Kentucky’s Forecastle is a music festival that I had never been to before this year. At the end of Day 1, I was asking myself why.
After spending the majority of my Friday bouncing from stage to stage and tent to tent (still with much more to explore today), I found myself having the time of my life in this little temporary corner of Louisville known as Forecastle. Despite the spitting rain and chilly temperatures, the energy here is booming, the crowd is eager (though polite, for the most part) and the mood is happy. It’s obvious that it would take quite the storm to sink this ship, and it’s looking like smooth sailing from here for the next two days.
When I first got to Louisville after encountering terrible traffic (if you plan on going and are traveling south, LEAVE EARLY), I found myself a free little parking spot along River Road and proceeded on my trek to the festival. Free parking has its price, I suppose. For the record, you can pay to park, but was this gal was going to do what it took to save her pennies.
Thankfully I found CityBeat’s own photographer extraordinaire Jesse Fox at check-in, and we both arrived just in time for our interview with Punk band Against Me!. We waited under the press tent about 20 minutes past the scheduled interview time (you get used to this in the music world and begin to expect it) until Laura Jane Grace and Atom Willard entered the scene. Jesse and I shook their hands with mouths agape and eyes wide, nervous as all-get-out. They turned out to be very kind and Laura complimented my belt (therefore I am wearing it every day forever now). It’s the little things, you know? This is what I love about music festivals, conferences, etc. — it truly is a different world.
After our interview with Laura and Atom, we went to the Boom Stage to check out The Black Lips. These Atlanta-based dudes rule. Once their set finished I retreated once again to the media tent for some ’za from Mellow Mushroom and ah-mazing moonshine cocktails from Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine. (I also went to charge my phone.) I found familiar faces in the media tent as the CityBeat crew quite literally funneled in and took it over. I couldn’t have been more excited. I met new folks and took time to chat but was quickly out on the field again to explore. There is just so much to see!
I found myself back at the Boom Stage for Against Me! The band put on an amazing, high-energy performance with Laura Jane Grace bouncing around the stage. They played their best old hits (“I Was A Teenage Anarchist,” anyone?), but of course cranked out the new record, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, too.
Once Against Me!’s set ended, I had a bit of time to explore. The layout of the festival is quite nice, really. Nothing is too far from wherever you want to go and food/restrooms are almost always within arm’s reach. I had no difficulty traveling from stage to stage and found it easy to find almost everything (except for the Port Stage, that one takes a bit more exploring to get to). I can appreciate these details about a festival of this size.
I saw some old favorites one day one — Local Natives and Outkast, just to name a few — but I wanted to take the time to try something new as well. This was when I wandered to the Ocean Stage to find Nightmares On Wax. I had no idea what to expect and stood in the (what seemed to be very young) crowd, staring at the stage with the words “Nightmare On Wax” rotating in lights along the back of the stage. I began to get antsy, second-guessing my decision. Just then, the band excitedly entered the stage and began. The beat dropped and I couldn’t stop moving. The band’s sound is hard to pinpoint — there were definitely Reggae and Hip Hop influences in it, but it was perhaps more of a jam-band sound without all the instruments. I didn’t care what it was. I was into it, and so were the people around me. Not a soul was standing still. If you haven’t checked out Nightmares On Wax, the apparent brainchild of England native George Evelyn, you need to, especially when you’re sitting by the pool or driving on a summer night.
Outkast ended the night of course, playing all the hits (“SpottieOttieDopaliscious” and “Da Art of Storytellin’ (Pt. 1)” are my personal favorites, but they played a lot of their later material, too). Their show was nothing short of amazing. Andre 3000 is as odd as ever, Big Boi was as cool as ever and the two are truly a match made in heaven. You don’t need me to tell you that, though. With sore feet and limbs, I trudged back to my car to retreat for the night. I’m already excited for day two.
Things to check out if you’re Forecastling this weekend: Old Smoky Tennessee Moonshine cocktails. They are amazing. I suggest the Dolly, but they are all delicious.
Giant creatures walking around. You can find a giant monkey, bird, man, caterpillar-thing. These things just make you happy.
Poster exhibit on the far side of the festival (next to the Boom Stage). There are amazing band posters (which I’m a total sucker for) featuring tons of artists to check out. Go show ’em some love!
Just like at last weekend’s Bunbury Music Festival, this weekend’s inaugural Country/Folk/Americana-centric Buckle Up Music Festival (founded by the creators of Bunbury) will feature several great Cincinnati area artists. Fans planning to attend the fest (running today through Sunday at Sawyer Point/Yeatman’s Cove on the riverfront) should definitely makes time to check out some of the locals — collectively they are proof that Greater Cincinnati’s Roots scene remains one of the strongest in the region. (Click on each performer’s name for more info and song samples and click here for a map with stage locations.)
Greater Cincinnati acts performing at Buckle Up on Friday include The Dan Varner Band (2 p.m.; Amphitheater Stage), Andrew Hibbard (2:45 p.m.; Acoustic Stage), Lonesome Jared & the Heart Attacks (2:45 p.m.; Lawn Stage), Jamison Road (4:15 p.m.; Acoustic Stage), Messerly and Ewing (5:45 p.m.; Acoustic Stage), Jeremy Pinnell and the 55’s (6:30 p.m.; Amphitheater Stage) and Pistol Holler (8 p.m.; Amphitheater Stage).
On Saturday, catch local Buckle Up performers Wild Carrot (2:45 p.m.; Acoustic Stage), Shiny and the Spoon (2:45 p.m.; Lawn Stage), Kentucky Timbre (3:30 p.m.; Amphitheater Stage), Buffalo Wabs & the Price Hill Hustle (5 p.m.; Amphitheater Stage), Arlo McKinley & the Lonesome Sound (5:45 p.m.; Lawn Stage) and The Tillers (8 p.m.; Amphitheater Stage), who recently had their amazing new music video for the track “Willy Dear” world-premiered on the site for American Songwriter Magazine.
Sunday’s Buckle Up lineup features area performers Honey & Houston (2 p.m.; Lawn Stage), Alone at 3AM frontman Max Fender (2 p.m.; Acoustic Stage), The Kentucky Struts (2:45 p.m.; Amphitheater Stage), JetSet GetSet (3:30 p.m.; Lawn Stage), Straw Boss (4:15 p.m.; Amphitheater Stage), Mark Utley and Bulletville (5 p.m.; Lawn Stage), Bobby Mackey (5:45 p.m.; Amphitheater Stage) and Noah Smith (7:15 p.m.; Amphitheater Stage).
For the full Buckle Up lineup, ticket information and more, visit buckleupfestival.com. And check out our interview with founder Bill Donabedian about Buckle Up and last weekend’s Bunbury fest here and Brian Baker's Top 10 "must-sees" here.
Another pretty good day overall. The temperature was a little higher, as was the humidity, and even when the clouds moved in and things seemed perhaps a little iffy, the good weather prevailed and all was right for the second day of Bunbury, v.3.
The day began as it ended the previous evening, with some quick face time with volunteer excelsior and one of the scene's most gifted guitarists, Jacob Heintz. A Bunbury blessing from Jacob is the first step in a great day. And before I'd even gotten to the gate, I was called out by Brandon Weaver, owner/operator of Iron Wing Studio in Covington, who hosted my interview with Seabird last year; he's got a great facility and he's a really nice guy, so if you're looking for a place to paint your sonic masterpiece, give him a call.
