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-from the blog
-August 24th, 2012

Out in the Woods
Second Annual Queer Music Festival
By Ron “Ran” Waite

August 11, 2012 – What could happen when you bring together a plethora of 18 creative and unique “OUT” LGBT musical acts for ten hours of fun and music?—MAGIC—that’s what! This second annual event took place at Easton Mountain, in the beautiful foot-hills of the Green Mountains, in upstate NY and benefitted a terrific cause: the GLBT Youth Summer Camp at Easton Mountain (see the end of this piece for more information about this program). The large and receptive audience was treated to a wide variety of genres of music, surprise guests and relatively good weather (although it did sprinkle a couple of times during the day). The musical artists treated us to tunes culled from their CDs; some signature tunes that are only used in their “live” shows; a few “cover” tunes; and premiered some new tunes that they were “trying out” on a willing audience. By the end of the evening we heard accolades about many of the artists including those that have had songs featured on television shows and in the movies—this was a talented line-up. Each artist was given 30 minutes (about six songs) to add their “flavor” to this delicious smorgasbord of music—there was something for the eclectic tastes of all of our gay sensibilities: audience participation, Broadway show tunes (naturally), cabaret, classical, comedy, dance, folk, pop, rock, soul, and even spoken word. During their time on stage, they sang, danced, played a myriad of musical instruments and even found time to titillate us with videos and their sarongs—oh baby! The stage was, as one performer put it, like being inside a drag queen’s brain—it was a colorful, hodgepodge of decorations. It was a long day, but absolutely delightful, just the same. This was a day about enlightening the audience and about creating a community for the artists.

If you are not familiar with any of these artists, then do yourself a favor and Google them—discovering new “OUT” artists is definitely worth your time! Many of these performers also have wonderful videos to watch online as well. (Acts marked with an asterisk had also performed at the first “Out in the Woods” music festival.) I have to say that I was impressed with the efforts that these artists have taken to explore important topics, in song: our gay heritage, gay marriage, transgender awareness and even incorporating works by other “OUT” LGBT artists.

Dan Manjovi* started the day off with “Forgotten How to Dream” a song that showed off his inner rock star! He told us that he is working on a new musical show and sang a song from it. He also performed a wonderful version of Elton John’s “Daniel”. He sang a gorgeous song “There’s No One More Beautiful Than You,” that he had written for his husband and was joined on stage for the singing debut of Steve Sims (co-host of “The Quest of Life” radio program in Albany) on a song entitled “Quest of Life” that Dan had written in honor of the radio show.

Arjuna Greist* hails from western Massachusetts. She took to the stage with her phenomenal spoken word piece entitled “Normal.” She treated us to her compelling feminism, humor and trans awareness (“Oh! Tranny Boy” is wonderful) in both a cappella and guitar accompanied versions. She shared “Tragedy On the Radio” the title track of her long awaited upcoming CD and ended her set with the humorous “Fred Phelps in Heaven.” Props have to go out to her and Trystan for volunteering to help sell all of the artists’ CDs—ALL DAY LONG.

Special guest and MC, Mx. Justin Vivian Bond came to the stage next with her accompanist Mr. Wabbit. She sang three songs, including “Equipoise.” She is quite funny, as well as very supportive of programs for queer youth. She made us laugh and left us wanting more…

Jeremy James* played guitar, mandolin and the harmonica during his time on stage. He started by reading a poem, and then segued into a song about Charlton Heston. His songs are about real-life experiences, like “Waiting,” and the lyrics are definitely worth listening to. He premiered a new song (written in the last two weeks) called “Choke” which I really enjoyed. He closed with a guitar version of one of his favorite songs when he was young “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” He quipped that despite his love of this show tune–”they were surprised that I was gay.”

Freddy Freeman wore a skirt for the first time while on stage. He graced us with “Eyes of Love,” a song that he is going to include on his upcoming album (btw. Denise Troy of Sister Funk really liked this song). His cover of Boy George’s “Same Thing In Reverse” was wonderful and then he covered Roger Anthony Yolanda Mapes’ “We Are Angels”. He asked singers Robert Urban (the song`s producer) and Tym Moss (host of Artists Exposed with Tym Moss (Internet Radio Show)) to join him on this song—it was an inspired collaboration. He closed his set with the song “Echo.”

