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Sounds Local: Wormtown Music Festival celebrates 20th anniversary

  • Keller Williams is performing at the 20th annual Wormtown Music Festival on Saturday evening. Contributed photo/C. Taylor Crothers

  • Max Creek will perform at the 20th annual Wormtown Music Festival on Sunday afternoon. Contributed photo

  • HUNTER



For the Recorder
Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Wormtown Music Festival at Camp Kee-Wanee in Greenfield each fall is always a great weekend of music, and when it rolls into town Thursday, the party will be bigger than ever as the festival celebrates its 20th anniversary.

The festival, which runs through Sunday, will open its gates for campers at 3 p.m. Thursday. Music will kick off at 11 a.m. Friday and will run continuously through the weekend.

The lineup is a strong one that features more than 60 artists including Turkuaz, Lettuce, Leftover Salmon, The Original Wailers, Max Creek, Zach Deputy, the Ryan Montbleau Band, Keller Williams, Pink Talking Fish, Eric Krasno Band and so many others.

“We definitely splurged on the talent budget this time around,” said Derek Kipp, office manager of the Wormtown Trading Company, the organization that presents the festival each year. “These are the types of bands we have had before, but that are bigger national acts.”

Wormtown Trading Company is a concert vending business based in Oxford that sells various products from around the world at festivals, fairs and college campuses. Founded in 1996, the company is owned and operated by Mark Blanchette who, in 1999, after doing a lot of vending at festivals himself, got to thinking it might be nice if Wormtown hosted one of its own. The first Wormtown Music Festival was held in Rhode Island and later bounced around locations (including a 2001 stop at the bison farm in Hadley) before settling in at Camp Kee-Wanee, in part thanks to the late Jeff Martell, a local musician.

“Jeff was very instrumental in us ending up in at Camp Kee-Wanee because he told Rev Tor, who is a musician from the Berkshires, about it, and Tor told Mark about it,” Kipp said about the site that proved to be the ideal setting for the festival.

However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing to start. The camp, a summer camp for children at 1 Health Camp Road, was in need of a lot of maintenance when Wormtown first arrived, and organizers had a lot of work to do to get ready for that first festival.

“I’m told the first two years were kind of rough as we were new at it,” said Kipp who started working for Wormtown in 2006. “There was some resistance from the town and neighbors at the time, but a lot of that has been counteracted over the years. A lot of neighbors who used to not like us have become friends.”

Kipp said that inviting neighbors to attend the festival to actually see what is happening has helped improve relations. By offering free tickets in exchange for work, Wormtown has made, and continues to make, many improvements to the property that they call home twice a year. (Wormtown also hosts the Strange Creek Campout Festival every May at the same location.)

“We have brought in guys to fix ramps and stairs and we have built, or jointly built, several new cabins,” Kipp said. “We have helped them with the funding for their new septic system and helped them raise funds for the sidewalks that have come in. It has been a great symbiotic relationship between us and the camp.”

Giving back to the camp is not the only way that Wormtown helps the local community. At every festival, organizers allow Strangers Helping Strangers to collect nonperishable food and hygiene items from festival attendees (known as the worms), and donate them to the Franklin County Community Meals Program. In 2010, Wormtown also awarded five $1,000 grants to local nonprofits.

But of course, the primary focus is putting on the best festival possible, which has involved a lot of growth.

“In the early days, our second stage was a pallet under a tent,” Kipp said with a laugh. “We run twin main stages so the music never stops. As soon as one band stops, the next one is ready to go.”

There is a curfew, so the music after hours occurs in cabins, and festival-goers will tell you that these shows are often some of their favorites.

A lot of the musicians in the festival’s lineup fall under the jam band banner — groups that are heavy on improvising and are known for crossing genres in their musical performances. A lot of the acts return year after year, with some, like Max Creek having played every festival except for one.

“Mark is very loyal to some of the bands that we like to call our family fold, and Max Creek is one of these,” Kipp said. “Ryan Montbleau, who we have seen grow from a little coffee shop singer to a leader of a band, is consistently at all of our festivals. As is Zach Deputy, and Rev Tor always has a place because he is a reason that we are there. And on it goes.”

The lineup includes Keller Williams, who has a new album called “Sans” coming out next month in which he mixes bass and drums into tracks that were previously recorded as solo acoustic guitar pieces. Also playing will be The Original Wailers, who will perform Bob Marley’s “Legend” album in its entirety, and Turkouz, a nine-piece band from Brooklyn, N.Y., whose music combines an ’80s synthesized sound with funk.

“Turkouz (is) very hot right now,” Kipp said. “(The band) just played Red Rocks and played our cabin back in 2012 or so. Every year, I look for a couple of bands that are new to me, but blow me away, and (Turkouz is) one of those acts.”

Wormtown maintains a strong commitment to local talent as well, and will welcome rice: An American Band, Rebel Alliance, The Diamondstones, Outer Stylie, Bella’s Bartok and others.

“We have always been supportive of local acts,” said Kipp, an Easthampton resident. “I’ve helped with that because I’m local and want to have a good representation of local bands. That has been fun as we have seen some of them grow up over the years.”

The rap-reggae band The Alchemystics is another band that is part of the Wormtown family, and has been performing at the festival since it formed in 2003.

“Wormtown is like family,” said Garrick “Force” Perry, The Alchemystics’ rapper. “The first overnight festival I ever played was a Wormtown/ Strangecreek event and it was life-changing.

“It is one of the few festivals I bring my kids to and it has been amazing watching the scene grow,” Perry added.

There should be plenty of highlights at this year’s festival as there will be special events to commemorate the anniversary. In addition to music, Wormtown offers extensive activities for both children and teens, as well as a variety of food and craft vendors.

Tickets can be purchased at the gate. Prices are $90 on Friday, $90 on Saturday and $40 on Sunday. Children ages 15 and under are admitted for free. For more information, visit wormtownfestival.com.

Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at soundslocal@yahoo.com.