By: Joseph Kathmann
A Festival Without an Identity
To say I wasn't all that excited for this year's Bunbury is something of an understatement. After the festival dropped its clusterf*** of a lineup, it quickly became one of the laughing stocks of the festival season, despite its undeniable uniqueness. The lineup was so lackluster that Derek sold one of his passes to me and took a rather large loss on his second pass. By the time he sold it, passes were going for $60 UNDER face value. Despite the fact that PromoWest announced that 3 day passes conveniently sold out the day before the festival began, there was a noticeable lack of crowds from start to finish.
However, there was a strong presence of day passes, as the festival did do a good job of organizing the genres into daily schedules. (hip hop on Friday, EDM on Saturday, rock on Sunday) Overall the festival has taken a lot of the feedback it's received over the years to heart, however why can't they figure out how to incorporate Square at food/beer booths???? Last year the festival had this totally ridiculous cashless system that everybody hated, so they took the feedback by dropping that system and replacing it with....? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Having the entire festival cash-only just seemed lazy on the part of PromoWest. I was definitely disappointed by this. Fortunately, outside of this the rest of the festival was run fairly well. Though it helps when you have lower attendance numbers. But sadly for me the festival went pretty much exactly how I expected it to. The shows I expected to be good were good, and the shows I expected to be bad were bad. I expected Saturday to be crazy and ridiculous, and Saturday was.....you guessed it, crazy and ridiculous. So let's get into the shows, shall we?
Best Set: Muse
It's almost unfortunate that Muse was the best set of the weekend, but it comes as no surprise because Muse still puts on a heck of a show. The band was easily my favorite group during my high school years, and I haven't seen them in 7 years but I worried, not excited. The band is coming off easily its worst album to date in Drones, and before that another lackluster album in The 2nd Law. Fortunately the band's festival set is composed mostly of hits, and the band played more songs from albums like Absolution and Black Holes and Revelations than their newer material. Additionally, the band just shreds it live, as their performances are full of jams and breakdowns. Not to mention the entire video show, which has been a staple of their sets since the before I saw them for the first time in the late 2000s. Seriously, even if you are just a casual fan of the band, there aren't many better groups to see live than Muse. Bunbury saved the best for last, and I am definitely happy that Muse closed out the festival.
Worst Set: Tech N9ne
I don't deny that I am not the biggest fan of hip hop, but there's no doubt that fans of the genre worship acts like Tech N9ne. So I was definitely excited to see them. While their show is pretty over-the-top, I was very disappointed by the fact that the rapper was.....lip syncing. That's right. It's 2017, and we are still seeing artists lip sync at their shows. Unbelievable. Oh! Something I didn't mention earlier. The balancing at the main stage was TERRIBLE all the way until Muse's closing set, and with Tech N9ne the bass was so overwhelming I couldn't even hear the vocals. While there seemed to be plenty of people having a blast at his set, I pity them. Because this is not just the worst set I saw at Bunbury, it is easily the worst set I've seen to date this year.
WTF Set: Wiz Khalifa
This was an interesting set. Part of me has always wanted to see Wiz live, and I am certainly glad that I can cross him off the list, but.....what? There was the blatantly weird-Wiz smoking a joint on stage and passing out to the crowd-as well as the strange-Wiz playing popular songs he's only featured in simply because they're popular songs. Heck some of the songs, like "Sucker for Pain," he only played snippets of....for some reason. Not quite sure the rationale behind this other than Wiz basically saying "Hey everyone! Look at all the pop music I've been featured on!" While I did enjoy hearing some of these hits, like "See You Again" and Wiz's classic "Black and Yellow," it was definitely the weirdest set of the weekend.
Biggest Surprise: Arkells
I didn't know much about this band going into their early Sunday afternoon set, but I was hooked within a matter of moments. Frontman Max Kerman is absurdly charming and charismatic, and he knew exactly how to woo the small crowd that showed up early. He had a wireless mic-unusual for a band the size of Arkells-but I quickly found out why. Kerman didn't just hop into the crowd to get them fired up, he hopped into the crowd and ran to the back of it so he could get EVERYONE fired up. He also brought up a random guy (the dude wearing the green bandanna in the photo above) to play some guitar chords for one song. Because why not? All of this on top of some pretty good music too. Discovering bands like Arkells is the reason why I go to festivals.
While there was enough to like at this festival to keep me entertained, I couldn't help but leave feeling unsatisfied. PromoWest definitely went for the most diverse lineup they could find, but in the process left everyone wanting more. Additionally, because of the heavy hip hop/EDM presence at the main stage, the balancing there was terrible. I hinted at it before, but every act that performed, with the exception of Muse, had to deal with overpowering bass during their set, and it was really really frustrating. Hopefully next year they just embrace one side of the spectrum or the other, versus trying to appeal to everyone. Either way, I can't help but be excited to see what PromoWest has in store for the festival next year. And yes, I do feel like something of a sucker for feeling that way.....
By: Derek Jung
The National guitarist Bryce Dessner once again put together a diverse and eclectic lineup for the 11th installment of his MusicNOW Festival, which takes place every year in various locations around downtown Cincinnati. This year, the festival kicked off with a performance by legendary rhythm guitarist and founding Grateful Dead member Bob Weir. Dessner and the rest of The National are fresh off the release of their massive 10 LP collaborative box set of Grateful Dead covers (which, if you haven't listened to it yet, it is stunning), so it wasn't surprising that Dessner tapped Weir to perform. Weir himself released Blue Mountains last fall, which was his first album of all original material in nearly 30 years.
Weir came out alone on stage to begin the first of two sets, diving straight into the aforementioned Blue Mountains accompanying himself with only an acoustic guitar. Weir's voice, strained with age, echoed wonderfully off the enormous Aronoff Center facade. Before long, Weir was joined by "The Campfire Band", or Aaron Dessner, Bryan Devendorf, and Scott Devendorf of The National as well as Jon Shaw from Shakey Graves and Josh Kaufman, who co-produced Blue Mountains. Vocalist Lisa Hannigan also contributed her beautiful voice to a few songs, including "Lay My Lily Down" during the first set and "Peggy-O" during the second. The setlist was pretty diverse, with a healthy mix of solo material from Blue Mountains and classic Grateful Dead songs. The jams were adventurous, but for the most part did not stray away from a defined structure, with Weir physically signaling to the group when he wanted to transition. Some of those transitions were a bit clunky, but I'll attribute this more to not having years and years of experience with each other.
The crowd was a pleasant mix of older Dead Head stoners, and young people. It was amusing watching the terrified looks slowly grow on the Aronoff Center ushers' faces as the unmistakable aroma of marijuana grew heavier as the show went on. I think it's safe to say that more weed was smoked that night than has even been smoked in the theater before. But it was mood spoiler during the second set when ushers got strict with any suspected puff of smoke or cell phone light. You'd think the Aronoff Center would have anticipated the crowd would be lighting up.
