There’s a lot to celebrate this year, folks. After Supreme Court officially legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, the feeling of freedom is especially felt in the LGBTQ community and the rest of those filled with joy for all the love in this ever-changing country. On June 25, history was made. And as July 4 approaches, it’s only acceptable to get a little crazy. We wouldn’t be Americans if we didn’t.
Whatever your plans are, you can’t forget your Fourth of July essentials: fireworks, beer, picnic grub and music. GOOD music. Although our speakers will mostly be filled with the classics by Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty (nothing wrong with that), this doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice the contemporary jams we love so much for one day.
Check out and hang out to this modern, Mellencamp-free playlist for your day of kicking back and celebrating all the perks of being a damn proud American.
My Morning Jacket
My favorite band of all time. Be sure to avoid their album Circuital, though. (Too deep/spacey for the Fourth). I went with anything from Z, It Still Moves and Evil Urges, where their experimentation outside of their Rock-meets-Country roots stays at a minimum.
Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
The collaboration between these two artists seems to work in the best way possible, especially because it perks our buddy Ryan Adams up a bit. Still following through with his Alternative Country vibes, Adams’ voice we all know and love is given a more upbeat tempo to jam along to while you drink your beer in the grass.
Trampled by Turtles
Bluegrass and Folk with a crazy-ass banjo blended with that old violin sound. If Old Crow Medicine Show and Avett Brothers had a baby, this is it. They can go fast, they can go slow. Whatever your preference, it’s all Folk all the time.
As many films as “The Underdog” has been featured in, I still imagine it working in a Sandlot soundtrack. Doesn’t exist, but I can’t help but envision Smalls hitting that Babe Ruth ball when it comes on. If you can wrap your brain around that the same way I do, you’d understand why the rest of Spoon had to be on this playlist. Play ball!
These guys immediately make me want to take off my shoes, run through the grass and jump into a creek. That’s why I can only listen to them in the summer. (Kidding, but you get the idea.) Their Folky, earthy tunes are ideal for the Fourth. Hopefully you’re near a creek!
The Flaming Lips
Ridiculously weird with the best intentions. This holiday can get weird, so embrace it and throw these guys on there. Less Folky than the other stuff, but it still works. I promise.
People totally underestimate these guys. I saw them live last summer, dancing around stage in their fedoras and denim flannels like the happiest people on the fucking planet. Singing songs about their hometown in South Carolina and this sweet, sweet country we live it — how could you not put these songs on your list?
Have a great weekend, folks. ‘MURICA.
When you think summer music festivals, you probably think about things like high-powered sunscreen, hydration and the chance that you might get drenched if a storm rolls through. But this weekend in Greater Cincinnati, there are three festival that spotlight our great music scene, and you won’t need an umbrella, SPF 500 or $8 bottles of water for any of them. (Two of them feature “patio stages” that are outside, but schedules will be adjusted if harsh weather strikes.) Click on the artists' names for more on each of the acts.
• Stanley’s Reggae Fest returns for its fifth year to Stanley’s Pub Saturday, showcasing some perfect summertime music with vendors, Jamaican food (from Ena's Jerkmania) and an outdoor patio stage (weather permitting; see above).
Music starts at 6 p.m. Get a ticket today for $12 here, or pay $15 at the door.
• The eclectic Folk/Americana scene in Greater Cincinnati is one of local music’s most thriving, and Saturday at Newport, Ky.’s Southgate House Revival, you’ll be able to catch some of its guiding lights (as well as a few touring acts). The inaugural Cincy Folk Festival is being presented by the local music website cincygroove.com and proceeds benefit local Northern Kentucky radio station WNKU.
The fest will utilize all three stages at the Southgate. Tickets $20 (get yours in advance here). There are also VIP tickets available for $30 (VIPs will be treated to catered food and music from The Young Heirlooms and Honey and Houston at 5 p.m.).
Here is the full schedule (visit cincyfolkfestival.com for updates and full info).
7:30 p.m. Bulletville
8:30 p.m. David Gans
9:30 p.m. Kim Taylor
10:30 p.m. AJ Ghent Band
12 a.m. Chicago Farmer
9 p.m. Mamadrones
10 p.m. Hickory Robot
11:15 p.m. Souse
12:30 a.m. Gabbard Brothers
8 p.m. Carole Walker
9 p.m. Tracy Walker
10 p.m. Ma Crow & The Lady Slippers
11 p.m. My Brother The Bear
12:30 a.m. Wilder
• Tonight and tomorrow (Friday/Saturday), the Northside Tavern hosts the return of the Northside Music Festival on three stages, including one on its outdoor patio. The fest, now in its eighth year, features some of the city’s finest Indie and Rock acts of various shades and styles. And it’s all FREE. Visit the NMF’s Facebook event page here for the “in case of rain” schedule.
