Monday, June 15, 2009

Near-Cult Experiences

It is hard to describe The Mountain Goats. The Mountain Goats usually refers to a man named John Darnielle, a former nurse in a psychiatric ward who started out writing an recording songs on his boombox. These eventually evolved into something closer to an actual band, though it still is mostly just Mr. Darnielle and his guitar. Sometime during my freshman year of college, Mallary introduced me to The Mountain Goats, through the classic songs "No Children" and "International Small Arms Traffic Blues". After falling in love with these songs, I bought the album Tallahassee, an incredible 14-song affair chronicling the destructive relationship of a couple who will eventually drink themselves to death. I was hooked. I moved onto the gorgeously beautiful and fragile songs of The Sunset Tree (I might have to do a write-up of later, because I love it so much), then We Shall All Be Healed, then All Hail West Texas, then anything else I could find. Mallary was a huge, invaluable help in this regard, having a near-complete collection of Mountain Goats songs...probably somewhere around 300...I never really counted, but it's a good guesstimate that they constitute 1/4 of the content of my iPod, easily. That same freshman year that I got hooked on TMG, Mallary and I trekked all the way up to Haverford College in Pennsylvania one adventurous Sunday night just to watch Mr. Darnielle and Peter Hughes play a show in the basement of a dorm.

Let's fast-forward to

A little over a month ago, Mallary told me that it was confirmed that The Mountain Goats would be playing a benefit for Farm Sanctuary near the tiny lakeside town of Watkins Glen, New York, called Zoop II (there was a previous Zoop in 2007). A brief description of Farm Sanctuary - FS tauts itself as "the leading farm animal protection organization". It rescues farm animals from abusive situations, rallies against factory farming, advocates a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle - all that jazz. The festivies of Zoop II would ibe a weekend long extraganza with shows by John Danielle, Peter Hughes, and John K. Samson of another of my favorite bands, The Weakerthans. And, of course, since in the past Mallary and I have proven ourselves dedicated fans of The Mountain Goats, it seemed only natural (i.e. completely batshit crazy) that we drive up to Watkins Glen to camp out for the weekend with 200 or so other rabid Mountain Goats fans.

So here's a brief pictoral run-down of the weekend.

Here are the cabins where John Darnielle and company stayed in.

And here is our little tent village directly across.

The evening started off with an excellent set by John K. Samson (who I later sat next to briefly at the post-show bonfire)

Here's John's bandmate Peter Peter Hughes, who did a most energizing solo set with a lot of danceable disco-opera songs about Aregentinian race car driver Juan Manuel Fangio (look him up). They caused Zoop-goers to randomly shout "Fangio! Juan Fangio!" for a good chunk of the rest of the weekend.

And here's Johnny!

It was great, epic set. The crowd got very rowdy during "This Year".

Cultimating in John Darnielle probably very nearly getting hit by this broken beer bottle.

A bonfire followed the concert (not pictured in this blog entry)...30 or so Zoop-goers gathered around, guitars were brought out and people drank and sang Mountain Goats songs til the wee hours of evening. John Darnielle made a surprise appearance to join the sing along and Peter and John K. Samson also stopped by. I have to tell you, it was kind of surreal. The next morning, Farm Sanctuary gave Zoop-goers a free tour of their facilities, and an oppurtunity to meet all of the animals. Including adoreable, huge cows.



And Goats! (hehe) This goat here is Zoop, whom the event is named after. She only has 3 legs. She also likes to head-butt.

I see you.

A goat named Jerry Lee who most people simply call "The Pope".

This sheep fell in love with Mallary and wouldn't let her go.

And then a random goat escaped, causing staff to have the chase it and wrangle it back in.

This awesome woman and her husband made free t-shirts for everyone.

Now this the infamous "Request Only Setlist" board. People were asked to write down any songs they wanted John to play during the Request Only show that night. They also were asked to donate money (which would go to Farm Sanctuary) in order to encourage John to play their song.

It rained a bit, then cleared up, causing an awesome and gorgeous sunset over the hills.

People gather around for the Request Only show.

I love John's enthusiasm and unabashed joy when he plays. It gets me every time.

The second, Request Only show was my favorite of the weekend. It was here especially that encapsulated the ...for lack of a better word,"specialness" and surreal, magical quality of the weekend. It's hard to really put into words. Maybe it was the environment, the setting, the people, the fact that everyone had travelled hundreds of miles just to see this guy that we all admire play songs that we all love in a barn in beautiful upstate New York. It was just incredible. I'd say you'd be hard-pressed to find someone happier to play in front of an audience that couldn't be happier to see him. Having everyone sing-along to even the most obscure of Mountain Goats one point John jokingly referred to himself as a cult leader (Mallary and I and others were also joking about a vague "cult-like" atmosphere to the whole Zoop experience. Anyhoo, during the show a sort of boundary between artist and audience was broken briefly. Like when John's guitar string broke right before the encore and he came out and led everyone in a sing-along, a cappella version of "No Children". Just...incredible. What amazing people. What amazing music. What an amazing frickin weekend. I'm afraid I'm going to find going to normal concerts at normal clubs and bars and typical concert venues really disappointing after this.

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