A couple miles southeast of the hamlet of Phoenicia, NY, at a Catskills campsite lining the rocky banks of Esopus Creek, stands a burly man at dawn, naked, discharging a fountain geyser firework from his genitals. Meet Andy Animal, 31, celebrating his birthday.
It’s Saturday, July 28, the second day of Andy Animal’s Countrytime Meltdown Birthday Funabration Weekender 3-D – “The Meltdown” for short – and it’s starting to rain. The growl of revving motorcycles around Uncle Pete’s Campground has ceased. So has the Happy Days theme on blast and repeat. Fog billows from the mountain ridges that straddle the campground. Raindrops tap on stretched nylon pacifying the nearby rushing water. A 40-year-old red Oldsmobile 442 rests beside an American flag stretched between two trees. A soundboard, left out from the night before, sits dangerously close to an open edge of the stage tent. Inflatable pink things lie dripping around a Twister mat at a mouth of the forest. The wicked sleep well. All is quiet on the eastern bank of the Esopus.
This party isn’t for the casual. Some leave before the camp awakens to its hangover, for one reason or another. Andy, temporarily in overalls, thinks it may have something to do with the late night DJ set. “Go home if you can’t handle that,” he says with a rasp early Saturday evening. “It’s the Happy Days theme!” Obstreperous as he may be, Andy’s looks are tougher than his demeanor. With hair past his shoulders, a healthy beard, a hearty amount of tattoos, and an ever-present shit-eating grin, Andy’s the kind of guy your mom would hug while questioning his influence. He’s known around New York as the lead singer of Brooklyn rock band the Stalkers. Elsewhere, he’s amassed a following on Youtube as a personality and a “sex symbol” for his “sensuous” candle reviews.
Uncle Pete’s certainly isn’t the only spot around the area to camp, but for the third time in as many years Andy and his friends are back. When Andy was scoping out spots to hold the first trip, he came across one of his favorite campgrounds as a kid, Kenneth Wilson State Park. “I pulled in there…and the guy was like, ‘Yeah, there’s no way you can do anything like [The Meltdown] here. Try Uncle Pete’s up the road,’” recalls Andy. “I went here and the guys who own this place, Danny and Rebecca, they’re just these cool Brooklyn people. And [Danny’s] all psyched. He’s like, ‘Bro, ya wanna make like a fuckin’ Woodstock Festival? Get fuckin’ naked, hava good time? Alright, beautiful!” This weekend is more of what Andy had in mind when approaching Unky Pete’s. Not only is this the first time he’s planned entertainment, but the first time he’s reserved the entire grounds. “Not that I have a problem with outsiders,” he says. “But some outsiders have a problem with us.”
Prior to nightfall on Friday, Andy and company, with help from the limited staff at Pete’s, constructed a white circus tent in a meadow at the heart of the grounds to shelter two nights of shows. Andy reads weather reports. The majority of the bands slated to play are from Brooklyn, with a handful from different areas across the lower 48 – all in tune with the rock ‘n’ roll vibe. “People say I’ve gone ‘corporate’ because I got bands,” Andy says jokingly. “I got all my favorite bands [to play]. Well, my closest friends in bands that I like.” The 150-some-odd campers in attendance are, like the bands, from Andy’s social web. The Meltdown isn’t open to the public.
Opening night of The Meltdown is like a test run. The lights are shit. The sound is shit. The soundboard and PA are all borrowed. It’s a feat just getting things going, and everyone’s pretty jazzed. This is a camping trip, man. Who cares if you can barely hear the vocals? Half the sound engineers at performances as loose as this in Brooklyn are piddling on their cellphones with their thumbs up their asses anyways. To kick things off, Andy enters, stage left, riding bitch on a motorcycle. He dismounts and takes a swill from his jug full of OJ and vodka before introducing Brooklyn’s Psycho Hippies – a cover band. The Psycho Hips initiate the crowd with a rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” which sprawls into Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love.” In and around the tent people are swaying, boozing, getting high. Feeling out the nonexistent boundaries that accompany salubrious gallivanting in the midst of nowhere.
The Psycho Hippies
Readying the crowd for the next round, Andy mutters a yelp of “Commandant Lassard!” into the mic – the first of many Police Academy references. He’s attempting to name the next Brooklyn band on stage. He settles on “Gator Bait”. The more twisted the man gets, the more charismatic he is. He’s a force. A total fucking natural. A supreme MC of schlock.
One of the groundskeepers, Jack, helps along the dim blue glow of the lights hung like bunting around the perimeter of the space. He gyrates a flashlight around the front of the stage allowing the party to view its fuel. While Saturday night will be lit with the projections of video mesh artist B.A. Miale, the shadowy crowd tonight, will have to rely solely on Jack for facial reference. Fletcher C. Johnson Band closes out the night wielding one of the best sets of the weekend. Nasal melodies grip treble-heavy bites and strums whistling into the cool mountain air. They crown off the short set with their jangly garage-pop single off White Iris, “Messin’ Up My Mind.” Following the set, Jack butts into an interview with Johnson. “Jack’s been setting up the stage. Getting it going. Sounds great. This is the man, tonight,” says a shirtless Johnson. Jack takes the mic. “It was fun, but every ye-ah gets betta. Tomorrow night, we’re gonna really put it on,” he says in a Brooklyn slur. “Tomorrow night is gonna tear it up.” Johnson just released a cassette on Fresno, CA’s infamous power-pop/rock cassette label Burger Records. His set is a taste to come. This is what Jack’s talking about, whether he knows it or not.
