You know magic when you see it.
The experience leaves no need for explanation, and rather then taking your brain through a maze of making sense, simply acknowledge, appreciate and absorb it.
Beanstalk Music and Mountains Festival not only epitomizes this magic, it generates goose bumps.
It’s the type of sensation you can’t fake or force, and for a whole weekend almost 2,000 people were fortunate enough to feel and fuel that magic.
On Friday as Beanstalk began there was a palpable positive energy emulating around State Bridge where amazing music was already echoing through the canyon carved out by the mighty Colorado River rushing just feet from the main stage. Even the potentially problematic weather couldn’t counteract such an unbelievably upbeat vibe; the persistent Colorado sun burned through the cloud cover and sunshine smiled down onto this Rocky Mountain musical oasis.
Two hours before the Kitchen Dwellers kicked things off on the main stage they were all alone at the campground circled up by their cabin practicing some picking. What could have simply been seen as some hippies having fun around an unlit fire pit, was actually an amazingly accurate depiction of what Beanstalk is all about – the music. Which sounds simple to say about a music festival, but Beanstalk is different, in both style and spirit, existing far from many mainstream festivals where profit and spectacle often overshadow passion and sound.
The beautiful town of Bond, Colorado provided an ideally intimate and awe-inspiring environment for the festival; featuring striking scenery, lots of local vendors, live paintings by legends like Scramble Campbell, and a dance floor that was more like an adult sand pit to play in. And play they did, with smiles on their faces through the temporary spurts of rain that trampled through the canyon just long enough for us to relish in it’s refreshment. As the sun continued to win the war with the sky the Main Squeeze took the stage and suddenly a strong gust of funk began to flow. I don’t know what funky fruit they are squeezing, but it’s juice is a smooth and soulful nectar that packed as much power as the southbound train that rattled its way across the rails during their exhilarating performance Friday afternoon. With wind rustling through Corey Frye’s silky white kimono as he soulfully sang, “moments like this don’t happen every day,” it became clear to all in attendance that we were actively enjoying one of those moments destine to repeat itself for three more days
“It’s nice to be free from all the shi..STUFF, in our lives like iPads and mini vans,” Kyle Hollingsworth says smirking after censoring himself as if his daughters were with him. He couldn’t be more right, and without cell service or any notion of worries, it was even easier for festivalgoers and the festival to focus on the music. But Kyle on stage in a well-worn tie dyed Onesie and a purple puffball cat hat spinning around like a mad man amidst nearly 360 degrees of keys, made it hard to focus. But if Kyle or his special guest and fellow member of The String Cheese Incident, Michael Kang, were interested in money and not music, they wouldn’t be at Beanstalk; we never would have witnessed Kang make “Rosie>Billie Jean>Rosie” sound so spectacular on the mandolin.
Kang and Kyle tearing through most of Hollingsworth’s latest solo album, The Speed of Life, was something to behold. Not only because of their musicianship and the dancing it induced, but because a lucky crowd of just a little less than 2,000 people were witnessing two members of one of the largest and most legendary jambands perform with the same enthusiastic energy that they’ll be bringing to almost 10,000 people at Red Rocks in late July. Not to mention, The Magic Beans, who are the festival’s name sake and consistent closers, were simply a group of guys going to see String Cheese a couple years ago without any inclination that they would soon become a band or later watch their idols play at their third annual festival.
That type of magic is interwoven into the very cloth that all of these musicians and moments are cut from, and it is undoubtedly what elevates Beanstalk beyond the realm of ‘just another jam band festival’. Josh Applebaum, bassist of The Magic Beans, performed a magic trick before even taking the stage. Transforming from a naked man into a flashy funk conductor, complete with a fake fox skin boa, a gold glittery fedora, and a shirt that shimmered like some sort of disco ball oil spill. “True story, I started the day off completely naked and people kept giving me clothes,” Josh laughs before lying back into a bass line and continuing his animated antics all over the stage.
Moments before The Magic Beans took the stage Scott Hachey seemed somewhat stressed, and as the lead singer of The Beans and the founder of Beanstalk, it’s understandable. But what’s unbelievable is how all that worry washes off of his face as he shifts from manager to musician, simultaneously clocking out and tuning in as he commanded the crowd through a stellar set of space funk.