All in all, another great act put on by MusicNOW. The show was well attended for a Thursday night, and I was happy to see a crowd so engaged and enthusiastic. We owe Dessner quite a bit for bringing such great collaborative music to Cincinnati, and we need to be sure that it continues well into the future.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I provided all the merch for this festival this year
This was such a polarizing festival for me. On the one hand, the atmosphere was everything I hoped it would be. These hippie festivals always have great vibes, and from start to finish Pilgrimage certainly did not disappoint. However, at the same time there were a significant number of growing pains, and a lot of logistical details that made me want to pull out my hair and scream WHAT ARE YOU DOING? This review, since it's coming several weeks after the festival, will simply be a discussion versus highlighting the good and the bad. I do not feel I was able to see enough of the acts at the festival to create an ordinary festival review.
That said, I will say Beck was in an entirely different zip code than the rest of the acts of the festival, but this is more of a credit to how talented Beck is. If you ever get the opportunity to see Beck and enjoy live music, see him. Even if you hate his music, his show is more than worth seeing.
In stark contrast to 90's star Beck, you have 90's star Cake. I don't know what happened with this set, but John McCrea had clearly woken up on the wrong side of the bed that morning because he was extremely grumpy from start to finish during this set, and it really rubbed me the wrong way. I did not remember McCrea being that negative during his performance at Bonnaroo a few years back.
But I want to talk about logistics. So, I gave Pilgrimage a free pass last year. I don't think anyone anticipated them being as successful as they were, but then this year rolls around and naturally they should be ready for it, right? Well.....not quite. While there weren't any ridiculous decisions, there were a lot of things here and there that really didn't make sense. Like why was there only one single file stairwell to get to and from the Harpeth River stage? It made for some pretty ridiculous bottlenecks when those bands were just starting or finishing their sets. To make this decision even more ridiculous, last year there were two entrances to this stage, but....they decided that with the rise in popularity....they would shut down one of those entrances? Totally makes sense. Getting in and out of the festival was a little difficult too, but I think that was more the result of people not knowing where the additional exits were besides the main one. The crew also ran out of maps pretty early on, which was surprising.
Also, and this was by FAR the biggest complaint of most, was the water. There were only two or three water stations spread out across the grounds, and none of them had good water pressure. Not to mention the water was extremely warm. Festival planners (and The Park at Harlinsdale Farm) need to improve the water issues next year or the growth of the festival will definitely be stifled.
However, at the end of the day, Pilgrimage did make some pretty noticeable steps to improve the overall experience, and it's setting is still just a gorgeous as it was last year. Watching the sun set behind Beck and Jason Isbell was a site to behold, and easily worth the cost of admission by itself. The overall quality of the acts were definitely better than last year, with plenty of gems hidden on the off-the-beaten-path Harpeth River stage too. Even Darryl Hall & John Oats were a good festival closer, despite being a last second addition. Now that Justin Timberlake has bought a major stake in his hometown festival, I can't wait to see what's in store next year. I know I will be making the Pilgrimage again in 2017.
Oh, and the merch was awesome. In case you were wondering.
By: Derek Jung
Midpoint Music Festival has been a staple of Over The Rhine in Cincinnati for over a decade, albeit in various incarnations. Most recently, the festival featured an all ages main stage in Washington Park and smaller 21+ shows in bars and theaters around the neighborhood. I've been going to the festival since 2012 when I first turned 21, and it quickly became one of my favorite weekends of the entire year. The festival is known for music discovery, and it wasn't uncommon to be walking down the street and be drawn inside a tiny bar by a band playing to a dozen or so people.
This year's festival, however, saw a change in format that condensed the festival to three main stages in a parking lot and a smaller free stage that featured mostly local artists. Many, including myself, were apprehensive of this change, and some argued that it was so different from the original spirit of the festival that it needed to be called something different. I decided to give the new format a chance. Here are my thoughts on the good, the bad, and the WTF of this year's MPMF.
Band of Horses
Sunday night's headliner were the perfect ending to the weekend's up and down adventure. Fresh off the release of their new album, Why Are You OK, Ben Bridwell and gang put forth everything they could muster in their nineteen song, hour and a half performance. Blazing through five songs from the new album including lead single "Casual Party", the band challenged legendary rocker Bob Mould for the biggest wall of sound produced that weekend. Bridwell's distinct voice echoed off the surrounding buildings and parking garage where many non-festival goers were watching. The band made good use of the largest crowd of the weekend, channeling the energy into one of the more entertaining performances of the weekend. Hearing one of my favorite songs "Cigarettes, Wedding Bands" live was special to me, and many in the crowd were stoked to hear hits like "The Funeral", "Is There A Ghost", and "No One's Gonna Love You". The on stage banter was minimal, but Bridwell was quick to give an appreciative "Thanks, y'all!".
Thank you, Band of Horses. Thank you.
Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls
English singer-songwriter Frank Turner brought his full band to Midpoint on Sunday evening and proceeded to melt the faces off of everyone in attendance with their blend of irish punk and gritty folk rock. Turner had some of the most fun on-stage banter of the festival, and generally seemed to be having a blast performing. One of the memorable moments was when he had the crowd create a circle pit during "Out of Breath" and before performing "Photosynthesis", he lamented about not being in the band Slayer but really wanting to be. To fulfill his Slayer dreams, he wanted to do a "wall of death", but instead of running and bashing into each other, the crowd was instructed to hug the person across from them, thus dubbed the "wall of hugs". It was quite the scene, and yes, I hugged a few extremely sweaty strangers. Worth it.
It's been a summer of turbulence for the Scottish indie rockers. Soon after Joseph and I saw some of their set at Lollapalooza, lead singer Scott Hutchison had a massive Twitter meltdown and checked himself into rehab for a bit, forcing the band to cancel their next few appearances. Fast forward a few months and the band is back on the road and sounding better than ever. Thundering through their 45 minute set, they spent most of their time playing songs off of this year's Painting of a Panic Attack. They were focused, sharp, and ferocious. Much better than when they played at Lollapalooza, and easily one of the highlights of Saturday night for me.
Langhorne Slim & The Law
The inclusion of Antibalas on this list has nothing to do with how the band played, their talent, or their stage presence. Their inclusion has everything to do with the crowd. The smaller Friday evening crowd quickly grew bored of the extensive jamming and repetitive nature of Antibalas' music. After an extremely hot afternoon of roasting in the sun, I don't think anyone had it left in them to dance and groove with them. I know I didn't. They were probably the biggest casualty of the parking lot environment, but certainly not the only ones. Sorry fellas.
JJ Grey & Mofro
Another band that was completely misplaced on this year's bill, JJ Grey & Mofro had the smallest crowd for a headliner, and it was on Saturday night. Not only was the crowd lackluster, but the energy mustered by those in attendance did nothing to liven the dated sound of the band. As someone who really likes neo-soul, dirty blues, and classic rock, I found the band to be ho-hum, generic, and uninspired. The man has a great bluesy, soulful voice, but the songs were no better than any that I've seen at a local blues night at a bar. There was no standout musician to feature; the guitars were subdued with minimal soloing. The focus was on Grey, and unfortunately he didn't have enough to keep my attention.
The James Hunter Six
Personally, I really enjoyed Future Islands' set. For not having any new material to tour on, the crowd was extremely receptive to the songs from their 2014 massive hit album Singles. For those that were uninitiated to Future Islands, though, they were in for quite a surprise when lead singer Samuel T.'s signature live growl made its first appearance. There were quite a few drunken imitations throughout the crowd for the rest of the evening. But you know what they say: imitation is the highest form of flattery. Right?