Next was an incredible change of pace and style—Jorge Avila on violin and Jonathan Comisar (the Artistic Director for “Out in the Woods”) on keyboards. Jorge is a Honduran-American violinist with a distinguished classical background. Despite the fact that there were only two of them—this set was lush, romantic and gorgeous! They performed music from gay composers Aaron Copeland, Pablo Sarasate and Leonard Bernstein. I particularly enjoyed the Leonard Bernstein tribute, because it included music from West Side Story!

Gay activist Jim Fouratt, who was in the audience, was asked to speak to the audience. He commented that he was enjoying all the different genres of music that we have all grown up with. Additionally, with his background as a writer for Billboard and Rolling Stone magazines, he warned us not to steal the musicians’ music, even if it is tempting to us.

The only full band in the lineup, Sister Funk*, was up next. They were the first act to get people up out of their chairs and dancing on the lawn. Was it because their high energy set started with a song entitled “Crazy”? This is an all lesbian band that has been together for 10 years—an accomplishment that they are proud of. “Get My Whiskey On” was a standout; they also performed a wonderful cover of the Cee Lo Green tune “Forget You.” They ended with their biographical song “Sister Funk.” This band makes new fans every place they go—I’ve seen them perform many times—it’s always true—and today was no exception.

Radio personality Tym Moss was invited to speak. He thanked everyone involved for this “magical afternoon” He started a wonderful story about his growing up and then launched into “He Touched Me” (the Barbra Streisand version). Nice voice—I was impressed.

Bistro Award-winner Justin Sayre was also asked to speak. He expressed his amazement for Easton Mountain, likening it to the “Catskills for faggots.”

The next performer was newcomer Neil Totton (The New King of Fashion and Soul on the road to Becoming Relevant) with Valentin Marx on guitar. This talented young man is originally from Missouri, but currently lives in NYC. I enjoyed his song “Cuntry Boi”, and then he took off his shirt—whoa baby! He covered Wham’s “Everything She Wants” and Sam Sparrow’s “Black and Gold” plus introduced three new songs, including “To Love You” and “Wait For Today.” I was impressed enough to buy his mixed tape CD.

Travis Laughlin, who impersonates Janis Joplin (complete with feather boas in her hair), and goes by the stage name of “Pearl,” stopped by to introduce the next act.

Robert Urban* is a modern day Renaissance man: singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, and producer. Robert opened with Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” to honor all the many seekers of enlightenment in the audience. Then in a solemn tribute to all victims of bullying, he sang “the most uncomfortable song” that he knows: “Strange Fruit.” His cover of Joni Mitchell’s “I Had a King” was magical. Speaking to the audience before his rendition of the Psychedelic Furs “Love My Way,” he told us to “remember that our love is our love and we love our own way.” To end his set “on a real summer of love note” he launched into George Harrison’s “It’s All Too Much.”

Travis Laughlin/Pearl came back to sing “Mercedes Benz” – another song that we couldn’t help but sing along with. Later she also performed “Piece of My Heart.”

Justin Vivian Bond was up next, singing a couple of songs, including a cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ About A Revolution,” which is on her latest CD called “Silver Wells.”

Ryan Cassata is a transgender, singer-songwriter and motivational speaker from Long Island, NY. He sang all original songs. He has recently graduated from high school and is moving to San Francisco for college. He sang songs about being a transman, a song to his father and “Adrianne” for his girlfriend. He is a very enthusiastic singer/performer. I especially liked the song “Sleeping Through.” Several people bought his CDs after hearing this set—he had touched many people with this performance.

Tom Goss* is a wonderful performer who takes command of the stage. He offered a smattering of songs from his “Turn It Around” CD, such as “It’s All Over.” He dedicated the song “Lover” to his husband and then he told us that he was going to sing the song for the video he is about to make. But he teased us with the thought that he was going to be naked in the entire video; of course it would be edited carefully! My favorite song of his was “Bears” which he performed wearing a bear hat that he borrowed from Kendall. It was a fun and upbeat collection of songs.

