The Crown Jewels of Jazz Festival returns Friday and Saturday with an adjusted format. While last year’s fest was spread out across the Over-the-Rhine area, this year’s Crown Jewels is more streamlined, with free events concentrated in OTR’s Washington Park.
The fest kicks off Friday night with an 8 p.m. concert featuring unique and widely acclaimed Jazz singer Gregory Porter, as well as Cincinnati native Mandy Gaines (whose been busy performing throughout Europe and Asia).
Saturday at Washington Park, the fest kicks up again with Phil DeGreg, Baba Charles Miller and Kathy Wade (whose Learning Through Art, Inc. presents the Crown Jewels fest) performing and telling the story of Jazz (and other music) in a program called “Journeys: A Black Anthology of Music” at 4 p.m. At 5 p.m., “Piano Picnic in the Park” will showcase area pianists; DeGreg, Jim Connerly, Billy Larkin, Charles Ramsey III, Cheryl Renee, Steve Schmidt and Erwin Stuckey will each perform their two favorite Jazz numbers during the hour and a half performance.
Then it’s time to dance! The fest closes out at 8 p.m. with “Dancing Under the Stars” at the park’s bandstand, featuring music from the 18-piece Sound Body Jazz Orchestra and dancers/teachers from the Dare to Dance Ballroom Dance and Fitness Studio.
Given that it is presented by Learning Through Art, Inc., it is fitting that the Crown Jewels of Jazz fest will also include an educational program Saturday morning for high school musicians at the School for Creative and Performing Arts, just across the street from Washington Park’s 12th Street entrance. The CJ2 Jazz Camp, which will feature clinics, classes and more with many of Cincinnati’s top Jazz musicians and educators (including DeGreg, Stuckey, Jim Anderson, Marc Fields, Ted Karas, Mike Wade, Art Gore, Brent Gallaher and many others), begins at 8:30 a.m. There is a $35 fee per student.
For complete info on the Jazz Camp and all of the Crown Jewels of Jazz events, visit learningthroughart.com. And click here to read CityBeat's interview with Wade about the fest and her org's other work.
Three years ago on summer vacation, I heard about Pitchfork Music Festival from my older sister. She went to the festival with friends from her college radio station, and told me about spending the weekend in Chicago, crashing on a friend’s apartment floor and navigating the train system. It didn’t sound particularly comfortable, but I wanted to see for myself.
The next year, I bought my ticket and found my way to the festival grounds, an ordinary public park with baseball diamonds and a conveniently located CTA train stop. During last year’s festival, which was filled with uninvited weather, I stood in the rain to watch Bjork, who was dressed like an extraterrestrial porcupine, and witnessed Lil B, “The BasedGod,” inspire thousands of his devoted supporters. I left exhausted, but figured I would come back next year.
Heading into the festival this year, I was excited for the headliners and many smaller artists I’ve never seen. But as I walked into the park on Friday, there were two major surprises: a clear sky and free Twinkies.
I arrived at the festival in the early afternoon and headed over to the Blue Stage in the corner of the park. I listened to the Haxan Cloak for a short time, before leaving to see Sharon Van Etten on the Red stage. As I waited, my anticipation grew waiting to hear her perform songs from her outstanding new album, Are We There. Once Neneh Cherry ended on the adjacent stage, Van Etten began with “Afraid of Nothing,” the album’s first song.
She wasn’t afraid of anything, jumping right into the performance by displaying her honest songwriting, singing “You told me the day/That you show me your face/We’d be in trouble for a long time.” Near the end of her set, she humbly thanked her band and began the melancholy “Your Love is Killing Me."
After focusing on Van Etten’s lyrics that revolved around the difficulties of love, I was ready for Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks to take the stage. The newly formed trio is led by Animal Collective member Dave Porter, who joined forces with former Dirty Projector member Angel Deradoorian and ex-Ponytail drummer Jeremy Hyman to create their first record, Enter the Slasher House.
There’s more to Slasher Flicks besides Avey Tare as Deradoorian controlled the woozy synths and driving basslines behind a stack of keyboards and contributed another layer with echoing vocals.The second “Little Fang” began, the crowd bobbed their heads, moving to the beat of the punctuated bassline. The crowd later joined Avey Tare in singing the song’s chorus, “You’re something special/You’ve got to shout it out/If there are doubts then we will groove it out.” Nearly the entire crowd agreed with Avey’s lyrics and kept a high level of energy until the finale, “Strange Colores”.
