By Joe Shearer, Reporter
Mystery, freakishness and merriment were at the ready Friday night as Icky Blossoms rocked and Aaron Freeman rolled for those in attendance at the Hullabaloo Music and Camping Festival.
The sun just finished setting under a cloudy, crimson horizon as I pulled into Sokol Park on the humid, but pleasant evening. The soulful sounds of Hullabaloo’s host, Kris Lager Band, permeated the air, which made for a relaxing backdrop as I toured the festival grounds and campsites.
Having moved from the festival’s old site at RiverWest Park in West Omaha, Sokol Park – just north of Plattsmouth – was just as long of a jaunt; but the facilities were immaculate and many folks who attended last year said the venue was a great upgrade.
When I approached the designated concert field there was a two-stage setup, with the stages side-by-side. Both were rigged with LED light fixtures and the Kris Lager Band bounced between quick, poppy numbers and more-winding jams on the main stage.
Heading towards the camping grounds, I traveled via the electric tunnel walk, which was a forest trail guided by string lights, LED cans and various decorations strewn about. As I passed by several tents and clusters of festival folk, a pleasant, laid-back vibe was sensed all around. The festival wasn’t packed, so everyone had plenty of room to make a comfortable camping space.
The clock drew closer to 10 p.m., and I headed back to the concert grounds in anticipation for the upcoming Icky Blossoms set.
Following a brief technical difficulty and the attempted soul-stealing of a man named Justin Brant, Icky Blossoms got off to a rip-roaring start with an energy-filled anthem “Burn Rubber.” The band toured through their whole repertoire, I’m pretty sure, nailing every song off of their only album, as well as a handful of new tunes they’ve been debuting recently. It was a wild set of raging rock, chanting lyrics and ecstatic dancing on stage and throughout the crowd. It was truly electric.
As Icky Blossoms came to a close with their show-ending anthem, “Perfect Vision,” I looked toward the main stage to see how many people were waiting to see Aaron “Gene Ween” Freeman.
To my surprise, only a few dozen people were meandering around. Any person could have nonchalantly strolled to the front of the stage at will. I recalled seeing a large number of people turn out for the Kris Lager Band. Why wouldn’t they want to come see the festival’s biggest act?
Regardless of attendance, the show went on as Freeman and cohort Joe Young took the stage for what was a succinct, but beautiful set, saturated with Ween and Freeman’s solo work.
Freeman began the set with “As I Love My Own,” a steady-paced, Rod McKuen cover from Freeman’s semi-recent solo release, “Marvelous Clouds.” The whole album is actually all McKuen covers. I don’t know what more to say about this song except that it was innocent yet mystical.
Freeman then shifted into Gene Ween mode as he led the crowd through a classic collection of Ween tunes. A number of Ween albums were visited as Freeman played the brown “Chocolate Town,” the lovey-dovey “Stay Forever,” the ominous “Object” and more. He even busted out “Kansas City Star,” an old Roger Miller honky-tonk romp that Ween used to cover long ago.
After a funky “Ooh Va La,” Freeman quickly stepped back into his solo catalog, performing “Kite Flying Man,” another calm, acoustic goody.
It was mostly Ween material after that, with Freeman and Young cruising through selections such as the vocal-morphed “Spirit Walker,” the psychedelic “Stallion pt. 3,” and a top-shelf “Rights to the Ways and the Rules of the World.”
Freeman then asked to be our “Nature Man,” a lovely little send off from his solo archive to end the set.
“Buenos Tardes Amigo” was a fitting and epic encore. The spirit of the song was brought to life with a loud explosion booming from the forest (probably fireworks), and in the song’s narration Freeman described exacting revenge on the killer of his brother. The crowd let out a “woo” and Freeman himself was taken aback with the timing.
I’m still shocked about the lackluster festival presence for Freeman’s set. Maybe they were all just getting ready for the “Late Night Sexy Set” later that night in the barn. Who knows? All I know is several people inside and outside the festival missed a real treat. All the die-hard Ween fans got to be quite intimate with a man they’ve been known to call Papa Gener.
I applaud the Kris Lager Band and the rest of the Hullabaloo organizers for putting in some real effort by booking some big names, as well as trying to provide the most comfortable experience for guests and campers. It’s safe to say the Kris Lager Band isn’t a bunch of hypocrites when they sing about southern hospitality.
Hullabaloo was a solid end of summer celebration with great weather, camping and tunes.