Samuel T. is definitely the heart and soul of the band. Grumbling from one side of the stage to the other, his mannerisms are violent, heartfelt, and purposeful. I was immediately entranced by the way he carried himself on stage and the way he expertly portrayed each song's story. I can't wait to hear what new material they're working on. They played a few to give us a taste. I want more.
Overall it's hard to pin down how I feel about this new incarnation of the festival. From someone who's been going to this festival since I was old enough to attend, it hurts (both physically and spiritually) to be stuck in a blacktop parking lot all day for three days. I will never forget the great bands that I happened upon in bars that turned into some of my favorites: Mr. Elevator and the Brain Hotel at MOTR Pub, multiple bands at Arnold's and Mr. Pitiful's, and The Drinkery. Midpoint this year felt so sterile compared to years past, and you could feel that energy in the veterans who attended. For first time attendees, they probably experienced something similar to Bunbury, except more compact and less grassy. They probably enjoyed it. Why wouldn't they? The bands as a whole were great, the food options were fantastic, and even the beer selection was better than ever.
But for the rest of us, something essential was missing. It wasn't until the evening, as the sun set just below the surrounding buildings and it started to cool off, that I finally felt the energy of the Midpoint return. Not all of it, but just enough to give me hope that someday it will return. I think the festival organizers heard our complaints loud and clear. Whether they do something with them is another question altogether, but I don't think the festival will receive the support that they need going forward if changes aren't made. The parking lot, which sloped down away from the stage, was not conducive to watching, especially for shorter attendees. The WNKU stage heard everything that happened on the two main stages, and it really took away from some of the bands' experiences. Langhorne Slim timed his slow songs in between the thunderous bass of Tokyo Police Club. Dead Horses, HOOPS and Oh Pep! looked visibly annoyed with the sound bleed and complained that they couldn't hear themselves play.
Beyond that, things went better than expected.
By: Joseph Kathmann
It's nice being a music fan in Nashville. There's good music at every corner, and being a hop skip and a jump away from Bonnaroo is also nice. One festival that has been on the up and up over the past few years, and has really burst onto the scene in 2016 is Live on the Green, a totally FREE festival on the lawn of one of Nashville's most gorgeous buildings: the city's Metropolitan Courthouse. This festival took place over 4 weeks, with the first 3 weeks just occurring on Thursdays and the final week occurring over a 3 day weekend. Unfortunately I was unable to make it to week 4, but here are my thoughts on the bands I saw in the first 3 weeks of the festival.
Week 1: White Denim
I was with my parents week 1, and thus was unable to stick around for headliners Allen Stone and Andra Day. However, I was greeted with another solid set from White Denim. Having seen them at Forecastle (you can revisit my review of the day I spent there here). I kind of knew what to expect, but being in the crowd at LOTG was actually more enjoyable than Forecastle, which was a little surprising. I still questioned their setlist (seriously, guys, why don't you play "At Night in Dreams" in your live set??) but I had a good time. By the way I have to mention my parents joined me for this show, but they were not a fan of the jam-vibes from these guys. In case you were wondering.
I should also mention an awesome joke they have at their shows. When I saw them at Forecastle, they mentioned that it was their drummer's second show. I took this to heart and thought, "Wow, that was pretty cool." But then at Live on the Green they said the exact same thing. Either they have a really fast turnaround with their drummers, or that's an inside joke for the band. Kudos either way.
Week 2: JR JR, Passenger, Jenny Lewis
Week 2 was country night at LOTG, headlined by the legendary Jenny Lewis. While she had a rather lackluster opener before her in Passenger, (I really do not see the appeal of solo singer-songwriters, I'm sorry) Jenny Lewis was definitely one of the more Nashville-feeling sets I've been to, headlined by a few awesome cameos. For the final song Jenny Lewis casually brought up Nikki Lane to sing with her, who was watching from the artists only area. This was pretty dang cool, and I was hugely envious of just how casually this occurred. "Oh, hey Nikki is that you over there by the tent pole? Come on up here!" Not only that but periodically Jenny Lewis invited several Nashville singer-songwriters to join her throughout the set, which was also very cool. Jenny Lewis had a very casual and happy-going presence, and the crowd responded well to her. I am proud to say I had a grand ol' time watching her set.
Week 3: Kurt Vile and the Violators, Dawes
My final time at 2016's Live on the Green was truly special. First on the bill was Kurt Vile and the Violators. I was really looking forward to this set to see if his set at Lollapalooza was a fluke or not. (You can revisit our thoughts on their disappointing Lolla set here) Well, unfortunately I was once again disappointed by these guys. While the set was slightly more enjoyable than it was at Lolla, that was the problem. It was just slightly more enjoyable. These guys still left a lot to be desired as they just lacked any sort of energy throughout their set. Yes Kurt Vile is a "listen to music and chill" kind of band, but the crowd really struggled to stay in it. And when a crowd struggles to stay in it, the band struggles to find any energy as well.
However this night was so special because of the headliner, Dawes. This performance lifted everyone's spirits and was actually quite emotional by the time we got to set ender "All Your Favorite Bands." Even the new single, "When the Tequila Runs Out" was very enjoyable to hear live, though it should be noted that this was the only song they played from their new album. Bit of an ominous indication there. But Dawes was easily the best band to grace the first 3 weeks of Live on the Green, though that was almost to be expected. Dawes is made for a stage like Live on the Green, and you could tell that performance was really special to them.
At the end of the day, I was very impressed with almost all of the bands that came to Live on the Green in the first 3 weeks. This festival has come a long way in just a few short years (seriously-look at their lineup in 2013 and before and you'll see it) and with Nashville more popular now than ever before, I don't expect the quality of this festival to let up any time soon. Here's to 4 more great years!
By: The Busted Amp Staff
Derek and Joseph spent nearly a week in Chicago exploring Grant Park for the 25th Anniversary edition of Lollapalooza, one of the biggest music festivals in the United States. This year's bonanza upped the ante to four days packed with solid artists from start to finish. While we couldn't see all of them, we're here to bring you the good, the bad, and the WTF of the ones that we did see.
Derek: Easily the most anticipated sets of the weekend, Thom Yorke and gang delivered one of the most powerful and tight performances of the weekend. Their newest album, A Moon Shaped Pool, was one of the least rock albums in their history, but their Lollapalooza set was a rock show on the grandest stage. Powerful light and visual effects, impeccable stage presence, and the musical chops to pull off the complexities of their entire discography, Radiohead is everything they are hyped to be. While the band's setlist was surprisingly tame in terms of surprises, the band performed nearly half of the new album, along with a healthy dose of OK Computer, Hail To The Thief, and In Rainbows. The highlight of the set for me was the rip-roaring first encore closer "Bodysnatchers". Special shout-out to the people around us who camped with us for nearly three hours through a fantastic M83 set and the hour in between during Miike Snow. The last time I saw Radiohead I got peed on by a drunken "superfan". I'm happy to say that my Lollapalooza experience was much more enjoyable.