After getting back late from seeing Deafheaven at the Bottom Lounge, I would have loved to sleep in before starting Day 2, but after seeing Twin Peaks at the Northside Rock n’ Roll Carnival, I couldn’t miss seeing the band play in their hometown. Frontman Cadien James certainly wasn’t going to let his broken leg stop him as he rolled out on stage in a wheelchair.
The young band played a mix of old songs, like “Baby Blue,” and tore through crowd favorites “Flavor” and “I Found a New Way” off their upcoming album Wild Onion. The entire band was elated to be kicking off the festival’s second day in front of many of their friends.
Cloud Nothings performed later in the day on the red stage, following a great performance by British quartet Wild Beasts. I watched from afar as I grabbed a spot up front for Cloud Nothings. After seeing them at Midpoint Music Festival in 2012, they’ve become one of my favorite bands, and one I most anticipated seeing at Pitchfork.
Lead singer Dylan Baldi walked on stage and counted off “Now Here In”, the first track on their sophomore album Here and Nowhere Else. The moshpit broke open during “Separation”, while the security guards constantly motioned towards each other every time they spotted a crowd surfer. Like most shows, Baldi ended with “Wasted Days,” but this time, he brought out two friends to add more power to the grueling, eight-minute track.
Leading up to the festival, Sunday sold out the fastest, partly due to the Kendrick Lamar’s headlining spot, but most likely because the entire day was filled with exciting acts. I also wanted to check out some of this year’s upcoming Midpoint Music Festival performers (Speedy Ortiz, Mutual Benefit and Real Estate).
After eating a much-needed breakfast in Logan Square Sunday morning, I was ready for the final day. But, without thinking, I boarded the wrong train on my way to the park, forcing me to backtrack to the loop. I got to the festival just in time to head over to the Blue Stage to see Speedy Ortiz, a band from Massachusetts who played a handful of songs from their awesome record Major Arcana. Then I went to the Green Stage to see Mutual Benefit, a Folk project created by Columbus native Jordan Lee. His stunning music was a great fit for the crowd that was spread out across the festival grounds.
Throughout the entire day, the Red Stage was filled with amazing shows by the likes of DIIV, Earl Sweatshirt and Grimes. DIIV played a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone,” along with a handful of new songs. Real Estate started its set in the early evening with a cover of the Nerves’ “Paper Dolls” and worked in a few songs from previous records. The crowed responded the most to “Horizon” and “Crime” from the new album Atlas. Once Real Estate ended, I took a break to sit down with friends and eat some pizza. After resting up, I was ready to see Kendrick perform for the first time after missing him multiple times in Cincinnati.
While Kendrick Lamar was still on his ascension to the top when he played Pitchfork two years ago, there’s no question he deserves the headlining spot. He’s considered the king of the West Coast after releasing his major label debut that detailed his life in Compton.
Finally, the lights were lowered and the screen lit up, showing the beginning of the short film that accompanied Kendrick throughout his set. The large video screen later projected scenes of empty liquor bottles rattling on the floor during “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and Kendrick driving his mom’s purple Dodge Caravan down Compton’s Rosecrans Avenue in the late hours of the night.
As his backing band began playing “Money Trees”, Kendrick came out to a roaring crowd. The energy continued as Kendrick began “Backseat Freestyle” and later performed “m.A.A.d city.” Every minute of the show Kendrick had the audience’s full attention, whether they were rapping along or listening to him speak. After performing every song fromgood kid, m.A.A.d. city, Kendrick left the stage, only to come back to perform “A.D.H.D” from Section .80. The 27-year-old rapper proved that with his skillful vocal delivery and interactive showmanship, he possesses the ability to connect with his fans and capture the attention of a crowd any size.
After finding my way out of the park, I realized that the Pitchfork Music Festival might be the only time where Shoegaze pioneers Slowdive, the widely recognizable Earl Sweatshirt and Disco legend Giorgio Moroder all played on the same stages in one weekend.
Pitchfork, the website, may be criticized for their decimal rating scale, or removing poor reviews of albums (i.e. deleting their 0.8 rating/review of Belle & Sebastian’s mid 2000’s comeback album The Boy with the Arab Strap), but each summer music-fans leave its festival satisfied. The bottom line is that Pitchfork creates a music festival featuring an eccentric lineup, consistent ticket prices and much smaller grounds than most major music festivals.
If you go to Pitchfork next year, expect a balanced dose of Indie Rock, Hip Hop, Folk and much more for $140 in Union Park with 18,000 people standing in the outfield of a baseball diamond.
The third and final day of Forecastle finally arrived. The fest’s weekend felt much longer than, well, a weekend, though each day seemingly flew by. By this point, the festival started to feel like home.