I wasn't really committed to seeing anything until relatively late in the schedule, so I decided to just float around the stages for the first few slots and maybe do a little sampling from each. It was a pretty successful plan, as it turned out.
My first stop was the Warsteiner Stage to check out Miner, but the guy at the mic introduced the group as the Family Band, so apparently there was a Miner adjustment. Hahahahahahaha. I'm laughing because I know you're not. At any rate, the rather large band sounded a lot like our own Josh Eagle and the Harvest City, if they'd been juiced up on My Morning Jacket. They were quite good.
Next it was a quick jaunt down to the Amphitheater Stage to see Brent James & the Vintage Youth. What started out as super tight bar boogie a la Aerosmith evolved into a super smart Rock show that drew on any number of potent influences, all of which were on full display when James and the Youth rolled out an absolutely jaw-dropping cover of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," a blazing blend of Bon Jovi dramatics and Georgia Satellites off-the-rails jamarama. Equally impressive was James' soulful swagger on "Needle to the Groove," and imagine my surprise when James called out his band, which includes regional wunderkind Ricky Veeneman, who won the 1999 Jimi Hendrix National Guitar Competition (when he was 15, by the way) and bassist Matt Gandenberger, who provided four-string assistance on a couple of tracks on Ricky's 2003 album, Change. James noted that the band would be opening for ZZ Top at the Horseshoe Casino in the near future, so here's a note to ticketholders — don't skip the opener.
After the Vintage Youth, I wandered down to the Main Stage to take in a little of Crass Mammoth's set. After a handful of songs, they struck me as gritter, punkier Modest Mouse with a Classic Rock vein and melodic Pop undercurrent that guitarist/vocalist Joseph Crowe characterized as "the cute part of the show." And once that was concluded, the north Georgia trio went right back to raw and ripping mode. There's a good chance that Crass Mammoth made as many new fans today as they drew from their fervent existing fan base.
From there, it was back to the Warsteiner Stage for an uplifting and raucous set from the pride of Hartford, Connecticut, Bronze Radio Return. Although there was more than a hint of Mumford and Sons/Lumineers Folk/Pop to BRR's presentation, there were also Rock elements ranging from The Black Crowes to Tom Petty to shades of Crash Test Dummies. The band drew a relatively big crowd and a good many of them were already fans, as evidenced by the large number of people singing along with nearly every song. Bronze Radio Return's frontman, Chris Henderson, was engaging and very much the band's ringmaster, their material was anthemic and joyful and I would love to see what the band would do with a long form set.
At this point, I decided to get my wander on and just roam the Bunbury grounds getting a taste of the musical talent that had been assembled for Day 2. First, there was New Politics down at the Main Stage, which reminded me of Neon Trees with a considerably heavier bottom and a Hip Hop heart. Next up was Bonesetters, a great Americana/Indie Rock band from Indianapolis that shimmered in the heat of the Lawn Stage with a palpable Jim James/Ryan Adams/Eef Barzelay vibe. Then it was back over to the Warsteiner Stage to catch a few songs from Nashville's Fly Golden Eagle, an atmospheric Roots/Soul/Psych Rock aggregation that grooves and jangles and totally lives up to the title of their 2011 album, Swagger. They've toured with Alabama Shakesm Dr. Dog and Arctic Monkeys and garnered comparisons to Lips both Black and Flaming, Beck and the Black Crowes, and that adds up to a band that needs to come on back.
After digging a few FGE songs, I drifted down to the Amphitheater Stage to enjoy local-girl-made-good Jesse Thomas, who's gotten her songs placed on Shameless and Hart of Dixie. The L.A. resident/Covington native has a tang and twang that suggests Patty Griffin, Kathleen Edwards and Shawn Colvin, and that ain't bad company no matter how you slice it. Jesse drew a pretty healthy hometown crowd and she made the most of her first festival appearance, Bunbury or otherwise.
After Jesse Thomas' spirited set, it was a short stroll over to the Lawn Stage to experience the full frontal assault of Nashville's Modoc, who I got into by way of a story I did earlier in the year on Melvin Dillon and his vinyl-only label Soul Step Records. Modoc was one of Melvin's early signings when he approached the band about pressing vinyl on their excellent debut full-length. In the studio, Modoc make a mighty racket that crashes happily at the intersection of Led Zeppelin and Southern Rock, but everything that the band does so well in the sterile confines of the recording booth are amplified a dozen times and set ablaze like Jimi Hendrix's Stratocaster. Thunderous riffs, razor wire slide leads, pummeling bass lines and a drum sound heavy enough to drill through solid bedrock, Modoc does it all with a wink/nod sense of humor and a joyful passion that comes through with every note. They've played a couple of MidPoints (they’ll be back for this year’s MPMF) and they're building a pretty sizable following, if their Bunbury turnout was any indication. And as frontman Garry Crisp so eloquently put it, "We love Cincinnati. It's got sin in it twice!" Right back atcha, G-Dawg.
I managed to see at least some of Jane Decker's set. I'd talked to Jane and bassist Mitch Winsett two years ago when Belle Histoire was still a viable concern, but the band has since scattered to the wind and Jane has stepped away from a band configuration to make her mark as a solo artist. Her Bunbury set was supposed to be a full band gig, but something happened in the days before the festival and she wound up on the Lawn Stage singing to the acoustic guitar accompaniment of Sean (just Sean, apparently), her songwriting partner on a good deal of the album that is currently being mastered for an imminent release. Jane auditioned for The Voice last season and was bounced because the judges didn't know what to do with her. As I sat listening to her acoustic set at Bunbury, her incredibly poppy songs stripped to the essentials of Jane's beautiful Dolores O'Riordon-tinted voice and the simple counterpoint of Sean's tasteful acoustic soundtrack, I cannot imagine what Adam Levine wasn't hearing. Any of the songs Jane presented in her acoustic set could be produced up to megahit proportions and go toe-to-toe with Lorde, Arianna Grande, or whoever is the flavor of the moment. It certainly seems like Jane's moved beyond The Voice incident (the failure being theirs and not hers), and is ready to pursue her dream and make a skadillion dollars without Blake Shelton's help.
Molly Sullivan won the Singer/Songwriter CEA back in January and every time she puts herself in front of an audience, she offers a little more evidence to support that honor. She has an amazing vocal range, from midnight howl to 3 a.m. hush and she has the uncanny ability to shift from melodic Folk/Pop beauty to dissonant Jazz artfulness while retaining the thread of her creative identity. Molly's set at the Acoustic Stage was simply fantastic, further proof that her CEA win was no fluke and is likely to be followed by a few more similar triumphs down the line.
Over at the Main Stage, it wasn't too hard to see why Paramore is the current darling of high-octane Pop Rock. The band was physically moving air during their powerful and obviously well received set; their drums pounded their way into your rib cage and altered your heartbeat to a different time signature. I stuck around for a handful of songs but ultimately opted for an early exit in order to find some prime real estate on the Serpentine Wall.