Back Room stage
10:45 p.m. Skeleton Hands
11:45 p.m. Artisan
12:45 a.m. Dream Tiger
Front Bar stage
10 p.m. Smut
11 p.m. Everyday Objects
7:30 p.m. The Slippery Lips
9 p.m. Subsets
10:30 p.m. Tweens
Back Room stage
10:45 p.m. The Harlequins
11:45 p.m. Temple
12:45 a.m. Soledad Brothers
Front Bar stage
10 p.m. New Strange
11 p.m. The Sundresses
7:30 p.m. Leggy
9 p.m. The Tigerlilies
10:30 p.m. Fairmount Girls
Since the forecast for this upcoming weekend screams “absolutely sucky,” instead of fighting it, go ahead and embrace the rain. Whether you’re allowing yourself some “me” time to sink into your own thoughts or are keeping your favorite human close to your side, slide your ass back into bed, pour yourself some tea and put on these slower, deeper jams, old and new. (You know, when you’re done binging on Netflix).
"Think of England" – Bear’s Den
“Do you lie back and think of England?” Maybe, maybe not. But the concept is there. Whether it’s a place or a person from your past, this song is dedicated to a memory that questions if it’s been forgotten or not. Many of us experience this “letting go of the past” feeling in our lives, and Indie Folk trio Bear’s Den’s does it well through such heartfelt poetry.
"Holocene" – Bon Iver
The immediate peace behind Justin Vernon’s voice paired with the tranquil melody that takes you out of this world and beyond is enough. It’s just enough. As much of Bon Iver’s music is based off of a pain or time of love and loss, this particular song is wrapped around the beauty given by earth and embracing the parts of life that are greater than you’ll ever be. (Little tip: I recommend watching the video. Absolutely worth it).
"Love You" – For Against
The wonderful thing about instrumentals is that they can be interpreted any way you like and let them take you wherever you want to go. It’s pretty awesome. It causes listeners to get more caught up in the title rather than the assigned lyrics, leaving an open canvas for their most creative thoughts to tell a story. For Against uses distinct rhythms and their Post-Punk/Dream Pop sound to allow you to capture a story throughout each of their tracks.
"Come Back to Bed" – John Mayer
If I’m being honest, in my wildest dreams, if John Mayer told me to come back to bed I’m sure as hell going to do it. Whether you’re embracing the emptiness or wishing your person were by your side, this song is a calling to bring you back into your sheets and leaving the bad things behind. John is a major necessity to any rainy day soundtrack, and this particular track is a strong winner.
"Jolene" – Ray Lamontagne
I don’t care who you are or what genre you prefer, everyone admires this beaut. Ray Lamontagne’s rough-meets-earthy voice is exactly what anyone needs on the slowest of days. It’s sad, yes, but a wise man once told me, “The sad ones cause you to feel the most.” Sometimes we need that, especially while the dreary rain pours outside our windows. And Ray is the king of that.
"Song For Zula" – Ronnie Fauss
This acoustic remake is simply remarkable. I first heard it in one of my music-loving friend’s cars, driving home late from a Hozier concert, and I was hooked. I wanted to crawl under the sheets and sleep the weekend off, drifting away to this sweet lullaby dedicated to a lover. If you enjoy the original, this version will tug just as strongly at your heartstrings.
"Dye" – Tycho
Another instrumental, another story. This one with a more Techno-feel and a beat you’ll feel. It reminds me of a club at 2 a.m. in complete slow motion. Weird, I know. But like I said, it’s all about where your creative mind takes you. This artist especially is creative and unique enough in itself to get the ball rolling in your mind. So while you’re lying there watching the day pass by, let your thoughts drift to this song, this artist, and this album.
"More Streets" – zpiderflower
This instrumental is a bit darker feeling than the rest with its deep, electric strings flicking one after the other and its low and steady beat remaining consistent throughout the entire track. This song was made for sleep. It was made to hide out from the nasty weather while still accepting it’s among you. These guys aren’t likely to come across often, so grab on and give them a chance while it’s still raining outside. You’ll grow for them more now than ever.
"Georgia" – Vance Joy
I LOVE this song. I love the verses more than the actual chorus, and that’s totally OK with me. It’s sweet and pretty and talks of love in such an elegant way. Vance Joy describes a woman as electric and strong, with a weight of love that’s worth it all. Sure, we all are familiar with Joy’s ever-so-popular song "Riptide," but in reality his other work is equally as incredible. You can’t help but think of the person you love most when you hear this tune.
"Comrade" – Volcano Choir
You bet your ass I put Justin Vernon on twice. As used as this phrase is, I can’t help but best describe Volcano Choir as Bon Iver “on steroids.” Its electric twist is strong, loud and powerful, while keeping its simplistic/natural style and sounds in the works. The entire Repave album is worth giving a listen, however, if you’re adding to a mellow playlist, I pick "Comrade."
On Wednesday, June 10, The War On Drugs performed live at the Madison Theatre in Covington, Ky. They slowly becoming one of my favorite artists in just a few short months, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to catch these guys while they were in town, just minutes from my city.
This American Indie Rock band from Philly began back in 2003 after Kurt Vile and Adam Granduciel met at a party. (Alcohol really does bring people together for more than just a one-night stand). Finally calling themselves The War On Drugs in 2005, the rest became history.
