festivals

Chad Cochran #1701

I first got to know Chad Cochran, known online as CowtownChad, through the defunct Twitter event, Couch By Couchwest. Cochran’s photographs and mixed media art featuring haunting landscapes and abandoned buildings held titles from songs by musicians featured on our show. Through the magic of social media, we became friends and hung out at AmericanaFest in Nashville one year, and then he came down to South Carolina to cover the Country Fried Rock 4th-ish Anniversary party, where Caleb Caudle played in our rural school house, a magical, slightly decrepit place that is made for singing.

At the urging of Lydia Loveless, Cochran has expanded his photography to include concert shots, with a specialty for stage images and raw portraits. In this podcast, we talk about many of the bands he has “shot” recently (Charles Bradley, Old 97s, John Moreland, etc.) and festivals from Nelsonville to High Water. I also put him on the spot about a “wish project” that I hope he accomplishes, with your help.

Bonnaroo 2014

Our friend, Blake Els, rocked another festival for us! Bonnaroo! –SS
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It seemed like Bonnaroo skewed younger this year, as EDM and indie dance rock acts gained prominent placement on a bill that was deepest at its center. While Elton John headlined Sunday night, performing his first American festival set, and while the festival saw the return of Kanye West, who in 2008 arrived to the Bonnaroo stage four hours late, the most difficult decisions about the weekend came on Friday when there was overlap between Vampire Weekend, Neutral Milk Hotel, Phoenix and CHVRCHES and on Saturday when there was overlap between Chromeo, Lionel Richie, James Blake and Lauryn Hill. But in the middle of those were distractions for the younger crowd – Zedd during the latter group, for example.

I was unable to stay Sunday. Patterson Hood, Jason Isbell and Mike Cooley were reuniting in Florence, Alabama, for a one-night only benefit, and I wasn’t going to miss it. But as I say each time I compile a list like this, they’re all subjective. There’s no way anyone can see everything, and each experience is unique. I’ve never tried to definitively tell people what the top five or top ten things were of the weekend, just my own top five or top ten experiences. This year, we’ll do five, as I feel like it makes the task more difficult and interesting. I will limit my list to musical acts, as the show I took in at the Comedy Theatre was phenomenal. It featured Taran Killam, Brooks Wheelan, Kyle Mooney and several other writers and cast members of Saturday Night Live. I even found myself next to a plant for a sketch, as Mooney came into the audience. A great time, to be sure, but not necessarily what the festival is about.

5, Sam Smith (The Other Tent, 2:15 p.m., Friday) – It was pretty remarkable to hear thousands sing along with the British crooner from an album that would not be officially released for days. I was unsure how that sound would translate; backed by a lot of manufactured sound, I didn’t know if it, or his voice could replicate to stage.

It did.

Smith included his latest hit, “Stay With Me,” amongst a collection of songs that had seen some previous light, including the acoustic version of “Latch” which he recorded with Disclosure and “Money on My Mind,” which was also on his Nirvana EP. “Leave Your Lover” and “Lay Me Down” were also included in the 60 minute set, which saw Smith become the second artist of a young weekend to cover “Do I Want to Know?” by the Arctic Monkeys (MS MR was the first on Thursday).

I very nearly missed this set, as my party dealt with security issues at the front gate. I made it to a packed stage just in time, and it was a set difficult to beat for the remainder of the weekend. The air became cool and the skies became overcast and there was something special in the air. While Smith claimed that Bonnaroo was his own first American festival, that actually came at Coachella. Still, it feels unlikely that his return will be at 2:15 p.m on Friday. Smith can go places.

4. Chromeo (Which Stage, 7:30 p.m., Saturday) – On the heels of White Women, Chromeo may have the “Song of the Summer,” the incredibly catchy dance/disco tune “Jealous (I Ain’t With It).” The duo was last at Bonnaroo for a much talked about set with Darryl Hall in 2010, late night, and has since grown into an act that played a sunset set on the festival’s second largest stage. As the packed pit danced the night away, the duo plowed through its most familiar tunes, including “Tenderoni” and “Bonafied Lovin'” before closing with “Jealous (I Ain’t With It)” and “Sexy Socialite.”

3. Ms. Lauryn Hill (The Other Tent, 8:45 p.m., Saturday) – Lauryn Hill was scheduled to play That Tent at 8:45 p.m., but when I arrived for her performance, James Blake was taking the stage 15 minutes later. Bonnaroo had switched its Saturday night lineup that morning on the app, and it proved confusing for festival goers.