Tonight would be Foxy Shazam's second appearance at Bunbury, and they had their work cut out for themselves. No one who witnessed their gig at the inaugural Bunbury two years ago will ever forget it; frontman Eric Nally imploring the Reds' Joey Votto to "hit the motherfucker out of the park," and Sky White tossing his keyboard into the crowd and then leaping in after it, continuing to play while the audience held it and him aloft. Oh, and they played a lot of great music. And therein lies a common misperception, that the band's onstage antics are somehow going to detract from their musical performance. This notion is typically floated by people who have never seen Foxy Shazam work an audience like a skilled pickpocket while simultaneously putting on a dazzling Rock show.
As advertised, Foxy presented their new album Gonzo in its entirety for the first 30 minutes of the set, with bassist Daisy Kaplan on guitar and guitarist Loren Turner on bass (it was a device they used to jump start the writing process and they decided to maintain the set up for the live translation). Where The Church of Rock and Roll was more of an immediate album, Gonzo is a work that reveals its gifts slowly, and those albums always seem to wind up being fan favorites. The packed Wall showed their appreciation for Gonzo with a fevered response to each of the album's nine songs.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Foxy show without Nally's brilliant non sequitur patter — like "The only difference between me and a scholar is how much we paid for what we know," and "If it was legal to shoot people, I'd be dead." The real showstopper came in the second half of the set, when Foxy hauled out the back catalog and Kaplan and Turner returned to their regular roles. By this time, trumpeter/vocalist Alex Nauth had tossed his horn into the light rigging a half dozen times, White had played his keys with his ass and Nally had somersaulted, vaulted, balanced and slid all over the stage.
After blowing through high voltage turns on "Holy Touch" and "I Like It" (where Nally adlibbed, "Let me see your butthole, baby," something I'm fairly certain I never heard Barry White utter), among others, Nally introduced the band's last song of the evening thusly: "This next song, this last song, is about time travel. I wrote it next week." And with that, Foxy Shazam roared headlong into "Unstoppable," the anthemic 2010 hit from their self-titled album. As the band neared the end of the song, Nally called for cigarettes from the crowd; grabbing one from a pack, he lit it with a lighter thrown on the stage and called for the lights to be killed. As "Unstoppable" faded to its squalling conclusion, Nally blew sparks out of the end of the cigarette into the darkness on the stage, and then shrieked, "You're all pregnant!" He dropped the mic, the lights came up and that was the end. As unlikely as it seemed less than an hour before, Foxy Shazam had indeed cleared the bar they'd set two years ago. As the late Jack Palance used to intone on a weekly basis, "Believe it … or not."
I hung around after Foxy to chat with ClassX Radio’s Eddy Mullet whose daughter had a little trouble with rude doofuses, but he handled it with aggressive diplomacy. We were talking about our plans for the end of the evening, and I was tempted to bail on Fall Out Boy to get home and get started on these reviews, while Eddy seemed ready to call it a day as well. But at the last moment I decided to catch at least a few songs from the last band of the day, and announced it with the unfortunate phraseology, "I think I'll go check out a little Boy." Eddy's daughter Jess went, "Uhhh. …" Point taken.
So we all headed off toward the Main Stage area, me to find a good viewing position and them to see if the exit next to the stage was open (it wasn't). Having come this far, Eddy decided to stick around as well, and so we all lingered for a bit to witness the Pop/Punk majesty of Fall Out Boy. I've always liked the Wentz/Stump dynamic, perhaps not enough to passionately explore their output, but more than enough to appreciate the fact that they've elevated the conversation in the genre. But as Shakespeare noted, the play's the thing, and Fall Out Boy do the thing pretty well.
Bookended by festival closers that were and would be visual orgasms of color and light (Empire of the Sun on Friday, Flaming Lips on Sunday), FOB chose to make their presentation the spectacle, playing their hits and beyond with an expansive flair without forgetting that they were compact and energetic Punk-tinted Pop songs. About midway through the set, an already adrenalized crowd went ballistic when Paramore's Hayley Williams stepped out to duet with the band on "Sugar, We're Goin Down," and the frenzy just continued from there. Patrick Stump played to the hometown crowd by giving a shout out to "our friends in Foxy Shazam," which was nice, and later Stump asked how many parents were in the audience, and reminisced how his father would take him to Punk shows in Chicago when he was a teenager, and as a tribute to all the DNA-linked chaperones in attendance, peeled off a sweet version of "We Are the Champions," followed with an incendiary spin through "Save Rock and Roll."
At that point, we took our leave to beat the rush; as I was headed toward my car, I could hear the strains of "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark," and I was really glad I'd stuck around to experience Fall Out Boy in this perfect setting.
• On Bunbury Day 2, I began the day by filling the gastank with a carton of Island Noodles (with the teriyaki chicken, thank you), an amazing repast that lasted well into the evening, when I had a slightly less amazing but incredibly delicious Kobe Dog from Dutch's booth. Both are highly recommended (but the noodles are less likely to stop your heart; on the other hand, we're walking it off, are we not?)
• Saturday had a much different crowd vibe than Friday, due to the headliners for the evening, Paramore and Fall Out Boy. Usually I run into a half dozen friends and acquaintances before I've decided on which lunch and what beer to chase it. But it wasn't too long before I ran into Brent and Kat, the scene's most visible couple. They mentioned they were going to catch an unannounced set by Billy Catfish, and Kat said that she had noticed a distinct similarity between Billy's eyes and Brent's eyes. To that end, she noted that if Brent kicks it, she's going to ask Billy out. To which Brent replied, "If Kat dies, I'll ask Billy out, too." Together in everything, as it should be. Not long after, I crossed paths once again with another prince of the realm, The Ready Stance's Wes Pence and his son Wyatt, on the lookout for action of every imaginable variation. If you don't know Wes, there is a great gaping void in your life. And if you don't know The Ready Stance, same thing. As Dr. Steven Brule says, “Check it out.”
• I had seen photographer extraordinaire (and CityBeat alum) Sean Hughes having a little difficulty getting into the photo pit at the Warsteiner Stage with his pass on Friday (for the love of Annie Leibowitz, do you people know who he is?), and I told him that I was about to come over and throw my weight around. Not influence — I have none of that anywhere — but my actual weight. I can create a fatass distraction like nobody's business. On Saturday, Sean noted that he could have used my help later the day before, but I reminded him, "I can't be where you are, you have to be where I am, that's how my fatassery works." Then he saw girls in the misting station and said, "People getting wet … that's my thing," and off he went. Another prince? Most assuredly.
• At the Modoc show, I caught up with Soul Step Records owner/operator Melvin Dillon and his lovely sister Wendy. I figured I'd see Melvin there; he's a big fan of Modoc, having sought them out specifically to press the vinyl version of their self-titled debut LP. Melvin mentioned that he's currently working with a big name local band (I won't jinx the deal by announcing anything … yet) to do the vinyl version of their new album. Stay tuned. It will be epic.
• Once again, ran into Eddy Mullet, only this time with two daughters in his entourage; his youngest daughter Cassie was along for the ride on Saturday. Not quite the music fan that her sister Jess has become, Cassie did have a full-bore good time at the Foxy Shazam extravaganza, so she may be making some forays into the local music world with dear old dad in the near future. Or maybe not. Kids will always find their own way.
If you were excited to catch New Jersey Indie Pop duo Brick + Mortar at last weekend’s Bunbury Music Festival, you were probably also disappointed that the twosome’s set was cut short due to bad weather. But next month you’ll have another chance to see the band. And it won’t cost you a penny.