The disparate crowd in the Madison Theatre grew silent as Vile stepped onto the stage of smoke with his back turned away from us. The intro music patiently slipped through the fingers of the players, giving the crowd enough time to psych themselves up before Vile slowly circled, sending his voice through the microphone. I’d like to think goosebumps were contagious in that moment.
The show kicked off with “Burning” from their album Lost in the Dream, an album that needed and deserved an entire concert time. They dove into each song random and out of order, just the way concerts should be. They even chose to throw their most popular track “Red Eyes” into the middle of the show — something we as music-lovers are unfamiliar with, subconsciously expecting the ordinary concept of “saving the best for last” (or in some cases, the most popular). Instead, it kept the crowd on their toes. It kept us wondering … what’s next?
My personal favorite didn’t come on until sixth to last. Waiting for “In Reverse” kept my anticipation high throughout the entire show, leaving me thoughtless and speechless and I swayed and felt more than what can be felt from listening through ear-buds.
The overall energy of the room was exactly what you’d expect it to be. The drifting rhythms and synthesized sounds of the acoustics was enough to send anyone into a parallel universe — a place I found myself throughout the show as I clung tightly to my beer with one hand and my friend’s arm with the other. "Lost in the Dream" truly says it all.
Vire’s communication with the audience was scarce, but with such strong lyrics that symbolize love, isolation and depression, it became more about speaking through the music. Instead of having to explain why a particular song was written or what is was about, it is left up to the listener to decide. It was all about interpretation.
A handful of songs from various other albums were chosen and thrown in the very beginning, as well as the encore before closing out with “Suffering,” also from Lost in the Dream. It was a slow closer (also uncommon) as if it was meant to easily transition people back down from concert to reality.
As a surprise during the encore of the show, we were treated to The National drummer Bryan Devendorf stepping in and taking over. It’s safe to say the crowd went a little nuts in the best way possible.
Every inch of the album Lost in the Dream was just as beautiful live as it is right from your Spotify playlist. Whether you’re taking a drive far out in the distance or spending an hour on your bedroom floor with your feet up on the wall, this is the background sound you’re looking for. You’ll be back for seconds — I promise.
Wedding season has officially arrived, and that means parties, dinners, showers and more parties. Yikes! It’s the perfect blend between terrifying and awesome.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to host a dear friend’s rehearsal dinner at a creative space called The Living Room. The bride and groom are in their early 20s, so the theme we chose was more of a modern, rustic feel, decorated with a collection of various plants, aged white windowpanes, flowers in vintage beer bottles and a handmade chalk drawing of the Cincinnati skyline across the blackboard wall in the café.
I created a playlist for the occasion that would fit both their personalities and the central theme of the dinner, avoiding the expected Whitney Houston or Michael Bolton tracks. This soundtrack consists of Indie, Folk and Alternative music old and new that almost everyone in the wedding party would recognize as they poured through the speakers. Hearing them sing along as they picked at the hors d'oeuvres was just the icing on the cake. (Well, the cake didn’t come until after dinner).
Check it out and see if these (not overly-cheesy) love songs will fit well in your upcoming rehearsal dinner playlist!
“Sweet Disposition” – Temper Trap
This song is strong and delicate altogether. “…A dream, a laugh, a kiss, a cry,” are all pieces of love and what we feel when we’re in it. The rapid, spacey beat is not only gorgeous, but the lyrics are no less than short and powerful.
“Mess Is Mine” – Vance Joy
What’s mine is yours — for better and for worse. It’s the concept that when you’re with someone, they are a part of you. Their problems become your problems, and this upbeat, warm song with an honest message truly says it best.
“Grow Old With Me” – Tom Odell
This song is so stinkin’ sweet. It’s heartwarming, dreaming about a future with the one you love the most. Starting slow and fading into a quick tempo, Odell’s voice gradually expresses how intense it is to feel this way toward someone for the rest of your life. Oh, and how wonderful it is.
“Ends of the Earth” – Lord Huron
When you’re in a car, driving off into the unknown with your favorite human by your side holding your hand so lightly, this is the song you want to have playing. “To the ends of the earth, would you follow me?” If marriage is an adventure, would you?
“Ho Hey” – The Lumineers
This lovely little song (already known by most) is the simplest way of saying you and your “sweetheart” belong together. It’s catchy, it’s happy and it’s even a sweet song to dance along to. The clapping alongside the rustic instruments will be enough to you get you on your feet with your partner, spinning around and loving how much you love them.
“She (For Liz)” – Parachute
I had to throw this song on here simply because the name of the bride is — you guessed it — Elizabeth. It’s that “she, she, she, story-of-a-girl” song that describes the uniqueness of one woman that makes a man love her over anyone else. Although Parachute doesn’t exactly say the name “Liz”, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.
“Budapest” – George Ezra
This semi-recent song by George Ezra (whose baby face does NOT match his soothingly-deep voice) describes the passion one human has for another, so strong they would leave even the greatest things in their life. Those materialistic things have no place over that person.
