July 2, 2010

Nateva festival drawing huge crowd

Thousands of fans from across the region are gathering in western Maine for three days of music, partying and hanging out.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

OXFORD – The music is good, but the weather is better.

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Fans enter through the main entrance to see the band Umphrey's McGee today at the Nateva Music and Camping Festival.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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A sign hanging on a tent near the entrance to the main stage sets the mood for the three-day Nateva festival. Hundreds of campers have set up tents at the festival now under way at the Oxford Fairgrounds.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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The Nateva Music & Camping Festival got off to a rousing start today, with thousands of fans from across the region gathering at the dusty old fairgrounds in western Maine for three days of music, partying and hanging out.

The best advice came from the stage, with the sun blistering down on the shirtless masses. “The only thing I can say – sunscreen,” an emcee said, as he introduced Keller Williams to the afternoon crowd. “We’ve got three days of this coming, so be prepared.”

Frank Chandler, the promoter from Massachusetts who put the festival together, took it a step further, urging folks to bring empty plastic bottles today and Sunday so they can refill them with free water that is available throughout the concert site.

“Look, I want to make money. I want to sell everything. But I am more concerned that people stay healthy. Drink plenty of water,” said Chandler, noting that officials urged him to open an additional First Aid tent in case the heat overcomes more people than organizers anticipated.

Oxford Police Chief Jonathan Tibbetts said there no major public safety issues reported, and generally traffic was moving smoothly on Route 26 through town. “So far, we’ve had very few safety problems and very few health problems. We’re very pleased.”

The festival is expected to draw up to 15,000 fans each day to the Oxford Fairgrounds. It’s the biggest concert in Maine this summer, and one of the largest in the northern New England. About 5,000 people are camping at the fairgrounds, and thousands more set up tents nearby at the Oxford Plains Speedway. Throughout town, residents invited fans to camp in their yards for a fee.

Music fans began arriving Thursday afternoon, overwhelming organizers who were not prepared for the high early turnout. They were better prepared on today, moving swiftly to park fans at the speedway and then shuttling them on yellow school buses to the concert site, about three miles away.

More than 50 bands are scheduled to perform, including tonight’s headliner The Flaming Lips and Sunday’s closer, Furthur, which includes former Grateful Dead members Phil Lesh and Bob Weir.

Rob Davidson drove over from New Harbor to hear a bunch of bands, but he was mostly interested in hearing Furthur on Sunday. “We’ve been seeing the Dead since 1970. If they’re going to keep playing, I’ll keep coming.”

He and a group of about 20 family members and friends met in Oxford for the party. “The lineup is great,” Davidson said during a set by the Chicago jam band Umphrey’s McGee. “This is all the people on my CD player right now. This is a fantastic lineup.”

On the rock ’n’ roll circuit, these multi-band, multi-day festivals have become the rage, because they package dozens of bands that share similar influences and styles. The Nateva festival skews toward the jam-band culture, with a heavy shot of alternative rock mixed in.

Minicommunities  sprout up to provide support services for the folks who spend several days. There are dozens of food vendors, $5 showers, ATM machines, satellite stages in the campground and untold numbers of hawkers selling everything from T-shirts and stickers to freshly-squeezed lemonade and vegan meals.

The festival attracts mainstream fans and fringe elements. It’s also a bit of a freak show, with some guys walking around in skirts and a handful of women strolling topless. Pot odor is pungent.

Clearly, these folks came prepared to party. Several cars in the campground sported the words “Viva Nateva” written in temporary ink on the windows. They set up huge tents, and made the living quarters as comfortable as possible, with rugs, gas stoves for cooking and coolers packed with cold beer. Hard liquor was prohibited, but people are allowed to bring up to two cases of beer each.

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Additional Photos

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Tara "Earth" Murphy of Baltimore, Md., hula hoops during the Umphrey's McGee performance at the Nateva Music and Camping Festival in Oxford today.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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Festivalgoers soak up the sun and the music at the Nateva festival.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer


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