To hear Max Creek keyboardist Mark Mercier wax twinkling-eyed about the band’s long legacy of outdoor festivals, you’d think he was bequeathing a prized family heirloom to the green MTV generation.
With more Woodstock knockoffs brought to you by plastic corporate interests every year, it’s not hard to understand why authentic old-schoolers like Max Creek would want to preserve something of the real and raw dynamic they felt with their audience when it was summer, it was the ’70s and jam bands weren’t even a thing yet.
According to Mercier, the idea for Camp Creek — which takes over the Oxford Fairgrounds with four stages of music Friday through Sunday — came not from Woodstock, but from a series of oceanfront parties Max Creek used to play in Rhode Island. The camping area was set up around the dance area near the stage, and the band played what it wanted for as long as it wanted.
In 1983, Max Creek played a weeklong camping festival in a field at a saltwater farm in Bowdoinham, one of five Camp Creek events at that venue. Mercier, a native of South Portland, and his crew then took their fest to locations in New York and around New England.
The band and the festival are back in Maine after 23 years for good reason.
“It works well in Maine,” Mercier says, “because of the like-mindedness of people from Maine to our ideals. The genuine, common-sense, conscious approach to life that Maine people have falls right in line with where we are coming from: No defensiveness, no ego and no nonsense.”
Sure, there are more spit-shined music festivals to attend, but some still believe the best festival music floats over the crowd and encourages a soft camaraderie. Watch, don’t watch, groove along or drift away. The choice is yours.
Which is why jam pups like The Disco Biscuits regularly pay homage to the ageless Camp Creek, the fest that birthed the gentle groove. This cool, August breeze of an event feels fueled by tried and tested family values.
Mercier insists the past powerfully informs the present, and, in concert with ancient jam-band bylaws, John Rider (bass, vocals), Scott Murawski (guitar, vocals), Mercier (keys, vocals) and Scott Allshouse (drums, vocals) are much more interested in their connection to the audience than the cleverness of their performance.
Phish did not invent the magically remote, community-based, dancing tree experience. Max Creek did.
This year, the diversity in the Maine-heavy lineup will surely make for spicier stages than the flower-powered Camp Creek in Bowdoinham more than 20 years ago.
Dave Gutter is poised to lead both Rustic Overtones and Paranoid Social Club. Local rock royalty including The Lucid, The Mallett Brothers Band and Gypsy Tailwind, among many others, will drop heavy doses of hometown pride from multiple stages.
In a dark and wonderful diversion, latecomers to the lineup, Dead Season, are prepping to be the toxic burn in an otherwise smooth libation.
Maine came to play, and Max Creek couldn’t be more pleased.
“We know a lot of the other bands, and like to give them a real chance to be who they are,” Mercier said.
“I’m really looking forward to hearing and meeting Rustic Overtones, and know their music is great. Who knows, there might even be some inter-jamming interplay with a lot of these bands. That would be tremendous.”
Mike Olcott is a freelance writer who lives in Portland and Boston.