When the MidPoint Indie Summer series on Fountain Square was announced, organizers held back unveiling the full lineup for the Aug. 15 show. Ohio party rockers The Nightbeast were the only performers announced at the time. (Below is The Nightbeast's latest music video, "Paid and Rowdy.")
Now that Bunbury is over, organizers have announced that Brick + Mortar will join The Nightbeast as co-headliners for the free Aug. 15 show. B+M is signed to Island Records and its track “Locked in a Cage,” released earlier this year, did well on the Alt music charts.
The rest of Aug. 15 lineup will be announced soon. For the full rundown of Indie Summer shows on Fountain Square, click here.
UPDATE: The other two acts for the Aug. 15 Indie Summer show have been announced: The Protomen (who will be fresh off their stint on the Warped Tour) will headline and Dayton's Dangerkids will also perform.
Another Bunbury band, Ohio Folk Rock crew Saintseneca, will also be returning to Cincinnati soon. The band is slated to perform at the MidPoint Music Festival in late September. Check out Saintseneca's recent appearance on World Cafe here.
Get tickets, check out the ever-growing lineup and find more MPMF info here.
A perfect day, hot enough but not so hot as to suggest the idea that the ghosts of dead ants broiled by sadistic children with magnifying glasses were somehow exacting their revenge from beyond the veil of ant Valhalla. Why, yes, the '70s were good to me. Why do you ask?
At any rate, the potential for another spectacular launch to Bunbury's first day was palpable as ID was proffered, the laminate was provided and the wristband was snapped into position. The game is afoot (or as my wife's podiatrist might counter, the foot is a game … but I digress. Why, yes the ’70s were good to me. Why do you ask?) and another spectacular Bunbury awaits.
The beginning of the day was essentially a sampler platter of roaming about and checking out a few songs from a variety of sources. I started off down at the Amphitheater Stage to check out The Upset Victory, who had drawn a pretty sizable crowd for their muscular U2-tinged brand of melodically gritty Roots/Punk. Then it was down to the Warsteiner Stage for a more lengthy taste of Snowmine, who return to the '80s/'90s with a 21st century vengeance, mining a thick vein of Depeche Mode, along with a '90s aggressive Ambient quality and a quietly powerful modern edge. Then it was down to the Main Stage for a quick shot of X Ambassadors, who blend big tribal drumming with a Punk-fueled Pop core, a little like Imagine Dragons with a few hundred thousand volts pumped directly into their hearts. Finally it was back to the Amphitheater for a few songs from the soon-to-be-large Let It Happen, who were delivering their Green Day-esque anthemics in the blistering mid-afternoon glare of the unfiltered sun.
Then it was time to hit the Lawn Stage for the triumphant return of 500 Miles to Memphis. Frontman Ryan Malott has streamlined the band down to a potent quintet (guitarist Aaron Whalen, bassist Noah Sugarman, drummer-of-the-gods Kevin Hogle and the lap-steel-and-all-round-magnificence of David Rhodes Brown) and turned up the juice to emphasize the Roots/Rock thunder and downplay the Country lightning. There's still plenty of twang in their thang, but the sizzle and the sound is turned up to 11 in the slimmer, trimmer 500MTM. The band was clearly itching to tear shit up; they've been hard at work for the last couple of years or more assembling their new album, the imminent Stand There and Bleed (the title is a Tombstone reference; if you know the movie, you know the exact scene, and if you don't, shame on you for missing the greatest Western depiction of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday ever, so go fix that before another hour goes by).
Malott and the 500 blew through a set that was stacked with great new material (particularly "Bethel," a tribute to Malott's hometown), but they didn't forget to give the master his due, pulling DRB up from his lap steel duties to haul out yet another chilling spin on Trent Reznor's "Hurt"; if the hair doesn't stand up on your neck when the Colonel's baritone rumbles out, "You can have it all, my empire of dirt," you've got one of those weird, hairless necks. 500 Miles to Memphis has been well out of the public eye for the last year as they concentrated on life pursuits and sporadic turns in the studio to finesse Stand There and Bleed, so there was an urgency to get their fresh live set across as a clarion call to let everyone know they're back. Are they ever.
After a quick stop to water my horse (namely, me), it was a fast walk over to the Acoustic Stage for an hour of blissful Roots/Folk brilliance from Aaron Lee Tasjan, whose sideman work with Todd Snider, the New York Dolls, Drivin' N' Cryin' and Tim Easton has earned him a reputation as one of Americana's most reliably astonishing guitarists. But it's his solo persona that is becoming even more fully realized, as his sterling EP releases — 2011's August Moon, 2012's The Thinking Man's Filth and the just released Crooked River Burning — have shown Tasjan to be a songwriter of depth and beauty will beyond his calendar age. Listen to any given ALT song and you'll hear hints of Nick Drake, Bob Dylan, Will Kimbrough, Rodney Crowell and Ryan Adams in his delivery.
In Tasjan's Folk world, there is no bellybutton introspection set to a strummed acoustic guitar; he'll peel off a solo worthy of Jimi Hendrix after telling a story about seeing Ted Nugent shoot flaming arrows into cardboard effigies of his enemies list worthy of Arlo Guthrie. There aren't many singer/songwriters (read that: any) who are writing tributes to the late, great Judee Sill, and fewer still who make incisive observations like "You can't play Beatles music with bullshit hair." Deals don't get any realer than Aaron Lee Tasjan, and you all need to make him a star at your earliest convenience. Go. I'll wait.
After ALT's hour of power, it was back to the Amphitheater for the transcendent magnificence of Lydia Loveless. She may have grown up in the hillbilly hinterlands of Coshocton, Ohio, but she is a city girl with enough Rock sass to satisfy any Indie hipster and enough twang to hold the interest of any Americana aficionado. In a set laced with electric greatness, primarily drawn from her latest album, Somewhere Else, Loveless and her brilliant band finished with an absolutely scorching take on "Boy Crazy," the title track from her 2013 EP. The song reached a fever pitch when guitarist Todd May, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth with noir-detective-meets-Bun-E.-Carlos nonchalance, sat on his feet in front of his amp at the back of the stage, coaxing an exquisite din of feedback from his guitar, while bassist/husband Ben Lamb concocted similarly haunted sounds by running his bass down Nick German's drum kit and Loveless herself fell onto her back on the stage and cranked out sheets of heart-stopping guitar madness. It was an extraordinary end to a truly amazing and all too brief set.
Exactly what is it about the Black Owls that resonates so completely with me? First, they effortlessly tap into that primal part of my brain that was developing during my teenage years when I was soaking up insane amounts of T. Rex, Mott the Hoople, David Bowie and the Stooges. Next, they punch forcefully into the neighboring brain cells, the ones that house the memories of discovering Television, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, Talking Heads, New York Dolls and Be Bop Deluxe. And it's not that they sound like any of those bands (although occasionally they do), it's that they remind me of that beautiful, mysterious time in my life when there was still music to be revealed, and the visceral thrill that accompanied every new discovery. That is what it is about the Black Owls. They once again made that abundantly clear at the Lawn Stage when they tore through old favorites ("Wild Children," "Julias Morningstar," "Sometimes I Wish You Were a Ghost"), brand new classics in waiting ("Gasoline" and "Rook") and an absolutely hair-raising spin through Harry Nilsson's "Jump Into the Fire."
