Thanks to a group of pro snowboarders, southern Vermont now has the grooviest music festival since Woodstock. New for 2017, Frendly Gathering will be held at Sugarbush Resort’s Glen Ellen are, June 29.
Photos by Ali Kaukas
“Come on in,” Jack Mitrani says from his doorstep in Burlington. He grins and gives me a hug.
Jack Mitrani is a hugger. He is also a professional snowboarder, an hilarious filmmaker and videographer, an extreme sports host for ESPN and NBC, a musician sponsored by Martin Guitar and, with Danny Davis, the ringleader behind what may be the grooviest Northeast music festival since Woodstock, the Frendly Gathering.
“I just moved back from California and it feels good to be here in Vermont again,” Jack says as he shows me around his new house. It is stylish and immaculate, set high on the hill with views to Lake Champlain.
In a few weeks Jack will be back near where he grew up in Southern Vermont, camping out on a mountainside with 3,000 of his best Frends. Yes, “Frends,” because as Jack will tell you, “There is no “I” in Frends.”
There ain’t no “I” in Frends
And we ride until we die
Riding breathing shredding freely brothers blood for life
There’s no denying when we roll up on the spot
The music’s hot, the drinks are bought, the fun it never stops.
—From “Frends,” by Twiddle and Jack Mitrani
Flashback to late June, 2015: A sizable crowd has made the trek to the top of Timber Ridge, the defunct Windham County ski area Mitrani’s friend Tim Walker bought in 2000 and has been reviving.
Twiddle, the Vermont jam-band is playing an acoustic set at the summit. As the band bursts into the “Frends” song, Mitrani and Burton pro Danny Davis grab their instruments and join in, leading a procession back down the mountain.
At the base, there are stages set up, a pond where people are splashing around, an improvised skate park with a ramps and a pipe. Yoga is everywhere. So is tie-dye and twirling. And tents and hammocks, teepees, treehouses and bonfires. In the center of it, Mitrani’s wood-paneled Airstream trailer/studio “The Frendship” is recording and broadcasting via Skype. And there’s love, everywhere there’s a whole lotta love.
“There’s just a really good, mellow vibe here that brings people back each year,” says Mitrani. “That’s kind of the point of the Frendly Gathering.”
Mitrani means that. “In 2010, things were not so good,” he recalls. On Dec. 31, 2009 snowboarder Kevin Pearce was training for the Olympics when he crashed in the halfpipe and suffered a debilitating traumatic brain injury. Pearce, the son of the Quechee, Vt., glass artist Simon Pearce, had been Mitrani’s best friend and roommate. Mitrani rushed to Pearce’s side after the fall. “He was my role model. He taught me to work hard, to train hard and to eat healthy. Seeing him crushed was really mind-blowing.“
A few weeks later fellow Olympic team member Danny Davis, another of Mitrani’s closest Frends, fractured his spine in an ATV accident.
Mitrani, Davis and Pearce—along with pro riders Scotty Lago, Keir Dillon and Jack’s brother Luke—had called started calling themselves the “Frends” group. “Even though we rode for different brands and copeted against each other we were always out there cheering and supporting each other,” Mitrani says. The group drew up a manifesto and 10 “anchors” of friendship they try to live by: Passion, collaboration, mutual accountability, humility, honesty, integrity, inclusivity, selflessness, respect and, of course, revelry.
“The first Frendly Gathering was really a way for all of us just to rally after Kevin’s and Danny’s accidents,” Mitrani explains. The Frends set up a campsite near Mammoth Lakes, Calif., brought their instruments and put out the word. Close to 200 people showed up. The following year, Mitrani improvised a stage, invited the Led Zeppelin cover band Led Zepplica to play and the numbers nearly doubled.
Then Mitrani had an idea.
“Growing up, my brother Luke and I used to go party at Timber Ridge,” he says, referring the defunct ski resort down the road from Mitrani’s home. “My buddy Chris Walker’s dad had bought the place and he was into having the Gathering there.” Mitrani booked Twiddle and 11 other bands, brought in a mechanical bull, a slip-and-slide and face painting. In 2012, Vermont’s Frendly Gathering was born.
“The guys at Timber Ridge are amazing and they’ve helped us build all sorts of things for the event,” Mitrani says. Ryan Dempsey, the Stowe-based keyboardist for Twiddle confirms this: “We were at this restaurant together in January 2015 and either Jack or Danny said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if you guys played from the trees.’ I thought he was kidding and didn’t really think more about it. Sure enough, six months later, we show up and there are platforms in the trees for us to play from.”
Twiddle has been at every Gathering since 2012 and will be back for 2016, along with national acts such as Boulder’s Big Gigantic, Brooklyn funk band Turkuaz, and Trevor Hall, who now spends part of the year in Vermont and first came to a Gathering as part of the audience.
“You know what’s cool about Frendly Gatherings? There’s no velvet rope. Performers mingle with the audience like everyone else,” says Dempsey. “The most fun I’ve had there is when I’m out floating in the pond in an inflatable unicorn inner tube or dancing to other acts like everyone else.”
And around him, Jack, Danny, Kevin, Luke, Scotty and Keir—and 3,000 of their Frends—are dancing too.
The 2017 Frendly Gathering will be June 29-July at Sugarbush Resort in Waitsfield, Vt. www.frendlygathering.com