But Hill, maybe expectedly, arrived nearly 45 minutes late. Her set didn’t begin until 9:30 p.m., just 60 minutes before Jack White was due to begin on the What Stage on the other side of the festival grounds. Hill opened her set with a cover of Michael Franti and Spearhead’s “Yell Fire!” which she combined with the Fugees classic, “Killing Me Softly.” She would perform “Killing Me Softly” a second time as the set approached its close, that time, a more traditional, album version. (NOTE: This is the song made famous by Roberta Flack at #1 in 1973, composed by Charles Fox with lyrics by Norman Gimbel. –SS)

Hill performed an ambitious cover of Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man (the Way That I Loved You),” which was record at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. While Franklin’s version will likely never be matched, Hill handled it admirably. Among several other covers in her set, she took a version of Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” into the set closer, “Doo Wop (That Thing).” The Fugees hit “Ready or Not” was also part of the 93 minute set.

2. Damon Albarn (What Stage, 5:45 p.m., Saturday) – The frontman for Blur and Gorillaz had reached a thin line in which he almost lost me; about a half hour into his set, Albarn began a long chat with the crowd, insisting that while Bonnaroo wasn’t Glastonbury, it was okay. While Bonnaroo didn’t have Stonehenge, it was just fine. It was strange to say the least, and he admitted that he went a little long with it when he realized that De La Soul was waiting to be introduced. The legendary hip-hop act came onstage to perform their Gorillaz hit, “Feel Good Inc.,” and a small crowd rushed the stage. It was among six Gorillaz tunes that Albarn played, including “Clint Eastwood,” for which he welcomed underground hip-hop icon Del the Funky Homosapien to the stage. Albarn included the title track from his solo debut, Everyday Robots, and he closed with “Heavy Seas of Love.” It was a set that saw him backed by a choir, a full sting section and a full brass section. It was eclectic, spanning the hip-hop sounds of the Gorillaz and the gentler side that he has displayed on the new record.

SETLIST: Lonely Press Play – Everyday Robots – Tomorrow Comes Today – Hostiles – Slow Country – Kids With Guns – Three Changes – Feel Good Inc. – Photographs (You Are Taking Now) – Kingdom of Doom – Broken – Out of Time – All Your Life – Clint Eastwood – Mr. Tembo – Heavy Seas of Love

1. Jack White (What Stage, 10:30 p.m., Saturday) – Jack White never wanted to stop. And he was chatty. He opened by taking a shot at Rolling Stone, which recently had a cover interview with the Nashville resident, and he went on to dedicate a song to “all of the people in Nashville that came before me,” which drew some ire from fans around me because he’s from Detroit, but really, isn’t that Nashville now?

Following his sophomore solo release last week, Lazaretto, White arrived to the What Stage 15 minutes late, but two and a half hours later, he had spanned over a decade of music with The White Stripes, The Dead Weather, The Raconteurs and his solo work, some 26 songs which closed after 1 a.m. with the crowd chanting along to “Seven Nation Army.”

White’s set at Bonnaroo was one for the ages. While he experimented with band lineups following his debut album, taking one all male backing band and one all female backing back on the road, he now seems to have settled into his position as the Eric Clapton for the new millennium, opening with “Icky Thump” by the White Stripes before hitting two tracks from the new record, “High Ball Stepper” and the title track. He hit The Raconteurs’ highlights like “Steady as She Goes” and “Top Yourself” and he covered Led Zeppelin’s “The Lemon Song.”

He was virtually flawless when he was singing, even if his rants were a little bizarre. And he easily crossed a very low headlining bar set by Kanye West on Friday. The lengthy set forced me to miss a lot of late night options on Saturday, but it was one of the most memorable performances in the four years that I have attended the festival.

SETLIST: Icky Thump – High Ball Stepper – Lazaretto – Hotel Yorba – Temporary Ground – Missing Pieces – Steady, as She Goes – Top Yourself – I’m Slowly Turning Into You – Freedom at 21 – Three Women – You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do as You’re Told) – We’re Going to Be Friends – Alone in My Home – Ball and Biscuit – The Lemon Song (Led Zeppelin cover) – ENCORE – The Hardest Button to Button – Hello Operator – Misirlou (Dick Dale and His Del-Tones cover) – Sixteen Saltines – Cannon – Blue Blood Blues – Astro – Love Interruption – Little Bird – Seven Nation Army

Hangout Music Festival 2014

Another fantastic festival recap from Blake Ells!
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It’s been said that the Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama is easier because there isn’t much overlap with bands. While that’s already a misleading characterization, it was especially apparent this weekend as two of the bands that my Country Fried Rock eye was on were playing at the same time on Sunday evening: Birmingham’s St. Paul and the Broken Bones and The Avett Brothers.