I entered the media tent expecting familiar faces, waited like a patient puppy in front of its food bowl for happy hour, snagged a band interview or two and wandered from stage to stage. Despite my tired eyes, I knew that I could get used to this. Like all good things, though, Forecastle had to come to an end. But not before one last day of fun.
I got to the fest just in time for The Weeks at the Boom Stage. After interviewing the band the previous day, I was looking forward to seeing what they would present live, and I wasn’t disappointed. A Southern-rooted band (Mississippi-rooted, to be exact), the Rock vibe was heavy with lead vocalist Cyle Barnes belting out his husky, Caleb Followill-esque lyrics. These young and rowdy dudes proved to be the perfect start to a sunny afternoon of music.
I scooted away from the stage to browse through the artist tents behind me. As I’ve said, I’m a total sucker for band posters, so off to shop I went. Thankfully my new friend Coltin found me before I could spend too much and we made our way to happy hour in the media tent.
It is quite possible that this is the most pizza I have ever consumed in a three-day period, but when free food calls, one must answer. After taking advantage of the day’s free amenities, Coltin and I attempted (and failed) to get into the Bourbon Lounge, so found our way to the Mast Stage for Brett Dennen. The songs that Dennen write are simple — They aren’t trying too hard, but they’re pleasant, and Dennen’s vocals tie everything together quite nicely. After several songs, though, it was time to wander again, so to the Boom Stage I returned.
Trampled By Turtles was next on my list, as I was scheduled to interview them that evening. Day 3 was much hotter than the others — the cool breeze that carried us through Days 1 and 2 had left us, and bodies glimmered in the summer sun. If you’re getting the idea that this stopped anyone from basking in the heat for their favorite bands, you’re wrong. I realized this as TBT began their set, the audience dancing without hesitation. Perhaps this proves to be true for most shows, particularly at a festival such as this — our bodies ache, our feet hurt, we are “hangry,” but once the music begins we forget it all. We are taken to a different place. TBT did this for their audience as the incredibly fast-fingered Erik Berry on the mandolin drove the crowd wild. It was a sight to see.
Day 3 required much more wandering on my part and floating between bands, so, knowing that I needed to at least catch a few songs from Jenny Lewis’ set, I made my way to the Mast Stage. Wishing my beagle Rilo (named after Rilo Kiley) was with me, I swayed to Lewis’ songs from her latest album, The Voyager, and was quickly reminded of why I fell in love with her old band some years back. Lewis is a little sassy and a lot of fun, rocking out on stage with her band dressed in white and rainbow suits. After a few songs it was time for my last interview of the fest.
I met with a few guys from Trampled By Turtles in the media tent for a quick chat, though I was admittedly distracted by the sounds of Nickel Creek in the distance. I wrapped up our interview and bolted to the stage like I’ve never brisk-walked before. With a smile on my face and happy tear in my eye, I was thrilled to watch a band that I’ve adored since middle school.
I cannot begin to describe how happy I was to see Nickel Creek, especially considering they played so much of their early material. Songs like “The Lighthouse’s Tale”, “Reasons Why” and “When You Come Back Down” from their 2000 self-titled album and “This Side,” along with the instrumental tunes from 2002’s This Side, were all featured, and each song sounded as perfect as the recordings. After so many years, Nickel Creek sounds as beautiful as ever and the band even has a new record out, A Dotted Line. I think I could have died a happy gal after seeing them.
After Nickel Creek, until Beck’s Forecastle-ending performance, I travelled from stage to stage (mostly in search of food) and ran into Adam, a fellow photojournalism pal from school. It was nice to see a friend after only briefly seeing familiar faces throughout the day, so together we went to dance to Flume. It was quite literally a party under the freeway as the Australian DJ blasted his beats from the stage, hands in the air and a sea of bodies moving in sync. Once that set ended it was time for Beck, and Adam and I ran to the stage.
Over the course of Beck’s first few songs we managed to weasel our way toward the front, getting closer to the main stage than I had been the entire weekend. There couldn’t have been a more perfect end to Forecastle.
Beck sang the beautifully airy and springtime-sounding songs from his latest release Morning Phase, but didn’t fail to bring the party with old favorites like “Loser”, “Girl” and more, eventually ending the night with “Sexx Laws” for the encore. One would never realize that Beck has been at this for as long as he has. His energy was amazing; bouncing across the stage between band members, the party atmosphere was what we needed to wrap up the night (and fest).
