June 7th, 2009 at 6:49 pm
All photos by KEVIN KINDER, Northwest Arkansas Times.
Amazing what playing in a festival environment will do to a band and to its mood.
Although no official word has been given on attendance here, I think it’s safe to say that more than 12,000 people came to the Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival during a four-day music extravaganza that began Thursday (June 4) and continues through today (June 7).
But they didn’t just come, they came to party.
So what’s a band to do but join in on the fun?
Take, for instance, Saturday night (June 6) headliner The Black Crowes, known for being surly and a bit unapproachable to fans. They were positively jolly — for them, anyway — in offering fans several of their hits.
This falls in contrast to a show the band put on just less than a year ago at Fayetteville’s Arkansas Music Pavilion. They were promoting an album then, sure, but the band seemed more rigid, less willing to jam and show off what some tend to forget: That behind the ’90s rock radio hits was a dazzling group of musicians.
Very few bands, it seemed, were immune. There was a party, a swaying mass of dirty people in front of them, and no band was going reward that kind of behavior with anything less than a top-notch show.
Click the ‘more’ link below to continue reading about the third day of Wakarusa and see more photos.
All the bands brought their ‘A’ game, and so did the fans, who showed no signs of diminishing in enthusiasm despite having been partying for two straight days. I said in the previous day’s posts that festivals are musical journeys, something to be experienced in bits. Except that wasn’t the case for me last night.
It was a destination day instead. I had to see JJ Grey. I had to catch Lucero. I could not miss The Black Crowes. I had been planning all day to dance in the woods while Split Lip Rayfield was onstage. This was my kind of day at the festival, closer to the center of my musical heart than any of the other days at the festival. I’m telling you this because, while I’m trying my hardest to remove the fanboy from this post, he’s lurking around.
Here’s what I saw:
JJ Grey & Mofro, 3:45-5:15 p.m., Main Stage
I’d planned to see Jesse Baylin play an early set, but technical difficulties forced me away from the festival site. I was stressed, working at deadline, away from the festival, all of it.
Back on the festival grounds, the first act I way was JJ Grey and Mofro. About an hour into the set, the band played “The Sun Is Shining Down,” which has the lyrics “Glory, glory, hallelujah / I’m alive, and I’m feeling, feeling fine.”
But things were fine again long before that. Grey and his backing band hail from Florida, which is probably the only place their kind of swamp boogie could come from. Grey was clearly enjoying himself, one of those many performers I saw that seemed to be energized by the sun and the boisterous fans. The jams he and his band — featuring a three-piece horn section — were longer and more frequent than during a club show I saw him play just four months ago.
It was all remarkable.
What a great start to the day.
JJ Grey & Mofro setlist: 1) Higher You Climb; 2) WYLF; 3) War; 4) Circles; 5) Everything Good Is Bad; 6) Ybor City; 7) Brighter Days; 8) She’s On Fire; 9) Lochloosa; 10) Jookhouse; 11) Orange Blossoms; 12) The Sun Is Shining Down; 13) How Junior Got His Head Put On
Lucero, 6-7:15 p.m., Revival Tent
Well, remember that vibe that I was telling you about, the one that made bands want to flex their muscles and show off their skills?
It didn’t help Lucero.
They had a 6 p.m. slot, not the most coveted of the festival, and lead singer Ben Nichols joked that everyone, including the band, was way too sober. Here’s another admission he made: That as a songwriter, he has “a soft spot for sad, depressing [stuff].”
Which is true. Singing about your grandfather joining the army and fighting in World War II isn’t exactly the type of song that festival goers demand, but it’s what Nichols and company play. Additionally, Lucero isn’t the type of band that often turns their songs into rolling, free-form jams, something that always gets the crowd going at festivals.
The band, which Nichols said would release a new record in October, played several of those new cuts, including one about Townes Van Zandt, and also at least one track from Nichols’ recent solo album, a recording based on Cormac McCarthy’s book “Blood Meridian.”
There were highlights, of course, including “I Can Get Us Out Of Here Tonight” and “Nobody’s Darlings,” which the band used to close their set.
