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.

Many stayed close in the campground, choosing to commune quietly  with friends instead of joining the masses at the concert site. They tossed footballs and Frisbees, and jammed on guitars. Two stages are set up for campers, with bands playing into the early morning hours.

They came from all over the Northeast, and across the country. There were cars from as far away as Florida and California in the parking lot, and several fans made the trek from England.

Roliza Bartlett drove down from Calais today for the sole purpose of seeing her favorite singer, Jakob Dylan. He performed this afternoon, and Bartlett – who planned to drive back to Calais after the show – was dead center on the rail that separates the crowd from the stage.

She has seen him perform five times and has tickets to see him three more times this summer. Before the set began, Dylan’s manager reached over and gave her a bottle of water.

“It’s a great vibe,” she said. “And he’s not too bad to look at, either.”

Eric Hoke, a paralegal from Burlington, Vt., made the drive to see a buddy who plays drums in the Boston band Passion Pit, scheduled for tonight. But even if his friend wasn’t playing, Hoke said he probably still would be here.

“It’s pretty close to home, really. I like going to these festivals.  I try to make as many as I can, and this one worked out really well. It’s a long weekend, the Fourth of July, and the weather is great.”

Hoke bought a three-day pass on Craigslist for $175, which was about $75 less than what people paid at the gate for a weekend pass. He splurged and paid an additional $40 a day to a local resident to park his car and camp in the guy’s yard.

His goal was to stay all the way to the end on Sunday night to hear Furthur, then drive back to Vermont on Monday. “I always like to hear different incarnations of the Dead, and hear different versions of the songs,” Hoke said.

Furthur was scheduled to play in Vermont on Monday, but that show was scrubbed. The cancelation likely means more people will come to hear the band in Oxford than might have otherwise. Single day tickets for today and Sunday are available for $95 at the gate.

Emily Jean stood near the sound board, about halfway back of the big open field that hosted twin main stages, set up side by side. She brought her paints and an easel with her, and was making an abstract painting during the hour-long set by Umphrey’s McGee. Her work, she said, reflects how the music makes her feel.

In this instance, it was happy. She swayed with the music as she touched her brush to canvas.

“I quit my job as a waitress to go on tour to make art to my favorite bands,” Jean said. “I figure I can sit in my room and listen to my favorite bands and paint, or I can go out on tour to hear my favorite bands and paint while I am listening.”

She lives in upstate New York, near Albany. She enjoys seeing bands at festivals because the vibe is casual and people are cool. Few people bother her when she is painting, and if they do it’s because they are curious about her work.

“My goal is to make a painting during their set, and then meet the band and show it to them. I want to get them to sign it,” she said.

As soon as Umphrey’s McGee closed the set and bid farewell to the crowd, Jean set down her brush, called her painting complete and made her way toward backstage, hoping for the chance to talk to talk the band.

On the outer rim of the concert site, Jenny Schaeffer was showing artwork by Jerry Garcia, the late guitarist and singer for the Grateful Dead. He painted while he toured with the band, and the company that Schaeffer works for, Image Makers Art, is licensed to sell Garcia original paintings, as well as his etchings, lithographs and silkscreens.

“People are in awe when they see this work. People know his music, but this is his visual legacy. Not a lot of people are aware of his visual expression.  It’s fun to show it off. Jerry did a lot of work when he was on the road touring. He painted constantly,” she said.

Nateva marks the first time Garcia’a artwork has been shown in Maine, she added.

Music resumes at 11:30 Saturday morning.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:


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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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