TO DO LIST: 2013 Equifunk Festival

Let’s say, not-so-hypothetically speaking, that you’re running one of the most innovative music festivals in the country. You’re holding this festival in an amazing location – a beautiful, fully functional summer camp in the Pennsylvania Poconos. You’ve got possibly the best business model of any festival out there, in that yours is all-inclusive; as little as $185 buys your guests not just the price of admission, but food, beer, and a place to stay (a bunk in the aforementioned summer camp). You cap your ticket sales at 1,500, so there’s not only a feeling of exclusivity, but the smaller crowds allow the artists you book to mingle freely with festival attendees. And what artists they are; some of the biggest names in funk and R&B have played your festival and they’ve raved about the experience; many have come back for more. In short, you’ve already done everything right. And you’ve been doing it that way for five years, to continually improving reviews and exposure.

So what do you do? Coast on the goodwill you’ve accumulated, continue to put on a good show, but keep it simple? Don’t rock – or funk up, if you will – the boat?

Not if you’re Equifunk. Not even close.

The all-inclusive festival that has thrived – to an incredibly degree – on word-of-mouth and a refreshing DIY philosophy is doing exactly the opposite, kicking it up a notch for their 6th go-round, being held August 16-18.

As always, Equifunk is a veritable who’s-who of funk; bands like JJ Grey and Mofro, Marco Benevento, and the Revivalists are all on board. But this year the lineup is all about collaborations. Which is to say jaw-dropping I-can’t-believe-these-guys-are-playing-together-anywhere-much-less-a-summer-camp collaborations. Jack-of-all-trades blues man Anders Osborne plays a set with John Medeski, one of the greatest jazz keyboardists alive. English funksters New Mastersounds – who at times sound more like the Meters than the Meters – join up with saxophonist (and DC native) James Casey, best known for his recent work with the Trey Anastasio band. Another moon in the Phish orbit, Jon Fishman, will play with his band Pork Tornado, one of only two shows the band currently has scheduled. The always entertaining Soulive, who have done everything from blues to funk to a song-for-song jazz rendition of the Beatles’ Rubber Soul, will play with legendary James Brown and P-Funk saxophonist Maceo Parker. Finally, damn near everyone in the preceding paragraph will play as the M&M’s; Benvento, Medeski, and Parker will join Papa Mali and Stanton Moore (of Galactic, who ripped it up at last year’s Equifunk) for a bring-down-house jam session to close out the festival.

Galactic w/Corey Glover KILLING IT at last Equifunk 2012

ROAD TRIP: 2012 Equifunk Festival - Artists go to Summer camp!

ONE FINAL NOTE: We interviewed many of the Equifunk artists, and asked each of them if they had attended summer camp as kids. Here are some of their answers.

Josh Schwartz, Saxophone/Vocals, Turkuaz: I was a camper at the same camp where my father was a camper starting at his 4th birthday in 1946, Camp Scatico in New York. I was a camper for four years, a counselor for one year. But this is combining summer camp with a music festival. It's like - summer camp with BEER? And RAVES? It's amazing.

Taylor Shell, Bassist, Turkuaz: I grew up in San Francisco, and I never did a full summer (of camp). I did three weeks at this place called Gold Arrow. It was a lot of water skiing, arts and crafts, that kind of thing. And massive funk concerts and big parties (laughs).

Arleigh Kincheloe, Vocalist, Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds: No, I never went, and I really feel like I missed out. (Gestures to the camp) This is cool!

ROAD TRIP: 2012 Equifunk Festival - Part 2

While Friday afternoon was cloudy and rainy, Saturday morning dawned clear and warm at Equifunk. We wandered through the camp and enjoyed the picturesque landscape as laughter and music emanated from all the bunks. Campers enjoyed breakfast in the mess hall, a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, softball, even hula hoop lessons. In other words, it was summer camp.

But the music started soon enough. Brooklyn’s I’ll Be John Brown provided the perfect Saturday morning set with a classic rock sound that called to mind a rawer version of Credence Clearwater Revival. After the electronic experimentation of the night before, it was great to have some “real” music again. A highlight of the band’s set was a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Mr. Charlie” – combined with Dumpstaphunk’s cover of “Fame” the previous evening, we began to see a pattern of Equifunk bands doing amazing renditions of other songs; it was a trend that would continue.

Eventually Sister Sparrow, neé Arleigh Kincheloe came on stage and, as we knew she would, promptly ripped the shit out of it. It’s astounding that such a husky and huge voice comes out of Kincheloe who is, to paraphrase Roc Dutton in Rudy, “five feet nothin’.” Her voice seems to change with every song – on “Millie Mae” she was Susan Tedeschi, on “Hollow Bones” she was Janis Joplin, but on “Dirt” she’s all Sister Sparrow, a funked-out wrecking ball whose “eyes are bigger than my liver.” Kincheloe’s brother Jackson, the unofficial bandleader, accompanies her on a bluesy, distorted harmonica. He’s probably sick of being compared to John Popper, but the compliment is accurate because the man is damn good.

LIVE: 2012 Equifunk Festival - PART 1

Most of our five-hour drive to the northeastern Pennsylvania town of Equinunk was taken up by a discussion of the 1980s action vehicle Roadhouse; specifically, the overall plausibility of the film. Would rich, evil Brad Wesley really waste his time exerting a stranglehold over the podunk burg of Jasper, Missouri? A town which seemed to have, at most, three businesses in it? How much money could he really make extorting an auto parts store? It seemed, in all likelihood, a business model destined to fail in a film that at every turn becomes more unbelievable, yet somehow more awesome.

I bring this up because our destination - an all-inclusive funk/jam festival held on the sprawling campus of a Poconos summer camp - seemed unbelievable as well. Two days, fifteen bands, cabin living, limitless beer, and all meals prepared? All for one price? And did I mention it’s at summer camp? The skeptical side of me couldn't help but wonder if it were too good to be true. I was like those naysayers meeting Roadhouse's James Dalton, sizing him up, and saying "I thought you'd be bigger."

Turns out Equifunk is bigger, and badder, and more energetic (yet somehow more laid back) than any number of other festivals that cost five times as much. There is, as numerous people told us throughout the weekend, "just a vibe" on the campus of Camp Equinunk that is completely unparalleled in any other music experience. Very few music festivals are held in such scenic rural locations; so rural, in fact, that you're forced to go native as your cell phone bars gradually shrink and eventually disappear completely. And because the event is all-inclusive, you don't need your wallet. I can't remember the last time I left my cell phone and wallet in the car for two hours, much less two days. But damn if it isn't refreshing to not have to worry about them.

To Do List: 2012 EquiFunk Festival, August 17-19

What if you could go back to summer camp? You know, hang out by the pool with your buddies, play for some of the day but relax for most of it, and have all your meals prepared for you? What if you could do it now, as an adult? Wait, don’t answer yet, there’s more. What if there was unlimited beer AND astoundingly good music? You’re nodding now, aren’t you? And maybe drooling?

This weekend, for the fifth straight year, Equifunk will set up shop in the northeast Pennsylvania Poconos. Besides the fantastic location (smack in the middle of a working overnight camp) Equifunk has a why-didn’t-they-think-of-that-before hook unlike any other music festival – it’s all-inclusive. One price gets you in the door, your food, your beverages, and your music. You’re not waiting in line 20 minutes for the privilege of paying $11 for a beer. You’re not spending $6 on a hot dog that’s been sitting in a pot of boiling water since January.