The audience was immense but was perhaps one of the friendliest crowd I encountered over the weekend — not sure if that’s due to the realization that our tired feet would soon get the rest they needed or perhaps it was just the booze. Either way, Forecastle ended with one of the best shows of the weekend, and we left on the perfect note to wrap up the fest.
Things to know for Forecastle if you plan to go next year: Wear comfortable shoes. Know that if you come in sandals, you will leave with very dirty feet.
Stay hydrated. Keep water with you, especially if the weather is as hot as Day 3 this year. Music festivals require long days, so don’t forget to take care of yourself.
Come with a schedule. You can create a custom schedule on the Forecastle website and print it out, something that helped me immensely this year in keeping track of things. Don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone, though. Discovering new music is what festivals are all about!
What I love about Day 2 of a fest is that I usually have my bearings — I understand the layout of the festival and know how to find what I need. What I love more about Day 2 of a fest is that, while things seem the same, there is still much to be discovered, like new music, food and more. When Day 2 of Forecastle arrived, I went into the morning with expectations that would end up being far exceeded.
I got to the press tent early Saturday to meet with my first interview of the day, with Australian band Boy & Bear. I saw these guys perform at CMJ Music Marathon several years back and it was good to catch up with them again. I suggest listening to their latest record, Harlequin Dream, just released last year, if you‘ve never heard Boy & Bear before. The band will also be making their way across the United States in October, so look out for them! (LIYL The Avett Brothers, Trampled By Turtles).
After talking to Dave and Dave of Boy & Bear (listen below), it was still early in the day, and I forgot that music didn’t start for another couple of hours. Thank goodness it wasn’t too early for Heine Brothers’ Coffee, so to my iced coffee sanctuary I went. The morning felt nice and calm before the craziness that is Forecastle arrived, so I took a moment to walk the grounds and soak everything in. I could feel great things coming for that day, and great things indeed did come.
When the music finally began, I went to find my way to the Boom Stage (my unofficial favorite stage of the fest this year, I’ve decided), but not before meeting a fellow college radio DJ. We talked for a few about radio things and the bands we were excited to see that day, and when we finally split ways I found myself in front of Hurray for the Riff Raff. Funny enough, as my college radio station’s Music Director, I had passed on Alynda Lee Segarra‘s latest record, but as I stood watching her live set I couldn’t figure out why. She was amazing. With the full band, the sound was soulful and remnant of New Orleans Y’at, as if the group of musicians had just been resurrected from a Louisiana swamp (in the best way possible). I stuck around the stage for Boy & Bear and Lord Huron, who together gave me my Americana fix for the day, before traveling to the other side of the fest.
At the Ocean Stage, I waited for Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks to begin. As a longtime fan of both Animal Collective and Dirty Projectors, I’ve been enjoying the recent collaboration between Dave “Avey Tare” Portner and Angel Deradoorian known as Slasher Flicks, and it was nice to see that happen live. It was clear that the audience was full of Animal Collective fans — where I was standing, Portner nearly started a riot when he came on to the stage. Slasher Flicks began full of high energy and noise, which one might expect from the howling (sometimes screeching) vocalist, who was backed by Ponytail drummer Jeremy Hyman. The audience bobbed along to each of the playfully spooky yet jazzy songs and the band, who had just come from the Pitchfork festival in Chicago, danced along with us from the stage. As the set ended, I quickly made my way back to the media tent to begin my next scheduled interviews.
First I talked to a few dudes from The Weeks, a band that is from Mississippi but now based in Nashville, about touring and new tunes. These guys recently toured with Kentucky’s own Buffalo Rodeo and noted that they prefer to tour with friends when given the chance. This was perhaps the most fun interview that I’ve done so far — these guys were super laidback, giving me the perfect opportunity to get out any nervous giggles before speaking with Dave “Avey Tare” Portner.
A long time fan of Animal Collective, I was both excited and incredibly nervous to talk to the man who fronted the band, even if he was with a different project. We met in a trailer behind the Ocean Stage (which was, at the time, accompanied by a very loud DJ) and began to chat. Portner was incredibly kind and open to conversation, something I always appreciate about an artist. He opened up about the formation of Slasher Flicks, the new record and how it served as a means for “moving on.” He even dropped a hint about new Animal Collective material coming out within the next year. It is definitely worth noting that Portner complimented my bright green and electric blue nails, which I had been referring to earlier in the week as “boy repellent” on account of their somewhat crazy nature. Leave it up to a member of Animal Collective to like them, of course. (Listen to the interview below.)