Fletcher C. Johnson
Burger Records reps the Tough Shits (Philly, PA), Natural Child (Nashville, TN), and Apache (San Francisco, CA) are billed alongside the Stalkers and Brooklyn’s breezy up-and-comers Hector’s Pets Saturday night. But that’s all a day away. “A lot of people were hurt that I didn’t ask their bands to play, but I didn’t want it to take up the whole day, you know?” says Andy. The bands aren’t the point. They’re the icing on Andy’s cake.
The growl returns around noon, Saturday. A lot of Andy’s friends ride bikes. People unzip. Emerge. Start to move. Explore. Wrench on their rides. Carry towels. Eat. Drink. Talk. Get high. Crack beers. Drink water. Eat mushrooms. Shoot BB guns. Sink into the creek. Listen to tunes. Smoke cigarettes. “Cellphones don’t work here. I get frustrated sometimes when I’m at an airport and everyone’s there texting on their cellphones, not wanting to talk to each other, not wanting to make eye contact. I couldn’t ask for anything more [here],” says Andy. “It’s a beautiful thing.” Across the Esopus, cars skirt under the swaying limbs bordering Rt. 28. Little do the inhabitants of those vehicles know of the communion happening a mere football field away.
A luncheon of hotdogs, s’mores, beans, and psilocybin is shared across camp. Tubers float by on the creek, roughing the rapids and shooting grimaces and thumbs up to the ephemeral inhabitants of the shore. Wisps of yellow and purple ascend the respirating sheer of the mountain. Iridescent blocks of energy incite giggles, wonder, and snot from onlookers. The mountain’s rim is all fogged over, brimming with storm. No matter, no care. Adaptation is in full force. Get in, get out, or get down, city slicker.
Nature is a queer and benevolent beast, casting reality down upon Unky Pete’s with every stroke of downpour and thunderous cackle. The clouds ripen and wane, allowing a conga line of motorcycles to parade around the grounds. Andy, eyes screaming red with a half-burnt cigarette dangling from his lips, takes a lady wearing a white hair-bow for a joy ride on his bike. Smiles can’t be quelled. They are all in the midst of some silly reincarnation of Turkey Point from Cry Baby. Only, John Waters’ vision couldn’t grasp the joy of such a scene. Shock and disturbance is a notion for the status-quo of yesterday.
A congregation of campers descend upon Andy’s cabin, creekside, in the late afternoon. “If I eat anymore mushrooms they’re going to stop working,” says Andy, gripped to a lawn chair. The pulse of the day is starting to slow. A girl melts into the flow of the Esopus. She’s testing the strength of the stream by flapping her legs to and fro. B.A. Miale is editing her video of Andy’s early-morning Danse Russe for her projections. A woman stands beside Miale, radiating an orange glow from her shirt and head band. “I’m going native,” she says with a serious glare. A man wearing heart-shaped sunglasses shines a peace sign. He’s done. Headed back to New York via bus. Leaving the rain. The bike exhaust. The madness.The dawning of the night is upon Unky Pete’s and some are out of supplies, or failed to eat a fire-stoked can of beans. Protein and beer from the convenience store is situated down the road a spell. This puts campers in a series of situations which either involves the use their wit, their legs, or their thumbs. There are no vendors here. Only snack-size bags of cheese crackers and bottles of water available at Pete’s general store. Melters are keeping an even keel with pot and beer at this point. It’s essential to their sanity, and the morale of the party.
There’s some question as to whether Saturday night’s entertainment will even happen. Rumors generated earlier set the soundboard status as “fried, man”. But, after some reassurance and equipment testing, Saturday night’s a go. Miale sets up her projections, ready to grace Andy’s firework-laden saunter laced with images of hula queens. Hector’s Pets show up in dashikis fresh off their short Northeast tour with King Khan & the Shrines. Natural Child is stuck somewhere in traffic; they’ll never make it to the party. “Those dudes are eating pizza in Brooklyn right now, man!” says tambourine player and vocalist of Hector’s Pets, Will Granlund. No matter, no care. The second wave of Melters has boosted morale. Jack was right, Saturday night’s it. And he’s back in front of the stage after spending his hungover day cleaning up the remnants of Friday’s party. Dancing. Smiling ear-to-ear. The juice is worth the squeeze. Andy’s back as MC. And everything’s a fucking blur.
The Tough Shits start things off following an impromptu set from a hodgepodge of artists at The Meltdown, helmed by Andy. Hector’s Pets coo the audience into oscillation with the “Ooooh, la, la, la, la” harmony of “Station Wagon”. Apache, the surprise guest that Andy drunkenly told everyone about Friday night, take the stage as the final act of the Meltdown. Everyone’s set has been cut short because of the lack of a noise permit, so Apache makes a lasting impression on the Melted crowd with a 20-minute set of glam-rock numbers like “Boys Life”. After the show, Apache expresses, “This [outdoor performance] was pretty good, I guess. It’s the fuckin’ Meltdown! What do you expect? A-W-E-S-O-M-E.” An apt summation of a bold weekend celebrating a birthday that emphasizes the capabilities of imagination and community. “You can do whatever you want,” says B.A. with her concocted projections flitting overheard. “You just need a bunch of friends. DIY!” Andy says he might open up the Meltdown to the public next year with the addition of bigger “headliners.” Either way, I can only imagine Jack’s counting down the days until the next Meltdown. Phoenicia or bust 2013!