“XO” – John Mayer
Almost any John Mayer on your rehearsal dinner playlist is pretty much a necessity, considering the guy’s voice practically has love embedded in it. Recreating an acoustic cover of Beyoncé’s single ‘XO’, Mayer easily gives an already beautifully written song a slower, more soothing twist for listeners looking to feed their love-struck minds.
“Like Real People Do” – Hozier
This one is a bit different. My interpretation is that the past is in the past — and however scary the future is, they should let it be. When you’re in love with someone so deeply, sometimes it’s easier to put the pain of the past away and focus on the beauty of what’s to come. Hozier did a heavenly job of putting it, pairing it with its light and angelic melody.
“Home” – Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
“Home is wherever I’m with you.” YES. We love this one because that Southern-Folk sound and those sweeter-than-apple-pie lyrics can make a person feel so freaking giddy inside. It’s meant to make you feel like you really are home anywhere you go, but the reality is, it’s because of whose by your side.
It’s music festival time, folks. That barefoot-in-the-grass, sun-on-your-skin, and live-music-filling-your-bones kind of season has arrived, and this weekend our very own city is welcoming music lovers everywhere to Bunbury Music Festival.
Here are a handful of my personal favorite jams from selected artists who will be performing this weekend:
The Black Keys – Weight of Love
It’s safe to say the Black Keys are easily loved at music festivals, considering I felt that very energy on the Gulf Shores, Ala., just last summer at Hangout Fest. Plus, being up on your 6-foot-4 friend’s shoulders to see it is about as “high” as you can get. The Black Key’s latest single release, “Weight of Love,” includes the same sound, slowed down, heavy on the instrumentals. Lead singer Dan Auerbach kills it (as always) and the spacey opener/closer matches the genius lyrics inside the body of it all.
Tame Impala – Let It Happen
I first heard this fairly recent song in a cramped, poorly lit airport in Havana, Cuba, and I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction. Tame Impala is that weird band you can’t help but love, with their psychedelic hypno-groove melodic Rock genre (can you say a mouthful?) and their modern-day resemblance to the Beatles. “Let It Happen” came out as a single in March, and its trippy and playful vibes truly make you want to get on your feet and dance around. Nothing more, nothing less.
Matt and Kim – Get It
This Indie dance duo can brighten any music lover's day with their upbeat, bouncy rhythms with lyrics sung by not only Matt and Kim themselves, but a crowd of party-animals to push for a bumpin’ weekend, and you can bet your ass they’ll be counting on the Bunbury crowd to join in on the movement. Now go “get it’” and dance no-hands-on-the-wheel style until it’s time to jam out with them live at Bunbury.
Father John Misty – Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
Father John Misty a.k.a J. Tillman’s sad but hauntingly beautiful outlook on love and life is confidently expressed through his unique blend of Indie, Folk, and Psychedelic Rock, with lyrics open to various interpretations, depending on who’s listening. “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” and the rest of his previously debuted album stands out a bit from the rest of Tillman’s previous work. Seriously, just watch the video starring our girl April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) from Parks and Recreation, whose already dark character fits the scene beyond perfectly. It’s a confusing, marvelous piece of work, and Tillman will likely perform it just as beautifully (maybe slightly frightening) live.
Catfish & The Bottlemen – Pacifier
This “no fucks given” Welsh rock band from Wales might just be enough to get everyone in the Bunbury crowd to kick off their shoes and dance in the grass like crazy people. But that’s how music festivals should be, right? “Pacifier” is the perfect example of this kind of jam — the stuck-in-your-head, can’t-help-but-move-around song. And if you have any experience on the air drums, they might just become your new favorite.
Jamestown Revival – California (Cast Iron Soul)
Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance aren’t just a well-harmonized duo, but childhood friends, making for an even better band. The Country-Folk stylings of Jamestown Revival is easy on the ears, with their honest debut album recorded straight out of a cabin deep in the woods of Utah. It’s safe to say that what you hear is what you get, and “California (Cast Iron Soul)” is the epitome of not only the genre, but the lyrics that have the ability to bring listeners back to the authenticity of their roots.
Bunbury Music Festival takes place Friday-Sunday at Sawyer Point/Yeatman’s Cove, 705 E. Pete Rose Way, Downtown. More info: bunburyfestival.com.
There were diamonds everywhere at Bogart’s this past Friday (May 29), about 1,500 of them. Marina and the Diamonds is not a band, but the artistic umbrella for Welsh singer/songwriter Marina Diamandis. She says she created the solo-guise “band” moniker because she didn’t want to be seen as a solo Pop star, and wanted to “involve people” with a name that didn't make anyone feel excluded. So, you see, we are all diamonds. Most of the diamonds at her Cincinnati show were teenage to college-age girls with a smattering of parents in tow. Many had travelled a few hours to see their hero. It was a sadly homogenous audience, given the scope and talent of Diamandis and her three-album catalog, but an enthusiastic lot nonetheless.
Her set started with “Bubblegum Bitch,” the power cut from her second album Electra Heart, and from there the party never stopped. The latest single, “Forget,” followed before she and her touring backing band launched into “Mowgli’s Road.” After that trio of songs, Diamandis chatted with the crowd telling them how happy she was to finally make it to Cincinnati. Though she was preaching to the converted, Diamandis proved to be no-less charming and engaging.