After talking to Portner about my favorite Animal Collective songs and such off the record, I finally left him alone and floated across the fest to the Mast Stage. My head still buzzing and heart still racing from the conversation I just had, I stood swaying along to my favorites as Band of Horses belted from the stage. “No One’s Gonna Love You” and “Is There A Ghost” soared across the lawn for a moment that took me back to high school. I fell in love with the band all over again.
As the night progressed, so did my exhaustion, so I found myself at a bench near the WFPK Port Stage for Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors. A refreshing break from the hustle and bustle of the day, Drew Holcomb and his band played their tunes as the soundtrack to the river at dusk, the colorful festival lights slowly growing more prominent against the evening sky. I’ll admit it, I closed my eyes for a minute to soak in the beautifully bluesy tunes traveling from the Port Stage, especially when “What Would I Do Without You” began. Holcomb sings pretty songs of love and Jesus, and the Forecastle crowd was definitely into it. I watched across the river as Jack White’s audience began crawling closer and closer to the stage, my cue to make my way over.
I decided to watch White perform from a distance, finding a spot where I could see him and not simply watch the screens on the sides of the stage. He cranked out White Stripes classics like “My Doorbell,” as well as his solo tracks like “Love Interruption” for the huge crowd. His band, in the most classic Rock & Roll way, was quite entertaining to watch. They didn’t need much as far as props and graphics go, just their energy and passion.
It worked. White was the perfect end to Day 2, and, knowing Day 3 would be here soon, I looked forward to the few hours of sleep I would gather before heading out again.
To check out if you’re Forecastling today: Eno hammocks. Give your feet a break, they deserve it!
Sober Sailing. These guys want you to be safe and composed at the fest. They support each other in staying alcohol- and drug-free at Forecastle, so if you need some encouragement in doing the same, just give ‘em a visit.
Heine Brothers’ Coffee. The folks working here have been especially kind and the coffee is great. What could be better than nice folks and good brew?
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.
Sideways rain and swamp-ass, but it wasn't so bad. The storms were intermittent, the day was clearly not a total washout and, out of the nine days of Bunbury over the past three years, this one might just have ended on the highest note of them all.
Upon arrival, I was greeted by above-and-beyond volunteer Jacob Heintz, who advised serious attention to hydration, as several people had already passed out from the heat. In order to accommodate more fluids, I needed to make a deposit at the Yeatman's Cove First National Bank of Evacuation.
You know what's great about the Porta-Kleens in the summer? Heated seats. You know what's not great about Porta-Kleens in the summer? Heated everything else. I felt like I was microwaved to about medium rare by the time I was done with business. But I was treated to a bit of pithy wisdom in the form of a neatly scrawled line of graffiti in the unit — "No one is free. Even the birds are chained to the sky." Of course, the trade-off is that birds can shit anywhere they like, which somehow seems to involve my windshield an inordinate number of times a week.
At any rate, a spotty rain began within minutes of my arrival, so I headed down to the Main Stage to see if things were continuing on schedule. On the way, I passed Daniel in Stereo on the Acoustic Stage, where he seemed to be offering an evocative Jeff Buckley vibe. Very nice. When I got to the Main Stage, the Brick + Mortar set had just begun. The politically conscious World Rock guitar/drum duo from Toms River, N.J., was cooking along nicely, but about three songs in, the lightning flashed, the thunder cracked and the staff shut them down.
"That sucks," noted guitarist/vocalist Brandon Asraf. "I had just tricked you into liking me for a minute." Then he launched into a stand-up comedy bit, quoting Half Baked and bemoaning his lack of life compared to his engaged drummer, John Tacon. "I'm single and chubby. What's up?" he said, canvassing the crowd.
The crew finally had to shut off the power so that was the end of Brick + Mortar. (The band will return to Cincy on Aug. 15 for a free show on Fountain Square.)
Shortly after that, the flaming finger of God erupted from multiple clouds and the rain, gentle at first, ultimately came pissing down from the heavens. I had taken refuge in the Yeatman's Cove tunnels and thought I'd gotten way lucky to avoid the torrential downpour, but that proved ineffective as well when a tornadic wind blew the rain horizontally straight through the passageway. Everyone was drenched from cowlick to ass-crack and beyond.
Luckily, the storm didn't last long and the only issue at that point was how long the clean up and reset would take. I wandered down to the Main Stage to see if Red Wanting Blue was going to happen, but it appeared as though it would take a considerable amount of time, so I motored back down to the Warsteiner Stage to see what progress had been made there.
