VIDEO: Notes from Nateva

Portland's own Rustic Overtones and Isobell (video by RogerThat! Productions)

First thing I noticed about the Nateva Festival in Maine this past weekend, before any of the music, stages, parties, or, er, drum circles: the port-a-potties were immaculate. Seriously, most pleasant bathroom experience ever. If it wasn't for the sweltering heat, probably would have hung out in there. Anyway, facilities aside, onward.

I was at Nateva with my band You Can Be A Wesley. Nateva was the last show of our tour (see our video tour diary here), and we had a slot opening the festival at noon on the fourth. We missed the entirety of Friday, including performances by our friends Magic Magic and hometown heroes Passion Pit, because of a show intended for that day in Montreal. We found out an hour prior to load-in, already in Montreal, that the show was cancelled. But that's a story for another day.

I started my Saturday at the outskirts of Nateva at my buddies' on-site camping spot, a flattened dust bowl of a parking lot that housed several thousand campers in as many tents and vehicles. We covered our site in a 60-foot American flag and drank Busch Light. Around three o'clock, we descended on the festival, through the maze of campers, hippies, and hula hoops to the festival grounds to see She & Him kick off Nateva's indiest day.

She & Him

I had two reasons for wanting to see She & Him. I wanted to see M. Ward prove that white dudes can effectively shred blues guitar, and I wanted to confirm that Zooey Deschanel is, in fact, a real-life human being. The former didn't really materialize, since She & Him is mostly a throwback country-pop outfit (although Ward was still totally baller), but we got plenty of the latter -- turns out, Zooey Deschanel is an actual flesh-and-blood human. They played well and treated their songs just as they are on the album. I still think I prefer Ward on his own, though.

Grizzly Bear immediately followed on the adjoining stage. And this is where Nateva's charm as a major but limited capacity music festival solidified. At most festivals, leaving your friends in the front row to go wander would be the kiss of death; but here, I was able to stray from the group, lay in the grass, listen to some songs, and meander back up to the front no problem. This might be the hippie in me speaking, but lying down in the middle of a huge field while Grizzly Bear played "Ready, Able" was probably the most soothing, all-enveloping moment of my summer so far. Dudes only get better with time and totally held their own amid what was mostly a jam fest.

Flaming Lips

After a brief nap back on the outskirts, we returned for the Flaming Lips, who did all their Flaming Lipsy things. Singer Wayne Coyne walked on the audience in his  crazy-clear giant ball; they shot confetti canons into the crowd and dropped bouncy balls the size of small cars for the kids to swat around. I think by now they understand "Do You Realize??" is something of a novelty and treated it as such, with a perpetual wave of confetti in the air for the entire three or so minutes and Coyne a jumble of flailing limbs and peace signs. The Flaming Lips live is grand theater of the highest caliber.

I didn't notice the drum circles until after midnight on Saturday. They might have been there all along, probing my periphery, waiting for an opening. The Flaming Lips and their absurdities might also have been responsible, inspiring this late-night onslaught of beat from thousands of kids on uppers.  Whatever the cause, drum circles are a casualty of all festivals. I slept from one to eight and woke to find the same kids in the same positions beating the same drums. That's seven hours. Dig that vibe, bro.

We played at noon on Sunday. It was cool. (Thank you, Rick Ginsberg.)

George Clinton and P-Funk

George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic played a mid-afternoon slot on Sunday with what seemed like their entire extended family. Easily 30 people on stage, some holding up signs displaying the names of horn players, some lounging, some eating ham sandwiches. At one point, Clinton's niece joined him onstage to give a cringe-worthy rap of epic proportions, mostly dealing with how hard she'd like to get boned. ("Steel hard and still getting harder" was the refrain. Dear god, woman, that's your uncle hugging you. I don't care if it's George Clinton, gross.) That aside, I couldn't help but get the chills when P-Funk performed "We Want the Funk." Song kills. And the group choruses and the soul-quenching funkadelic bass-playing, damn. I wish people still made music like that.


We watched a bit of Furthur, the newest joint between the Grateful Dead's Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, which, despite my hippie-hating tendency, actually rocked pretty hard. Near midnight, exhausted and pretty drunk from free Magic Hat, I climbed into our van and we were soon back in Boston.

After talking with Nateva's organizers over the course of the weekend, it seems like Nateva is the freelance work to their full-time jobs. The majority of them work for LiveNation, which explains how they managed to get all the big acts on a first-time festival and how tightly run the whole thing felt, but also why it didn't feel like a corporate blow-out. They know what they want and they know what LiveNation might not offer. I won't pretend I was into all the acts - I can only take so many noodly guitar solos - but as far as ideal and execution goes, Nateva felt like a last stand against a quickly eroding festival scene. Now let's hope they can maintain that ideal through the coming years and still cultivate a killer cross-breed of a roster like the one this year. 

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