Scott Kucharski

REVIEW/PHOTOS: First-ever Catbird Music Festival impresses with memorable lineup, scenic views, and organization at Bethel Woods

REVIEW/PHOTOS: First-ever Catbird Music Festival impresses with memorable lineup, scenic views, and organization at Bethel Woods
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The inaugural Catbird Music Festival landed in the Catskill Mountains of New York on the weekend of Aug. 19-20, flying high with an eclectic lineup of country, bluegrass, folk, rock, alternative, jazz, funk, and jam bands. For its first year, they chose the hallowed grounds of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, which most know is the former home of the most eclectic festival ever, the legendary Woodstock.

As a new event, some music fans were skeptical of logistics involving scheduling, parking, camping, and other amenities. With festivals seemingly cropping up every weekend somewhere across the country since the pandemic has passed, there have been successes and some major failures – even the occasional cancellation before the gates could open.

Thankfully, those fears never came to fruition at Catbird. Despite a few complaints about long walks from the camping area to the performance stages, many fans were completely blown away by the ease of attending such an event. From every aspect – the lack of traffic on the roads heading in and out, the smooth entry/re-entry RFID bracelet scanner system, and the abundance of staff (including ushers, information stations, security, and other parking and maintenance attendants) – this one just did things “right.” As the days progressed and fans rolled in for the headlining acts, lines at concession stands grew longer, but nobody seemed to mind as everything was so laidback and easygoing. Those who were lucky enough to have VIP or platinum passes also had separate VIP viewing areas, food stands, and clean, air-conditioned restrooms.

Seating for all performers was first-come, first-served for each ticket level, which also went off without a hitch (except for one obnoxious guy who most will remember without saying much else here about it). Perhaps the most ingenious idea was the venue’s decision to offer free event T-shirts to any attendee who took the time to fill a garbage bag with recyclables and return the bag to the stand during the event. This was a huge hit with kids in attendance as well as many adults who did their part to keep the venue as pristine as they found it when the gates opened on Saturday morning.

The performances included sets by country artists 49 Winchester, Charlie Crockett, Margo Price, and Morgan Wade; country/blues/rock artist John R. Miller; R&B/soul up-and-comer Celisse (Henderson); country/jazz/soul singer Madeline Edwards; the genre-defying Soul Rebels; folk rockers Briscoe, Johnnyswim, and Amos Lee; International Folk Music Awards Artist of the Year and 2022 Album of the Year winner Allison Russell; alt/indie singer Adia Victoria; bluegrass/folk legends Trampled by Turtles; Grammy-nominated rocker James Bay; indie/roots rockers Dispatch; jam band Eggy and the guitar god of jam band music, Trey Anastasio, with his band; folk/indie stars The Lumineers; and bluegrass/folk/neotraditional country star Tyler Childers.

As a photographer/reviewer, I love discovering new bands or bands that I previously hadn’t seen live or had time to listen to before. This weekend provided a plethora of those, including personal highlights Celisse, Dispatch, 49 Winchester, and Allison Russell. I will be giving them all a more prominent place in my playlists over the next few weeks. As for those I was familiar with or had seen before, Margo Price and her band were an early Saturday highlight, Band of Horses brought an unexpectedly high level of energy to their set, which was my odds-on favorite of the Saturday lineup until Philly rockers The War on Drugs took the stage and simply blew me away with their tight sound, beautifully written songs, and show-stealing performance by frontman/guitarist Adam Granduciel. While The Lumineers certainly did not disappoint with their headlining set, beautiful stage production, and laundry list of hits that sent fans back to their RVs for the night with huge smiles and high expectations for Sunday, for me, the performance of the day/night on Saturday was TWOD, without a doubt.

After another scenic drive back on Sunday, I arrived just in time for main stage sets by Celisse, Morgan Wade, and Amos Lee. All delivered what would have been killer headlining sets, depending on the night and venue, and were icing on the cake of what was to follow. With quick jaunts to the Gala Music side stage in between main stage sets to see Madeline Edwards, Eggy, The Soul Rebels, and Allison Russell, I was quite the happy (non)camper as golden hour approached on this beautiful weekend of music. Settling in for the last three main stage performances, I was excited to see Dispatch or the first time, Trey Anastasio Band for the first time in a few years and, depending on who you asked, the main man of the weekend, Tyler Childers.

Dispatch was everything I had heard about and more in their lively set. The band ripped through their long list of fan favorites, including “The General,” which had the crowd on their feet as the band seemed to be enjoying every second of their hour-long show. Anastasio was next and, as expected, his virtuoso guitar playing highlighted the next 10-song, 90-minute set of trippy originals and Phish jams, which delighted the thousands of fans under the amphitheater as well as the packed lawn.

Closing out the night and the weekend was Childers and his raucous 18-song grand finale of the first Catbird Music Festival. He took to a stage adorned with potted plants, moss-covered “rock” structures, a console TV, coatrack, and random taxidermy pieces, including an opossum, a pair of squirrels playing poker, and an armadillo. Backed by his band – including pedal steel player James Barker, guitarists CJ Cain and “The Professor” Jesse Wells, bassist Craig Burletic, keyboardist Chase Lewis, and drummer Rodney Elkins – the 32-year-old Kentucky native ripped through hits like “All Your’n,” “Whitehouse Road,” “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?” and more, as well as covers of Kenny Rogers’ “Tulsa Turnaround,” Hank Williams’ “Old Country Church,” and the Charlie Daniels Band’s “Trudy.” Childers truly let his dogs hunt during his time in the Catbird seat and served as the perfect closer to a perfect weekend in the crisp New York mountains of Bethel.

I think I speak for all in attendance when I hope that this is the first of many more Catbird Music Festivals at Bethel Woods, a pairing that truly understands what it takes to create the ideal summer concert experience.