To my unending delight, Kim Taylor was just getting started about the time she should have been wrapping up. I've been completely smitten with Kim's work since a friend at my long since defunct graphic design day job lived in the same apartment building with her. She had just begun her music career and had given my friend a copy of her self-released EP, which he passed along to me. Her gently compelling voice, her introspective and intelligent lyrics and her melancholic mastery of melody certainly gave me a chill similar to the one I felt after my first experience with Suzanne Vega, but Kim was most assuredly following a unique path, and so it has remained for the past decade and a half.
I've seen Kim numerous times over the years and written at least three features and a few MidPoint previews ahead of her releases and appearances, and she never disappoints, as an interview or as an artist. The power of her presentation at Bunbury was obvious; with no more than her acoustic guitar and drummer Devon Ashley, Kim Taylor turned the vast expanse in front of the Warsteiner Stage into an intimate performance space that crackled with a quiet intensity. It is powerful testimony to Kim's ability to hold an audience that, with dark clouds roiling overhead and thunder rumbling ominously in the distance, there was even greater drama brewing on the Warsteiner Stage.
After a quick stop to use the Big Mac Bridge as an umbrella, it was down to the Lawn Stage to witness the mind-bending energy of The Yugos. The relatively new and insanely young four-piece channel the absolute best elements of '70s Punk and New Wave with a dash of Surf and a couple hundred thousand volts of charisma. Spend any appreciable time with The Yugos and you'll detect distinct flashes of the jerky time signatures of XTC and Talking Heads, the Pop verve of Flock of Seagulls and the dark intensity of Echo and the Bunnymen. Drummer Jordin Gough jumps around the stage as though fire ants have been ceremonially sewn into his black jeans; he stands on his drum stool and beats on his kit from above, he takes the floor tom into the audience and thumps on it like a brave calling his tribe to action, while bassist Jeremy Graham provides an equally schizophrenic bottom and guitarists Christian Gough and Jackson Deal are peeling off punky New Wave riffs and licks that are as nerve-rattlingly appealing as The Cure on speed or Devo on hallucinogenics laced with antipsychotics.
At their Lawn Stage set, The Yugos rolled out their latest track, "Follow You," did the song about a dream where a robot chased Christian down a hill, constantly called out a guy in the audience that looked like James Franco, dedicated a song to Seth Rogen and implored the assembled multitude to shake their asses. Comedy, Surf/Punk and a heart needle full of adrenaline combine to make the perpetual motion music machine known as The Yugos; with five years under their belts already, they're bound to last a hell of a lot longer than their namesakes.
After a delicious burger from Dutch's in the Craft Beer Village and an equally delicious Puma Pilsner, courtesy of Black Owls hammer Brian Kitzmiller, it was a stroll over to the Main Stage to see ZZ Ward crank up her last couple of songs for a large and enthusiastic crowd and then down to the River Stage to catch a few songs from hot DJ/multi-instrumentalist Robert Delong, who filled the Serpentine Wall with Electronic music devotees who were digging his live-looped vibe with an almost religious fervor. Back on the Main Stage, Young the Giant blasted the swelling multitudes with the sticky/sweet Indie Rock hard candy that put them on a lot of attendees' must-see lists.
I took my leave of the growing crowd in front of the Main Stage — a combination of devoted Young the Giant fans and Flaming Lips aficionados staking out their space for the imminent start time — to catch The Orwells at the Warsteiner Stage. The Orwells made my personal don't-miss list after a little due diligence in checking out their history and sound online for a preview in last week's CityBeat and they didn't disappoint.
The quartet's central Illinois lineage is pretty much all the Pop cred they require and they use it to sweeten their rough-edged Garage/Punk love, as evidenced on last year's Disgraceland and the subsequent Other Voices and Who Needs YouEPs. Given the band's ramshackle nature (they'd pair up nicely with Cincy bands Mad Anthony or The Harlequins for a local show), it seemed like The Orwells might come a little unglued in the live presentation, but they were perhaps a little more restrained than I would have imagined. That could have been the post-storm vibe. They did toss out a raw chunk of the Foundations' "Build Me Up Buttercup," so that was pretty cool. Here's hoping we can get them back for a full show in better circumstances in the very near future so we can see what happens when The Orwells really put the pedal to the floor.
I reluctantly ducked out of The Orwells a bit early to establish position for The Flaming Lips’ show, given the crush of rabid fans that were in all likelihood packing the front of the stage. For the sake of full disclosure, it should be noted at this juncture that I was looking forward to this show because I am a Flaming Lips virgin. I drank the Kool-Aid with Oh My Gawd!!! way back in 1987, but missed the local show on that tour because of my freelance production schedule.
