MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This past weekend, not far from the original site of Woodstock, there was a different kind of music festival. It's called All Tomorrow's Parties. Instead of taking place in a farmer's field with droves of concertgoers sleeping in the mud, this event was smaller and more, well, comfortable. All Tomorrow's Parties was hosted at Kutsher's Hotel and Country Club, one of the last Jewish family resorts in the region long known as the borscht belt. And our music critic, Will Hermes, was there.
(Soundbite of music)
WILL HERMES: By the time we got to Kutsher's, we were about 2,700 strong, small potatoes compared to cattle-call rock festivals like Lollapalooza. But All Tomorrow's Parties is a British outfit looking to overhaul that model. They're known for staging modest events at down-market summer resorts where festival goers can hike, swim or play mini golf in between seeing strange rock bands. Imagine the hipster record store in the movie "High Fidelity" turned into a sleep-away camp with live sets by groups like Mogwai and the Meat Puppets, and you've pretty much got the idea.
(Soundbite of song "Lost")
MEAT PUPPETS: (Singing) Lost on the freeway again. Looking for means to an end. Nobody knows which way it's gonna bend. Lost on the freeway, again.
HERMES: After hosting two events in California, All Tomorrow's Parties came to upstate New York last weekend, and it was really one of the greatest live music events I've ever been to. A big part of it was the gourmet programming, which combined alternative rock veterans like Dinosaur Jr., Bob Mould and My Bloody Valentine with kindred younger acts like the Silver Mount Zion Orchestra and Lighting Bolt, an experimental bass and drums duo who throws surging noise tantrums, not on stage, but in the middle of the audience, where fans thrash so wildly you're afraid they'll knock over the musicians.
(Soundbite of Lightning Bolt's music)
HERMES: But much of the event's charm had to do with the setting. The shows were at Kutsher's, the Jewish family resort where Shecky Green once held court, and where the adorable matriarch, Helen Kutsher, still works behind the counter making sure everyone is happy. I stayed at the nearby Raleigh, the event's sister hotel, which was like an archaeological site of early '60s kitsch. Sure, our room in the Sammy Davis wing smelled like mildew and had no heat, and outside the shuffleboard courts were overgrown with weeds. But the crumbling facilities echoed the festival's homespun spirit - and the music, which often hid beautiful melodies within roaring, decaying guitar noise. Like the headliners, My Bloody Valentine, who ended the festival Sunday with a magnificent set in Kutsher's starlight ballroom.
(Soundbite of music)
HERMES: It was good that airfield-grade earplugs were handed out free, because My Bloody Valentine's set was the loudest music I've ever experienced. You didn't so much hear it as feel it. It was like getting a full-body, deep-tissue massage with sound waves. Somehow, the stardust ballroom didn't collapse under the assault, which gives me hope that old Kutsher's will survive the current economic downturn and that All Tomorrow's Parties might become a new model for rock concerts.
It wasn't cheap - let's just say I'm hiding the Visa bill from the wife this month - but no concerts are cheap these days. And the sense of shared community, where you might bump into a punk rock aristocrat like Patti Smith wandering the halls in search of coffee, as I did, was pretty special. Like that annoying credit card ad says, some things are priceless.
(Soundbite of music)
BLOCK: When he's not attending music festivals, Will Hermes is a professor at the State University of New York in New Paltz.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.