Deep in the heart of New Jersey, droves of some of the states funkiest souls converged for a lush weekend of groove. Mad Liberation Festival is an incredible fest showcasing some of the best artists from around the state. The bands covered the whole spectrum of sound and had something for everybody. The festival showed a great amount of love and the organizers visibly poured their soul into making this weekend something special.
Mad Liberation Festival found itself a new home this year at Paradise Lake Campground, a musical oasis down a dirt road deep in the Pine Barrens. Paradise Lake Campground is home to several other festivals like Farmfest, Beardfest and Camp Jam in the Pines. Still a young fest, Mad Liberation has some room to grow into the campground, but that was also part of the beauty of this weekend. Festival goers took full advantage of the grounds and the organizers provided constant energy at all corners. There were no overwhelming moments, just pure unadulterated joy.
Friday afternoon we pulled in as music was kicking off. Shortly after setting up camp, a quick dip in the lake was in order. The waters seemed to wash off any bad vibes and refresh the soul for the weekend ahead. The Freq Show’s Good Food laid down an early beat set showcasing a barrage of new sweet sounds- a spacey evolution for him as an artist. Quickly this festival felt like home as the Genii Collective took the stage. The group set the tone with their energy the entire fest, appearing everywhere something was rocking. Genii brought in the sunset on the humid August evening with a smoky and soulful hip-hop melody. As night broke and dusk stained the sky deep orange over the pines- the jazzy force that is Conundrum took the stage. Every time I see them get together they amaze me. After catching them at Groove on Grove, I was elated and in suspense of what they would bring to MadLib. Conundrum did not disappoint. Watching this band work together, you get the feeling that you should cherish this time to catch them in an intimate setting. The guys worked their way through a zesty set, as the skies opened up and cracked the humidity with a downpour. MadLib-ers ducked into cover as the sky lit up with lightning. This brought together strangers and quickly created friends. Banjo jams, crazy art, high-fashion makeshift rain gear and groups colliding made the storm seem like a natural segway into the weekend. During the storm, Brandon the photographer behind BSmithMedia, grabbed me to head into the clubhouse for an impromptu Conundrum jam.
The storm passed and it seemed like time to explore. All within a short skip you could be rocking Jersey Club, Jamtronica, Hip-Hop, Jazz and everything in between. The night was a lot of bouncing from the weird jams of Fungshui at the Side Stage to shaking the structure of the Marmot House. But it was the booming sound of a big band by Big Beat that drew me back into the main stage. With 18 musicians on stage, you couldn’t help but be in awe. There was even vindication for the shortened Conundrum, when Big Beat covered their song Mastora near the end of the set. The night set in and the funky grooves got peoples feat kicking up the sand as music echoed through the pines. brainorchestra. threw everyone for a trip as he navigated his MPC on a mind bending soundscape. The Main Stage was graced with two soulful funk sets from Kneebody and the Jack Moves. The night from there admittedly got away from me. There was a killer set beat maestro Mello Mel in the Marmot House, reggae vibes from Lorg and wild goodness from Tigerman. Even as I shut down for the night, my tent (luckily untouched from the storm) stayed funky from the faint echo of music from the late night music.
I emerged from my tent in the morning to a beautiful blue sky, birds chirping, brainorchestra. cooking up breakfast lakeside, and a campground ready for another full day of music. After a quick dip and breakfast, we hit the beach for an invigorating yoga session. The day was a relaxing reset for the soul- rocking around barefoot in the sand, swinging in hammocks, splashing in the lake and playing frisbee. All the while we were always in grooving distance of any kind of vibe you could imagine. This is really the raw essence of what a festival should be. A time to gather, let go of your cares and connect with the music. It was a much-needed change of pace and proper showcase of what is brewing in New Jersey. This is a special place for music, art and culture especially right now and the organizers of Mad Liberation did an unbelievable job bringing it all together. From the stage design, to the booking and the schedule organization- it was all seamless. A real testament to what this community is capable of. The grounds really felt like a little neighborhood of Jersey characters- There was the legendary human and festival founder, John Mould who one handedly swayed down the paths on his cruiser bicycle, or Jelani of Genii who was hype as hell for any and all, or Musache’s Rughda who navigated each stage in her entrancing chameleon shawl or Mike from Higher Contemplation ready for insect war. This was a crowd who was sure to keep anyone on their toes.
Saturday brought a massive line-up for music. It was amazing to catch some new bands as they owned a different sector of the campground…. One band that I’ve been playing non-stop from my preview was Funkadelic Astronaut and their live set was everything I hoped for and more. Ezrakh dropped an afternoon groove on the side stage. I was also really amped up to catch Public Warfare. Their set was unreal. A bass thumping trapped out experience. It was live as hell. Their energy was infectious. Blunt passing, bodies bouncing, nunchuck slanging Guy Fawkes mask man and a dude with his pants on fire. Public Warfare is a live show you have to see, my words will do it no justice. The night kept the energy high as I witnessed my first Spowder show, which in short, was a whole lot of fuckery. Sunny Gang kept it rowdy- they’re quickly becoming one of my favorite live shows to go to. They’re just grimey energy that gets the blood going with stage presence and music creates a natural frenzy. The Wedge followed powerfully with a bluesy rock-out, taking the crowd on a serious personal ride. The Rollbacks wrapped up the main stage with a very special guest appearance from the lanky gonzo legend himself, John Mould. They were incredible, delivering a fun-as-hell latin fusion dance party.
The night also included another brainorchestra. set, more spontaneous stage hopping, and holing up in the Marmot House for the Thread Imprint takeover which shook the walls of that old building. People were pouring out dancing, at one point I looked up and realized the room was in unison being led by dancers by the windows. A major highlight of my evening came from a girl who put her heart into MadLib. Rughda, put a ton of work in organization and designing the stages as part of the Musache collective. She also graced us with a set in the Marmot House. It was one of my favorite sets of the weekend. Perched in the window of the house I watched her in fittingly dark angel wings as she sang breezy melodies that held some serious stories. All this with the backing of Ezrakh and lighting casing trippy shadows on her outline in front of mushroom etchings on the aging walls. It was an amazing moment that those in the house were lucky enough to catch.
The night was a beautiful cap to this festival. Such a mix of sounds, but with a constant inclusive energy. I really enjoy the smaller festivals for the closeness you get to the fellow campers and the artists. I also enjoy the ability to go at any speed you want without the stresses of big festivals. Typically this might bring some negatives with having limited resources. But, the amazing people behind MadLib brought everything together gracefully. They tackled every hurdle and provided an incredible experience.
The weekend featured over 100 artists in a musical oasis. The depth of MadLib was unreal. There were so many acts I didn’t get to catch, but am definitely keeping an eye on.
This is a festival with so much potential and all it takes is spreading the word to make next year that much doper. I think it is fair to call MadLib Jersey’s premier camping festival and I hope to enjoy it for years to come.
Be sure to follow and support their socials and get ready for next year!
Check to the photos below: