27 August 2016 Fayetteville Arkansas
Some early morning tasks to do, involving technology (as usual!), including a drive to the nearest AT & T store to get my iPad sim card replaced and working.
The thirty-minute walk to the festival site at The Town Centre reminded me why the organisers are smart in having the festival indoors. It was warm and steamy and the air conditioning was a welcome relief.
We Dream Dawn kicked off the day with style. They are an indie band – former front man of Elephant Revival, Sage Cook and bass player Aera Fox live a permaculture style homesteading adventures on the border of Oklahoma and Kansas. Cook has made some big changes in his life including leaving a band that has racked up a head of steam and a well-regarded name. He is deeply connected to the land and his songs reflect that. The band has a four-song EP out called The Return of the Light. Wesley Hill was on the drum kit.
I’d heard about Joe Purdy – an Arkansan with over a dozen albums to his name and his songwriting is highly regarded with a number of his songs can be found on television shows. Today, he was solo with an acoustic guitar and harmonica – with a relaxed manner and amusing banter – I loved ‘Catalina’ and ‘My Country’ in particular. Joe Purdy is an interesting songwriter straight out of the Woody Guthrie tradition.
The Birds of Chicago are Allison Russell (vocals, banjo, clarinet) and JT Nero (vocals, guitar). The band was extensive and impressive – Joel Schwartz (lead guitar), Nick Chambers (drums), Christopher Merrill (bass) and Lindsay Nero (keyboards). Proceedings kicked off with the simmering soul title-song of the recent album (‘Real Midnight’) and led into the rocking and layered soul of ‘Flying Dreams’. ‘Til It’s Gone’ was sensational. The warmth of Russell and the humour of Nero is an engaging combo and the banjo and particularly the clarinet adds a beautiful brushed nuance to the band’s overall sound. The strength of the material demonstrates the passionate strength of the musical partnership. This set was breathtaking.
Another extra festival benefit this year were performances outside the Town Centre Auditorium in the Plaza area. The food stalls had spilled over into this space as well and the communal vibe was palpable. A fellow by the name of Bayard Blain was playing an acoustic set and was great. Helping out were Raina Rose, Bryan and Bernice Hembree (the latter two from Smokey & The Mirror). It turns out that Blain is also a luthier and (having caught up with him later in the day) he was pretty excited after selling guitars to Peter Rowan and Kenneth Pattengale from The Milk Carton Kids). Not a bad two day’s work and plenty of heavy lifting for his CV.
Back to the auditorium for The Milk Carton Kids. There was a major technical problem at the start which didn’t faze Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale. In fact they launched into one of the many comedy routines of the night – this one was about how they bragged to their fellow performers before the show about their sound set up being so simple and never having technical problems like the larger outfits. We also heard later in the set about the enormous difficulties of childbirth…for the husband…as well as the background of the tender and heartfelt song that Kenneth wrote for his to-be daughter (‘Charlie’) which we eventually found to be not that imminent as he was still waiting to meet the right woman.
The music was terrific as usual – the set list also included ‘The Ash and Clay’, ‘Monterey’, ‘Shooting Shadows’, ‘Snake Eyes’ and the closer ‘Michigan’. The guitar and vocal intricacies were there for all to see – surprisingly this was the first time they had performed in Arkansas. I suspect they will be back, given the crowd’s response on the night.
For the next performer, I knew precious little, having heard the name and that, dear reader, was about it. According to Wikipedia:
Gregory Alan Isakov is a singer-songwriter. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, he immigrated to the United States as a child, and was raised in Philadelphia PA. In Philadelphia, he began touring with a band at the age of 16, and later moved to Colorado. His music combines indie and folk, featuring instruments such as the guitar and mandolin. Some of his most popular songs include “The Stable Song”, “Big Black Car”, and “Raising Cain”.
Isakov has spent his entire life traveling, and as a result, his travels have impacted his songwriting; his songs tell stories of miles and landscapes and the search for a sense of place. Music has been a constant force in his life, as he says, “I’ve always had this sense about music and writing, that I sort of have to do it. Like I’ll implode without it. I probably wouldn’t do it if I felt any other way.”
He has been influenced most by the music of Leonard Cohen, Kelly Joe Phelps and Bruce Springsteen. Gregory has played at many music festivals held across the United States, Canada and Europe. Outside of music, he spends his time working in his garden and appreciates taking time away from recording for other activities
He has four or so albums released, with the latest being Gregory Alan Isakov With The Colorado Symphony released this year. It was an interesting insight for me tonight. He had a sizable band, plus a string orchestra. One song he played with all the lights in the auditorium down. His voice has a likable, rough-hewn timbre and there is a powerful world-weary observation around his lyrics. There were not a lot of song titles introduced (maybe none) but I picked up on the terrific ‘Liars’. The Shook Twins joined for one song, as did many other performers for the wonderful finale. On the way out I picked up a copy of Isakov’s 2013 release Weatherman.
A bunch of us moved over the road to the OPO where an after party was in swing. Performers there included Ryan Pickop, John Moreland, Joe Purdy, The Milk Carton Kids and Sage Cook. It was a late finish to a tremendous day’s music.