Since then, I've totally dug the studio Lips but somehow have never found my way to experiencing the live Lips; the closest I've ever gotten was nine years ago when I was in Austin for SXSW and Wayne Coyne came rolling down Sixth Street in the bubble with some sort of boombox entourage trailing behind, offering a soundtrack to the proceedings. And I suppose I could claim a certain amount of Lips cred for my two band interviews, the first with Steven Drozd in 2003 after the release of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and the second with Wayne in 2008 to talk about the DVD release ofChristmas on Mars.
But the Bunbury show represented the taking of my live Flaming Lips cherry; after a quarter century of studio foreplay, I was more than ready. And what a glorious deflowering it was.
After taking to the stage, which was appointed like a Peter Max flashback of Leary-esque proportions, the Lips launched into "The Abandoned Hospital Ship," with Wayne outfitted in a tinsel hairsuit that gave him the appearance of a glammed up Sasquatch. When it was over, he greeted the crowd warmly and promised that, should the rain begin again to the extent that the show had to be stopped, the Lips would be staying and they would finish the show, no matter what. The vast expanse of Lips fans roared their relief and the band shot headlong into "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1," and the crowd's bliss was palpable.
After a set that was filled with brilliant Lippage ("Look...The Sun is Rising" and "A Spoonful Weighs a Ton" among them), dancing rainbows, magic mushrooms big enough to give Mario a coke boner, a gyrating sun and a video/LED presentation splashy enough to trigger a mild epileptic seizure, the clouds cried just slightly at the prospect of the end of the evening. The Lips took a short breather and then returned with the biggest one-two pay-off in Bunbury's short but potent history; the gorgeously contemplative "Do You Realize??" from Yoshimi and an absolutely epic version of the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," punctuated by several blasts from the four giant confetti cannons on stage. If I smoked cigarettes, I surely would have sparked one up after that conclusion.
And thus marked the end of Bunbury's third installment. The last day's weather difficulties notwithstanding, it was another flawlessly presented and managed music festival put on by one of the city's most knowledgeable and Zen-like business heads, Bill Donabedian, and his amazing staff, who all handle every detail from gravely major to almost subatomically minor with a combination of ninja professionalism and weaponized OCD. And, as Bill would be the first to tell you, it couldn't be done without the walking live army of volunteers who make this thing run with the precision of God's pocketwatch.
Plans are already afoot for Bunbury 4; they get harder to surpass with each subsequent summer, and somehow Bill and his festival all-stars manage to do just that. See you at the gate next July.
• A lot of notable absences in the crowd this year, particularly my brother-from-another-mother Matthew Fenton. Either he just couldn't make it down this year, or he's actually perfected his cloak of invisibility and skillfully avoided me for the entire weekend. I hope it's the former.
• Even with Sunday's threatened inclement weather, or as departing WCPO meterologist Larry Handley would characterize it, the blow job that nobody wants (no, Larry wouldn't say that, but I would and, in fact, just did), there was still a great turnout for the day's lineup. There was the inevitable run-in with Brent and Kat, and that makes every day worthwhile; they headed down to Brick + Mortar and after a swing around the grounds, I headed that way myself.
• With the advent of lightning and the first shutdowns of the day, I headed for the Yeatman's Cove tunnels before things got too crazy. Moments after entering, the sky opened up and the rain pissed down, so I thought luck was on my side. I stopped to talk with a group of photographers, one of whom I've seen numerous times at Bunbury and MidPoint, which has made us sort of nodding acquaintances. We chatted for a bit, then he introduced himself as Steve Ziegelmeyer and asked if I had attended a wedding last year for someone from Jungle Jim's. In fact, my wife and daughter and I have gotten to know one of the guys from the dairy department at the Route 4 store who goes by Squidd, and when he announced that he was engaged, he insisted that we come to the wedding, which we were honored to do. Turns out Steve's wife works with Squidd's wife at Jungle Jim's Eastgate store, and he was at the wedding. And when he said it, I totally remembered seeing him there and completely blanking on where I knew him from. He gave me his card and an idea for a feature; I'll be remembering him now.
• While I was waiting to see what would come of Kim Taylor's set, up strolled Eddy Mullet and his daughter Jess, looking none too worse the wear from Saturday's festivities. (Well, Eddy doesn't drink and Jess is 17, so the beating I take is typically incrementally worse than theirs, but I digress.) When the storm cranked up again, we headed for the shelter of the bridge and told ghost stories (they've got really good ones) until the sound of The Yugos drew us to the Lawn Stage.