“I am Not a Robot,” a U.K. Top 40 hit from 2010, followed and, as with the entire set, Diamandis’ voice soared effortlessly as she glided across the stage. About half way through, an additional keyboard was brought on stage. Diamandis proceeded to take a seat at it and play “Happy,” whilst her backing Diamonds looked on. It was a nice respite before the title track from her current album, Froot.
While every song received a loud cheer, it was the two biggest hits that really got the diamonds in attendance particularly fired up. “Hollywood” (a No. 12 hit in the U.K.) was her breakthrough single in the in 2010 and is based on her observations of the U.S. “I’m obsessed with the mess that’s America,” she sings, though it’s not meant to be a criticism. (“It was written way before I got signed," she told me in an interview a few years ago. "It's funny because I wouldn't describe my relationship with America as love or hate. Anything that has an element of illusion naturally fascinates people. I absolutely love America.”) Live, the song was keyboarded-up nicely, though the album version echoes the synth sound of the ’80s effectively. Her guitar player strummed an acoustic guitar, providing a nice counterbalance.
“Primadonna,” her other big single came next, and it too had a brighter and livelier sound on stage, sounding a little like an EDM track in spots, but not too heavily. Sadly, “Teen Idle,” a stand-out track from Electra Heart was left off the set list. “How to be a Heartbreaker,” finished the encore-less set, but the crowd seemed quite satisfied with the performance as Marina bade farewell to her diamonds to thunderous applause.
Oddly, professional photographers were not allowed to take pictures of Diamandis (as is customary for just about any concert review), something that wasn’t revealed until just before the doors opened. It is unclear who made that decision. (Primadonna indeed?)
I'm swirling a 24 oz. PBR tall-boy around 2 a.m. at a bar fashioned from an old church in a neighborhood I can't quite figure out. Is it up-and-coming like our own Over-the-Rhine? Or are we "on the wrong side of the tracks"? I don't really care at this point. I've already gotten drunk once today and spent 12 hours in the burning southern sun. I just want a bed.
There are 20-somethings in rompers, board shorts and woven sandals hunting for a festival after-party lined up around the block waiting for over an hour to sit on picnic benches and drink crummy beers together at a 300% markup over buying them at a gas station. We are only inside because someone among some newly found friends has sweet-talked the back door guy. Point is, I'm bored and ready for bed. I engage a fellow Cincinnatian at this bar after awkwardly sitting in silence for the past 30 minutes. Someone points to an open garage door leading to an abandoned courtyard where a bonfire is burning and shadowy figures have been shuffling in and out of all night. Oh man … I've been to these parties back home. They often end in way more cocaine than I'm comfortable being around or racially tense fights. But it’s the path I have to take to find out where I can sleep, so I throw my hood up to go as unnoticed as possible and dive in.
"If you high as fuck and you having a good time say yeah!"
"If you drunk as fuck and you having a good time say yeah!”
A track starts playing a familiar synth line. Everyone in the rundown rock yard throws their hands up in unison and screams, "I DONT FUCK WIT' YOU!!" Big Sean's breakup anthem blares over the PA. Yes! I'm so down with this. The fact that I'm in dirty soccer shorts and an Against Me! hoodie doesn't matter. The fact that I'm not from here doesn't matter. My age doesn't matter. My race doesn't matter. We all dance and sing along together until the cops show up. Forget the kids waiting in line to drink bad beer on park benches hoping to get laid; this is the most live party I've been to in a long while and nothing like it has ever happened back home.
But this isn't home, it's Atlanta. And it's the best part of Shaky Knees festival. I had headed to the unofficial capital of the South two days earlier with wildly different expectations. I was nervous, expecting an endlessly expansive metropolis like Chicago or New York where you could get lost for days just searching for a legal parking spot and shouldn’t expect to find a place to rest your head for less than $100 per night.
Instead I was greeted by a uniquely diverse, affordable and welcoming city that didn’t feel much more overbearing than Nashville or our own city. A welcoming attitude of southern charm and hospitality was the cherry on top of every restaurant and bar we’d visit.
Before I go on I feel it should be pointed out that while fully qualified to review a music festival, I fall into a not so primary target demo for festival promoters. Yes I’m white and middle class, but, more importantly, I’m 29. Not young enough to save up my graduation money and go on a road trip with my gal pals for the “party of the summer.” Not late enough in my 30s, with kids of my own old enough to either stay home alone or come with as I check out whatever ’80s Alt band has dusted themselves off to play in the twilight hours of each day in the name of collecting a paycheck. Most of my demographic is too busy being spit up on at all hours of the night by their newborns to afford spending three days drinking in the sun and being blasted by unhealthy decibel levels. But, alas, here I am.
That all being said, my only real complaint with Shaky Knees was its lack of diversity. It is in the Hip Hop capital of the south (several jokes were made asking locals if Outkast are the “presidents of Atlanta”), but it failed to feature a single Hip Hop or R&B act. There was a small representation of Delta music with Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Trombone Shorty dotting the schedule early Sunday afternoon (which I unfortunately missed as my attendance was unplanned and last minute, so I had to spend Sunday driving home for work). Every band I saw was just white guys with guitars. Not that there’s anything wrong with some of that, but I didn’t see a single other act that had more than one token female or person of color (the exception being Tennis, which had one extra woman on keys tucked in the back of the stage).
