Strange Daze '99

Text and photos by Don Falcone

Strange Daze is a trip. A dream journey for card-carrying space fans. Installment 3 of this fest, held at Nelson’s Ledge, Ohio in late August, was also a time to join, or take a peak. Trip 5: Almost dawn, hours past Sloterdijk’s last notes under the tent that was refuge for this year’s after midnight acts. Walking on a dirt path stagebound, I focused an all-night health food joint worked by folk and Dead fest survivors. The maiden took my order, queried: “Did you see that guy, what he was wearing?” True, it was hard to tell who or what was within. But Hawkwind fans knew. It was Nik. To the uninitiated, Strange Daze is an alien dose of reality.
Trip 4: After Nik Turner and Farflung completed their set, an unmasked Nik returned and quietly performed Silver Machine. Imagine a few dips into the reed for the rhythm, then face up to sing a line or two, then repeat. Space-busking at its finest.
Trip 3: Each attendee received a free program previewing performers, loaded with top ten lists for all things space, and ads by some of the vendors selling cheap CDs and zines.
Trip 2: I drove in, parked near backstage, where some bands would eventually settle. I decided to forego a tent and spend my sleepnights in a car. To the right of my parkspace, a mini playground dubbed the HawkNest. Space rock for kids.
Trip 1: From Pennsylvania or nearby, hop on the PA turnpike, head northwesterly. At the Ohio border, the pike changes name. Nelson’s Ledge sits 40 miles in. The Strange Daze page (and provided excellent directions. One wrong turn at Nelson’s town square, but a farmer straightened me out.
Liftoff, Friday Night: Scheduled headliner Tribe of Cro cancelled their U.S. tour and Helios Creed was AWOL. This was my first Strange Daze, and I was aware of Year 2’s Hawkwind visa problems and the resultant semi-Hawk performances. However, 1999’s party people were looking forward to an entire weekend, not just one night.

Oranj Climax were an apt primer for incoming campers: 3 keyboardists serving up Tangerine Dream arpeggios, but cooking it with edgy synth patches. Canis Minor, scheduled for a late night ambient slot, filled in with a ‘louder’ set punctuated with a keyboard versus stick jam over a gypsy motif.
Born To Go inherited the Friday headline spot. With a Hawkwind live 1979 snappiness, I’d swear during “Space Rock City” the dual synths of Boone and Howard were bouncing off surrounding trees. Their tunes have more uplift than most, due to their chordings. Frontman Marc Power plays mean bass, but he over-inflects the narratives that sandwich most songs, producing a 50’s parody I suspect unintended. Near midnight, they closed with a crowd-pleasing version of Hawkwind’s Orgone Accumulator (briefly resembling ZZ Top) and then the stage blackened.
I meandered to the tent as Drumplay assembled. They soon whipped up a psychedelic stew of percussive pieces, from samba to folk. They even had a dog diggin’ it. Bionaut played next, deep into the night. While I can’t claim to have seen them, I heard distant synths as I curled up to rest. Strange Daze is a marathon with two constant choices: music, sleep.

Saturday. Quarkspace started before noon with clean, sparkly space rock, courtesy of Jay Swanson’s Bainbridge-sounding synths, and the electronic drums and sequences of Paul Williams (adorned by a mad hatter hat; it was a great weekend for hats, dyed hair, hippie clothes). Quarkspace spin-off National Steam were next, although people seemed to miss the stop/start point of these two bands. While listening to the hypnotic jams of both acts, you could check out Quarkspace’s recent cover artist working in real-time to canvas, or you could sit lakeside, with the stage in site.
Throughout the event, world poet Thom emceed. One wordplay was a speech-performance with “wave your arms, someday they’ll turn to wings and you’ll fly away.” And some of us did.
During a late lunch, Bionaut, the Green-Eggleston duo, played keys that often emulated guitars and bass, plus Strange Daze’s first notable use of samples. By mid-day, Doug Walker and his reborn Alien Planetscapes were ready to unleash hot new guitarist Josh Gazes. AP were simply potent, with a great mix that revealed alien jazz, blues and hard rock without the earsplitting spiral swoosh one often gets with space rock: psychedelia for the new millennium.
Anubian Lights (Grenas and Del Rio) played next without frequent studio guest Turner. While they didn’t really rave up their studio works as recent reviews suggested, there was a techno kick piece that resembled Mark Snow’s La Femme Nikita, while another hit that Austin Powers/Beck 60’s groove. Call it a mini-rave for the uninitiated. Soon the duo were joined onstage by more Farflungers. The Pressurehed/Farflung groupings have been dubbed America’s answer to Hawkwind; this time with three guitarists, I had visions of Pink Fairies. Or, with the eventual addition of Nik, the infamous Pinkwind recordings.
After many guitar-laced Farflung numbers, Nik appeared, costumed and ready to fly into “Sonic Attack” “Brainstorm,” and other space standards. Hawkwind’s D-Rider was the set’s sweet spot: a perfect cerebral chording for Nik’s sax and voice that made me want to revisit the original as soon as I could.
When the amplification depowered, Nik didn’t stop. He was this year’s sole Hawklord, so why not continue? Solo Nik juxtaposed “Silver Machine,” “Lil Black Egg,” ICU’s “Space Invaders,” and “In The Mood.” The audience sang along, even taking the lead once.
Next, back to the tent and Circus Chaotica for their variation on a Jim Rose Circus: glass-walking, magic, etc. When Canis Minor performed their ambient set, I drifted towards the HawkNest for a late night chat on communication and Earth Y2K with fellow scribers Thom and Roger Neville-Neil. Then to bed.

Sunday began with W.O.O. Revelator, a three-piece freeform jazz ensemble with Bonnie Kane on sax. During their highly-charged noise experimentation, there was scuba diving in the lake. Lunch served up the progressive jamming of Das Ludicroix; heavy background bass, twittering space sounds courtesy of guest Doug Walker, and Doug Pearson’s violin for a touch of High Tide or ‘High Tide Lite’. The event closed with the mellower Valentine Tombstone and their gold-crowned singer. The ever-present Doug Walker guested on flute and synth.
After some forty-plus hours, the long, winding Strange Daze trip to space rock past, present and future was over. It’s a trip I’d recommend to one and all.

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