors and it left some of the bands scrambling to dial in their instrumentation.

Frogs Gone Fishin was up next and they were a good time. Having seen them several times I was used to their brand of roots infused rock and roll. They played a sick version of “Shakedown Street” early in their set to draw in the crowd. Cars were still streaming into the campground as they jammed on. They played for over an hour as kids danced away the wind. They ended their set with “Sex Machine” into “Shaky Ground.”

After an extended set change, Springdale Quartet got the festival going strong with their powerful instrumental demonstration. They were definitely one of the local stalwarts on the lineup and an obvious favorite of mine. Their blend of jazz, rock, and funk is plainly something that has to be experienced by any true music lover in Colorado. Instrumental takes on “Say It Ain’t So” and The Gorillaz’s “Feel Good Inc.” were definite crowd pleasers. Every time I see them play I am so impressed with their ability to meld genres and instrumentation organically.

Taking the headlining slot Zobomaze 2.0 brought the heat as the night began to cool off. With new members Chaz Levinson on keys and Ryan Thrush on bass, they are back to a larger lineup and ready to kick ass again. They took some time off to get the new members up to speed, with Phibstock being one of their first shows with the full grouping. They are still young but sax player Zach Simms is showing his road worn experience, leading the show with his self proclaimed “Disortohorn.” Live Painter Skaddi again took center stage with his black light embellishments adding to the overall feel of the performance. They are firing on all cylinders again, which is nice to see. So often when a band is young it’s easier for them to fall apart with membership changes, this was not the case with Zobo at Phibstock. They played a great show, and I look forward to seeing how they progress with Chaz and Ryan.

The late night slot was reserved for Human Agency. Anchored by Jonas Otto on kit this electronic amalgamation is doing it’s best to distance itself from any jam-based categorization. They do so in how they are marketed as well as in how they perform. Blending layers of textured soundscapes they are much more akin to bands like Tortiose rather than STS9. They began their set with Zach Simms sitting in on sax. With their almost ethereal sound at times, they seem to be able to blend well with organic instrumentation. Later Ben Waligoske from Springdale Quartet would join them on guitar. They played well, but it was getting late and I had a big day ahead so I opted to crash out halfway through their night one closing set. They played until almost 4:00 am, which I could clearly hear from my tent.

-Saturday July 28th-

Day two began with the usual camp preparations and some coffee. My friend Dixie and I headed over to the disc golf tournament around 11:00 am. There was a large turnout, equaling over thirty entrants. Unfortunately barely half of that would finish all eighteen holes. Comprised of homemade baskets this short but technical course gave festival attendees a chance to get some exercise and have a little friendly competition at the same time. I started rough shooting four over on the first round, but hitting straight par the second time through. At over 9,000 feet in elevation, even the short hikes up hills were a good excuse to stop and have a beer. Dixie ended up winning the whole thing by shooting a respectable four under par.

The first band to take the stage on day two was Rastasaurus. Playing what they call “American Reggae” they are a melting pot of reggae, dub, rock, funk, and more. They were a stellar way to slip into the second day of Phibstock. I have been waiting to see these guys for months so I was very happy to see them on the bill. They are just smooth in everything they do. They crisp bass lines of Mark Ciccone really ties the room together and gives the rest of the band a spring board from which to jump. Early in their set they busted out an awesome take on Bob Marley’s classic “Iron Lion Zion.” If you are looking for a good time check these guys out next time they come around.

I ran back to my camp to get set for Dorian Vibe, when suddenly on ominous looking cloud streaked across the sky. The rain came down slowly at first leaving fans to wonder if this was just a passing shower. It was not. I took shelter in my tent with Amy as the wind and the rain tore our neighbor’s easy up to shreds. Dorian Vibe began their set, but was suddenly cut short when the weather really got out of hand. As the clouds parted I stepped outside and witnessed a festivalgoer to my right playing "Dizzy Bat." For those that don’t know (and I was one of them) "Dizzy Bat" is a game where you take a simple tee ball bat, cut off the end of it, fill it with beer, drink said beer, spin around with your head on the bat for as long as it took you to drink, and then attempt to hit a ball that is tossed at you from the sidelines. Obvious hilarity ensued as people frantically tried to drink and then spin. More than one cowboy took a tumble. I myself was able to clear the bat in eight seconds and hit the ball without falling down. Good times.

After an extended rain delay Jet Edison hit the mic with a shortened set. Jet Edison has been steadily building a fan base with their brand of musically affluent rock and jam sound. They played for just about forty minutes before they had to say their goodbyes, but they made good use of their time by playing tightly. At this point I would have to say that selecting only Colorado bands seemed to be working out for Phibstock.

Whisky Tango was next on the lineup and arguably played the best show of the festival. Having seen their name regularly on the bill at Quixote’s, I knew who they were, but I had yet to see them perform live. They were a bucket of fun playing a slew of their originals as well as covers of “Double Vision” and Ween’s “Bananas And Blow.” Everything about them was fun, even as the drizzle continued intermittently. Utilizing both acoustic and electric elements in their sound, it was easy to get the feeling that Whisky Tango could play absolutely anything.

Juno What took the festival headlining spot dialing in their sound as the sun was quickly setting. They struggled through monitor issues, mainly because their show is so reliant on sampling. If you are sampling and can’t hear, you are pretty much playing blind. Steve’s keyboard cut out several times. Despite their issues the sound on the floor was excellent. They did a jaw-dropping version of “Electric Avenue” which sent the crowd into frenzy. I took the opportunity to hike the cliff and watch them from above. Their set ended quickly barely reaching the hour fifteen mark. Dave and Joey are rumored to have gotten into it backstage, but details are sketchy as to why. I assume they were disappointed with the monitor situation, but again they sounded solid from the front.

Kicking off the late night festivities was Colorado electronic outfit Signal Path. Their deep grooves really resonated with the young crowd in attendance, playing until almost 2:00 am. As they were finishing their set, they gave a heartfelt thanks to the promoters of Phibstock. They were completely humble and it was refreshing to see after the Juno What debacle. Unfortunately as they were wrapping up their set, organizers were approached by firefighters who had been onsite all weekend. They were informed that there had been a noise complaint and that they would have to shut down the PA. I was amazed given the fact that we were in the middle of nowhere. The fact of the matter was that although all of the locals who stopped by were completely supportive, there was one neighbor who had given the fest flack from the beginning. She was a member of the local city council and she used her clout to throw a wrench into the mix. That meant that Signal Path was given a few more minutes to play, but the Magic Beans set would have to be scratched.

Many fans were disappointed but Phib and company were told that if they pressed on with the Beans the sheriff would be called and that would not have ended well for anyone. So with foresight for future events and the safety of attendees they yielded to the complaint. Even the firefighters who delivered the message thought it was bullshit. So the evening ended with kids gathered around the fire and a few acoustic instruments being passed around.

I would have to give the festival an A for effort and a B in execution. There were some sound issues for the bands that played, but again everyone sounded great from the front of the stage. The natural surroundings and relative remoteness all added in making this a memorable event. Looking ahead, across the street from the stage is an Alpine Valley sized hill that could accommodate a much larger stage and the room for camping is limitless. I hope that this is not the last Phibstock, as anyone who went could see enormous potential in the music and in the locale.

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