The Last Shadow Puppets
Joseph: Between headliners Lana Del Rey, J. Cole, and EDM titan Flosstradamus and hidden in the cove that was Lolla's Pepsi stage laid what might have been the most overlooked act of the entire festival. Honestly their terrible time slot proved to be hugely beneficial, as for an all-to-brief 1 hour set the bros were nowhere to be found while Alex Turner, Miles Kane and company could be found tearing the roof off with their suave moves and awesome riffs. Derek and myself mulled over seeing The Last Shadow Puppets over Lana Del Rey, but at the end of the day ohhhhhhh boy did we make the right decision. While the supergroup won't be traveling again in the states anytime soon, if you ever are struck with the choice of having to see Lana Del Rey, Flosstradamus, J. Cole, or The Last Shadow Puppets do yourself a favor and pay Alex Turner, Miles Kane and co. a visit. You'll be grateful you did.
Derek: We all know that Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys has the most sexy, slick British swagger that anyone on this side of the Atlantic Ocean has ever seen. I think that goes without saying. What's different about seeing The Last Shadow Puppets compared to seeing the Arctic Monkeys is that this is the fun side project. There's less pressure to perform, and Miles Kane provides a balanced on stage charisma that Turner simply doesn't have in the Arctic Monkeys. If you put all of this together, you have one of the most fun sets of the weekend, and a musically diverse one too. A small string section filled the sound and the band even had a dedicated tambourine player. Yes, you read that correctly. It was the perfect opening headlining slot of the weekend.
Nothing But Thieves
Joseph: This was one of my more anticipated early day acts of the festival, and on a wet Saturday morning Nothing But Thieves was exactly what I needed. Featuring incredible vocals from frontman Conor Mason, this band with one album to its name tore through their 45 minute early afternoon set. I only knew a few songs from these guys before Lollapalooza, but they quickly converted me into a fan and I'm already looking forward to October when they will be in my neck of the woods again. Expect to hear this name a lot over the next few years. Nothing But Thieves is definitely on the path to stardom.
Derek: In what was easily the biggest surprise of the weekend for me, LCD Soundsystem closed down the festival on Sunday night in the greatest dance party that I have been a part of in my lifetime. Picture this: the city of Chicago as the backdrop to tens of thousands of people spread out in a giant field, everyone giving each other space to dance, and then jamming for an hour and a half. While I was familiar with the band's hits, I wouldn't have called myself a fan going into their set. By the end of the set, I found myself on the verge of tears during "Dance Yrself Clean" and "All My Friends". It was the perfect ending to a fantastic weekend, and I will never forget it.
For me, LCD Soundsystem was the life changing set that I dreamed of seeing at Lollapalooza, and it came from the band I least expected. For all of the hype this reunion tour has gotten, all of the coverage on music websites, I didn't think there was any way for them to live up to that. They did.
Joseph: I will say this set was faaaaar better than when I saw them at Bonnaroo in June, but I still was not as high on this as Derek was. What I will say is I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of the set. I think it was a perfect storm: with Die Antwoord and Ellie Goulding effectively took the bros away from LCD Soundsystem, leaving us surrounded by people who simply love music. They didn't necessarily know any of the words, but that didn't matter: they just came to dance and to be together. This is what a festival should be all about, but it took until the last set of the last night for us to truly feel this way. It's true that this was the only set of the weekend that was even remotely like this, but if it did anything for me it simply reminded me of why I know 4 hot days on a little farm in backwoods Tennessee will be the best 4 days of my year.
City and Colour
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Derek: From what I could tell, the massive crowd gathered for Bastille was either deaf to anything in the lower bass ranges, or they'd spent too much time at Perry's and didn't notice the complete joke of a mix that accompanied Bastille's set. The thumping bass drum drowned out the vast majority of the other instruments, including the vocals, and made them almost painful to listen to. Needless to say it was an unenjoyable experience. For an artist that was played so often on the radio and had a meteoric rise to fame, I certainly hope the terrible sound was the festival's fault and not the intentional levels set by the band.
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
Joseph: This wasn't so much a bad show as much as it was an example of the bro culture of Lollapalooza rearing its ugly head. Even though I personally was having a pretty good time grooving along to Nathaniel Rateliff's music, far too many were just sitting around waiting for his big hit S.O.B. This song has definitely become far too big for the band's good, and even though they definitely converted some new fans (I hope everyone was converted) the vast majority of the crowd just mindlessly nodded along waiting for the band's hit.
Derek: Maybe this is just because I was grooving for the vast majority of this set, but I didn't think the bro crowd was nearly as bad here as during other sets throughout the day. Yes, many in attendance were just there to scream "SON OF A BITCH!" at the top of their lungs, but I thought the worst part was definitely the stage that they were stuck at. In the heat of the afternoon, standing on the blacktop at the Petrillo Stage was torturous. Rateliff and crew gave it their all, and I certainly enjoyed it despite the heat. I had the pleasure of seeing Rateliff before he formed the Nightsweats, and it was cool to see how much his sound evolved with the band.
Joseph: Derek has a point. I think overall this was by FAR the worst stage of the festival, and it definitely shows as most of our least favorite acts of the weekend found themselves playing at this terribly set up stage. I like the idea Lolla had to have basically two big stages and have two smaller stages across from them so you could, in theory, always have music playing, but that does not excuse the terrible placement of this stage.
Kurt Vile & the Violators
Derek: Speaking of terrible stage choices, Kurt Vile was one of the biggest losers in his Lollapalooza stage positioning. Also at the Petrillo Stage, Kurt's chill, psychedelic rock was completely in contrast to the hot blacktop the crowd had to stand on. I would have enjoyed it much better if I was able to sit in the grass, but I found myself waiting for the set to end so I could escape the uncomfortable atmosphere. To put this in perspective, I had to help two people who were trying to hold up their collapsing friend, who, when he finally came to, said that he hadn't had a drop of alcohol or any drugs that day. He was just really, really hot.
The band's performance was pretty lackluster too. Kurt's vocals were more gibberish than anything, at least hardly discernible from where we were standing, and everyone on stage just seemed bored. After being on of my favorites at Midpoint Music Festival in 2012, this definitely put a sour taste in my mouth. I'll be seeing him later this month, so we'll see if they were just having an off day at a bad stage.
Joseph: Derek can attest that I was really looking forward to seeing this band. I intentionally avoided them at Bonnaroo so that I could see them with Derek at Lolla, but I was definitely disappointed by what I saw. But I will blame the environment of the set for it, and I look forward to seeing them again at Live on the Green August 25th as they open for Dawes.
Derek: With all of the hype surrounding Saturday evening's Jane's Addition/Red Hot Chili Peppers pairing on the main Samsung Stage, Perry Farrell brought a show filled with bizarre, sexy, and almost freakish acts accenting an already tight stage performance by the 90's. legends. The biggest problem with their set was the complete lack of appreciation from the crowd when the band performed their classic 1990 album Ritual de lo habitual in its entirety. Yes, the album has some lulls, especially live, but the energy of the crowd completely drained the band of any enthusiasm. Guitarist Dave Navarro was captured on the big screen mouthing "This sucks." or something similar to bassist Chis Chaney. Perry, on the other hand, was too busy taking his flamboyant 25th Anniversary victory lap on stage, dreamily strutting from side to side. Joining the band during a few songs were two dancers, who performed, or rather stripped, during a good portion of the set. Perry wife, one of the dancers, gave him a full lap dance and was completely undressed by the other dancer during another song. For the uninitiated, including most of the crowd gathered for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, it felt more than a little out of place. That awkwardness turned to disgust and horror later in the set when two different dancers inserted hooks in their backs and were promptly hoisted up and swung out above the crowd. This circus act was the last straw for a few people around us, as they left to find a spot for Two Door Cinema Club, who were performing at the nearby Lakeshore Stage after Jane's Addiction ended. It wasn't all bad though; a guest appearance by Tom Morello for "Mountain Song" and Jimmy Chamberlin of Smashing Pumpkins drumming on "Jane Says" closed out a rollercoaster set. We love you Perry, but we're not quite sure the crowd has the same tastes as it did 25 years ago.