It was the standard Black Owls greatness, which is to say the quintet, as usual, presented their most familiar elements in new and unexpected ways so that even a grizzled old veteran Owls watcher such as myself was knocked back a pace and surprised by it all. Black Owls make me long for the days when bands put out two albums a year for not other reason than they could. Bassist Kip Roe continues to weave himself into the fabric of the Owls' sound and, as frontman David Butler pointed out, guitarist Brandon Losacker is proving to be a perfect songwriting foil for Butler and co-founding guitarist Ed Shuttleworth. The Black Owls seem to be entering a period of gritty reassessment, where dirty Glam riffs and anthemic chord structures are dominating the proceedings. Yes, please, and quite a bit more, if it's quite all right. And even if it's not.
Before I review the psychodots' Bunbury debut, perhaps a history lesson is in order. A good many years ago, music mogul and purported industry genius Clive Davis sauntered into Cincinnati with the stated goal of checking out The Raisins and perhaps offering them a lucrative and much-deserved contract. When Davis departed from our fair city without signing The Raisins, he explained the lack of a deal thusly: "They're an embarrassment of riches."
Please allow me to read between the lines and translate that five word headscratcher into layman's terms. What Mr. Davis was so obtusely attempting to convey was this: "The Raisins are a stellar band and I don't have the slightest idea how to market them without making them as smooth and textureless as Gerber's babyshit and as lame as a beggar in the Bible, essentially stripping them of the elements that make them unique, and if you think I'm going to dismantle and destroy this band or permanently stain my sparklingly legendary resume with the ugly reality that I was unable to sell the music of a gifted band to a quality-starved public simply because I didn't understand the complexities of either one, you've got several unpleasantly aromatic things coming in a flaming bag on your front porch."
Of course, The Raisins famously broke up, reassembling as the Bears with guitarist Adrian Belew and refashioning as psychodots without Belew. So in a very tangible sense, we owe the existence of psychodots to Clive Davis' short-sighted inability to recognize their root band's brilliance. I was devastated that The Raisins didn't make it and, after the 'dots' loosely tight/tightly loose set at Bunbury, I am relieved beyond measure The Raisins didn't make it. Success would have come at a great and terrible cost, and we would not have enjoyed 20+ sporadically splendid years of psychodots Power Pop bliss.
There may have only been 100 or so bodies at the Amphitheater Stage to witness psychodots' fabulousness (Fitz and the Tantrums were sucking up bodies like a UFO set to "harvest," and rightly so) but the 'dots never give less than 89%, and they were in full charge mode on Friday afternoon. There was Rob Fetters' squiggly guitar magnificence (I'd put him up against any guitarist in the history of Rock, and he'd be only mildly uncomfortable at being up against any of them), Bob Nyswonger's bass conjuring, using his instrument to evoke lead guitar and keyboard mayhem (and by instrument, I'm still talking about his bass) and Chris Arduser's master class in How to Drum with Power and Grace and Still Maintain a Smartass Attitude.
It was a delightfully eclectic set, with a number of old favorites ("Master of Disaster," "Living in a Lincoln," complete with Fetters' mom-inspired balloon-on-the-strings gimmick), a few quasi-oddities ("Candy," the rarely performed "The Problem Song") and a handful of non-'dots nuggets ("She Might Try" from Arduser's exquisite The Celebrity Motorcade, The Bears' "Veneer" from their last album Eureka, "Play Your Guitar" from Fetters' patently perfect new solo album, Saint Ain't, The Raisins' fist-pumping "Fear is Never Boring") and the band's always entertaining banter (Fetters apropos of everything: "Is anyone tripping?"; Bob Nyswonger after Arduser's observation that the evening was balmy: "Balmy," stretched langorously into two words). It was, in a number of words, a standard psychodots show, which means one of the best shows you'll ever see, local or otherwise. Long may they reign.
After the breathless 'dots set, I was torn between the Heartless Bastards' triumphant return to the area or the unlikely but much welcomed reunion of Veruca Salt's original lineup. With more than a couple of Bastards sets under my belt and the prospect of many more to come, I opted for Veruca Salt because, even if the reunion sticks, the possibility of the band's return to Cincinnati seems remote. The foursome did not disappoint, hauling out blistering favorites from their slim catalog in this iteration and reinforcing why we've loved their Glam/Pop brilliance for so very long. Whatever caused the rift between co-fronts Louise Post (who has kept Veruca Salt going in some form or other for the past 21 years) and Nina Gordon (who departed for a solo career in 1998), there was no evidence of any residual friction as the quartet blew like a hurricane through "Volcano Girls," "Straight" and their signature brain-boiler "Seether." The band even teased a couple of songs – including "It's Holy" from this year's Record Store Day single — from what was described as "their upcoming thing;" that thing cannot come soon enough. As final proof of Veruca Salt's newly minted reunion, Post and Gordon kissed at center stage amid a beautiful howl of squalling feedback. As the lights came up, the '90s called, they want their awesome back; they can blow it out their ass, because Veruca Salt is hanging onto it with all eight arms.
For the evening's closer, Empire of the Sun, the Main Stage was nearly as packed with bodies and gear as the field in front of it. The band's epic stage show, which has been described as Cirque Du Soleiel without the airshow, requires a lot of moving parts, and the Bunbury crowd arrived in significant numbers to witness the Rock/Synth Pop/Electronic spectacle. Empire of the Sun's primary sparkplugs, Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore, and a veritable army of players and dancers offered up a wall of Prince-like Glam/Pop guitar and a danceable solution of Depeche Mode Synth Pop menace, all updated to a millennial frenzy of Muse/Daft Punk proportions. But rather than non-descript and identity shielding space/BMX helmets, EOTS prefers elaborate tribal headdresses that look like giant pre-immolation phoenixes atop the principals' heads. At one point, the dancers were all playing fake neon guitars in a 21st century version of Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" video. All of this plays out in front of a constantly shifting projection of disparate and arty images and screen saver light squiggles combined with a choreographed and dazzling light show that is both compelling and distracting. That dichotomy within the Empire of the Sun presentation matches the broad spectrum of reactions to the band's Cincinnati debut (and one of only a handful of American dates); the majority of the crowd was fully engaged in the band's expansive Vistavision sprawl, while a few canvased friends offered up opinions that ranged from "That was as exciting as watching glitter paint dry," to "Meh, it's okay," to "I totally love this." Editorial critique aside, Empire of the Sun was every bit as epic as advertised, and everyone who looks for spectacle in their Dancetronic music mix got more than their money's worth with Friday night's Bunbury closer.
• I started the day with a deliciously smokey pulled pork sandwich from the geniuses at Eli's, a bun so overstuffed with barbeque goodness that it's actually a pulled pork sandwich with a side of pulled pork. It's as close to a religious experience as I've ever had outside of a church (where I have oddly never had a religious experience … go figure) or a music venue (where I've had plenty; I'm looking at you, Iggy Pop). Washed down with a Fathead beer, it was the perfect start to the third charmed Bunbury.
• At the Snowmine show, I ran into "Hey-look-everybody-it's" Stu, from Paul Roberts' Three-Amigos crew. Stu reported that Paul and maybe Big Jim would be along shortly. And, in fact, they were.
