June 8th, 2013 at 12:49 pm
All eyes were on Luke Bryan last night as he headlined the Friday night (June 7) edition of the ongoing Thunder on the Mountain country music festival last night in Franklin County. And that’s a quite literal assessment — not only did he draw a crowd double of any other performer this far into the weekend, he put on the kind of spectacle that earned him the Academy of Country Music’s most recent Entertainer of the Year award.
I don’t watch a lot of live country music, but I feel confident in saying the video boards, stage walkway flash pots and light show that accompanied Bryan and his large backing band was more intricate than just about anything this region has witnessed in recent years.
It was far from flawless — more on that later — but Bryan was certainly earned the entertaining part of the entertainer title.
His set was one of more than a dozen that took place at the festival, which debuted this year on the Mulberry Mountain event grounds. Thousands more were present for Friday’s shows than for Thursday’s and I expect an even larger crowd for today’s offerings, especially the one by Toby Keith that will end activities on the main stage.
It’s hard to predict activity at the first year of a festival, but this one has the early makings of a headliner festival — side stages get moderate attention, then EVERYONE shows up for the final act of the evening. Some of that has to do with the large day driving crowd, who return home to wherever after the show, but also with the crowd, half of which watches from the stage area fair stoically. They see their shows, then immediately go to their camp or car.
A note to those driving back and forth between the mountain and points north: When I left the venue, they were routing everyone south on Arkansas 23, which no way to get north on that road. That’s fine if you live in Fort Smith or Little Rock, but for Fayettevillians like me, it’s a big hassle. Going south on Arkansas 23, then west on Interstate 40 and north towards Fayetteville on Interstate 540 added at least 40 miles to my route.
With all that said, here’s a look at what I did see yesterday on the mountain:
1 p.m., Todd Snider, Country Pavilion
I like Todd Snider a lot, and he’s one of America’s best folk poets. He’s also an odd fit for Thunder on the Mountain. Musically, he’s not far off. But politically, perhaps so. He also offered a song (one of his better ones, actually) called “Conservative Christian Right Wing Republican” and you can guess what it was about. Todd Snider does not care.
3 p.m., Cody Canada and The Departed, Backwood Stage
I watched Cody Canada’s previous band, Cross Canadian Ragweed, several times, but yesterday was my first time to catch his new project, Cody Canada and The Departed. The group maintains some of his swagger and just-outside-the-mainstream approach, but it’s definitely a different project. This one passes the vocal duties around and seems like a much more free-wheeling setup for Canada.
4 p.m., Kristen Kelly, Main Stage
I’d never heard a song by Kristen Kelly until walking up to the stage to see her perform. I immediately saw the appeal. She’s pretty, and she’s got sass, and that’s a formula proved successful by many a country vocalist before her. She pranced around on the stage built for Luke Bryan and sang the John Prine song “Angel from Montgomery,” made famous first by Bonnie Raitt. Kelly has a few songs that sound like country hits to me, and with a few more, she might be on to something big.
6 p.m., Casey Donahew Band, Country Pavilion
For the past two years or so, every Casey Donahew Band show at George’s Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville has sold out. But I’d never watched the Texas country music, so I thought I’d check it out. There with me was the youngest crowd of any set, so by default one of the rowdiest I saw, too. Donahew’s songs dig into familiar territory, but they are delivered honestly, and the crowd sang back every lyric line right along with him.
Montgomery Gentry, 7:30 p.m., Main Stage
Of all the sets I watched Friday night, my least favorite came courtesy of Montgomery Gentry. Musically, they were sound, but I never made the connection. And perhaps I was put off by one of their songs, too. The duo and their backing band sang a song that was clean as a whistle, mostly geared toward veterans and the working men and women. Then, near the end of their set, they song a song about breasts. Had all of their songs been like that, I might not have cared, but it was a good degree more offensive coming from left field like that.
Luke Bryan, 9:45 p.m., Main Stage
Luke Bryan descended onto the stage from a riser on his multitiered stage. Video boards flanked all sides of him, and his band was positioned out among the crowd in a cross-shaped boardwalk extending from the stage as the lights went black, and then up again. For nearly two hours following that introduction, fans were bombarded with lights and music and a good dose of Luke Bryan moving like he was starting a striptease act.
The set includes a list of country hits, from “Rain is a Good Thing” to “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” and “Crash My Party.” It also included a few distractions along the way, with a mostly acoustic interlude around a piano and a one-verse-long cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”
As for Bryan, he was a constant motion machine, bouncing off the sides of the stage, dancing and taking time to interact with fans. He pulled up a young cowboy, signed the young man’s cowboy hat with a pen in his back back pocket, all without breaking the song. He laid on the stage at one point, taking pictures of himself with cell phone cameras that were passed to him by amorous fans.
He pitched the idea of having a raucous time — addressed specifically in songs such as “If You Ain’t Here To Party” — and seemed to be having one himself. But that also led to the night’s nadir. During a section where Bryan and the entire band paused midway through the show to drink a jar full of Arkansas moonshine, he lost the momentum he spent so long forging at the beginning of the set. It took him a few more party numbers before his energy — and as a result, the crowd’s energy — returned.
