It’s less than a week away from the biggest paying music festival Maine has seen since Phish rocked Limestone in 2003, and concert promoter Frank Chandler is feeling pretty good about everything. Cautious, but good.
After all, the Nateva Festival, announced last year and building on powerful buzz ever since, is poised to become Maine’s answer to big-name festivals around the nation, like Coachella and Bonnaroo. The fun kicks off with a preview night on Thursday, July 1, and continues into the wee hours of Sunday, July 4, at the Oxford Fairgrounds. For Chandler, it will cap 18 months of working and planning.
“It’s all about creating this little temporary community that is centered around music,” said Chandler. “It’s uniquely intimate, since we’ve capped ticket sales at 15,000. It’s not like other festivals, where there are just thousands upon thousands of people. We don’t want anyone to feel overwhelmed. That was always the goal.”
The end result of all that planning is Nateva, which over the course of four days will bring a wide array of jam bands, indie rockers, blues, bluegrass, folk and funk artists to western Maine, along with local bands. They range in genre from pioneering psychedelic indie rockers The Flaming Lips to Further, composed of members of the Grateful Dead. In between, there’s the elegant, cerebral rock of Grizzly Bear, the powerful blues duo Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, funk legends George Clinton and P-Funk All Stars, and more than 40 others. No wonder you’re supposed to camp out on site. There’s so much to hear and see.
Chandler, a self-described jam band fan, knew he wanted a strong jam presence — hence the performances from groups like Umphrey’s McGee, Moe and Sound Tribe Sector 9. But there are still legions of fans of other genres that are just as interested in attending a large outdoor festival.
“I think having the core of any festival be about jam bands is a smart move, because jam band fans are some of the best fans out there. They’ll travel hours and hours to go see their favorite band,” said Chandler. “But a one-genre festival is lacking. That’s why we tried to have a strong indie and alternative edge to it, surrounded by bluegrass and electronica and all kinds of genres.”
Though festival-goers will come for the music, they will be exposed to lots more than just bands during the four days of the event. Chandler and company have planned an assortment of other activities, including a farmer’s market featuring Maine farmers and growers, a Ferris wheel, late night movies on a big screen, and a sig-nificant children’s area for parents who wish to bring their families. There’s even a silent disco, in which participants put on individual headphones and dance, though to onlookers they appear to be moving in silence.
Chandler also wanted to showcase some of the great bands Maine has to offer. These include Portland-based rockers Grand Hotel, Portland indie band Brenda, Dover-Foxcroft-originating alt-country band the Mallett Brothers, and Bangor jam-funk group Mudseason.
Anthony Ambrosino, lead singer and guitarist for Mudseason, heard the news the band was accepted back in April, after they had submitted a SonicBids electronic press kit in ordered to be considered for inclusion. His band, which also includes bassist James Morong, drummer Windell White and keyboard player Jed Profeta, will play at 11 a.m. Sunday, kicking off that day’s festivities.
“We are just thrilled, thrilled, thrilled. It’s a whole new experience,” said Ambrosino. “The folks at Nateva understand things, and they seemed to get what we’re all about.”
Ambrosino and company have had an eventful few weeks. Word of the Nateva gig came on the heels of the band learning they were being included in the equally large-scale KahBang Festival, set for Aug. 14 and 15 on the Bangor Waterfront, and at the Winterport Music Festival, Aug. 7 in downtown Winterport. For Nateva, Mudseason has added a three-piece horn section, dubbed the Black Fly Horns, featuring Bangor trumpet player John Patterson, Orono sax man Les Rhoda and Bar Harbor flute phenom Hannah Summers Jones.
“It’s been a really gratifying few months here, between all these great gigs and people kind of coming on board with the things we’re trying to do,” he said. “I’ve been playing music all my life, so to have some important things fall into place is just awesome, and I want to thank everyone who’s helped us along for coming to the dream we have.”
Though he’s coming at it from a different angle, Chandler, the Nateva organizer, is in many ways in the same boat. Chandler was laid off from a job at a financial services firm in Boston in 2008. Instead of staying in his field, he pursued a career change that incorporates his passion: music.
“I wanted to combine my livelihood and my passion,” said Chandler. “What better opportunity than something like this?”
All weekend camping passes to the Nateva Festival are sold out, but day passes and weekend passes with satellite camping still are available. For ticket information and full band schedules, visit www.natevafestival.com. Believe me — there’s far more than just what’s listed here.