Joseph: Usually, when we say WTF, it's a bad thing. But not here. Both Derek and myself went into this show not expecting much. I actually had to almost physically drag Derek to see these guys, and I wanted to see them mostly for blind keyboardist Casey Harris, brother of frontman Sam Harris. But what we got was one of the crazier sets of Lollapalooza, featuring a ridiculously amazing cameo from the legendary Tom Morello. And Jamie N Commons if you care about that sort of thing. Honestly, and I never thought I would find myself saying this after the thought, but this appearance from Morello was miles ahead of his cameo later in the day with Jane's Addiction. Man that sentence felt weird just typing it.
Sir The Baptist
Joseph: I'm gonna throw in a quick word about this show. After 3 grueling days in downtown Chicago, I was not expecting much from Sir the Baptist. But holy crap did this guy put on a show, despite his extremely early billing. The frat bros quickly came out in force to jam to his dance hit "Raise Hell," but before that we were treated to an extremely enjoyable mix of gospel and hip hop that had me grooving for most of the set. I have a feeling we will be hearing this name a lot more in the future.
Derek: Not to mention that he literally rapped from a coffin.
Joseph: Ultimately I'm pretty torn about Lollapalooza. On the one hand, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The backdrop was spectacular, (obviously, it is downtown Chicago after all) the food was AWESOME and decently priced, (I freaking loved our late night deep dish pizza adventures after the festival in downtown Chicago) and the music was....mostly spectacular. As someone who has never seen Radiohead or Red Hot Chili Peppers before, it was an amazing experience to cross them both off in one sitting, and there were plenty of other artists playing to keep me entertained. But, while the environment was mostly great (save for the crappy Petrillo Bandshell stage) the atmosphere was sorely lacking. It's hard to deny that Lollapalooza has been completely overrun by frat bros and high school kids looking to get wasted at Perry's, or looking to beat each other up at whatever pop/hip hop show they could stumble over to. It was sad to see at times, and though it's not the fault of Lolla by any means, it was definitely a sad confirmation of what the festival world is becoming at its biggest stages. There was a surprisingly small amount of #LollaMoments, (short of Tom Morello showing up, I'm pretty sure that's all we saw that would classify as such-Bonnaroo suffered from the same problem) and I think this is also a result of the sheer amount of festivals that are out there nowadays. So while I am definitely glad that I went to Lollapalooza, (and glad I got to go with my partner in crime) I definitely do not have plans of going back again anytime soon. And if someone asked me whether I prefer Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza, I would just laugh for a moment then say, without hesitation: Bonnaroo.
Derek: Lobster corndogs. That's all you need to know.
By: Joseph Kathmann
Another year, another Forecastle. Set on the Ohio riverfront in beautiful Waterfront Park in downtown, Louisville, Forecastle has been a personal favorite of mine for years. Though, as Bunbury Music Festival has expanded in Cincinnati, the biggest loser seems to be Forecastle. But they took a different approach this year, forgoing big name headliners (the top artist this year was Alabama Shakes) and instead trying to focus on a solid under bill of small to mid-size artists. I don't know if this strategy worked Friday or Saturday, but with Death Cab for Cutie and Ryan Adams headlining Sunday, the festival appeared to be pretty empty despite the solid under bill. In fact, I don't think I have ever seen the festival as empty as it was, and I honestly felt like I was 1 of 4 people who purchased a one day Sunday pass. That said, I had a blast once again this year, despite a few hiccups along the way.
What I Liked
Death Cab for Cutie
This was by far my biggest surprise of the day. Both Derek and myself have not been super high on Death Cab in recent years, and we both found their latest album, Kintsugi, to be lackluster at best. Not only that, but I had seen Death Cab once before way back in 2012 at Summerfest in Milwaukee, and I felt back then they left a lot to be desired. Well look how far they've come. Their live show was actually a GREAT joy to watch, and I found myself dancing along to songs I haven't listened to in years. While I still find a lot of their studio music lackluster, I will not hesitate to admit that their live show has come a LONG way.
This was the very first band I came in on during the day. And they were definitely one of the best from the under bill. But this is more of a platform to talk about that. One thing Forecastle excelled in this year was spontaneous discovery. For example, after watching Heartless Bastards I walked over to the main stage just to see what was going on, and was treated to an awesome Jamaican band called Femi Kuti & The Positive Force. I didn't know much of anything about The Suffers, but they had just stated playing when I walked into the festival and I suddenly found myself dancing to their soulful music. Someone did their homework for this year's Forecastle, ensuring that some of the best small acts from multiple genres were represented at the festival. Kudos on that one, guys.
What I Disliked
The Ocean Stage
This is a stage that has always kind of irked me at Forecastle. Its under an overpass so while it's a nice place to cool off during the hot Louisville summer sun, the sound quality has always been something of a joke. As a result, this stage has mostly played host to EDM bands (for some reason) and so I've mostly stayed away from it. Well, this year, Patrick Watson and Unknown Mortal Orchestra found themselves playing on this stage, and my beliefs in how terrible this stage is were confirmed. For starters, in addition to bad sound reverb there were actual sound problems with Unknown Mortal Orchestra, as the entire bassist's mic setup went out just a few songs into their set. The band truly struggled for the rest of the day, and ultimately I left extremely disappointed. At Patrick Watson, the poor band was so scrunched up on the tiny stage that they couldn't deliver any amount of intensity to the crowd, and you could tell they were a little frustrated. As much as I love the idea behind this stage, it's time for a revamp. Artists need more room to move, and something has to be done about the terrible sound quality. Maybe something on the underneath of the overpass?
The Lack of Much of Any Arts + Culture
Look, I get it. Most of us don't go to a music festival for the art. That's oftentimes just a side note. But the art side of Forecastle is smaller than ever, with just a few tents displaying art in one small corner of the festival. There was a great emphasis on bourbon this year at least, as there should be in the bourbon capital of the world, but the beer world got a MAJOR ax at the festival as well. I was very bummed to see a total of 4 craft breweries show up at the festival this year, each only bringing along 2 of their staple beers and allowed to pour 4 oz. pours. The de-emphasis on arts and culture this year really showed Forecastle's shrinking in stature. Perhaps in future years you should place more emphasis on the culture part of the festival if you can't bring in top acts? Just a thought.
That said, I still had a blast at Forecastle and I really enjoyed the more intimate festival atmosphere. We'll see how Forecastle tries to get out of the shadow of the major festivals surrounding it next year, but I know I will show up dancing on the banks of the Ohio River for at least a day regardless of what happens.
By: Joseph Kathmann
Oh hey it's a month later: time to talk about Bonnaroo right? This was my second Roo, and this time I came for the experience. I was definitely in the camp that felt that this year's lineup....left something to be desired, but I still wanted to go since I was living in Nashville and wanted a reason to be back in that atmosphere. Despite the lackluster lineup I found myself having a blast from start to finish, even during the low points of the weekend. If you only take one thing out of this post, let it be this: if you're a fan of festivals you owe it to yourself to go to Bonnaroo at some point in your life. You listening, Derek?
