The Northeast Kingdom Music Festival, which happens every year in Albany, Vermont, isn’t short on mainstays of the standard liberal neo-hippie fest, replete with dreadlocks, giant puppets and Bush protests. And it takes place in the state that birthed epic hippie jam band Phish and their legion of devoted phollowers.
Redlands-based indie-filmmaker Chris Pepino is no stranger to New England’s latent hippie ways. A transplant from Norwalk, Connecticut, Pepino attended college at the university there, and later lived in Los Angeles and New York before returning to Redlands. But he stayed a big fan of outdoor festivals and music in general. It was while working on a documentary about Vermont’s favorite jam band that he stumbled onto the subject for his latest documentary The Northeast Kingdom Music Festival Film.
While in Vermont preparing to film his documentary We Enjoy Yourself, a film documenting the trials and tribulations of Phish fanatics making their final pilgrimage through the rolling New England countryside to see the band’s final show, he got wind of the Northeast Kingdom fest through childhood friend and co-organizer Wes Hamilton. It was taking place a week before the final Phish show and Pepino, already armed with plenty of video equipment, decided to film the fest.
“I didn’t have the documentary idea right away,” Pepino said. “I just started filming all the bands there and the diversity shocked me. Plus the vibe was really good and it was in a beautiful location. It’s a really intimate festival. You get around 2,000 people, whereas larger festivals you get between 10,000-15,000.”
He spent five months editing his film on a PC on his kitchen table. And after going through countless hours of raw video footage, Pepino managed to distill it down to the best 58 minutes that the festival had to offer.
The film itself is titled directly after the festival, and while it can’t be lauded for its creative endowments to the art of documentary filmmaking, Pepino’s passion for music seeps through every frame. He artfully conveys the sentimentality and solidarity among the fest revelers that most of us will never see, short of quitting the job and selling tofu-rice bowls out of the back of a converted bio-diesel short bus. The film—and the festival—serve up a platter of carefully cultivated auditory delights like hard drinking Santa Cruz bumpkin-punks The Devil Makes Three, gypsy-rockers (and moustache aficionados) Gogol Bordello and hip-hop veterans Hieroglyphics.
Pepino’s Northeast Kingdom film, actually shot over three consecutive years, is being released before his Phish documentary due to sensitive band politics, but he plans to start shopping around to various film festivals this year.