• We were headed to Robert Delong's set when I was waylaid by Mr. Brian Kitzmiller, a drum beater of epic reputation and a beer buyer worthy of sainthood, or at least knighthood. When I steered over to Dutch's food booth for a burger, Brian introduced me to Jerry and Pam who run Dutch's (Brian knows at least 60% of every group of people that he finds himself in), as well as a couple of guys from the band The Easthills, who were playing the part of the Black Owls this year (their early afternoon set was rained out, like the Owls’ were in Year 1.) Over by the Delong set, the ubiquitous and always welcome King Slice appeared, as did Owls bassist Kip Roe and his sons, Kip Jr. and Ben, and we had ourselves a Rock & Roll convoy.
• Just before the Lips' extravaganza got underway, I ran into 500 Miles to Memphis frontman Ryan Malott, another prince of the local music realm, who was on his way down to the Warsteiner Stage to catch The Orwells. We had talked about the show when Ryan came into Class X to do Eddy's Kindred Sanction program for a Bunbury preview and a chat about the new 500MTM album, Stand There and Bleed, and I'm glad he reminded me. As I hit the Craft Beer Village on my way to The Orwells, I was absolutely floored to see my old friend Ric Hickey, one of the best guitarists this scene has ever produced, escorting his ladyfriend Michelle down to the Lips show. We caught up for a hot minute, then went our ways. Once at the Warsteiner Stage, as The Orwells were winding up, I spotted Mark Messerly near the back of the crowd, clearly contemplating how he would approach his Messerly & Ewing gig at next week's Buckle Up. No he was not; he was drinking a beer and imploring The Orwells to ramp it up. You know Mark. Venomous Valdez was right behind him, a vision in yellow on her birthday eve. Many happy returns, double V. And I finally caught up with Ryan, who introduced me to his lovely and relatively new wife Gina (I had to ask for her name twice because I'm old, I've got 40+ years of Rock & Roll ears and The Orwells had, in fact, ramped it up). As NRBQ once noted, you're good people, you are.
• We all wound up hanging together for a good portion of the Lips' set, but one of my favorite moments was the Roe boys' faces when I confessed that this was my first live Lips lock. They couldn't have looked more astonished if I'd told them I'd just eaten a half pound of heroin-soaked grapes. Kip and his boys have seen the Lips on numerous occasions and, as a result, once we got camped near the stage, Kip Jr. tapped me on the shoulder and very politely began pointing out the elements of the Lips' set design and what everything was for. It was a very good tutorial, a sweet gesture for a teenager to connect with an old duffer such as myself, and proof positive that childrearing is a high art and Kip Roe should teach the whole bloody world exactly how to do it.
• Finally, for the third consecutive year, the unofficial and extremely subjective results of my annual “Best T-Shirts at Bunbury” competition, selected and judged by me alone. This year was interesting for a couple of reasons, primarily because of Saturday's headliners, Paramore and Fall Out Boy. Their numerous fans were displaying their band love loud and proud, but I was struck by a rather odd observation; I'm fairly certain I didn't see two Fall Out Boy T-shirts featuring the same design (at least until the day after the show, when people who didn't have shirts likely bought them at the merch booths). Someone is accruing Donald Trump-like wealth from marketing an almost endless variety of FOB tees, that's for bloody sure. The other constant on Saturday was a steady parade of people in Ramones tees, in honor of Tommy Erdelyi, the last surviving original member of the legendary Punk band who succumbed to cancer on Friday. Bogart's owner Al Porkolab used to say that the best seat for a Ramones show was across the street at Dollar Bill's, where you could hear every note perfectly. I got his point, but I preferred my Ramones straight from the pipe. At any rate, R.I.P., Tommy.
And so, as always, in no particular order, until the winner at the end:
I (graphic of Kurt Russell as Snake Pliskin) NY
Bad Decisions Make Great Stories
I Had Fun Once. It Was Awful.
Y'All (in the Yale typeface)
G-Dub (with George Washington in Raybans)
Nope (with Shepard Faireyesque cat illustration); followed by
Dope (with Shepard Faireyesque Questlove illustration)
There were many Foxy Shazam tees as well, including a vintage Flamingo Trigger design but my favorite was “Foxy Shazam. White Music for Black People”
Got B3? (I'm assuming they mean the keyboard and not the vitamin)
I Eat Glitter for Breakfast
Rock is Dead. Long Live Paper.
I May Be Your Best Option
I Ain't Even Mad
And my favorite T-shirt from this year's Bunbury crowd:
T-Rex hates push-ups (with a silhouette graphic depicting exactly why)
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.
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.
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.