Easily the best performance of this year's festival, Eddie Vedder and Co. tore through their two hour Saturday night headlining set. Their 22 song setlist featured classics from Vitalogy and almost all of Ten, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and is, in my opinion, one of the best albums of the 90s. The set even came with some very Bonnaroo moments, like Eddie Vedder bringing his daughter out to celebrate her birthday and asking 75,000 people to light up their cellphones as candles for her to blow out. But in between singing her happy birthday and some of Vedder's political rants, Pearl Jam tore the figurative roof off Roo, jamming and shredding with experience and total ease. It was a sight to behold, and definitely the best moment of Roo 2016.
I love seeing an artist when they're at their prime. That's exactly where Kamasi Washington is after he turned the jazz world on its head with 2015's The Epic, which both Derek and myself had in our top ten favorite albums of 2015. (you can revisit that list here) Kamasi Washington and his band are masters of their craft, and this set was a freaking clinic of jazz. Not only that, but Kamasi did a wonderful job to showcase the members of his band, introducing each of them individually before a song that featured them. This was one of the rarer grabs for Roo 2016, and Kamasi single-handily made the trip to the farm worth it. Check out their performance of "Changing of the Guard" here.
So, I'm gonna be honest, I knew very little about Jason Isbell before this set. I had heard some of his music here and there, but for the most part going into Roo 2016 Isbell was not really on my radar. Just a chill set I was gonna check out the last day before Father John Misty. Well, Isbell quickly converted me to his music. One of the most passionate performances I have ever seen, Jason Isbell and his band took the unsuspecting crowd on an emotional journey through his quick 1 hour set. His performance of "Cover You Up" actually made me tear up a bit, which hasn't happened to me since I saw Neutral Milk Hotel. (check out the performance here) But it's clear that Isbell truly pours his heart and soul into everything, and while he might not be as energetic as someone like Jack White, he still entranced the crowd from start to finish.
This made me a little sad honestly. While Derek was not very high on BØRNS album Dopamine, (check out his review here) I found it at least kind of enjoyable. Not only that, but I absolutely love his singles "Electric Love," "10,000 Emerald Pools," and "American Money," even if that last one sounds eerily familiar. Unfortunately, BØRNS was unable to even remotely convey these singles and his other music in a live atmosphere. The audience was.....bored for the vast majority of this set, and that is definitely not a word you want to use at a live performance. Now I will give BØRNS some slack as his set was plagued by sound issues from start to finish, his biggest problem was that he was just....quiet. Super quiet. During "Electric Love" all you could hear was the crowd. Not even his band was audible. My buddy turned to me and was like, "Damn this crowd band is amazing." When you want to turn to the person next to you and tell them to be quiet, you probably do not have a very captivating performance to keep your attention.
Ok. I'll let most of you who might be shocked LCD Soundsystem is on this list dismiss everything I say by saying this first: I did not think these guys should've been headliners. Late night set? Absolutely. Headliners? No freaking way. And while other publications will say that it was the triumphant return Roo needed or something, they must have been in the front with the rest of the fans cause from where I was? Most of the crowd was bored. Now I made no effort to get there early since M83 played until the start of this set, so I wasn't with the fans, but there was simply no energy in the vast majority of the crowd. Not only that, but LCD Soundsystem was given a 2 hour set and only played for about 90 minutes. That really bothers me (and there's another band on this list that's on here for the same reason) but if you're given 2 hours to play and you have the material to play for 2 hours.....why don't you fill that space?? Only 3 artists get that coveted 2 hour time slot so....use it! Not only that, but James Murphy felt the need to countdown the final songs of his set, which kind of made me think he was trying to get out of there as fast as possible. I don't know what others saw here, but I know I have no intention of seeing LCD Soundsystem at Lollapalooza in a few weeks. Die Antwoord and Ellie Goulding, here I come!
The Bluegrass Situation Superjam
This one doesn't really deserve to be on the list. It's on here because of the sound crew. Now I get it. It's the end of the weekend and pretty much the entire festival has sprawled out with their drugs and alcohol to watch Dead and Co. for 4 hours, but the disaster that was the sound system at the Bluegrass Superjam cannot be ignored. Not only was the sound crew unable to keep up with who was playing at any given moment, several of the mics were busted and were giving feedback through the sound system on numerous occasions. Ed Helms did the best he could, and the rest of the Bluegrass legends on stage tried to have a good time, but you could tell everyone was frustrated. It was a rather disappointing way to end the performances outside the What Stage for 2016.
Macklemore + Ryan Lewis
Putting Macklemore + Ryan Lewis on the What Stage right before Pearl Jam's headlining set was a fascinating show of two VERY different styles. One is known the world over for having one of the most authentic and jaw dropping live performances out there, and the other is Macklemore. But holy crap was this performance still awesome, because its in-authenticity was its strength. From a ridiculous build in to "Thrift Shop" to having a staged dance-off during "Dance Off" Macklemore + Ryan Lewis (who, sadly, did little more than jump up and down and tell the audience to clap their hands) had one goal in mind: entertain the crowd. And entertain they did. As crazy and staged as this set was, (if someone told me that it was confirmed that Macklemore lip synced the entire time, I'd believe them) I had a shockingly good time. Oh and seeing Eric Nally from our beloved Foxy Shazam was probably my favorite moment of the entire festival. So there's that.
Tame Impala made this list here because I didn't know where else to put them. But this was, for me, by FAR the most disappointing set of Roo 2016. It wasn't bad, so to say, it was just.....well....disappointing. When I saw Tame Impala, after releasing one of the best psychedelic records of recent memory, (and an album which also made our top 10 albums from 2015) was being given a late night set at Roo I nearly lost my mind. Dreams of Skrillex's incredible late night set from Roo 2014 filled my brain as I envisioned Tame Impala going nuts and playing until first light Saturday morning. I guess my expectations were just too high, because when the band left the stage at 2:30, only 90 minutes in, I (and the rest of the crowd) thought, "They're just taking a break, right?" Most of the crowd sat and waited for Tame Impala to come back out and say that was just part 1 of their set or something, but it never happened. As the minutes ticked by, despair set in and I watched my Tame Impala bubble burst. The set itself was great, albeit a bit more chilled than I was expecting, but man....what an incredible opportunity wasted.
The "Bonnaroo" Moments
Chance the Rapper tours the festival and ultimately becomes a DJ
Every year, things happen at Bonnaroo that you don't see anywhere else. In 2014 it was Ben Folds touring the festival. This year was no different. Easily the most "Bonnaroo" moment this time around was Chance the Rapper touring the festival, despite not having a set himself. At least initially. While I myself wasn't able to see it, on Sunday Bonnaroo surprised everyone by announcing a unique "listening party" to close the Silent Disco and Chance the Rapper filled the tent with fans as they listened to him play his latest album, Coloring Book, in full. I did at least get to see Chance during Macklemore's set when he brought out Chance to perform "Need to Know," but Chance's presence as the Mayor of Bonnaroo was felt all throughout the festival.
