HOPATCONG, NJ—It’s not every day that one stumbles upon a music festival comprised of all local bands. Kittenfest is a festival that has been taking place annually in Hopatcong since 2004. The jubilee has grown tremendously over the years, in its amount of bands, genres, and attendees. Luckily, I was able to catch the last four bands on the main night.
As soon as I pulled up, I noticed the front yard was loaded with parked cars and tents put up by campers that were eager not to miss a single moment of the four-day affair. The first Kittenfest had six bands, whereas this year’s had a whopping 55 groups on two different stages. Being that the event had taken place outdoors, two sound companies were employed to ensure the perfect mix of sound for each act.
Unfortunately, I missed some well-known local acts such as Bombay and Gypsy Wig due to tardiness. While walking down to the main stage area, Indian Princess was setting up for what would be a treat for any fan of blues rock from the late ’60s. This six-piece band had huge influences of country music and a classic Jerry Garcia-sounding vocal section. It was certainly interesting to see such a quiet band play at a festival that in the past contained more aggressive, fast, and heavy music. Indian Princess did a fantastic job at setting the mood for what the remainder of the evening would entail.
Next up on the repertoire was a collaboration of musicians from Long Island by the name of Nonstop To Cairo. A bit different from the previous band, these guys were more upbeat and included a horn section. Based on appearance, Nonstop To Cairo looked like a local ska band, however, the funk-influenced guitar changed everything. A quicker drum beat made their fans want to jump up and down, as the vocal harmonies promoted us all to move our heads back and forth. The most memorable aspect about this hip-hop infused display was their very professional yet humble stage presence.
After the second band, I walked around a bit to catch up with some old friends before the Quimby Mountain Band began their set. The Quimby Mountain Band could not have possibly had a more fitting time of day to play their style of music. The sun was almost completely gone and it was just dark enough to see the fireflies flutter around, as the crowd began to grow and move closer to the stage. Slight amounts of distortion layered the hard riffs through while QMB’s mandolin player kept all the vibes in the festival feeling unified and joyous. Once the sun finally set, so did the Quimby Mountain Band. We then turned our heads to the main stage to see the headliner for the evening.
Coming straight from Brooklyn, Yonah captured everybody’s attention with their unique style of reggae improvisation. Most of the bass-driven songs were slowly paced. A rather hard-hitting drummer clearly knew what he was doing and singer/guitarist Tyler Cutitta sang tunes that sounded as if they came straight from his soul. Yonah kept grooving on throughout the night with the perfect stage lighting and effects, as people shut their eyes and moved with the music.
When the show came to an end and it was time for me to go, I took it upon myself to ask the boys for a word about how they felt about Kittenfest, and they gladly fulfilled my request. “Friendship” was the word spoken with a smile from Cutitta. A very fitting “improv” came from bassist Matt D’Amico, which perfectly seemed to embody the whole festival. Without a moment of hesitation, drummer Tom DeVinko yelled “family,” which was just what I needed to hear before leaving the scene.
Since it was difficult for me to determine what the main reasoning behind Kittenfest was, I decided to take it upon myself to ask its creator, Ms. Sarah Florio. Upon our conversation of the joys of witnessing the growth of a musical event that began with only a few local punk bands, Ms. Florio left me with this; “Kittenfest is a chance to give local bands trying to make it as musicians a chance to play in front of bigger crowds as a means of encouragement.”