• On the way from X Ambassadors to the Amphitheater/Lawn Stage area, I ran into Eddy Mullet and his daughter Jess. Eddy is the volunteer host of the Friday night 6:00-8:00 pm shift at Class X Radio, where I have surreptitiously installed myself as his quasi-co-host; I do the weekly CityBeat Report, a rundown of weekend music events, and a segment I concocted called the Gang of Four Set, four songs that are connected by a theme of my own twisted design. Eddy is also the longstanding host of Kindred Sanction, the area’s longest-running local music program that was founded by Cynthia Dye Wimmer a fair number of years ago at WAIF. Cynthia brought the show to Class X six years ago, Eddy sat in occasionally as co-host and Cynthia backed out of the show to attend to her life. Eddy's passion for and knowledge of the local music scene is legendary, and anyone who has ever dealt with him knows him as a straight up guy and maybe one of the best boosters that local music has ever seen. Class X management has seen fit to cut the show's hours and alter the format, all of which is wrong-headed and counterproductive, but all that really matters to Eddy is spreading the gospel of greater Cincinnati's music scene. And Jess is turning into a Rock chick of the first order (not like that, you gutter-minded dimbulbs). Under Eddy's tutelage, she's becoming a pretty fair aficionado of local music herself; smart, funny and fearless, she will be a force to be reckoned with in some near future. At any rate, if you see Eddy wandering around, shake his hand and thank him for his long-suffering and often unappreciated work on behalf of local music.
• Eddy and Jess and I hit a run of shows together, including the ever amazing 500 Miles to Memphis, the astonishing Aaron Lee Tasjan (who Eddy hipped me to through his love of Drivin' n' Cryin'), the gear-stripping Lydia Loveless and the transcendent Black Owls. Eddy and I could talk music for days on end, which we do at every given opportunity. Eddy also introduced me to Aaron, who he'd met after a Drivin' n' Cryin' show; that kid is going places, if Eddy and I have anything to say about it.
• Finally ran into Paul and Big Jim at the Aaron Lee Tasjan set, with "Hey-everybody-it's" Stu in tow. These three are also a great bunch of music lovers and supporters, local and otherwise, with weird, esoteric tastes. In other words, my people. I love running into them, and swapping stories and having Paul buy me beers, which he most generously did during the psychodots' set.
• Also briefly caught up with the ever-stellar Kip Roe, freshly installed bassist for the Black Owls and a prince among men. His boys, Kip Jr. and Ben, were there to witness the Owls' casual brilliance (anchored by their dad's bedrock solid basslines), but post-show were anxious to head down to the Main Stage to witness the Soul/Pop frenzy of Fitz and the Tantrums. Kip and the boys won't be spending Saturday doing any Bunbury adventuring, as they're headed to a Modest Mouse show in Columbus (a bucket list event, as Kip described it), but they will be back for the Flaming Lips on Sunday. Kip's boys are huge Flaming Lips fans. God, I love Rock & Roll families.
• And speaking of such, my other favorite component of Black Owls shows is the chance to catch up with the Owl wives, Amy Butler, Carrie Losacker and Sarah Kitzmiller (and let's not forget Ed's girlfriend, whose name, like so many other things, slips my addled brain. Why, yes, I did enjoy the '70s. Why do you ask?). We were trying to come up with a name for their defacto support group; I propose the Owlettes, and given Friday's heat and humidity, the Moist Owlettes probably was more apt. At any rate, they are wonderful people to interact with, and I look forward to their company every bit as much as the Owls' soul-stirring, flashback-triggering presentations.
• And on that subject, Ed, his girlfriend and her daughter (again, names … I remember knowing them in some distant past; maybe if they had hats with their names on them. That's how Stu solved his dilemma …) caught up with me while I scarfing down a couple of cheese coneys before leaving Friday night and offered a heartfelt Rock & Roll tale. Ed's girlfriend's daughter (note to self: this would be better with names) is a huge fan of Walk the Moon and as fate would have it, frontman Nick Petricca happened to be in town and was catching the Empire of the Sun show. Ed's girlfriend's daughter spotted Nick, professed her undying love for Walk the Moon, they chatted for a bit and she got her picture taken with him. Nick is clearly one of the good guys and his very open and engaging response to a fan's sincere outpouring of love and support is one of the reasons for the band's incredible success. And, as I noted to Ed's girlfriend's daughter, "It's always nice when you meet your heroes and they're not dicks." Thus should it ever be.
• The only thing that could have made the night complete after that uplifting moment would be a quick run-in with Jacob Heintz, former Buckra guitarist and Rock volunteer of the gods, as his constant presence at MidPoint and now Bunbury will attest. Another one of the truly great people that define the Cincinnati music scene as one of best in the known universe. I am physically fading and spiritually soaring. It's a good feeling for the end of the first day of another fantastic Bunbury.
The final MidPoint Music Festival headliner for the big stage at Washington Park has been confirmed. Pop Rock foursome OK Go, which releases its fourth album, Hungry Ghosts, on Oct. 14, will headline the Washington Park stage on Saturday, Sept. 27. The other Washington Park headliners are Chromeo (Thursday, Sept. 25) and Cincinnati-bred rockers The Afghan Whigs (Friday, Sept. 26).
Last month, OK Go released the first single from Hungry Ghosts, “The Writing’s on the Wall.” And, like several other OK Go singles, the clever accompanying music video became an instant viral sensation online, thanks to the wild optical illusions featured throughout. Out just three weeks, the clip has already logged close to nine million views on YouTube.
Also announced today were several other MPMF 2014 acts (some of which were leaked gradually via social media over the past couple of weeks), including Joseph Arthur, Dessa, Liturgy, Lost In The Trees, Earth, Empires, Maserati, Coves, Body Language, Kid Congo Powers and Pink Monkey Birds, Froth, Blues Control, Gizmo, The Appleseed Collective, All Them Witches, Across Tundras, Ancient Warfare, Mr. Elevator & the Brain Hotel, Drowners, Corners, Bailiff, Dresses, Mustered Courage, Lab Partners, Love X Stereo, Buffalo Clover, Quiet Life, Caroline Glaser, The Ghost Wolves, Pujol, Shivering Timbers, Good Graeff, Parallels, The Ridges, Wild Leaves, Steelism, Modoc, Fort Wilson Riot, Jeecy and The Jungle, Alpha Consumer, Arum Rae and Apache Dropout.
Some great local acts were also announced, including Wussy, Why?, Electric Citizen, Public, Heavy Hinges, Young Heirlooms, Darlene, Pop Goes The Evil, Moonbow, Automagik, Prim and Smasherman.
Tickets are available now at mpmf.cincyticket.com.
The three-piece “art-rock-influenced-punk-pop” band (download their EP Cavity Castle for free here and come up with your own interpretation) consisting of Véronique Allaer on guitar, Kirsten Bladh on bass and Chris Campbell on drums are fresh off their residency at The Comet. Allaer writes the lyrics, and cites musicians such as St. Vincent and Lana Del Ray as her influences. This is evident in the track “Sweet Teeth,” with its inherent sexy-yet-sassy, tragic-yet-empowered lyricism. Allaer’s pouty voice is one of the quintessential elements that make Leggy, well, Leggy. If Audrey Horne (from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks) ever wanted to be a rock star, she would make a band like Leggy.
When a band is given a Comet residency, they commit to playing once a week for a month, and get to pick the other bands that play on their bill.