CHVRCHES Brings Out Hayley Williams
There were several special guest appearances, especially since Bonnaroo is just a hop skip and a jump from Nashville, but none were hyped up like the "surprise" appearance from Hayley Williams during CHVRCHES set. I guess it was a surprise for everyone who didn't see CHVRCHES when they came through Nashville last September. But this appearance came on the heels of CHVRCHES releasing "Bury It" featuring a verse from the Paramore star, so I think pretty much everyone saw it coming. But I cannot deny that there is a vibe between Hayley and Lauren Mayberry that made watching them dance together on stage just....awesome. I hope in their next album CHVRCHES features Hayley Williams a lot so she actually goes on tour with them.
The Final Recap
Once again Bonnaroo pleasantly reminds us why they are as great a festival as they are. The entire experience seemed to run very smoothly, and even the weather delay Saturday night was handled as well as it could have been. Never was there a point where I asked myself why such and such was done this way and never did I feel Bonnaroo (and Live Nation) was trying to take my money simply for the sake of, well, taking my money. (Glares at Bunbury) With the obvious exception of the parking passes of course. But if that's the only change Live Nation blatantly implements, I'd be happy. While some are not happy with Live Nation's acquisition of Bonnaroo (someone wrote F*** Live Nation on the graffiti wall Saturday night) I was impressed at how invisible their presence ultimately was. Well done everyone. Can't wait for Bonnaroo 2017!
Thursday: Vulfpeck, Borns
Friday: Kamasi Washington, CHVRCHES, M83, LCD Soundsystem, Tame Impala
Saturday: Grace Potter, Chris Stapleton, Two Door Cinema Club, Macklemorre & Ryan Lewis, Pearl Jam, Superjam Featuring Kamasi Washington & Friends
Sunday: Civil Twilight, Charles Bradley, The Wood Brothers, Jason Isbell, Father John Misty, Third Eye Blind, The Bluegrass Situation Superjam featuring Ed Helms and Friends, Dead & Co.
By: The Busted Amp Staff
Cincinnati's Bunbury Music Festival, on the banks of the Ohio River, is in its 5th year already, and 2nd under the management of Columbus, Ohio based PromoWest Productions. This year's festival saw the removal of one of the smaller stages, a smaller, more compact bill of artists, and the introduction of mandatory cashless wristbands. Derek and Joseph traversed all three days to bring you the good, the bad, and the WTF of Bunbury 2016.
Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires
Derek: The 67 year old crooner took the Yeatman's Cove main stage to a mid-sized crowd on Friday afternoon. Aptly nicknamed "The Screaming Eagle", Charles and his band spent their hour long set tugging mercilessly at the crowds' heartstrings. Playing songs from his new album, Changes, Bradley was truly mesmerizing. His powerful voice fit perfectly on the peaceful banks of the Ohio River. Even HAIM, who would play later that evening, checked out his set.
His rendition of the classic Ozzy Osbourne song, "Changes", also the title track on the album, gave me chills. It was a moment to behold. If you have the opportunity, nay, privilege to see him, do it.
Joseph: I went into this set with....tempered expectations. After all, at this point The Killers haven't had a huge hit in 10 years and have only made 1 album since 2008 which was 2012's lackluster Battle Born. But what we got was ultimately my favorite set of the entire weekend. The band knows how to put on a freaking show, and they tore through their brief 75 minute sets as the crowd jammed out to some of their favorite mid-2000s hits. Their relevance (or lack there of) didn't matter. It was just a grand ol' time.
Derek: I would agree that The Killers put on a great set. A few of the standout moments were their cover of Interpol's "Obstacle 1" and a sweet partial cover of the "WKRP in Cincinnati" theme. The Reds Friday Night Fireworks provided a perfect, colorful backdrop to the stage, even though I think lead singer Brandon Flowers was a little annoyed by their length. As far as headliners, I was expecting The Killers to be my favorite of the weekend. That was before Florence + The Machine showed up.
Florence + The Machine
Derek: Having heard Joseph's less than stellar thoughts on Florence + The Machine's show in Nashville and me being less than enthusiastic about Florence's singing style, I was preparing for the worst. But boy oh boy was I wrong. Joseph and I camped for over two hours at the main stage, seeing a phenomenal set by Of Monsters and Men and skipping sets on the other two stages from Elle King and Here Come The Mummies. It was a great decision. From the moment she arrived on stage, Florence was in full control of the crowd. Spinning and jumping and running around the stage, she and the band powered through 75 minutes of the greatest hits from her three albums to date. I was in absolute awe of the the way she instantly captured the collective imaginations of every single person in attendance. During one song, she sprinted down the center aisle, giving high fives before climbing up the sound booth and singing out to the fans towards the back. I always love live shows that makes instant fans. For me, this was one of them.
Holy White Hounds
J Roddy Walston and The Business
Of Monsters And Men
The Worn Flints
Derek: Automagik was one of our favorite local Cincinnati bands for the longest time. We've seen them, collectively, nearly a dozen times. Sadly for us (and them), their meteoric rise in our hearts was almost as fast as their decline. Key lineup changes and a sound that has become too noisy to attempt to fill the holes in their sound, the band has become a shell of what we knew and loved. Only lead singer Zachary Evans and guitarist Devin Williams remain from the core group that wowed us, and their Bunbury performance did nothing to change the course. They were loud, jumbled, and noisier than ever.
Joseph: Has The Neighbourhood heard the expression "A little bit of rain never hurt anybody?" Clearly not. About halfway through their set the rain started coming down. It had been raining off and on all throughout the day, and to this point everyone had played through it. After all, these bands are playing under awnings so what's the worst that could happen to them, right? Well for whatever reason this rainfall was too much for The Neighbourhood, who quickly broke into "Sweater Weather" and busted off the stage as soon as possible for some reason when the heavens opened up. It's hard for me to respect a band for cutting their performance short on their own accord because it's raining. Not to be outdone, G. Love & Special Sauce persevered through the same rain not 45 minutes later, playing as much of their set as possible before the festival shut their set down due to lightning. Well hey at least we got to hear "Sweater Weather" right?
Derek: Grimes brought her glitchy electro art-pop to a very large and curious Sunday afternoon crowd on the main Yeatman's Cove Stage. What ensued for the next hour can best be described as K-Pop on meth. Singer Claire Boucher, sporting pointed sunglasses to help with the glare of the setting sun, danced and jumped around stage with her backup dancers. Unfortunately, much of her vocal was so low in the mix that it was hardly audible. That being said, what we could hear was so nasally at off pitch that it wasn't pleasant, and she even admitted during her set that she was more of a button pusher and less of a singer. Speaking of button pushing, the sun made it difficult for her to tell what buttons she was pressing, and she pressed play on the wrong beat at least three times. The biggest jaw-droppingly bizarre moment came when she performed the song "SCREAM" from her latest album, Art Angels. It is exactly what the name sounds like, and it was horrifying. The one redeeming factor of the set was Claire's quirkiness; when she was talking in between songs, she genuinely sounded like she was enjoying putting on her show and took her art very seriously. But as far as the music, after watching her set, I'm honestly not sure what the big deal is.