Space funk is one of the many mad lib genre names that attempts to encompass a hybrid sound that synthesizes multiple influences and forms of instrumentation. After the American Babies concluded an amazingly long and lively set of what could loosely be labeled “rock and roll “ or creatively called “a tasty cocktail of rockabilly, blues inspired, highly improvised, guitar driven Americana”. As Al Smith, drummer of the American Babies, trotted off stage he classified their genre as, “ what just happened.” Which is as accurate an answer as any. Whatever it was, it was as hard hitting and complexly smooth as a good whiskey.
One of the bands you could confidently classify at Beanstalk was Juno What?!, who offered up their brand of full frontal funk to a gyrating audience like a sexy synth sacrament. The rambunctious crowd reacted to their flirtatious electro funk as if it was an aphrodisiac, and it teased them right into a climactic set from Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. Who served up an all-you-can dance buffet that blended Russo’s innately infectious rhythm with Tom Hamilton’s hypnotizing guitar skill. Although the band is driven by this dynamic duo, Russo remains the head chef as both drummer and front man. He has a magnetic presence that was powerful enough to captivate the sold-out crowd for the entirety of a three-hour set that confirmed that J.R.A.D. is ‘almost’ a cover band, and absolutely in a league of their own.
Any band can cover The Grateful Dead, and almost all did during Beanstalk, but few bands can truly channel the Dead’s sound and spirit the way J.R.A.D. did Saturday evening. Their unparalleled performance included rollercoaster renditions of classics like “Uncle John’s Band” and “One More Saturday Night”, which fit right into the riverside setting and aligned wonderfully with the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary, as everyone shared in what was far from just ‘one more Saturday night’. The Magic Beans enhanced the exceptional evening along with their traditional line-up, sharing the stage for the second time with the Horny Horns and original drummer Will Trask on alternate percussion. Propelling their performance into uncharted corners of the space funk galaxy, where they planted their flag in Bob Marley’s “Iron, Lion, Zion”, and took off into an epic “Jabu Jabu’s Belly” that reached peak party altitude before brilliantly bringing the groove back to gravity as only a seasoned space traveler can.
In an intergalactic sense, The Disco Biscuits are renowned astronauts; following in the footsteps of jamband pioneers to further explore the expansive possibilities of this odd otherworldly music. Having members Marc Brownstein, Allen Aucoin, and Aaron Magner in attendance was a small and significant step for Beanstalk, but seeing them take their talents beyond the Biscuits alongside a slue of special guests was one giant leap for musicianship. Both of their super groups, Hollywood Nights (ft. Clay Parnell of Particle/American Babies + Tom Hamilton of American Babies/J.R.A.D.) and The Magic Brownies (ft. Casey Russell and Scott Hachey of The Magic Beans), made a potentially hung-over Sunday high-spirited.
“The Magic Brownies set was like a moment of life completion, sort of a dream come true for both Scott and I who grew up seeing those guys,” Casey Russell exclaims understandably excited after performing with his idols, “they’re ‘it’, they’re the real deal, the ‘big buy’, and now we’re getting closer to a peer level with them which is crazy.” Ripping your pants off on stage is also crazy, but as someone who is actively headlining the very festival he started, Scott Hachey has full permission to go pant-less, so he happily did towards the end of The Magic Beans final set.
Sometimes magic pulls a rabbit out of a top hat, and other times it tears off it’s pants and presents you with a magnificent moment. One composed of a couple striking seconds where the world weaves it’s cosmically connected threads into the inexplicable patchwork of the present, and as the needle gives us a profound poke we realize it’s importance. Like seeing Scott stand center stage playing guitar in grey boxer briefs as a satisfied smile stretched across his face and he stared out at a crowd of family, friends and fans who all helped make that moment materialize.
It’s belief that brings magic to life; fifty years ago it birthed the Grateful Dead, and three years ago it began Beanstalk. Both bound by that belief and separated by time; growing out of and alongside each other like generational rings on a tree too big to wrap your arms around. A strong legacy and love of music linking them like stars strung together in an intricate constellation whose final form we can’t quite comprehend yet. It’s hard to explain, but you’ll know magic when you see it.