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POV: Toddstock 2 v6.5

05:01 PM Wednesday 6/26/13 |   |

Contributing Pollstar photographer John Davisson describes his week-long adventure at Toddstock II v6.5, a celebration of everything Todd Rundgren that took place earlier this month at a Louisiana plantation.

  • It’s My Party …

    Todd Rundgren performs at Toddstock II v6.5 at the Nottoway Plantation in White Castle, La.
    June 22, 2013

    (John Davisson)

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What would a dedicated follower of Todd Rundgren do last week? Spend the week at a southern Antebellum mansion in Louisiana celebrating the 65th birthday of Todd Rundgren and the 15th anniversary for Todd and his wife Michele with a couple hundred fans.

That is what I did from June 18-22 (after a weekend at Bonnaroo) at Toddstock II v6.5 at the Nottoway Plantation, a mansion that normally hosts tours, weddings and other events. The mansion features a restaurant on the lowest of three levels and numerous guest cottages around it for many of Rundgren’s fans, (affectionately known during the week as Toddstockers.

Breakfast and dinner buffets were provided in a separate dining hall that had a free happy hour and cash bar. Other fans were allowed to park RV’s or camp on the grounds (with electrical outlets) and air-conditioning units were available for rent to the campers. No need to go too primitive.

I learned this was not the first such congregation, but it was different than the previous versions. Todd celebrated his 60th birthday by inviting fans to camp at his home in Hawaii. He also hosted 2 separate gatherings in upstate New York.

Toddstock II v6.5 evolved from the prior gatherings, according to one fan who had attended all of the events. Hawaii didn’t have enough Todd interaction as he was rehearsing for the Arena tour. The first retreat in New York was too formalized, with Todd hosting panels and seminars and such, while the second retreat was not as formal, with Todd organizing various activities. Toddstock II v6.5 was very loose, with the fans all sorts of fun things to do and a location that was more centralized than the Hawaiian Toddstock.

  • A Band Of Fans

    Jamming during Toddstock II v6.5 at the Nottoway Plantation in White Castle, La.
    June 21, 2013

    (John Davisson)

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An easel positioned in the dining room listed the daily as well as future activities so fans could plan their own Toddstock experiences. There were too many activities for any fan to attend all of them, but that was OK as this was also a vacation. I missed out on several events, such as the volleyball game refereed by Todd, the yoga classes, the swamp tour, or the healing circle. Sometimes I was around for secret flash mob activities.

Todd fans such as Bruce Whetstone and Dode Prickett formed bands that rehearsed during the day and played sets in the dining room during the evenings. Fans danced and formed impromptu parades through the dining hall as the band played a mix of classic rock and Todd songs.

On Tuesday, the theme was Mardi Gras, with beads, colorful costumes, masks and hats, and the food was New Orleans fare, including plenty of crawfish. A raffle was held to win a table full of Todd collectibles. Todd inspected the swag and speculated on the rarity of some of the items after joining the fans for the dinner buffet. Todd and Michele Rundgren were a constant but low-key presence throughout the week and the Toddstockers mostly appreciated their presence while giving them plenty of space.

  • Merch A Plenty

    A table full of collectibles during Toddstock II v6.5 at the Nottoway Plantation in White Castle, La.
    June 18, 2013

    (John Davisson)

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Late night Tuesday featured a ghost tour of the mansion and grounds. Despite modern ghost hunting tools, (EVP recorder, infrared camera) and only expressing good intentions, we did not seem to find any ghosts willing to contact us. I kept an open mind all week long and was willing to let any ghosts contact me, but, alas, no phantoms of the past made any effort (that I could discern) to communicate with me.

On Wednesday, three buses carried fans into New Orleans for a visit to The Youth Orchestra of The Lower Ninth Ward, a free local after-school music program. Students performed several songs for the Toddstockers including Todd’s “Bang the Drum All Day.” The previous night’s raffle and previous donations from fans were raising money for the Youth Orchestra, resulting in the presentation of a check to the school for $10,000, and a birthday cake brought out for the Toddstockers and students.

  • Todd Rundgren

    With the Youth Orchestra of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, La.
    June 19, 2013

    (John Davisson)

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  • Ooooh ... A Cake!

    Todd Rundgren with the Youth Orchestra of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, La.
    June 19, 2013

    (John Davisson)

    | 

The buses then carried us to Café Amelie owned by one of Todd’s former managers, for dinner.  Afterwards, several Mardi Gras Indians in colorful feathers paraded through the restaurant with drummers, and played some songs before marching out with Todd and Michele in tow. Several more hours were spent visiting the French Quarter.

