Netphen-Deuz, Germany / June 4-6, 2015
Words: TK Smith

“This festival was developed in a small town community. It’s very special. People who play this kind of music, who like this kind of music show up. They travel to this place because it’s such a nice thing. Both the bands and the audience really support this scene.” ~ Mountain Witch

After a successful visit to the Freak Valley Festival last year, we were more than excited to make a return, especially as the lineup grew stronger and stronger by the day. Making for a near perfect setting, the festival is situated just outside Siegen, Germany on lush, wooded acreage behind a small industrial park. This year marks the festival’s fourth annual installment attracting an international array of bands from Blues, Stoner, Psychedelic, Doom, Progressive, and ‘70s-inspired heavy rock. The mood reflects one man’s (organizer Jens Heide) love for all things heavy creating an atmosphere of community among artists and audience alike. With warn, sunny, dry weather, the gates swung open on day one with a shout of exuberance from the waiting throng. Campers filed in from the surrounding grassy fields while others clamored down a leafy trail from the bus stop. The sold-out festival attracted all ages, old to young including families, creating a close-knit hippie vibe that was almost intoxicating.

The 3-day lineup included a wide range of performers, with Blues Pills, Orchid and Earthless as headliners. Many were there to see lesser-known acts that may not have gotten top billing, but were just as musically rich. Thursday: Italian band The Cyborgs drove 16 hours to open the festival with their own brand of distorted electric blues. The two-man unit wore black welding masks and did a kinda of dirty boogie White-Stripes jam. Strange at first but by the end of their set they had the crowd begging for more. On our list of ‘must sees’ was Mountain Witch, a killer German doom trio with a knack for simple Sabbath riffs and a forceful, rhythmic drive. Their surging “Snake Wand” was worth the trip alone as they powered through an astonishingly tight set, even teasing with a couple newbies. Coming all the way from Detroit, Michigan, The Muggs brought a whole lot of motorcity muscle to the stage. A wrecking ball of straight up ‘70s rock, the trio delivered at warp speed grabbing the crowd by the throat with a relentless barrage of high-octane rock. MC5, Mountain, Cactus and Savoy Brown all mix together in their eclectic bag of musical influences.

No one has heard of Danish band Gas Giant in over a decade, so the anticipation when they walked out on stage was palpable. With hair a bit grayer, they electrified the afternoon with the majestic “Storm of my Enemies.” Guitarist Stefan Kray took us back to 1999 with “Back on the Headless Track” and “Never Leave This Way”, songs that established the band as forerunners of heavy psychedelic stoner rock in Europe. They closed their mind-numbing set with favorites “Too Stoned” and “Freak Sensation”. Goatsnake was also resurrected in time for the festival. Promoting their new album Black Age Blues (15-years in the making) the LA-based four-piece stomped through “Elevated Man”, “Graves” and “Black Age Blues” before rolling out the big guns “The Dealer” and “Mower”. The Blues Pills are quickly becoming FVF’s house band. Organizer Jens Heide is credited for naming the group and inviting the band to headline last year’s festival - which led to a sensational live record. Returning this year, the international foursome brought back the days of early Fleetwood Mac (Then Play On-era) and even introduced a couple new tracks. They plan to release their sophomore album in the fall calling it more heavy and soulful.

Friday: Day two was loaded with superior acts. US band Freedom Hawk showcased songs off their just released fourth long player Into Your Mind. Groovy, fuzzy distortion, rattled the hung-over punters as the trio bulldozer through a ‘70s ride reminiscent of Grand Funk Railroad-meets-Fu Manchu. German progressive-folk band Bröselmaschine took us off guard, not only for their enchanting melodies but their incredible musicianship. They wrapped vibrant songs in a hybrid of folk, Indian, psychedelic and cosmic rock, all fused together to form a delicate spacious folk-fusion of great beauty. Within the group is legendary guitarist Peter Bursch whose masterful guitar/sitar/flute playing was mesmerizing. Their skillful acoustic/electric approach was one of the highlights of the weekend. Australia’s Seedy Jeezus and Sweden’s Travelin’ Jack bumped and bruised their way into everyone’s heart, even partying with the crowd long after their set. But it was Welsh quartet Sigiriya that played a blinding mix of doom metal that poured kerosene on the thirsty and overheated horde.

Years have gone by waiting for the right time to see Stockholm-based Siena Root. In fact, it was their name added to the festival list that had us booking our flight. From the opening riff of “Between the Lines” to the organ-infused “Little Man” and bluesy gusto of “Root Rock Pioneers” the band claimed victory for the day. Bassist Sam Riffer and drummer Love Forsberg set pace as a rumbling engine while guitarist Matte Gustavsson painted notes with master precision. Organist Erik Pettersson brought ‘70s color and texture with Jon Lord density as soulful vocalist Jonas Åhlen played the ringmaster. Incredible! American biker band Danava retrofitted Steppenwolf followed by arena rocker Horisont who are quickly outgrowing their club status and ready for arenas. Horisont’s twin guitar perfection and heavy action boogie rock put them at the top of the food chain. The day closed with Swiss foursome Monkey3 kicking up plenty of stoner dust and leaving the door open for headliner Orchid to cast a wicked, Sabbath-like spell with new songs “Helicopters”, “John The Tiger” and “Sign of the Witch”.

Saturday: Finnish trio Tombstones kept it low and slow in the pre-noon hours of day three. Valley of the Sun put up a bit more muscle despite technical issues with the gear. The Ohio natives are true fuzz-o-holics with catchy, riff-infested ditties. Dead Man came out of retirement to introduce a couple new songs and thrill with a few older ones. The promise of a new record looms near. The afternoon continued at increased volume with North Dakota doomslayers Egypt adding a bit of boogie in their “Dirty Witch” two-step. Greek band Tuber was unknown to us, which is half the fun of this festival. We caught a couple song titled like “Attack from Mars” and “Lap Dance” but “Firebird” from their debut LP really cranked it up. Another favorite Kamchatka made it just in time to showcase their new vinyl offering Long Road Made of Gold. Like a modern James Gang with bits of Clutch and Allman Brothers, the Swedish three-piece deliver classy well-crafted songs that stick inside your head for weeks.

Icelandic power trio The Vintage Caravan have been making waves since their Voyage debut last year. Loud electric blues played with creativity and passion reminiscent of Rory Gallagher made for an exciting thrill. “Crazy Horses” off new album Arrival got the biggest crowd response. With interviews and dinner calling we didn’t make it back to stage front until the repetitive moaning feedback of Electric Moon. The German trio could have played all night and we would have thought it was the same song. Their crazy psychedelic acid grooves weave into complex arrangements of liquid fusion under a trippy light show. Something everyone should experience. The night and festival closer was Earthless, the premiere heavy psych jam band from San Diego. Guitarist Isaiah Mitchell is a guitar god for the stoner faithful and his incredible talent was not to be missed. However, at the end of their set, the band shifted gears by not only bringing Mitchell to center mic for vocals, but doing a covers-set featuring “Foxy Lady” (Hendrix), “Cherry Red” (Groundhogs), “Come On” (Earl King) and “Communication Beakdown” (Zeppelin). Mind blowing!

Best bands of the festival: 1) Siena Root, 2) Mountain Witch, 3) Kamchatka!

Best quote of the weekend:
“A guy lost his wallet here last year with 800 euros in it. He called in a panic asking if anyone had turned it in. The festival told him not to worry. This is the kind of place that cares about people. A couple days later the wallet was found, everything (including the money) was intact. That’s the kind of place this is.” ~ FV Festival attendee

Website: Freak Valley Festival