Washington, DC resident Will Gartshore performed with piano accompaniment by Jonathan Comisar. He is a cabaret performer (I happen to be a sucker for cabaret singers) who performed a selection of songs about gay relationships. He sang a few songs from the off-Broadway show “Unmade Bed,” my favorites being “The Other Other Woman” and “He Never Did That Before.” He also performed “I’d Rather Be Sailing” from the Off-Broadway Musical “A New Brain.” He has a beautiful voice and said that he really “enjoyed the creative energy at Easton Mountain.”

Up next was Ben Lerman a solo comedy musician—who is incredibly hysterical. We heard a new song about losing his virginity, and the extremely creative song “The Bull Shit Bus,” in which he sang with three uniquely different accents. Tom Goss joined him on a cover of Marina and the Diamonds’ “Premadonna.” He ended with a disco song entitled “Chubby Chasers,” which got him to dance out into the audience and “involve” a couple of portly gentlemen. My sides still hurt from laughing so much!

Greg Anderson is another cabaret singer who is closely associated with the Queer Theater Company in Albany, NY. Dan Gallagher accompanied him on the piano. He treated us to Cole Porter’s “I Happen to Like New York” and the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer tune “Come Rain Or Come Shine.” He said that he was happy that we live in an age where “I no longer have to sing her when I mean he.” His last number was a rendition of the funny song “Don’t Put Your Daughter On the Stage, Mrs. Worthington” by Noel Coward. He has a nice voice and I enjoyed his set.

Justin Vivian Bond was up again, singing a couple of songs that I did not recognize. Her song choices are such that she takes an obscure song and melds it into her own style. She definitely is creative.

Kendall Kelly is a pop performance artist who had waited patiently all day to perform. I finally understood why his turn to perform was after the sun went down. His music videos are creative expressions of his psyche and he used them throughout his set (they were easy to see on a large screen, in the dark). He started by showing us his latest video, for the song “Don’t Even Know You’re a Vampire.” He moves wonderfully and sang the songs as his videos played behind him. In the drag portion of his show, he performed “G.I. Barbie” and ended with a song about his favorite thing in the world “The Booty Song.” This performance was lots of fun!

Darren Chase is a classical baritone singer who sings French, Spanish and Italian songs. He was accompanied on piano by Alexandra Samsonova. He opened with “Chanson a Boire,” a French drinking song. He also performed “Sanglots” by gay composer Francis Poulenc set to a poem by Guillaume Apollinaire. Other songs were by Brel and Mascagni. I loved the fact that he ended each song with a hearty laugh—he loved what he was doing. He finished with the beautiful “Oh Sole Mio” and “Chitarra Romana,” both popular Italian songs.

Yail Acher is a native of Tel Aviv, and has a BA degree in music and classical flute performance. She offered Easton Mountain a unique performance piece. She initially stated that she would do a “small” on the flute and performed “My Funny Valentine.” Next she presented a 1919 silent film from Germany with flute accompaniment. The film was about the relationship between a male violin teacher and his male student. Yail played the flute along with the grainy film—it was an interesting combination, definitely something different for us to take in.

The last act of the day was Jeremy Gloff*. Jeremy almost didn’t make it to Easton Mountain because of a number of flight problems from Tampa, but I’m glad that he did. The first thing that he did was ask that the audience come up close to the stage, since he couldn’t see a soul in the dark. He then launched into a high energy set that was all about losing one’s inhibitions. He treated us to “Beautiful Boy,” “Lights On” (during which he invited audience members on stage to dance with him—he even took his shirt off during this song). He ended his set with another dance number “World Won’t Do It” and then gathered the people on stage for a big group hug!

After the event, many of the artists relayed their heartfelt gratitude to the organizers of the event (through Facebook) for the terrific job that they had done. This sophomore effort was bigger and better than the previous year. Kudos to you all!

For the last seven years, Easton Mountain has hosted Queer Spirit Camp, an LGBT summer camp that brings together 80 – 100 young adults, many of them disenfranchised youth from NYC and Boston. Teens and young adults come together for a week of community building where they engage in creating their own workshops from leadership training and mentoring to gender identity, race, and homophobia, in a supporting and welcoming environment. This year, Queer Spirit Camp will reunite QSC alumni, who will come together to create new programing, rekindle friendships, mentor each other, and create innovative youth camp workshops for the coming years. Easton Mountain will also offer the campers arts, theater, music and dance and yoga programs.