By Carly Shields • Photos by Kelly B. Strunk
Driving down the dirt roads to the Mad Tea Party Jam, in its fifth year now held at Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary, you would never know the rabbit hole you were about to fall into. After dropping gear off in the entirely shaded camping grounds, cars were directed back out, creating a particularly secluded environment deep within the woods of Pennsylvania. As a spiritual center, the property was speckled with circular gathering areas and decorated alters with gifts upon them; the main stage, sponsored and managed by Grey Area Productions of Pittsburgh, was tucked into a circle of 10 foot high flat stones propped up into the earth and each lit up in a different glow. The second stage (named Gypsy Rose after its sponsor) sat next to the artist and staff cabin at the bottom of a gently sloping field surrounded by craft and food vendors.
Thursday started out beautifully but as the afternoon wore on and campers set up meticulous sites, reports of rain and high winds came sweeping through the festival. People took cover wherever they could when the giant hail came pummeling down and when the light broke through again, everyone was looking out for one another, offering whatever anyone needed as comfort after the storm. Unfortunately, the huge Art Gallery, which has become an absolute staple of the festival as artists are treated with as much respect as the bands, was destroyed by the wind and hail, but luckily people were able to save most of their creations and eventually set up safely in the circus tent at the back of the main stage circle. Though sets from The Manor and Friends and LITZ had to be cancelled entirely, a little crafty rearranging by the production team had music starting with Big Something at 7pm, who finally opened the festival with a bang straight out of the 1970’s. Twiddle played a long set on the main stage after that, with a short break for founders Taco and Elise Olmstead to welcome and thank the live music troopers who stuck out the storm and kept flowing in after. Music went on as scheduled after that, moving to the late night pavilion for Broccoli Samurai followed by Spaceship Earth and Ascentient, both DJs who kept the party going until early in the morning.
The grounds were drying up Friday and the air was getting sticky as people took dips in the rocky river running by the campgrounds. A new multi-genre group based in DC called Of Tomorrow opened the day with their blend of funk, jam, and edgy rock before Definition of One played a tasteful, early set of jamtronica to a jovial crowd of dancers and shower-line waiters alike. (Yes, the grounds had actual showers and bathrooms- a real treat from most festivals.) The Clock Reads introduced their space jazz jam rock to many new fans before Broccoli Samurai played their second set of the weekend. Primate Fiasco rocked the main stage with their unique string and horn fusion followed by The Jauntee who delivered a charismatic and technically impressive set of original jams on the wooden stage. Guitarist Caton Sollenberger rushed over immediately after to join The Werks’ Dino Dimitrouleas in his Phish cover band Oh Kee Pah where Artist-at-Large Jeremy Schon of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong was holding it down until he got there. Subterranean laid down some tracks before Big Something’s second set of the weekend, this time on the main stage, and reflecting back on the ‘80’s with some crucial covers that blended perfectly with their sound.
One of the most anticipated shows of the weekend was next, Consider the Source, performing a full set of Radiohead with the edge of their worldly instrumentation. Fans were in awe, some needing to sit and absorb, others too excited to contain themselves. Though they closed with a trio of originals that people totally loved, the bulk of their set was a major highlight for many. Mad Tea Party favorites TAUK closed the night on the main stage by playing through some of their biggest hits and a few new ones to top it off.
During the day, the pavilion was filled with workshops by Project Bring Me To Life who led attendees through interactive routines as well as insightful lectures on the essences of our collective being, but at night it turned into a bumpin’ dance hall for late night partiers, Friday featuring producer duo Desert Dwellers, the first of two jammy sets from Aqueous, and unique remixes of the scene’s favorite hits from producer Lee Turly.
Even though there was no music Sunday, Saturday didn’t feel even close to the last day of a festival. Everyone still had so much energy; the vibes of all the happy people was pretty much unparalleled for the closing day at an event like the Mad Tea Party. It was particularly noticeable toward the end of the event, but festivals producers this year decided there would be no trash cans- any garbage you made, you had to bring out with you, and surprisingly, it worked beautifully. There was little to no trash on the grounds, and heading into the last day, you could see the personal responsibility working at people’s sites and while they enjoyed the last of the music.
Mixing Numbers with Sounds kicked off the day with a solid dive into intricate jams before letting the only female-led band take it away next. Blues rockers The Schooley Mountain Band with Madison Gerish on vocals and rhythm guitar brought the crowd to their feet with their soulful, poignant melodies before the only bluegrass band of the weekend Brokedown Hustlers revved up the main stage for a thirsty crowd. LITZ brought us back to the funk with their first (supposed to be second) set of the weekend: this up-and-coming band was more than ready to show tea partiers what they were made of and the energy they brought could be felt right at your very core. Featuring a surprise sit in from Pigeons’ Ben Carrey on slide whistle, it was an absolutely party from beginning to end.
The Southern Belles played a genuinely rock n roll set of fascinating and beautiful compositions before Aqueous set the stage for Papadosio. The band played two beautiful sets (with a TAUK break in between) that spoke to the spiritualism in all of us who danced together in that stone circle. Each note felt as if they were honoring the beauty of the land, the mutual love and respect festival goers have for each other, and the hard work put in to make events like this happen. But the party wasn’t over just yet- Big Something had their third set of the weekend in the late night pavilion, throwing it not so far back to the 90’s (which was exciting for a lot of us who danced through that era of music that is so often ignored).
Baltimore-based EDM sensation DELTAnine took over next, packing people on that covered dance floor and keeping them grooving through ELM’s similar, but quite distinctly different set. The last of the weekend was Richmond’s Jouwala Collective who played an amazing blend of world and dance fusion, presenting a sound entirely new to most ears, but wildly enjoyable for those who could understand it. Even with the weather, this year’s event was a huge success, a sure sign that the Mad Tea Party Jam will be around for a long time. Having already survived one bursting of the festival bubble, you can expect to go a little mad at the Tea Party in Artemas, PA, for the next many happy unbirthdays.