Atlanta’s location provides for an amazing opportunity to unite a wide array of music lovers from all over the country. I met travelers from places as far as New York, Miami, Fla., and Nashville, Tenn. It has a stronger African-American middle class than most of the Midwest, as I experienced amongst its nightlife and food scene, and yet the culture of the festival was still focused primarily on a white, suburban, Indie Rock or Folk crowd, which is a shame. Some minor lineup tweaks could make all the difference for an otherwise amazing festival.
Enough of that. We’re here to talk about performances, so let’s party …
Jukebox the Ghost While assessing the lay of the land we settled into our first full set with the Piano Rock trio. My friend, who knows my taste well enough to know I’d instantly want to judge them, insisted I give it a chance. It took a minute, but with interlude banter like, "This is a party song about breaking up," or "This is the dumbest song ever written," these guys are just having too much fun to not want to join in. I mean, come on — they closed with a cover of Queen’s "Don’t Stop Me Now" (yeah, they really had the balls to do that!) knowing full well their younger fan base would be totally lost and they didn’t give a single fuck. Kudos guys. You will do just fine in this world so long as your hairlines stay in tact.
Tennis I was merely nodding appreciatively through most of their set. Then lead singer Alaina Moore, whose neckline plunged all the way to the top of her high-waisted jeans with nothing but some hard working gravity protecting her from indecent exposure charges, introduced the song “Marathon.” One of the band’s older songs, it’s a solid straight up Doo Wop tune. (Now we’re talkin’!) I was pulled in for just a moment. But then all I could do is re-Imagine them as the opening band in the dance in Back to the Future with this same look and style. Marty never even gets the chance to rip through “Johnny B Goode.” The scene would already be too wild for Hill Valley circa 1955 to handle. There are riots in the streets! Marty disappears from the family photo and his existence fades into obscurity. Fin.
Wavves “Finally ‘the youths’ are partying!” I spent a good chunk of this set under the bright sun on searing black top thinking, “There’s gonna be some seriously dehydrated kids in sweaty ironic tees later.” Wavves’ first record was the only thing that swayed me to let my guard down and learn to accept the lo-fi revolution. Plus, “King of the Beach” is a total jam. But something just isn’t right about the energy of this young crowd. It’s like the Warped Tour of my youth for a new generation that doesn't have a George Bush to rally against and vent their angst toward. There’s a wave of aggressive indulgence in the pile of sweaty bodies that’s directed at nothing in particular and I’m too old or out of touch to understand it. Mostly I was thinking Hedonismbot from Futurama would fit right in crowd surfing over this pit. “Oh my!” Wavves new song was on point, though, perhaps suggesting a move away from the low-fi fuzz that covered up the simplicity of their previous work to something a little more richly melodic.
Manchester Orchestra I had to give this band a chance as my roommate texted me from back home insisting I check it out. I trust her. So I go. And, yeah, it’s heavy and I like that, but I’m not sure I get it yet. There are these glimmers of sing-along anthem glory, but in my 30-45 minute blind taste test of them I didn’t get enough of that flavor to crave seconds. Maybe some more research before they visit us for Bunbury next month will bring me around.
The Mountain Goats “AND HARD TIMES ARE WHEN A MAN HAS WORKED AT A JOB 30 YEARS AND THEY KICK HIM IN THE BUTT AND SAY: HEY, A COMPUTER HAS TOOK YOUR PLACE, DADDY. THAT’S HARD TIMES!” This is part of the epic, booming three-minute intro that sets the stage for The Mountain Goats’ show, a voiceover shouting a challenge to the Macho Man Randy Savage daring him to a fight in the ring across an empty stage. It gets you properly amped for what’s to follow. You can feel John Darnielle and his gang carry that energy right onto the stage with them as it ends and the crowd erupts. Don’t make the mistake of lumping these guys in with the dusters “just out for a paycheck” I mentioned earlier based on their age. You will rarely see someone look so happy to sing songs he wrote 20 years ago with as much conviction as Darnielle. His stage presence oozes “I’m a professional, but I’m having a blast!” And the crowd responds, “Alright John. Then I am too!” That presence is so strong he still wins over crowds with brand new songs despite already having a discography over 15 full-lengths deep. What's that streaming down my face as they close out with “No Children,” the hauntingly triumphant ode to the end of the ugliest relationship you’ve ever heard? It’s … it’s just a really heavy bead of sweat! It's hot out here damn it! Leave me alone!
Mastodon At this point in the day I just can’t take standing up anymore. Another minor issue with Shaky Knees overall was the food options. The ratio of local food trucks to festivalgoers yielded unbearably long lines for anyone hoping to catch some of the later acts of the day. Beer however was in ample supply, so I grabbed one to sip on while catching the most Metal moment of the weekend from a hill a hundred or so yards out from the main stage. Metalheads I trust recommend Mastodon and, yeah, they were fine with me too. Only problem is they fell just short of what I’m looking for in their songwriting, a craft often overlooked by Metal bands in my opinion. And so I spent most of their set wishing I was watching Ghost instead and checking my phone for any news of their next release. We should expect that in August.