Joseph: This was a set I had been looking forward to for a while. There was a lot of hype surrounding Ice Cube. He was initially supposed to headline Saturday evening but this was dropped in favor of deadmau5 when Saturday day sales were down. Ice Cube must have been hurt by this, so he hyped up that he was even going to bring a member of N.W.A. on the stage with him Saturday evening. Obviously the speculation was whether the legendary Dr. Dre was going to pop up and start playing The Chronic, (because ya that was going to happen) but what we ended up having to settle for was a brief appearance from Cube's own son, O'Shea Jackson, Jr. That was just one WTF moment of this entirely bizarre set. Cube basically used the set as a marketing platform, boasting about how "anti-establishment" he was one minute then performing a song while clips from his (establishment-made) films were playing in the background. While I ultimately had a blast listening to some history-making songs from both Cube and N.W.A., there was undoubtedly a level of narcissism lying underneath all of it.
Dead Man String Band
Final Festival Thoughts
Joseph: I HATED the cashless bracelets. It's one thing to be like Bonnaroo and allow you to use them if you want in addition to cash, but to FORCE us to use them and then charge us "convenience fees" for putting money on them AND taking it off is absolutely ridiculous. It ended up costing me something like $6 just to use the damn thing. It didn't irk me at first, but then when I saw the simplicity of the SAME FREAKING CONCEPT used at Bonnaroo, (link your wristband to your card, use it if you want, no strings or charges attached since the festival also accepted cash AND credit cards) it really rubbed me the wrong way. This was a blatant cash-grab, and as I've allowed my feelings on this to fester has honestly lowered my opinion of the entire festival. Please, DEAR GOD please accept cash next year. You can do the cashless thing, fine. I'll even accept no cards allowed. But to not accept cash and force us to use the cashless bracelet and then charge us convenience fees to use it? That is unacceptable.
A few other notes....hated that one beer vendor set up in the middle of the main (and pretty much only) walkway between the two main stages. I get the target of opportunity idea and can even appreciate it, but the festival sacrificed a lot to make a few extra bucks. Not only was the vendor stationary in the middle of all these people, the people that stopped to grab a quick beer were, you know, stationary as well. And when your walkway is only 6 or 7 people wide and 3 have stopped in the middle of it to buy (or sell) a beer, those backups form in a HURRY. Especially in between sets. We learned to just avoid this pathway altogether and take the muddy route instead.
Derek: For all of the worries about the festival going cashless this year, I had absolutely no issues with cashless bracelets. Yes, the fees were annoying, and I didn't realize other festivals did the same concept without all the fees, but I would do it all over again given the convenience of not carrying cash and how not giving change really cut down on the wait times in line. Being a show poster buff, I really missed the independent poster vendors, but I loved this year's festival poster design. The food options ($5 Late Night Slice, $6.25 Montgomery Inn sandwich and chips) were solid, but the $7.25 "craft beer garden" that was Braxton, Blank Slate, West 6th and "crafty" Blue Moon, Leinenkugel stands left something to be desired. Unfortunately, Miller was a sponsor. The new water stations were so much better than last year. Having faucets that actually worked and had decent water pressure was a huge and important change for my festival experience.
I thought that one fewer stage would equate to bigger crowds at each act, but it didn't seem as overcrowded as last year, which was nice. I still missed the smallest stage last year that was a VIP area this year. Seeing Royal Blood there last year was awesome.
There was apparently an exit at the back of main stage, but we never used it because it was hidden with no signs that we saw pointing towards it. Most people walked all the way around to the other side of the festival grounds to exit, which made it feel like we were cattle being herded to slaughter.
But overall, I thought this year's festival was much better than the year before, and for a local festival, any complaints are far outweighed by the convenience of seeing top acts twenty minutes from home.
By: Derek Jung
After a magical Friday night at MusicNOW with Kronos Quartet, Jennifer Koh, and Chris Thile, I was even more ecstatic to see Thile's main project The Punch Brothers perform at the festival's closing night. I had never been to the Cincinnati Masonic Center before, and honestly I didn't even know it existed until the show was announced a few months ago. To my surprise, it's right next door to the Taft Theatre, where I had been a week earlier seeing the Experience Hendrix Tour. The building itself is a bit of a maze, with different meeting rooms and several long corridors surrounding the main performance space. The large auditorium was much bigger than I imagined, with two large medieval castle pillars rising on either side of the stage and steep, narrow, banister-less steps leading up into the seating area. A small floor area in front of the stage was also seated. The room itself was decorated with various crests and I could almost picture some of the masonic meetings that had happened there in the past. Each of the performers commented on the beauty of the room, and the acoustics were great.
The Australian duo Luluc were the first to peform. With two guitars and beautiful harmonies, the pair dazzled the mostly full theater over the course of their set. The two mentioned that they had moved from Australia to Brooklyn, where they were neighbors with Aaron Dessner of The National, who produced their latest album, Passerby, named a top album of 2014 on numerous lists, including NPR's Bob Boilen.
Next up was acclaimed folk singer-songwriter Sam Amidon, who performed with only a banjo and an acoustic guitar. While is music was fairly minimalist, the stories were a prime example of why folk music still thrives in so many places around the world today. He told a story in between songs about how he would hear a song performed live and the story wouldn't exactly flow properly, but then he'd hear it performed live another time and it turned out that the first time the performer just forgot two of the verses. He explained how he liked the version that was missing the two verses better. Sam's singing was reflective of what you'd expect from a folk singer, a little off key, but mellow and expressive. I enjoyed his set, but there were times when his voice did come across a little too rough for my taste.
After a short break, The Punch Brothers took the stage to a roaring round of applause. The musicianship of every member of The Punch Brothers is phenomenal. Chris Thile, of course, is talented on mandolin, but I think he is very underrated as a lead vocalist as well. He really has some great pipes. Gabe Witcher is extremely talented on the fiddle, as is Noam Pikelny on the banjo. Chris Eldridge held down the fort playing acoustic bluegrass guitar and the biggest unsung hero might be Paul Kowert on the upright bass. Really, there is no weakest link to this group of talented, distinguished musicians, and I really enjoyed that they each had at least one song to showcase their respective instrument in a solo. This kept the show from becoming what I thought it might be - a mandolin solo fest. In fact, it was everything but that. Thile, while he was the charismatic performer solo on Friday night, did not speak nearly as much as I was expecting; Noam did most of the banter in between songs and was very funny. The only extended mandolin solo came near the end of the set.
The band played a good mix from their discography, spanning from their most recent release, The Phosphorescent Blues, all the way back to at least their sophomore release Antifogmatic. The audience ate up everything that happened on stage, and after two standing ovations, Thile commented that every show from now on needed to be in Cincinnati. Chris, if you want to play in Cincinnati every day, I'd happily attend.
My only complaint of the night is for the crowd, who had the hardest time not knocking over their plastic drink cups. The loud pattering echo of kicked cups interrupted a few of the quieter songs in the set and broke my concentration.
Other than that, it was a fantastic closing to another successful installment of MusicNOW. I can't wait to see what next year brings. Memorial Hall's renovations will be completed; Music Hall will be in the midst of its own. I'd love to see the Emery Theatre be a featured venue next year, especially since The National have a history there already, having performed there in 2012.
Also shout-out to the guy who cut in front of me at the merch booth and bought the last vinyl copy of The Phosphorescent Blues. Prick.
Check out a fan-shot video below of "Familiarity", the final song of the encore.
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary (debatable) guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here: