Another Fuji Rock has come and gone. This year’s edition welcomed back the long held tradition of almost constant rain and muddy walks through the festival grounds. I also braved the elements this year. I joined most of the punters and pitched a tent and camped in the mountains of Naeba. Perhaps it wasn’t the best year to return to camping, as a soggy sleeping bag on night one made for less than ideal conditions the rest of the weekend. Regardless, the camping experience was also better than I expected. Being high in the mountains as the sun rises, anticipating a full day of live music from world class performers is a feeling like no other.
As per usual, there was an abundance of great music at Fuji Rock again this year. I managed to squeeze in a full day’s worth and then some, each day from Friday to Sunday. It should be noted, that like all lists, this one will be subjective towards what I saw and what I enjoyed. Also of note, as good as the music is at Fuji Rock, it’s really about the experience. It’s about the people you meet, how you organize your day, the after hours bars, the gondola to the top of the mountain and yes, it’s even about the rain and mud. There was a lot of familiarity at Fuji Rock 2017 but also a few new additions, some of which made my top 5 of Fuji Rock 2017. Let’s get to it!
5) The Craft Beer
As delicious and varied as the food is at Fuji Rock each and every year, the drinks have been a different story. As a lover of craft beer, I always found myself struggling to find a decent brew to drink while enjoying my favorite bands. This year that all changed. With the addition of Craft Beer Market in the Orange Cafe area there were now suddenly 20 great craft beers on tap all day long. There were beers on offer from AQ Bevolution, Brewdog, Shiga Kogen Beer and TY Harbor. In addition to Craft Beer Market’s offerings, there were 6 taps of craft available from Aichi’s Hyappa Brewing, located right outside the camping area. Those guys were slinging suds and grub from the early morning till 5 am every night, so a lot of respect goes to that team. Finally, there was the familiar Tokyo Ale booth in the Field of Heaven area and random offerings of Yoho brewing’s Yona Yona and Aoni offered around the Atomic Cafe area. For people like myself, who take their beer seriously, Fuji Rock seriously upped their game this year. I hope this is a trend that continues from here forth. For myself and other beer lovers I talked to over the weekend, the great variety of craft beer made a big difference in the overall experience.
4) The Blue Galaxy
Another new addition for this year, and a highlight of mine, was the Blue Galaxy tent in the world food court area. Essentially, Blue Galaxy is an expansion of Jim’s Vinyl-nasium from years previous. This is a spot for festival mainstay, Jim West, aka DJ Jim to play through hits from his massive collection of 45s. Jim plays rare and classic tunes ranging from soul to ska, funk, Latin, reggae, African and more. He plays tunes that probably only exist in a handful of collections in the world and plays exclusively 7 inch vinyl. For the real vinyl and music nerds, a yearly Jim session or chat with the man himself is essential. This year his space was enlarged and properly protected from the elements. More people had the chance to experience what DJ Jim is all about. I visited the Blue Galaxy a few times over the weekend this year and have to say, the classic soul hits from 50’s and 60’s go off with the crowd as much as anything produced today. I included Jim in my top 5 list last year and praise the decision to improve his area this year.
It’s always great to be surprised and discover new music at Fuji Rock. While I had heard of most of the acts I covered this year, I came into J-squad completely fresh. They’re a Japanese jazz outfit from New York City. The squad of five combine New York street style and attitude with serious jazz skills. All five members can solo and hold their own with the best in the biz. They play a style of jazz that’s at times laid back and hip hop inspired, but can also crank it up and bring the heat when necessary. The recently got signed to Universal Music Japan and released their first album, so hopefully we’ll be seeing more of J-squad in the near future.
2) Takeuchi Tomoyasu Quartet
A band I had high hopes for and lived up to my expectations were the Takeuchi Tomoyasu Quartet. They only played one set during the fest at 1:30 am, Sunday night at the Crystal Palace. I’ll forgive you if you missed them, but if you did, you missed a hell of a set. They’re a bit of a super group, taking members from four different funk/jazz groups and joining forces to make a super-funky, solo heavy, session group. They only played about 3 tunes in the their 45 minute set Sunday night, but each one was a funky swirling ride of madness into the minds of four masters. This was a soulful master class into the abyss and back out again in 45 minutes. It’s one-off sets like this, from groups that don’t play together often, that make me wish live recordings of Fuji Rock sets were widely available.
1) Elvin Bishop/Marcus King
I know it’s a bit of a cop out putting two bands at number one, but there is a relation here, so hear me out. Both Elvin Bishop and Marcus King played twice during the fest, both played after each other on the Crystal Palace and Field of Heaven and both appeared as a guest on the other’s set. Elvin is the old guard of blues rock while Marcus is the new blood. While I wasn’t able to catch the complete sets from both, what I did catch was worth the trip to Naeba and the sleepless nights in a soggy sleeping bag. Elvin plays and sings with an ease, confidence, humor and positive approach to blues rock that can only come from playing for 50 years. On the other end of the spectrum, and maybe 50 years his junior, comes Marcus King. His lack of experience is more than made up for by his incredible technical ability on guitar. Hailing from South Carolina Marcus plays country and blues rock with style, precision and incredible speed, all at such a young age. He makes everything look so easy, too. He has a gift that most will never achieve in their lifetime. He’ll certainly be appearing on the stage for many years to come, so his stage presence and technical abilities only have room to improve. It was an amazing Fuji Rock experience to see these two share the stage not once, but twice and firmly sticks out as my best of the fest 2017.