Pixies Kim Deal purists be damned. Her current replacement did just fine and sounded spot-on like the records to me. While expecting those aging rockers coming out to collect a paycheck I’ve been talking about, there was still a dash of magic left. Or maybe it’s just that little flutter I get when a song starts up that I’ve been listening to for 15 or so years, like “Here Comes Your Man,” with no expectation of ever hearing live because, to be honest, it was a little loose at times. Okay. Really loose. Like, Frank Black stopped in the middle of a song and said, “That was my fault. I went to the chorus too soon,” and went on to the next one loose. Makes you feel a little bummed for folks who shelled out full price for a pass just because they’re so stoked to see their favorite band. So yeah, maybe my nostalgia high is wearing off now that I’m reflecting back and realizing Kim’s replacement was honestly the most engaging part of the set.
The Strokes Lead singer Julian Casablancas isn’t exactly the king of charisma. Hell, he’s not even the dunce in the corner of Charisma 101, which makes it really hard to accept this band as a headliner. His attempts at on-stage banter made for some of the most uncomfortable moments of the weekend. Tie that in with his cracking voice straining to push out the words “How long must I wait” before it just gave out during the first song of their encore, “Vision of Division.” Their set became downright unbearable at times. Unfortunately, on top of this, “Reptilia” is the only song I really care for and they opened with it. So I was over it quick. The crowd didn’t seem to care though. They all still went nuts when the song that sounds exactly like “Last Night” but isn’t it came on halfway through their set.
And so, in my constant battle of jaded cynicism vs. the fact that I do genuinely love live music, I’d say day one ended in a draw. On to round two!
Kevin Devine We raced back to the festival grounds to catch this set, but I wasn’t quite awake enough yet and needed to finish my coconut water to get things going. But Kevin didn’t care. His high energy set was better than anticipated and got me back in the game. He’s got the Indie/Emo “slow burn, build and release” pattern down and I’m totally ready to go up and down for the ride. Definitely keep an ear out for him.
Mariachi El Bronx Exactly what it sounds like. It’s Los Angeles hardcore band The Bronx … playing mariachi. I honestly resisted them for years as my friends raved and I assumed it was just another silly novelty crossover band. But they’re such great players that they managed to transcend the novelty and throw one hell of a party. Unfortunately, The Bronx gang seemed to draw the short end of the stick for the entire festival as this set was early on the main stage where the bass in the mix was for a much larger headlining crowd and it ruined the whole balance of the band. I had to leave halfway through as my body couldn’t handle the blasting waves of low end. But their bass player sure sounded great!
Speedy Ortiz “I think Squidbillies is here right?” lead singer Sadie Dupuis says between songs with minimal irony or facetiousness in her voice. And it’s this feeling of off beat intimacy the band tries to interject into the mid-afternoon, sun-drenched crowd that draws me in. It helps me understand why others are drawn to them, while my aging ears struggle to get hip to it. Dupuis voice and melodies, along with everyone else’s performances, are great, their style of off-the-beaten-path harmonic and chord structure however have never really set in for me. It kind of killed off my mariachi buzz and I stepped out halfway through to plan the rest of my day in some shade.
Viet Cong I went into this thinking the tough as nails name meant I was about to see a bratty and loud Punk band, which I was kind of stoked about. But the droning bass and synth is all good too! Makes me want to get in the world’s angriest space shuttle and fly to the moon. As they droned the last two chords of their final song back and forth for nearly three minutes I found myself wanting to shout, “Just take off damn it!” These guys would be equally good for when you're drunk alone at 4 a.m. again and your Joy Division records are just too far out of reach, plus you need a little extra edge to encourage you to break a few things!
Metz If you wish The Hives were still a hard touring band, these guys will get you half way there. Plus they’re a lil’ heavier to boot. That being said, the riffs could be a little catchier for my taste, but they still deliver enough to keep me hanging on and start snooping around for their records next time I’m out. Plus, you’ve got to love a band that you know is making somebody in Canada say, "You know that quiet guy in accounting? Yeah he TOTALLY shreds on the weekends!" Probably also worth mentioning here that these guys will be tearing up the Woodward Theater with Viet Cong on July 21st and it’s definitely going to be worth being there.
FIDLAR Plain and simple: This is why I love Punk. Just look at the dumb, unbridled joy on the faces of this sea of kids bouncing up and down in unison. There’s a certain “it” factor that the best live acts have regardless of technical difficulty or skill required to accurately perform their songs which I’ve never been able to put my finger. (FIDLAR said it best during their own set: “That’s right guys, all you need is three chords!”) This band definitely has it. The fact that I’m getting too old and responsible to honestly relate to their lyrics doesn’t matter. I think cocaine is childish and immature and I think drinking cheap beer is a waste of calories … but goddamn. I just can’t help but scream along in unison with these kids and share their same dumb, shit-eating grin. They are rescheduling their recently cancelled show at Thompson House. Keep an eye out for the new date and be prepared to lose your goddamn mind.