For a DIY band, or for any aspiring musicians, a regular gig at a popular music bar is a pretty big deal. So how does a band get a residency? For Leggy all they had to do was drink enough alcohol.
“Do you know about Fogger Nights at Rake’s End?” Bladh asks. “We got way too drunk. It was like 2:30 a.m. so we went over to the Ice Cream Factory and drank with our friend who works at The Comet and eventually we were like, ‘Hey, we should have a residency at The Comet,’ and he was like, ‘Totally.’”
A night of drinking might have been the catalyst for the residency, but Leggy’s résumé speaks for itself. They’re getting widespread attention internationally, and playing with acts like Ghost Wolves and Paul Collins and even playing in The Northside Rock N’ Roll carnival tonight.
With each success, it’s hard to find a new way to progress forward, and — bar selling out Great American Ballpark — Leggy has accomplished a lot in our little corner of Ohio. So now they are headed out into the world — specifically, across the Midwest. Leggy’s next move is to go on tour and they say they’ll walk the Midwest if they have to — and they might have to.
“The biggest issue is not booking shows, it’s figuring out how to get there,” Allaer says. “A friend of ours was going to let us use his van, but he hurt his back so now he needs it and none of us are 25.”
In case you forgot or don’t know, a person isn’t legally allowed to rent a car until they are 25. Every member of Leggy is 24, and the tour starts mid-August.
“We are trying to contact our 25-year-old friends,” Bladh says.
Regardless the transportation, Leggy is a band that treats successes like stepping stones and ambition is more valuable than gasoline and shitty vans. July 4th, coincidentally, is a day Allaer will always remember as her wake up call for creating a successful band.
“Two years ago today, I was wasted and fell off a three-story building and broke my hip. I basically could have died, and it made me reevaluate my priorities,” she says.
Andy Grammer has a unique blend of musical talent, meshing his piano and guitar playing skills, smooth vocals and Hip Hop-like hooks to get crowds across the world fired up. Since his self-titled debut album in 2011, he has found great success through radio airplay and tours with the likes of Train, Natasha Bedingfield, and Colbie Caillat. Grammer is now embarking on his first headlining tour, which brings him to Covington’s Madison Theater this Saturday. The tour stop will be your chance to see Grammer in an intimate venue setting and see him up close and personal as he delivers his hits. (Click here for tickets and show info.)
CityBeat: What can the fans expect from the new album coming in August?
Andy Grammer: They can expect a lot of different vibes. I took a lot of chances sonically on this one. There is some acoustic stuff. There is one that sounds to me a little like Imagine Dragons meets Kanye. There is one that sounds like an MGMT track. There is one sounds like an old Lauryn Hill jam. I just made sure the songs were, in my opinion great, and I had a blast with the stuff I am really into right now.
CB: The album is called Magazines or Novels. Is there a story behind the title?
AG: It’s like how we ingest music these days. We are very ADD. A lot of times we just read through it, like magazines — tear through it, then throw it away. My goal was that not to be the case with this record. I built like 100 songs. I wrote the first 50 and realized I had a lot more magazines than novels, so I wrote another 50 and I think it is really good, actually. I am really excited about this album.
CB: What is your songwriting process?
AG: My process is more like … (chase) something all the way to the end and then step back and see if it is any good. Sometimes it is and, more often than not, it is not. I have to write a whole hell of a lot to get the jams I’m real proud to have on the album.
CB: You have had several huge hits on radio in your career. Do you know right away when you have a hit on your hands when writing?
AG: I don’t. I really don’t. That’s what is so confusing about it. I wouldn’t write it unless I thought it was great. I write it and am super stoked about it. As time goes by I can kind of tell whether it’s going to hold up.
CB: Do you have people close to you that can give you the feedback?
AG: Yeah, my manager and I pretty much are the ones that make the decision.
CB: What is the best and the worst thing about being on the road for you?
AG: We are doing shows that are like half old stuff and half new stuff and the fans will be really into it. The worst thing about being on tour is finding food that is good. It is pretty difficult to do, to find good food. It is easier to find McDonald’s and then you fall into (it) and feel bad. The best part of this tour, specifically, is playing new songs and seeing the fans react to it. It’s really exciting.
CB: I have seen you play in Cincinnati when you opened for Train. Do you have any specific Cincinnati tour memories that you remember or fun things in Cincinnati you like to do?
AG: Fans in Ohio are the best. Any show in Ohio, fans know how to have a good time, they party harder than anyone else at shows. It’s real. I’m not sure you know that about yourselves. I have toured around the whole country and it is just better in Ohio.
CB: Have you ever been starstruck?
AG: Sure. When I met Sara Bareilles I was a little bit starstruck and I don’t even know why. I really liked her and was excited to meet her.
CB: Is there anybody you want to collaborate with, maybe a different genre of music?
AG: I would like to do a song where I did the hook and Macklemore did the rap. I think that would be dope.
CB: Do you have a favorite guitar that you like to play?
AG: Yeah, Taylor is my jam. They hook me up with guitars and they sound amazing.
CB: Is there one specifically? Some people have one guitar. I saw one person last week with one they had played so much they had worn a hole in it.
AG: I don’t have that. I bust them up a lot and I have to get them fixed. I have also had this thing where I have had like three of my guitars stolen out of my car in L.A., and I don’t live in a terrible place. I think someone is on to me.
CB: I guess you shouldn’t get attached then. Well, what can the fans expect when you come through Cincinnati. I know you said you were playing half old and half new material, but what can the fans expect from your headlining show?
AG: Expect to see a little bit different light. One song has a vocoder on it. There is a little more high energy stuff. I am really excited. High energy is, in my opinion, better.
The first family of Hip Hop/R&B — and perhaps music in general — graced Cincinnati with their presence Saturday for Jay Z and Beyoncé’s On The Run tour. Downtown’s Great American Ballpark was Jay and Bey’s second stop on their first joint stadium tour, aptly abbreviated OTR (cue the wave of #thisisotr hashtags). The BeyHive was out in full force, along with whatever maniacal Jay Z fans call themselves.
After a stormy afternoon, skies cleared in time for the concert, which began around 9:30 p.m. (an hour-and-a-half past the show time listed on tickets, but no surprise to regular concertgoers or fans in-the-know). The couple kicked off the set with “03 Bonnie and Clyde,” their first collaboration, recorded more than a decade ago. Next up were two more duets, “Upgrade U” and “Crazy in Love,” followed by two hours of tag-teaming many of their hits.
People were blown away by the reported 42 songs performed at the inaugural OTR stop in Miami last Wednesday, and the couple delivered in Cincinnati (peep the full set list here), though every song was condensed and often mashed up with or bled into another tune.
The duo performed individually and together, creating a musical tapestry of their iconic hits (“Single Ladies,” “99 Problems,” “Diva,” “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”), classics (“Hard Knock Life,” “Big Pimpin’,” “Baby Boy”) and newer work (“Tom Ford,” “Pretty Hurts,” “No Church in the Wild,” “Yoncé”). Snippets of their short film/tour preview for On The Run, which featured a ridiculously long list of celebrity cameos, played throughout the show. Other high-production videos dazzled on the two big screens, ensuring everyone from the nosebleeds to the VIPs had a decent view.