It wasn’t a bad show, but it certainly wasn’t my favorite performance of theirs, either (I’ve seen them at least six times).
G. Love & Special Sauce, 8-9 p.m., Main Stage
G. Love, and his backing band, Special Sauce, play Saturday-night kind of music. It’s funky, it’s party oriented and it’s suggestive, which seemed like a good mix for the crowd that was swaying when he took the set.
He dedicated songs to the ladies. He let his virtuoso upright bass player frolic about on solos. He promised to help make it a great evening, but that was a hollow offer: It already was before he got onstage. He did nothing to change that vibe. He was more spirited than when I last saw him perform, jumping around the stage for harmonica runs and playing lively guitar solos.
From the far reaches of the field that serves as the listening area, with my camera down and not paying attention to G. Love’s antics, I began to appreciate his band, something I’d not done before. I didn’t realize he had so many ringers, especially on bass and keyboards.
It’s still hard to classify G. Love (blues? funk? jazz? rock?) but it doesn’t matter in the long run.
He’s just leading the party.
Cross Canadian Ragweed, 9:15-9:45 p.m., Revival Tent
I left G. Love to catch the end of Cross Canadian Ragweed’s set. They were an hour and a half in by the time I got there, and they’d obviously warmed up the crowd, which was bustling.
They too showed of their brawn, offering a more muscular version of their sound than I had ever heard before. Frontman Cody Canada plays a mean guitar when he wants to, and he wanted to Saturday night. The rest of the band roamed around musically, too, especially Jeremy Plato on bass, who offered a couple tasty solos that had the crowd moving.
Arriving that late in the set is akin to cherry picking, as Ragweed dropped a couple of their hits at the end, including “Boys From Oklahoma,” a song about smoking weed. That topic — surprise, surprise — drew a huge response from the crowd.
They closed the night with a cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World.” There was plenty of rocking left to be done Saturday night.
The Black Crowes, 10:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., Main Stage
He may have the famous ex-wife. He may be the lead singer. He may even be the face of the band. But on Saturday night, The Black Crowes were not the Chris Robinson show. The real show was the dueling guitar work of Chris’ brother, Rich Robinson, and Luther Dickinson, who splits his time between the Crowes and the North Mississippi Allstars.
The Crowes proved, even more so than they did when I last saw them a year ago, that they are much more than the radio hits that shot them to popularity a decade ago.
And when you’ve got a band that can jam, and the crowd responds to every last solo, why not go for it?
Those liking guitar jams were sure to appreciate the set. Those hoping for a string of radio hits know not to expect that from the Crowes. But they did play several in the course of all the noodling. Three songs in, they dropped “Jealous Again” and later got into “Thorn In My Pride” and “Remedy,” complete with backing vocalists.
They broke into “Remedy,” their 14th song, at the two-hour mark.
I think they played at least one more song, maybe a couple more, but I was already on my way to another set.
Split Lip Rayfield,12:45-2 a.m., Backwoods Stage
Before moving to Arkansas this year, Wakarusa was in Kansas, home to Split Lip Rayfield. They’ve played Wakarusa more than once and were brought back for this year. As a Kansas transplant myself, I’m familiar with them. This might be the 10th or 12th time I’ve seen them, so I knew what to expect.
What to expect is this: high-speed blugrass, infused with punk and humor. The trio had a party in front of them, a bunch of dirty people shuffling in the wooded area that surrounds the Backwoods Stage.
I didn’t take my notepad. I didn’t take my camera. It was time, I thought, to cut loose a little bit. I do know they played “Kiss Of Death,” “Crazy,” “River” and two songs in a row that featured kazoo, which led the band to joke that had never been done before in the history of live concerts. Perhaps it hadn’t.
It continued. The campground where I stayed was no more than 30 feet from a stage. I watched while barbecuing at 2:30 a.m. and went to sleep sometime later with the sound of bass and drums shaking the ground.
For all I know, music never stopped, because some was playing when I woke up.
There is more to see today. Catch you at the shows, if you aren’t one of those packing it up for parts unknown already.