moe. blows out a few candles

The band gives their moe.down festival a rest — for now


About three weeks ago, the dutiful webmaster running moe.’s homepage linked to a piece lauding the band’s long-tenured moe.down festival, held in upstate New York, as one of the world’s best music festivals, putting the low-key and locally beloved event alongside such notable crowdcrushes as Glastonbury, Coachella, Dia de los Meurtos and Morocco’s Gnaoua World Music Festival.

We’re not sure if the site was really ranking them, rather than eagerly scraping up every festival they could find a reference to on the Internet, but the shout-out made for a little press for the kickoff of band’s 25th anniversary year.

About 10 days later, the same webmaster posted a link that informed his readers that, well, moe.down wasn’t actually happening this year. Still a great festival, mind you, but don’t look for tickets this September.

We caught up to Vinnie Amico, moe.’s drummer, last week and asked, what gives?

“It’s been a 15-year-running festival, which is longer than most, and the last couple of years, the numbers weren’t bad, they just hadn’t grown,” Amico said. “We just thought, ‘Eh, give it a year off, maybe increase the demand for it a little, and go back and ensure that we’re doing it right.’” 

To be fair, festival culture has grown to immense proportion here in the States; planetary axis-tilting events like Coachella and Bonnaroo were either just getting started or merely a twinkle in some promoter’s eye when moe. started their annual gathering.

“This is our thing and has been all along, but there are so many festivals out there now, we just thought maybe this was the time to give people an opportunity to say, ‘Wow, that was a really good festival, I hope it comes back,’” Amico said.

In the immortal words of Dan Hicks, how can I miss you if you won’t go away?

Amico laughed. “Exactly.” 

moe.down did carry an early repute as one of the essential stops on the groove scene circuit, reinforcing the notion that moe. was one of the primary stanchions in the last two decades’ jam band movement. That vestigial tag continues to follow the band around, at least in some of the press and promoter blather around them, and it’s probably misplaced. One need look no further than the band’s 2014 release No Guts No Glory¸ a sleeves-rolled-up workshop in grindy alt-roots guitar rock — the granite-textured “Annihilation Blues,” the bluesy midsection howl of “White Lightning Turpentine” and the grassy “Do or Die” defining the outer perimeters, while the quirky “Billy Goat” and Sgt Pepper-y lysergia of “Silver Sun” deftly harken back to the band’s offbeat early days playing clubs in and around Buffalo, N.Y.

The band hits a lot of its influences here — blues, granny-glass psychedelia, acoustic Americana — but only a couple of songs exceed five minutes in length, and the vibe overall is straightforward.

Amico is diffident about the jam band label.

“It has its good and its bad,” he said. “Being tagged with that, you get access to a fan base that’s… what, 100,000 150,000 strong? But what it does negatively is, one, it shuts you off from the mainstream… Not that we want to be mainstream, but there are some positives to it.”

As it happened, we caught Amico during that weirdly frenetic interval most performing musicians know well, between sound check and showtime, but not for moe. Amico was getting ready for a small theater gig in Oneonta, N.Y., playing brushes for Floodwood, the newgrass side project he plays in with moe. guitarist Al Schnier. The band did a week-long swing through Colorado early last year, including gigs at Hodi’s, Cervantes and a couple of ski towns.

“It takes me back a long ways, since I used to play this stuff in college,” he said. “We did this for years; a lot of acoustic music, great instrumentation, amazing players.”

Before we released Amico from his press duties, we wanted to express, on behalf of writers across the globe, our affectionate consternation at the strict rules regarding the representation of moe.’s name in print. (Lower case, followed by a period.) We have always imagined this as another of the subtle press jabs that were once common in the alt-rock scene in the ’80s and ’90s, along with hidden CD tracks and intentionally mislabeled song sequences on CD sleeves. The lower case/mandatory period thing has endearingly bedeviled writers and copy editors for a quarter century — computers made it a little easier, once you turned spell check off.

“Ha! You’re welcome. That was exactly why we did that!” moe.


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