Concert review: Ciderstock 2016

After a stream of rainy, cold days, Woodchuck Cider lucked out for their third annual Ciderstock festival, held at their headquarters in Waterbury, Vermont. The event nearly sold out, (I don’t know the exact number, but it caps at 10,000!). No one, including the organizers, predicted such a high turnout. Perhaps the numbers came from it being a large outdoor event after the peak of summer, or because people in Vermont really like cider (they do!), or because the line-up included Sublime With Rome and the Dirty Heads. While Sublime With Rome doesn’t make it northeast too often, they embody a legend about how contemporary reggae mixed with rock. People may have wanted to check out this rare tour stop. On the other hand, SoCal’s Dirty Heads make annual sold out shows at nearby Higher Ground, so fans are now able to count the number of times they’ve caught the sextet.

Indeed, the crowd seemed made up of classic southern Vermonters in Birkenstocks, comfy lawn chairs, and gardener’s hats, as well as young, rowdy, wasted fans. This interesting combination intersected about halfway up the lawn, where the condensed, sweaty “D-Heads” dissipated into those lounging on the grass, (I myself, was a D-Head).

Woodchuck had a great idea: They had a tent where you bought tickets ($5 = 1 ticket). You then brought these tickets to the cider-tent and exchanged a ticket for a cider. Because of this break up in duties, the lines for cider were never long. Woodchuck offered up a Semi-dry, their Gumption brew, and the classic Amber. I, personally, am an Amber fan, and I think they’ve improved their recipe from the early days. It now has very little aftertaste and is less sweet than when it first appeared on the market, which was apparently 25 years ago, (Ciderstock acted as a birthday party this year).

As record high summer temperatures struck, as the clouds parted, Burlington’s own Villanelles started the show off. “I can’t even believe how many people came out!” notes singer/guitarist Tristan Baribeau. “I just hope everybody keeps up on the water. I see people passing out at these things.” The Villanelles play serious punk/emo rock, not anything like the headliners, but they work a crowd in a similar fashion. Their set was exceptional.

The real pleasure for me was Wild Adriatic. I had never previously heard anything by them, (The Villanelles are on my radar and I recommend them). Saratoga’s Wild Adriatic mixes Black Keys-like blues rock with jamming ala Widespread Panic. Again, they sound nothing like Sublime, but they were no less a wicked opener. “We didn’t know what we were getting into when we came out here,” drummer Mateo Vosganian told me after their set. “Opening for bands like Dirty Heads and Sublime With Rome, it’s hard to do the right thing. We wanted to make sure everyone was well-taken care of and the party was started. It was a lot of pressure, and I think it went very well.”

They did! And following, Dirty Heads killed it, as usual. Their blend of rap, reggae, rock, punk, and pop is so well sutured that they’re almost impossible not to like, (i.e, if you don’t like their hardcore rapping, wait a song and get a dose of bass n’ drums). They played songs off all of their records, each a hit, (I now realize how many Dirty Heads songs are hit songs). They also tackled tracks off their recently released self-titled album, including a beautiful performance of “Red Lights”. Rome joined them for “Lay Me Down”. This marked the final day of their tour, and singer Dirty J seemed both relieved that he could go home after this and floored by the intensity of the crowd.

Sublime With Rome whipped through a set, playing everything from classics like “Wrong Way” to my favorite track off of their latest record (Sirens, BMG, 2015), “Wherever You Go”. Dustin and Jared joined the trio for a rendition of “Sirens”. The SoCal staple seemed a bit off their game, but Rome had gone through a recent loss in his family and was no doubt recovering from some grief. Still, he seemed impressed by Vermont’s ability to throw a party.

While food truck vendors numbered 12, this simply wasn’t enough to support the huge, thirsty, drunk crowd. Lines were excruciatingly long and all the vendors appeared overheated and exhausted. Thankfully, the stage sat at the bottom of a hill, so bands could be seen from nearly everywhere on the lawn, but if you were waiting at a vendor you were missing the music. Also, it was awfully loud. I stepped back from the mosh pits just as Rome launched into “Pawn Shop” and compatriots agreed that, at a distance, Eric Wilson’s bass reverberated so loudly that it hurt your ears.

Many cans of cider were served, but the recycling bins weren’t numerous enough, and I found trashcans laden with recyclables. Woodchuck easily could have presented a better sustainable culture. I’m surprised they aren’t on the bandwagon, being a Vermont company. Outside the gates, parking was a disaster. There was no immediate lot to support the volume of vehicles, so post-show meant a flurry of tipsy, ear-blasted attendees having to remember which small lot around town they were parked in.

However, as press I was treated very well, and the band members I spoke with agreed that the hospitality was excellent. And, despite it being too large of a crowd for a small venue, three years in, Woodchuck is a bit over their head but working diligently to tweak the issues. This year happened to be reggae/rock juggernauts (last year was Cage The Elephant), so who knows what next year will bring. Woodchuck doesn’t seem bent on sticking to one particular anything at the moment. I think we’re all willing to find out what they come up with next.

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