That was a difficult decision, but I began the hour at the BMI Stage for St. Paul and the Broken Bones, CFR alums and fast-rising stars, as I was eager to see the band which I have seen numerous times own a festival setting. The band took the stage at 6:15 p.m. on Sunday, sans Paul Janeway, to an instrumental opener, recalling classic soul acts of the past. The frontman followed after, fully suited, while the rest of the band opted to leave the jackets at home for the beach gig. Photo By Blake Ells “In case you don’t know who we are, we’re St. Paul and the Broken Bones from Birmingham, Alabama,” said Janeway as the band’s set continued. To see a massive crowd applaud as the sun set on the festival’s last day was chill inducing for someone that has watched their ascent as closely as I have. Photo By Blake Ells The band plowed through many of the tracks from February’s debut record, “Half the City,” including the eponymous track, “Broken Bones and Pocket Change” and the lead track “I’m Torn Up.” It worked, and the band is grasping for the next stage in their career gracefully as they grow. It’s been a long time since they played in their home state, and they’ll continue a long tour before they announce another homecoming date.

I attempted to see some of The Avett Brothers, but it was difficult. The band has expanded much beyond their original trio-feel, and it no longer feels the same. It’s tricky, because they are in an area of success where they’re popular enough to continue selling more tickets, but they haven’t yet grown into those venues, much like Friday night’s headliner, The Black Keys.

The Black Keys did a secret show at Rogue Tavern in Birmingham in April of 2010. It was just before the release of Brothers, and just before a rarely rivaled ascent to stardom.

The Black Keys were fine, but like The Avett Brothers, I’m not sure they have grown into an arena act or a festival headliner. They would have been better served in the slot before the headliner on the Chevrolet Stage. Their 90 minute set didn’t feature much interaction from Dan Auerbach, other than his insistence that fans should “buy the new record so we can beat Michael Jackson on Billboard.”

The set relied heavily on new material from Turn Blue, released on Tuesday. While the band, now a quartet, opened with “Howlin’ For You” and “Next Girl,” it quickly departed from extreme familiarity, only grazing its early catalog, and relying heavily on El Camino. 

SETLIST: Howlin’ For You – Next Girl – Run Right Back – Same Ol’ Thing – Dead and Gone – Gold on the Ceiling – It’s Up to Your Now – Bullet in the Brain – Strange Times – Money Maker – Ten Cent Pistol – Gotta Get Away – She’s Long Gone – Tighten Up – Fever – Lonely Boy – ENCORE – Turn Blue – Nova Baby – Little Black Submarines – I Got Mine

The 90 minute set didn’t take many creative liberties. It was a collection of three and a half minute songs played as they were recorded. It was fine, I’m just not convinced The Black Keys are ready to headline a major festival.

But Hangout did something creative this year – during The Black Keys, it had Sound Tribe Sector 9 playing, and during The Killers, it had Pretty Lights playing. It was a move that thinned out the crowds for the two rock headliners making mobility much easier. I didn’t noticed how effective it was until Outkast took the Hangout Stage on Sunday, unopposed, and that crowd had returned to the main stage. It made enjoying the first two bands easier.

Amos Lee had a really special performance on the Hangout Stage at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. He littered his set with covers, including one incredible transition from Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” into Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” both backed by a Mobile gospel choir. He also included his own “Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight” and “Windows are Rolled Down.”

Modest Mouse and CFR alums Dawes also offered incredible sets. I didn’t get to see the entirety of what Modest Mouse had to offer at Shaky Knees, and I was really pleased with their set at Hangout. It was hit laden, including some of the more notable tracks from Good News for People Who Love Bad News, like “Ocean Breathes Salty” and “Float On,” both terrific soundtracks to the beach setting.

Dawes kicked off their 3:45 p.m. Friday set on the Hangout Stage with “Most People,” and showed an incredible amount of growth from the same young band that played the same festival in its own youth.

There’s a “Little Bit of Everything” at Hangout. There’s an entire stage essentially devoted to the EDM crowd, a stage which I only saw when one act canceled and Flaming Lips side project Space Face came on as a replacement early in the afternoon on Saturday. There’s the smaller stages like BMI and the Red Bull Sound Select Stage which offer an outlet to emerging talents like Wild Cub and Wild Belle. And there are the two main stages which offered everything from Outkast to NEEDTOBREATHE over the festival’s three days. It’s the music festival inside of a beach vacation, and for that, it will remain one of the most unique in America.

I was fortunate enough to run into several new and old Country Fried Rock fans! I’ll be back out and about for Bonnaroo – if I missed you this time, please say hello!