Many of his songs are thin on substance, with allusions to suntans and shaking booties and the like. But packaged as it was Friday night, it was hard not to be wowed at the spectacle of it all.
Toby Keith will have his work cut out for him. See you all down at the mountain tonight?
June 7th, 2013 at 11:21 am
In this morning’s What’s Up! section, I recap the Wakarusa festival that was.
Which means I focused on the weather, from the rain to the mud that resulted.
Courtesy of a recent phone conversation with festival director Brett Mosiman, I also talked about the implications of the rain on Thunder on the Mountain, the country music festival that debuted yesterday (June 6) morning and continues through the early hours of Sunday (June 9) morning.
Read my Listen Here! column in today’s NWA Media print offerings or the digital version [Note: Subscriber content].
What will you remember most about Wakarusa?
June 7th, 2013 at 10:55 am
Upon arrival at the Mulberry Mountain event grounds north of Ozark on Arkansas 23, you could immediately tell something was different from the previous weekend.
The clothes — camo instead of tie-dye — were different. The beverages — Bud Light instead of Boulevard — were different. And the grounds were actually kind of dry, a huge difference from the weekend before. And, of course, the music was very different too.
The first Thunder on the Mountain country music festival kicked off yesterday (June 6) on Mulberry Mountain, just less than a week after the conclusion of Wakarusa, which turned the normally pretty hillside site into a soggy, muddy mess when a crowd of that magnitude (perhaps 25,000?) was mixed with several rainstorms.
Crews worked throughout the break between the festivals to make sure the grounds were in some kind of order. And, for the large part, they were. Straw covered vast sections of the concert watching areas. It worked as a drying agent, but it made me think (especially with the music being played) I was watching songs at a county fairground. But I didn’t wear mud boots, and I actually sat down on the ground during one show, something absolutely unthinkable during last weekend’s affair.
I’ve been told all along this will be a local festival, meaning the bulk of the attendees will be coming from Arkansas and Oklahoma. Perhaps they’re all waiting to finish the work week to make the short drive down to the mountain, because there just weren’t many people around on Thursday afternoon. The crowd filled in some for headliners Big & Rich, but there was still plenty of room in the main stage viewing area. And during the afternoon, it was more sparse, as performers like Roger Creager drove up from Houston for the day to play for 100 people or so. The crowd was so small they let everyone who showed up into the VIP area whether they had tickets for it or not.
I’m curious to see how the venue fills today (June 7). Some of the bigger names, including Luke Bryan, perform today, and I suspect we’ll start seeing a crowd, especially if the weather holds, and it should (though I know better than to trust the mountain after last weekend).
Here’s a roundup of what I watched yesterday:
Shooter Jennings, 2 p.m., Country Pavilion
Shooter Jennings, the son of Waylon Jennings, has always been a rebel. He still carries a lot of attitude with him, and his band thrashed about stage. But he also showed his versatility on Thursday afternoon, slowing down for what could ALMOST be considered a piano ballad before getting back to stomping rock ‘n’ roll. I only caught 20 minutes of his set, but he was compelling the whole time.
Roger Creager, 3:45 p.m., Country Pavilion
He drove up for only one show, and, sadly, only about 100 people were there at Roger Creager‘s afternoon set. He was playful and conversational, and quite funny in between his songs, playing piano to let the crowd sing a couple verses of “Don’t Stop Believing” and Garth Brooks’ “The Dance.” He muscled through a few of his own, too. Creager handled the crowd, and any disappointment he had with it, like a pro.
The Cadillac Three, 5:15 p.m., Country Pavilion
I stuck with the Country Pavilion because it’s where the Outlaw Country artists were based, and I stuck around for The Cadillac Three because the lead singer was wearing a Rolling Stones shirt and I figured I couldn’t go wrong there. The trio, from Nashville, Tenn., arrived at their sound strangely — with an electric guitar, a pedal steel guitar, a drum kit and a dash of attitude. They were very much a rock band, and their better material reminded me of early Kings of Leon (especially because I couldn’t always understand what the lead singer was saying).
Greg Bates, 6:15 p.m., Main Stage
Greg Bates got bumped into a bigger timeslot on the main stage due to Thompson Square‘s last-minute cancellation. He chose to fill his prime-time set with a series of covers. No one is going to complain at a fun take on another artist’s song, but Bates’ set was half covers and I wish I saw more of him instead. During his 75 minute set, he covered Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Joe Diffee, Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw. Those are all fine choices, but I expect more out of an artist on the main stage.
For moments on the main stage, Randy Houser proved why he’s such a fast riser in the ranks of country music — his catchy songs and crackshot band made for a great soundtrack to the beautiful mountain sunset. His songs “Somewhere South of Memphis,” “Boots On” and the group’s excellent cover of The Allman Brothers Band’s “Whipping Post” were all top notch. But as an up-and-comer, there’s a certain level of polish he still lackes in his stage presence. He asked the crowd no fewer than 10 times how they were doing, which translates to about once per song break. It was unlikely they changed moods between songs, but he kept asking anyway.
