Positively Charged Music Festival hits Vermont

By Dave Coffey

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If the Positively Charged Music Festival proves anything, it is that a collective of individual voices can still make a profound and resonating statement through the power of grassroots activism and a passion for musical expression.

Hannah Cohen/Collegian

Hannah Cohen/Collegian

The main mission of the Positively Charged Music Festival, which took place this past Saturday at Amazing Plant Farm in Williamsville, Vt., was to spread awareness about the potential dangers of nuclear power. It specifically focused on calling for the shutting down of the Vermont Yankee Power Plant when its license expires next year.  The event lasted between 2-6 p.m. and featured seven bands and musical acts from three different states. Evoking the inspirational and expressive musical atmosphere of other gatherings such as Woodstock and Farm Aid, the festival took place on a sprawling field of farm grassland surrounded by the lush forestry and breathtaking mountainous backdrop offered by the Green Mountain State.

Spearheading the event was Dan DeWalt, a multitalented musician and activist who calls Williamsville home but lends his musical abilities on the trombone, piano and steel pan to a slew of bands and musical projects across New England. Despite his laid-back appearance sporting a plaid shirt, beat up jeans and unkempt locks of wavy brown hair, his work ethic was betrayed by his dedication to making sure the festival runs smoothly. Throughout the day he multitasked as a performer with several of the acts, director of events and impassioned conversationalist with members of the audience.  According to DeWalt, preparations for the festival began in May of this year. But despite the ambitious task of putting together a six-hour music festival basically for free, he seemed pleased at the outcome.

“I just made some phone calls to a bunch of musicians and told them, ‘We can’t pay you at all,’ and everyone just said, ‘Yeah, sure,’” said DeWalt.

The musical talent was not the only part of the festival that was donated free for the cause.  DeWalt explained that in addition to the actual performance, the venue, the sound system and even most of the promotion was free of charge. Even the wooden stage upon which the musicians stood was built for free from material donated for the event.  DeWalt also pointed to the Safe & Green Campaign for their support efforts and contribution of funds for things such as printing costs.

The Safe and Green Campaign is a grassroots, “people-powered” effort whose main goal is also the eventual termination of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant.  In addition to a focus on, “public education, outreach and organizing,” in order to inform those who live within 20 miles of the power plant, Safe & Green also works to aid conservation and sustainability efforts so as to replace the need for potentially more dangerous nuclear power.

“We really enjoy getting these events together where we can combine getting our message out with people expressing themselves,” said Betsy Williams, one of the Safe & Green members attending the festival.

The music provided for the afternoon and evening was delivered by a diverse and capable group of bands. The Eames Brothers Band, Pulse Prophets, Simba, Mo Ambesa and Clayton Sabine all hail from Vermont, while Shokazoba are Northampton natives, and High Fidelity and King I made the trip from New Hampshire.  From the sizzling blues-rock of The Eames Brothers to the jazz-funk jam stylings of Simba, all the acts brought a varied and competent sound to the table for all who attended, while simultaneously sharing a near-spiritual level of affinity for moving people, both mentally and physically, through the power of music.

Mo Ambesa, whose activism-inspired socially conscious lyrics are complimented by an addictive hybrid of Afro-beat funk and soulfully rocking reggae, has had a particularly long-lasting relationship with DeWalt.

“I’ve known most of those guys since they were in elementary school,” said DeWalt.

Noting that the festival was held, “…right down the road” from where the sextet calls home, Mo Ambesa exemplified the ability for average individuals to stand up and make a statement about their home and immediate environment, through music or otherwise. They were more than eager to lend their voices for the day’s cause.

“It was all really grassroots the way everything came together,” said Mo Ambesa member Dylan Richardson, whose beard is nearly as mighty as his skills on the saxophone.

On top of a day of stirring music, a series of moving speeches were delivered in between sets from various people.  While the main theme was grassroots perseverance in the name of social justice and human rights, the speakers all came from various backgrounds and spoke on various topics, including an American activist who lives in Libya commenting on the recent revolutions and a Japanese woman speaking about the devastation in the wake of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.

In addition to the events on the stage, those who attended were also able to peruse a variety of stands and kiosks that offered either refreshment or additional information on the cause of day.  From homemade tee-shirts – or “Alterna-tees” as they called them – to handmade wood-fired pizza, all of the additional purchases also went towards donation to the cause.

“It’s great because it’s just a ‘people’ thing, you know? People getting together and having a good time, nothing more or less,” said one vendor. “Dan really did an awesome job putting this together.”

For more information, visit safeandgreencampaign.org.

Dave Coffey can be reached at [email protected]