I began Thursday by touring the grounds and talking to fans from all over the world. Ronnie Temple, from London (but with a Scottish accent that belied his past) had set up a photo studio to take portraits of the Toddstockers for a book project to be available in the Toddstore online. Ray Bong, the self-appointed President of Bonnaroo was busy jamming with various Toddstockers on bongos and other eccentric electronic instruments. Ray jams every year in the Bonnaroo campgrounds and had set up a performance space at his Toddstock campsite.

During the afternoon, many Toddstockers got together to perform a song for Todd and Michele who both happily joined in. There was another birthday cake and after dark there was a beautiful fireworks display over the Mississippi River in front of the mansion. The fireworks were orchestrated to Todd’s music. My evening ended with more music performed by Toddstockers in the dining room.

  • Fire In The Hole!

    Todd Rundgren starts the fireworks show at Toddstock II v6.5 at the Nottoway Plantation in White Castle, La.
    June 21, 2013

    (John Davisson)

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  • Fireworks

    Light up the sky at Toddstock II v6.5 at the Nottoway Plantation in White Castle, La.
    June 21, 2013

    (John Davisson)

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Friday was more celebratory dancing by Toddstockers, as well as a group portrait featuring Todd with a group of fans mostly wearing matching red shirts. Todd stopped by Ray Bong’s tent to receive a gift and jam with Ray on the eccentric instrument he received. Ray asked Todd to perform at Bonnaroo next year.

Todd was also gifted an opaque guitar that glowed, and serenaded with a song that Toddstockers wrote especially for his birthday.

After the song “Thank you Mrs. Rundgren,” the Toddstockers were treated to a screening of a concert movie from the 2009 A Wizard A True Star mini-tour that featured the classic 1970s psychedelic album in its entirety performed with multiple costumes. It was a great performance, I wish I had seen the tour but the routing was somewhat limited and I did not make it to any of the shows. Maybe it will be resurrected again, you never know with Todd.

Saturday was the big day as it was Todd’s birthday and Todd and Michele’s 15th wedding anniversary. Fans lined up to meet with Todd in the mansion, get autographs and have their photo taken with Todd and Michele. Afterwards, Todd rehearsed with his band (Jesse Gress on guitar and Prairie Prince on drums) before joining the fans in the dining room where a large guitar-shaped cake awaited. After dinner, Prairie Prince lead an impromptu percussion circle at a table with fans banging silverware and various items on the tabletop, plates and glasses.

  • More Cake!

    Todd Rundgren cuts his birthday cake at Toddstock II v6.5 at the Nottoway Plantation in White Castle, La.
    June 22, 2013

    (John Davisson)

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Then it was time for the Todd Rundgren performance. Todd’s fans had helped set up a stage, lights and sound in a large tent outside the dining hall. The show featured most of Todd’s recent State album. Although Todd played some guitar, he mostly sang, danced and played a set of sequencers, and laptop music while Prairie Prince played electronic and acoustic drums and Jesse ran his guitar through effects that made it sound more electronic than usual.

Todd threw in a few old songs such as The Tubes’ “Prime Time” and the New York Dolls’ “Personality Crisis,” from Todd’s recent album of tracks he produced for other artists. He also reached back to the No World Order album, and ended the set with drastically rearranged techno versions of his biggest hits like “Can We Still Be Friends” compressed into a medley.

  • Todd Rundgren

    Posing with fans during Toddstock II v6.5 at the Nottoway Plantation in White Castle, La.
    June 21, 2013

    (John Davisson)

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Yes, the State show is techno-Todd. It was fun for die-hard Todd fans but maybe a bit difficult for casual Todd fans wanting to hear faithful versions of Todd hits. I enjoyed it and many of the fans did too, but, as several fans had discussed with me, we know that Todd is often pushing boundaries with his music and experimenting with new sounds and styles. We know what to expect and listen with an open mind and enjoy it, but it doesn’t always gel well with the casual fans.

The day ended with a gifted performance by the Iguanas and the birthday cake-cutting. There was also one last surprise for Todd as he was blindfolded for a piñata that he had to attack multiple times before it gave up its contents.

  • Todd vs. Piñata

    Toddstock II v6.5 at the Nottoway Plantation in White Castle, La.
    June 22, 2013

    (John Davisson)

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The event is part of the latest trend in musical encounters such as ocean cruises, fantasy camps, and retreats, that allow fans a more intimate (and expensive) connection with the musicians. Todd is always at the forefront of such trends and as a long-time fan I was happy to celebrate the week with him and his wife, toast their wedding anniversary and wish Todd a happy birthday.

  • Todd Rundgren

    And his wife Michele as fans serenade them at Toddstock II v6.5, Nottoway Plantation in White Castle, La.
    June 21, 2013

    (John Davisson)

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