For "Holy Grail," originally performed by Jay Z and Justin Timberlake (who toured together last year), Bey took on JT's lyrics, performing a powerful collaboration that left me asking, "Justin who?" "Izzo" was accompanied by a slideshow of celebrity mugshots, which culminated with Justin Bieber's — timed perfectly with the lyrics, "So poof! Vamoose, son of a bitch."
“Partition” was a sexy surprise: Jay came out to a center stage in the crowd, sat in a simple chair and rapped over the simple but catchy beat. Then Bey and her thonged backup dancers took the main stage, complete with poles, performing the infectious, erotic hit. So basically, we all watched Beyoncé dance for her husband, and we’re all better people because of it. Bey tore the house down as she recreated the video, moving behind a screen to dance/seductively mount her now-signature weirdly shaped chair thing. A very similar performance was screened at the BET Awards Sunday night.
Jay and Bey closed the show with “Part II ( On the Run)," “Young Forever” and “Halo,” walking through a crowd of fans to the center stage at one point. They kissed, which temporarily stopped the hearts of all in attendance, even if it was perhaps slightly awkward and possibly staged. A video medley of home footage played during the last two songs, featuring clips of the couple’s early years, engagement (where a romantic trip to the Crazy Horse strip club would later inspire Bey’s “Partition” video), secret wedding, daughter Blue Ivy’s birth and more recent shots of the family. Again, perhaps a bit overkill to non-diehard fans — “See, we’re really happy!!!” — but in the moment, it felt like the thousands of us in the park were sharing a special moment with the artists. And isn’t that what makes a successful concert?
Regardless of whether the tour is a big relationship-reaffirming publicity stunt, the show was a wholly entertaining spectacle. Both Jay Z and Beyoncé performed hard, making full use of the two stages, interacting with the audience and consistently changing ensembles. Another plus for fans: the duo really seemed to be having fun, which always keeps energy levels up. Jay was sure to throw in Cincinnati references in some of his songs — a small gesture that goes a long way for fans at shows. And Beyoncé teased us all during “Why Don’t You Love Me,” in which the singer plays up a crazy, needy girlfriend persona. She belted out the titular lyrics, then paused, playfully pouting, waiting for a loud enough roar from the audience before she’d continue. We roared.
The crowd at GABP was one of the most diverse I’ve ever seen at a concert in town, with visitors traveling from around the country to witness the power couple at work. Some came to dance to the Pop diva’s hits; for others, it was all about Hov’s famous rhymes; and many were eager for the rare opportunity to see two powerhouses collaborate — the audience represented a full spectrum of fans, eager to dance, drink and sing together.
Who run the world? Jayoncé.
After 96 consecutive hours of baking in the Tennessee heat and humidity, walking from stage to stage to take in as much music as possible and drinking and dancing sometimes from noon until dawn, even your third and fourth shower after returning home from Bonnaroo can be like a religious experience. Though the festival itself gets under your skin in a way that one does not necessarily wish to ever wash away. Indeed, coming down after the festival, returning to the mundane realities of everyday life, can be a difficult proposition for hardcore Bonnaroovians struggling to simply settle back into their daily routine on planet earth.
The fourth and final day of Bonnaroo 2014 found (photographer) Chuck (Madden) and I sun-dazed but smiling, still eager to soak up and savor every bit of music we could. Among the few campers stirring that murky morning, I woke early and wandered the eerily empty festival grounds well before noon. I’ve attended the festival six times since 2006, but Sunday morning was the first time I rode the Bonnaroo ferris wheel. After an hour or so of tapping away on my trusty laptop in an empty press tent, the ferris wheel ride gave me an opportunity to chill and be still for a few minutes, surveying the scene from a bird’s eye view. A crowded cornucopia of bright lights and loud music after dark, it was both surreal and serene to view the Bonnaroo festival grounds silent in the morning.
The silence wouldn’t last. Even before I disembarked from the ferris wheel I could hear Lucero doing their soundcheck on a stage that I could barely see in the distance.
Chuck’s day began with a pair of bands he would be raving about for the rest of the afternoon: Kansas Bible Company on the tiny On Tap Lounge stage and much-talked-about new arrivals Lake Street Dive in That Tent, where a surprisingly large crowd had already gathered for the band’s 1 p.m. start.
Cloudy skies and occasional drizzle kept temperatures tolerable for the first three days of the festival. But Sunday was all clear skies and blazing sun, sending temperatures into the 90s for most of the day. Always an endurance test, Sunday at Bonnaroo 2014 was a brutal trial for the thousands on site who were forced to either hydrate, hunker in the shade, or both, until the sun relented in the early evening. But shade is not easy to come by at Bonnaroo, and sitting in a hot tent is no kind of relief whatsoever. Sunscreen, long sleeves and floppy hats ruled the day. Experienced Bonnaroovians are well-familiar with the physical demands of the festival. It just so happens that after three days of relative ease and comfort, Sunday’s weather conditions upped the ante on a panting throng already sunburned and exhausted.
Arguably some of the finest acts on the Bonnaroo lineup were featured on the festival’s final day, as Bonnaroo attendees were treated to phenomenal sets by Broken Bells, The Avett Brothers, Fitz and the Tantrums, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Arctic Monkeys, Shovels & Rope, Washed Out, Wiz Khalifa, The Lone Bellow, Okkervil River and an afternoon performance by Yonder Mountain String Band on the main stage that featured Bluegrass legend Sam Bush on violin.
This writer tumbled into the Other Tent just in time to catch a rousing set by Those Darlins. Like Nashville’s Wild Feathers before them on the weekend itinerary, this was sort of a hometown gig for Those Darlins, a band whose founding members met at a Rock & Roll camp in Murfreesboro, Tenn. A sparse but dedicated crowd happily held lead singer Jesse Zazu aloft as she tumbled over the barricade and into the audience. Laying back on a sea of fans’ hands, her guitar squall raged unabated at full steam as her eyes rolled back in her head. (Those Darlins play a free show in Cincinnati this Friday, headlining Fountain Square’s MidPoint Indie Summer concert.)
After a ridiculous amount of pre-gig hype, the controversial Kanye West’s Friday night performance delivered nothing but disappointment to a Bonnaroo audience that should have known better to have expected anything more. Saturday headliner Jack White and Sunday’s top dog Elton John showed that good material and passionate, substantive performances will always trump shallow arrogance, hype and bullshit. To Mr. West, who once claimed himself to be “Shakespeare in the flesh,” I submit this famous quote from Macbeth:
“Life’s but a walking shadow,
A poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.
It is a tale
Told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury,
Of far greater significance than this writer expected was a stellar Sunday night performance by Elton John, who reeled off one classic after another to close out Bonnaroo 2014. I knew Elton’s set would be great, but I was not prepared for just how truly amazing it was. With a band featuring guitarist Davey Johnstone and drummer Nigel Olsson, who have been with him for 45 years (you read that right), Bonnaroo 2014 was Sir Elton’s first-ever appearance at a U.S. festival. Opening the show with Side One of his classic Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album from 1973, Elton proceeded with a version of “Levon” that concluded with a virtual clinic on Rock & Roll piano playing in the extended outro. Though I was dubious at first about Elton closing out the festival, this two-hour performance instead turned out to be such a stunner that I know I will forever count it among my all-time favorite Bonnaroo memories.
Thanks again to CityBeat for this amazing opportunity and to Chuck Madden whose concert photography is simply the best and whose friendship and company are a big part of what makes the Bonnaroo experience so meaningful to me.