Summer Fairs & Festivals in Hudson Valley, Upstate NY 2012
Summer’s in full swing, and the Valley is buzzing with events for all ages
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Singer-songwriter Simone Felice performs at Mountain Jam this year
Photograph by John Huba
Mountain Jam, Hunter NY
(May 31-June 3)
The Valley’s homegrown music festival just keeps getting bigger and better. The four-day, multistage event features more than 50 big-name and local acts; was nominated for a Pollstar Music Festival of the Year Award last year; and has been named one of Rolling Stone’s “Best Fests” three years in a row. Highlights for 2012 include performances by Steve Winwood, Gov’t Mule, Michael Franti and Spearhead, the Tedeschi Trucks Band, the Roots, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, Dawes, electronic jam band Lotus, and Anders Osborne, among others. New this year: late-night DJ sets from LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy; and expanded VIP options, which includes the “Tavern in the Woods” with private bar and Hammock Grove, shaded hospitality tents, and private camping or on-site lodging. $160; $190 with camping; 888-512-7469 or www.mountainjam.com
» See our exclusive photo gallery from Mountain Jam below
Mountain Jam artist spotlight: Simone Felice
Simone Felice is, according to musicOMH, “arguably the nearest thing Americana currently has to a renaissance man.” It’s an apt branding: Felice is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, a founding member of critically acclaimed acts the Felice Brothers and The Duke & the King, and a published poet and novelist.
The Palenville native is also a “miracle boy,” dubbed so by nurses at Benedictine Hospital after he suffered a massive brain aneurysm and flat-lined for several minutes when he was 12 years old. Twenty years later he’d cheat death again, undergoing emergency open-heart surgery in 2010 to replace his aortic valve, which had calcified almost completely shut due to a childhood congenital defect.
Since then, Felice’s life has undergone a 180-degree turnaround. A month after the heart surgery, he and wife Jessica welcomed their first child, daughter Pearl Simone. In April, Felice celebrated the publication of his third novel, Black Jesus and the release of his self-titled album, his first solo effort. This summer he will tour on the East Coast after performing at Mountain Jam (May 31-June 3).
You still live in Palenville. Did you always know that you were going to stay here?
I always used to think that when I grew up, when my ship came in, I’d get out and run away. Now that I travel all around the world, whenever I come home from the airport on the Thruway and the mountains start to rise around New Paltz I know I’m home, and that my beautiful daughter awaits and my wife and my mom and my best friends and all these memories are here. I feel lucky that I have roots.
Your work seems so unmistakably moored in the Hudson Valley. Would you say that’s true?
When I was a kid, I was lonely. I’d go to the library a lot; it’s all we had around here. I feel blessed that I grew up in a time before the iPad, because I got to really commune with books — John Steinbeck, Charles Dickens, Flannery O’Connor. It was a way to fight loneliness. It was a way to be Huckleberry Finn up here, but with a boom box. Since then, I’ve just needed to populate my world with other people, characters, so that I wouldn’t feel so lonely.
A lot of the things that inspired this new album and Black Jesus are stories I heard when I was a kid that have haunted me for years. Like “Hey Bobby Ray,” the first song on the album: it’s about an Indian girl taken from the reservation, and they find her dead in the cornfields. Right after my open-heart surgery I was on heavy doses of morphine, and all theses visions and memories came back from when I was a kid, like waking nightmares. For better or for worse, this Valley and its contours and its beauty and wretchedness are branded into my heart and mind.
You include the Catskill High School choir on the song “Hey Bobby Ray.” How did that come about?
I wanted to have a “haunted” choir with a multitude of female voices singing about retribution and redemption. No better choir than that from the ragtag high school that I went to. Luckily they were so great. It gave me chills: 40 girls singing “Hey Bobby Ray, you’ll get what’s coming boy, you’ll get your day.”
Was the new album a real local effort?
Yes. Pete Caigan, [a Woodstock sound mixer] mixed, and Jeremy Backofen, “the sixth Felice Brother,” produced a few tracks. My brothers all sang on a few tracks, and my friend Ben Lovett from Mumford & Sons produced two songs, one here in my barn. The album was recorded in several different places, including the Felice Brothers’ recording studio in the old Beacon high school. I mastered the recordings with Greg Calbi. He’s like Yoda, one of the top three luminaries of that field. When I was a kid he was on the back of all my favorite records like Born to Run and Patti Smith and John Lennon’s last record. It was an honor to work with him.
Tell me about the new novel.
Black Jesus is about a boy who is blinded by a roadside bomb overseas, and then the most unexpected love turns up in his town on a moped. I started writing it in 2005. It was inspired by a friend who fought in Iraq, who came home wounded, but with the kind of wounds you can’t see. I wanted to write a story about how love can heal the deepest traumas, because I had that experience. If I didn’t have love in my life I don’t think I’d be alive.
How was this different than your first two books, Goodbye Amelia and Hail Mary Full of Holes?
Those first two were underground, real small print runs, no publicity, very grassroots. Black Jesus is my first official international release. It feels good that it’s out there in the world.
Is it different playing your music away from home?
At home I have to try not to curse, ’cause usually my grandma’s there [laughs]. For some reason the people that gravitate towards my music are very lovely people, I feel nurtured and loved wherever I go. I recently went to Australia for the first time and it felt like a hometown show. I just played New York City the other night and usually that’s a very stressful sort of thing: Entertainment Weekly is going to be there, and Rolling Stone, and there’s a guest list with these big names. It was the first show in awhile where it felt like we were all just sitting around a fire together. It was a good feeling.
» Next fest: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs (June 1-Sept. 3)