When a festival is four days long, you've gotta have a strategy. Not just a strategy for survival, though you really need one of those, too. (Ours involves the smoothie stand, the 12-oz PBR tall boys (instead of the 16 oz), occasional catnaps and keeping an eye out for the inebriated festival goers on the steep grassy hillside in front of the mainstage. (Yesterday we were almost stepped on by a dude who was apparently literally too drunk to walk up the hill.)
But we're talking about a strategy for seeing shows, discovering new bands, listening to music -- you know, the stuff you came here for. We like to test out a range of tactics (including aimless wandering) over the course of the festival. Yesterday, we paid close attention to programming - set times, sequencing, etc. - in order to ponder the festival's curatorial motivations: possible parallels, overlapping narratives, etc. In other words, this was our music geek day. (Don't worry: Our Sunday strategy is to go full-on sliding-down-the-hill drunk. Maybe.) Think of it like a sonic shot and chaser. Here's what we discovered:
A band of young white dudes playing bouncing, Afropop-laced indie rock and a James Brown-impersonator-turned-slinger of his own vintage soul who fought and struggled to perform his whole life but didn't "make it" until Daptone "discovered" him in his late '60s? What could these two possibly have in common? Well, a gift for theatricality filtered through an irrepressible earnestness, for one, not to mention a penchant for musics out of sync with their time and place. Reptar may bop and twitch and jam, behind lead singer GrahamUlicny's forceful falsetto and crazy facial contortions. And Bradley swaggers and sweats, breaks it down and tears up (maybe literally - this is a passionate, emotional dude who told the crowd "Without you, there's no me"). But both are heavily invested in putting on a good, energetic, watchable show that revolves around a perfectly stylized, skillfully crafted musicality. Together? It's like chasing a Jager-bomb with a 5-hour-energy.
Now this coupling was a bit more complementary. Hot young things Alabama Shakes blazed up the stage with their heavy, Southern-fried soul-rock. Their sound is immediate, pressing and satisfying, like an overdose of barbecue (but, you know, in a good way). Old soul/lead singer/guitarist/force to be reckoned with Brittany Howard (who will win you over with a grin or a caterwauling scream -- or both -- in about two seconds flat) and her gritty, hard-rocking band commanded the fervent masses with an easy, accessible charm.
Meanwhile buzzing Seattle duo THEESatisfaction kept things at a slower burn with their soulful, Afro-futuristic brand of hip-hop. If the Shakes are all smoke and fire, then THEESatisfaction are like smoldering embers (and maybe a different kind of smoke, if you catch our drift. Ahem). Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White deliver a jazzed-up, enigmatic, spiritual flow of words, beats and melody that is sloooow, contemplative and sexy as hell. And where the Shakes are rough and tumble, THEESatisfaction take the stage with a queenly yet earthy elegance, staying perfectly in sync with each other, whether they are trading stanzas or executing a bit of effortlessly cool choreography.
Intermission One: Dum Dum Girls (BigFoot, 5:10pm)
These ladies didn't really pair with anyone, but we did sneak over to catch a few minutes of their icy cool, gothy-pinup set, mostly just because we wanted to see if they would burst into flames in the mid-afternoon sun. They did not -- in fact, they didn't even break a sweat as they churned out option after perfect option for the soundtrack to an as-yet-to-be-created John Hughes vampire prom movie (fingers crossed!).
All right, these two are perhaps the most WTF combo we've got here, but hey, Sasquatch scheduled them one right after the other and besides, both of them are kind of WTF by definition, right? In one corner, we've got Jamey, the sad-eyed, brokedown, utterly endearing good ol' boy, playing deep, beautiful, rootsy songs about drinkin' and cheatin' (literally) to a smallish (for the mainstage) but enthusiastic crowd of country fans at this indie-dominated fest. We swear, this guy barely moved a muscle the entire set and we could not take our eyes off him. And in the other corner, we've got Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover, aka Troy from Community, who flew around the stage and through hip-hop idioms so fast it was hard to keep up -- even for the artist himself, who is a bit too much of an actor/enunciator to pull off a flow as furious as he'd like to. This round goes to Jamey, who may not have been playing to the right crowd, but won them over by saying, "Good morning. Or should I say happy 4:20?" and was backed by a beefy conga-player in a sleeveless Pantera t-shirt. Also? It will always been weird to hear Troy dropping n-bombs and f-bombs.
Intermission Two: tUnE-yArDs (BigFoot, 7:30pm)
Oh, tUnE-yArDs. Such a dilemma. On one hand, this was one of the liveliest, most electrifying shows of the fest so far: it was amazing to watch consummate weirdo Merrill Garbus get the sweaty masses to not only get down but also care about her complicated, strange, wonderful junkyard menagerie made of bells and whistles, ukuleles and coke bottles (seriously), Pygmy pop and art rock. We swear, she even got the sun to hang out longer than it should have so it could listen. Even more amazing? Listening to the crowd sing along in polyphonic harmony! On the other hand, if her "war paint" is any indication, Garbus is at least partially responsible for this whole neon Indian thing the kids are so into these days. (You guys, stop wearing Native American headdresses as hipster costumes. Just stop it.)
So here we were, at the end of a very, very long day (possibly the fest's most awesomely jam-packed). Our eyes were glazed over, our dogs were barking and we didn't care if we ever heard music again, let alone fought the crowds for a glimpse of Jack White doing his Southern Rock reconstruction thing or the Roots playing a bunch of cover songs. But we did it because, hey, that's what you do at a festival. And guess what? Jack White made us a believer again. Flying around the stage with wild hair and ghostly skin, looking like some kind of Tim Burton-created hybrid of Jerry Lee Lewis and Edward Scissorhands, White basically guts country-fueled blues rock open and then recreates it in his own image onstage. It's like watching the surgery channel, if it had a really, really awesome soundtrack. Here is an artist worth seeing live, even from the nosebleed seats (plus! you get to hear his fake Southern drawl!). The Roots on the other hand? One of the brilliant architects of modern-day hip-hop? They were tight and charismatic, as always, and ?uestlove's drumming was, as always, impenetrable (even with out his trademark Afro). But once they started rocking out "Jungle Boogie," it just felt too late in the evening to continue.