The Bronx And this is why I love hardcore! This is one of the tightest performances I saw up to this point despite unfortunately having the smallest crowd. No frills, just solid playing and tight execution. I had tried getting into them on record a few years back and something didn't click. Now it does. Time to go back and start working on picking up some change on the dance floor again.
Neutral Milk Hotel Yep. There's still too much ex-girlfriend attachment to this band for me to really enjoy it. Plus, they played at the time of day where no matter how close you want to get, you bottleneck at a point in the crowd that’s too far away to really feel a part of the set. “Maybe I should see if the Bronx is still playing? Why did I leave!? If one more person near me gushes over how cool using a saw as instrument is heads might roll …” Also the flock of blond college-age girls flocking out of the crowd after “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” was played early in the set was amazing. Am I being too cynical? Whatever. Jeff Mangum’s voice is still on point after all these years. Still worth it.
Wilco At this point that bottleneck was just too far away to really get into what was happening on stage, which bummed me out because I had to miss Wilco’s show in Cincy a few days earlier. The drunk people next to me were almost as loud as the reverberations distantly ringing on the stage. But hey — they’re still cranking out the hits and they're still Wilco, so you gotta love it. But I was a little too buzzed and nervous about not getting a good spot and running into this same situation for the Avetts, so I dipped out a little early.
The Avett Brothers “Effortless.” People challenge me all the time to explain why I believe these guys are objectively one of the best live musical acts in music right now and this is the only word I can ever seem to muster. The level of focus, mastery and attention to detail that goes into the performance this crew puts on night after night should be obvious to anyone who’s so much as taken a single guitar or voice lesson. The love, passion, joy, and energy they infuse into every song, whether it’s a sing-along anthem like “Kick Drum Heart” or a soft ballad like “The Ballad of Love and Hate,” makes the whole act seem more effortless every time I see them. Whether it’s Seth’s improvisational riffing on their already perfect vocal lines or Scott’s conviction and sincerity when telling the crowd he needs their help singing along with something, I truly believe they would win over any true music fan who is willing to let go and be taken by the power of one of their sets. No other band refracts as much love for what they’re doing on stage back to an audience quite like the Avetts. Their headlining set at Bunbury will be their first performance in Cincinnati since 2008. Do not miss it.
Whoa. What a ride. The fact that I’m having trouble wrapping this up despite the fact that I missed a whole day of the festival is a testament to just how much Shaky Knees has to offer music lovers. I’m having trouble keeping the two-day experience I had from unraveling into a full novella and am now forcing myself to shut up. Despite its limitations, there is still enough diversity to keep most fans of semi-independent Rock or Alternative on their toes. (No. It was not hard to resist a “shaky knees” pun here.) But when you attend next year, don’t let your time adjusting to the southern sun tap all of your energy for experiencing the city’s culture and nightlife. As much as I love Cincinnati, I think we have much to learn from this gem down South and I look forward to returning soon.
— Josh Elstro
If you have access to a radio or television set, then you’re likely well aware that “Shut Up and Dance” by Cincinnati Dance Pop crew Walk the Moon has become a bona fide Pop hit. The single has been certified platinum, meaning it has sold more than one millions copies. The catchy, danceable track is currently at No. 5 on Billboard’s singles chart and has also performed very well on various other charts. “Shut Up” reached No. 2 on iTunes Top Songs chart and Billboard’s digital charts. On Spotify, the song has been streamed more than 78 million times, while “Shut Up”’s video has held a steady presence in the Top 10 of VH1’s Top 20 video countdown. Talking is Hard, Walk the Moon’s second album for RCA Records, continues to benefit from the single’s success, moving as high as No. 14 on Billboard’s overall album chart.
The Cincinnati band has worked hard to push “Shut Up and Dance” to the upper reaches of the Pop charts. Along with the usual late-night talk show circuit, Walk the Moon has also appeared on network morning shows like The Today Show (which used various WtM tunes as bumper music throughout the day the band appeared) and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
When DeGeneres introduced the group on her show, she called “Shut Up” the band’s “No. 1 hit,” which it wasn’t at the time but could end up there as Walk the Moon keeps up its relentless promotional push. WtM’s is also becoming a bigger and bigger concert draw, selling out many of its shows across the country (the band just recently completely another successful U.S. jaunt).
And WtM has also been making it onto prime time TV lately. Last month, Riker Lynch and Allison Holker danced to “Shut Up” for a routine on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. Tuesday night (May 12), the band will play “Shut Up” as special guests on NBC’s popular singing competition, The Voice. Tune in to catch the performance at 8 p.m.
Though several Cincinnati-based acts have done well on a national level, crossing over to the top of the Pop charts is pretty rare, particularly for artists who choose to remain in their hometown while pursuing their career. Walk the Moon comes home to play Cincinnati’s Bunbury Music Festival on June 5 along the Ohio’s riverfront. Click here for tickets/details.