What an amazing weekend of great music. I can’t imagine the odds against a city our size having just one of the two excellent music festivals we’ve enjoyed in the last couple of weeks, let alone two of this caliber. The electricity in the city when this many creative people merge into one spot and attract listeners and fans from all over the country and a fair share from outside is a great thrill to all of us who love this little Appalachian city.
You’ve probably been in situations in which you’ve been asked a particularly difficult question and told “there is no wrong answer.” It’s rarely true. Not all answers are created equally. When it comes to choosing the shows and artists you’ll see at Rhythm n Blooms, however, it is very true. It’s hard to go wrong. I saw a number of lists before the festival of who absolutely could not be missed, etc. Good lists, all, I’m sure, but in the end it’s really a personal call.
How to choose? I decided to emphasize groups that were new to me – which is not the same thing as saying I randomly wandered about dropping into venues. I listened to several hours of music and tried to find artists with whom I might fall in love. Some of the relationships wouldn’t work out, sure, but the ones that did might produce a life-long love. Implicit to this plan was the fact that I would not see some artists with whom I am very familiar, but have seen before. I fudge a little for several acts, but I’ll get to that.
I arrived at the Cripple Creek stage for the beginning of Guy Marshall and promptly realized I’d left my cell phone in the house, which would not do since we had a group of five and needed to be able to find each other as the night progressed. By the time I walked back home and returned, I missed most of Guy Marshall’s set, which was too bad, though I’ve heard them several times. They played their way onto the stage through a contest to be the “drafted” band and they certainly could hold their own with anyone. My party liked them.
I ran up to Boyd’s for a few minutes to hear part of Subtle Clutch‘s show. Bill Alexander operated this stage for the weekend and charmed each and every crowd with his poetry and introductions. Subtle Clutch is now a three-piece band and it’s been such a pleasure to watch their skills and confidence grow. Comfortable in their own skin at an age when most of us aren’t, they’ve charted a course that seems destined to lead to good things. Devin Badgett and Briston Marony’s harmonies continue to delight and Eli Fox is turning into a mult-threat instrumentalist/vocalist.
I stayed at the main stage for Delta Spirit and enjoyed their high energy indie rock. The crowd grew through the show and the place was off to a rocking start. The facilities under the overpass were built out in beautiful fashion. I loved the deck which offered a great vantage for photographs – the ones you see here from stage-right and elevated.
The sound was a bit uneven and unpredictable, however. Everyone in my party struggled to understand the lead vocals for Delta Spirit. The volume seemed to be pushed up to “distortion” level. Guy Marshall was crystal clear and, from what I was told, so were the Dirty Guv’nahs, though I’d decided to use that time to listen in at other venues. Love the Guv’nahs, but I’ve seen them many times – including across the street from that stage in Barley’s. I heard they put on a great show.
I dropped in on William Wild, but only made it a few feet into Pilot Light and stood on a bench in the back to listen to a few songs. From Townsend, he’s got a very sweet sound and he’s somebody to watch in the future. A very mellow sound, you should check out the beautiful video for “Townsend.” But that was a stop-over for me as I walked toward the Standard to plant myself for a couple of shows (another way to plan your festival – pick a venue with great music and sit still for a while).
The Suffers were my discovery of the night. A ten-piece band including a great, pumping horn section and a dynamic vocalist in Kam Franklin. From Houston, Texas where they dominate “best of” lists, they serve up a hot blend of Rhythm and Blues, Funky Soul and Rock and Roll with shots of reggae rhythms and more. The musicianship and vocals are exceptional and the vibe from the band is pure fun. I chatted with them after the show and bought their EP.
One of the great things about this festival is the accessibility of many of the artists. I saw them eating on restaurant patios, walking down the street and posing for pictures with fans – as well as enjoying the other artists’ shows. It’s just a laid-back, friendly event.
I stayed at The Standard – which returned the same stage-set as last year, which was fine with me, as it is one of the coolest, simplest sets I’ve seen. I said it last year: With that stage set, I’m really reminded of Austin City Limits and it makes me wish I could hear more music there. The sound is almost always impeccable and the two large rooms make it a flexible venue to use. As an added bonus, the stage was run by Amanda Starnes who runs a very tight ship.
Next up was The Apache Relay, based in Nashville, with their fun version of Indie Rock with a significant splash of Americana and sometimes pop melodies. The vocals were excellent, as was the band, but lead guitarist Mike Harris really stood out, as did violinist Kellen Wenrich. The violin rooted their indie sound in the Americana universe. Lots of dancing and singing along for this show.
Knowing I would be out very late Saturday night, I decided to stop early on Friday night and not see the last round of shows, though I was told I should have made the chance to see Alanna Royale. I ended my night back at Boyd’s with a couple from Oak Ridge (who now live in Minnesota) who perform as Count This Penny. This was, I believe, my fourth time to see them and it’s always a treat, though I must say, they are getting better and better. They’ve collected all kinds of buzz for their music – I’ve played their latest CD “Pitchman” many times and it never gets old.
The incisive song-writing takes center stage no matter who takes the vocals. They each have a unique vocal style and may be at their vocal best when harmonizing. It’s Americana, rooted in the Appalachians, but with a modern finish. The songs bear little resemblance to the ballads of this region, though the dark themes of their music do resonate with a certain traditions from the mountains. Amanda Wilburn’s vocals bear a strong echo of Gillian Welch and her confident relationship with the audience only serves to make the shows more memorable.
So ended my first day – no doubt different from yours – and not necessarily better, but a very good start to the festival. I was home by 1:00 AM, worked on the event article for Sunday and fell into bed around 2:00 AM, tired and happy.