Big and Rich, 10 p.m., Main Stage
As country music’s resident funk band, I think I’d like Big & Rich. And their band dove in that direction for brief covers of several songs in a funk medley. But as the genre’s semi-serious comic relief, I’m not so sure, and they went that route, too. About the time a scantily clad woman came out on stage to tell audience members a number they could text to enter a raffle for a guitar, I was headed elsewhere. I needed to sleep, and to process some photos.
I’m headed down about as soon as this goes live, though. See you down there today?
June 7th, 2013 at 5:03 am
We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on Wakarusa and Thunder on the Mountain recently, and for good reason — Wakarusa, at least, brings in more music fans than any other event in Northwest Arkansas. And Thunder may do the same — we’ll be down all weekend to check it out.
But it’s not the only gig in town. Ready for something else?
The Spin Doctors’ debut album, “Pocket Full of Kryptonite,” has sold more than 5 million copies since being released in 1991. The band recently debuted a blues album, “If The River Was Whiskey,” and a list of tour dates to support the record. The tour comes to Cherokee Casino in West Siloam Springs for a free show at 10:30 p.m. Saturday (June 8). Independent artist Stephen Speaks will open the show at 7 p.m. The event is free.
What do you have planned?
June 5th, 2013 at 6:13 pm
Scared of a little rain? Luke Bryan isn’t. We’ve posted this video before, but it seems very appropriate, considering the storms from last weekend.
But it starts tomorrow (June 6) with a 12:45 p.m. performance by Whiskey Myers and won’t stop until the early morning yours of Sunday (June 9).
I chatted with festival director Brett Mosiman about the new festival and his expectations for the event, the first of its kind in Arkansas. Read my story in Friday’s What’s Up! section. [Note: Subscriber content].
We’ll see you on the festival grounds.
June 4th, 2013 at 11:53 am
Wakarusa was a muddy, wild mess. Over the course of the four day festival, which took place from May 30 through June 2 at Mulberry Mountain in rural Franklin County, I took about 800 photos. Here are some of the best of them.
June 4th, 2013 at 10:47 am
Touring behind the September album “Bitter Drink, Bitter Mood,” Indiana band Murder by Death continues offering desolate, brooding anthems in their latest work. Currently on a tour that will bring them to George’s Majestic Lounge tonight (June 4), the band has called its sound “dark whiskey devil music.” Tickets for the 8:30 p.m. show are $12 and are available through www.stubs.net.
June 2nd, 2013 at 11:33 am
Around noon yesterday (June 1), the skies above the ongoing Wakarusa festival didn’t exactly part, but they did stop their deluge. It’s hard to get an internet connection and read official reports of the rainfall totals (I’m using a friend’s wireless hotspot, as the Internet connection provided for the media has proved entirely unhelpful), but inches wouldn’t surprise me.
When you put 20,000 moving feet across narrow walkways, it turns everything below into a soupy, sloppy mess. The best of it was just a little wet; the worst of it was a nearly impassable mess. It was actually better to walk through the areas with the consistency of chocolate milk, as it was less likely to turn under your foot and send you head first into the muck.
But the world looks a little better when it’s not dumping water on your head, and people showed up in droves for several shows, including the festival’s overall headliner, Widespread Panic. People moved slowly, but they moved.
Even as the festival’s pulse found a new normalcy, the rain had already taken a toll. During the afternoon hours, the Outpost tent was taken out of service so heavy equipment could smooth over the floor. Apparently, the dancing from the previous night made it unwalkable the next day. That left bands such as The Coup without a place to play, and they hung out at the convention center, looking for a place to be.
Music returned to the stage later in the day, so the crew successfully evened out that surface. Why that hasn’t happened for a few others spots — such as the area surrounding the vehicles of me and half dozen others, effectively trapping us in — I do not know.
While I worry about my ability return to work on time on Monday — sorry, boss — I did have a good time on Saturday, the festival’s third of four days.
Here’s a little bit about what I saw:
Bombino, 4:15 p.m., Revival Tent
Without knowing the language of Niger-based guitarist and vocalist Bombino, it was hard to tell where one song began and another ended. But groove translates in all languages, and the one offered by Bombino and his band got some folks dancing in the early afternoon hours of Saturday. He plays on the main stage today (June 2) and he’ll be worth seeing again.
Gogol Bordello, 7:30 p.m., Main Stage
I didn’t get to watch much of this band’s set, but I enjoyed what I saw. They inspired a dance party, too, and they are a much better live act than in a recorded setting.
Widespread Panic, 9:30 p.m., Main Stage
The crowd came out in force for Widespread, the biggest and most prominent of the sets of the weekend. The Georgia jammers launched into with a flourish, playing a 20-minute-plus song for their opening volley. I left during that song, having already taken 15 minutes worth of photos.
Savoy, 10 p.m., Revival Tent
It’s EDM, so I don’t have much of a comment about them, save this one: lasers. They had lots of really cool lasers. They attracted a really large crowd, considering they were up against Widespread Panic.
Music returns today, and it will be interesting to see how many people stick around for a fourth day and how many depart. There are plenty of interesting things to keep them here, including sets by Snoop Lion (nee Dogg) and Amon Tobin.