Rich Shivener & Nat Tracey-Miller are on the ground for us this weekend at Bunbury Festival. Here is a set-by-set recap of Bunbury Day 2!
Playing to Vapors 2:30 Sawyer Point Stage
One of the advantages to Promowest’s acquisition of the festival is the huge influx of artists from Columbus’s up-and-coming rock scene. Playing to Vapors kicked off the second day’s slate on the easternmost stage, leaning heavily on material from April’s A Glitch in the Void EP. “Just Fine With Me” crept along uneasily like an Amnesiac-era Radiohead outtake, and closer “A New Direction” achieved instant liftoff. Keep an eye on these guys. (NTM)
Daniel in Stereo 3:00 Pavilion Stage
“Given the name, I feel a bit cheated that they’re not both named Daniel. That has to be false advertising, right?” High-energy early afternoon power pop from this local duo led by the titular Daniel Chimusoro, whose strong tenor invoked Brandon Flowers. They covered Kings of Leon, played their new single “Lipstain,” and had the sprawling afternoon crowd up and dancing from the get-go. (NTM)
Bummers 3:30 River Stage
Clearly the result of a mad scientist’s attempts to implant the Nuggets box set into the human brain, this Columbus quartet had Ty Segall-style neo-psychedelia on lockdown. Reverb-drenched vocals and needly surf-informed guitar lines are the name of the game here, writ loud through tube amps and beat-up Jazzmasters. This is not to accuse them of pastiche; Bummers are clever songwriters, and even better showmen. The half-hour sets early in the day are great for catching samples of a lot of different acts, but I'm definitely hoping for a longer dose on these guys next time around. (NTM)
Motherfolk 4:00 Pavilion Stage
Another hometown crew making an impression at the Pavilion, Motherfolk plays big, beardy folk-rock clearly informed (at least in part) by this evening’s headliners. It’s earnest, passionate, deeply engaging, and definitely skews closer to the “rock” end of that spectrum. Last year, they were a casualty of the festival’s former sprawl, citing a crowd of only fifty people; add a couple of zeroes this time around. The group’s kinetic pinballing across the stage at the end of set-closer “Salt Lake City” was one of the most rapturous displays of musical enthusiasm these eyes have seen in quite awhile, which somehow ended with a Telecaster getting tossed into the crowd. (NTM)
The Devil Makes Three 4:30 Sawyer Point Stage
“This is what happens when people in a punk rock band start a folk country band.” Yes, please. This California trio (sometimes quartet, when joined by a fiddler) powered through thirteen tales of sin and vice in their too-short 45 minute slot. The Biblical flood ballad “40 Days” felt appropriate mere feet from the recently-swollen Ohio River, Nearly half of the set was drawn from 2009’s standout LP Do Wrong Right, including the title track, and they tossed in an expertly-crafted Doc Watson cover as well. Upright bassist Lucia Turino kept time while singer Pete Bernhard and Cooper McBean switched off on guitar and banjo. Immensely satisfying, high-octane set. (NTM)
The Secret Sisters, 4:45 PM, River Stage
The Secret Sisters’ close harmonies and southern tales of heartbreaks and habits make Alabama duo Laura and Lydia Rogers an easy comparison to a certain duo of brothers who influenced the likes of The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel. In fact, that influence was easy to hear in such torch songs as “Rattle My Bones” and “Black and Blue,” in which their hearts beat to the rhythms of country and bubblegum pop. “Please don’t say goodbye. Give me another try,” they sang, perhaps noticing that very few people in the crowd were ready to say such a thing. Comparison aside, the sisters lit their own path to a noteworthy set, especially when they embraced darkness. Their one and only murder ballad told us about ill-fated lovers in Iuka, Mississippi, once a place minors could get married, they said. When their backing band left, they mused about an inescapable, soul-tearing “Bad Habit.” I went home Saturday night with a habit of playing the Secret Sisters’ 2014 record, Put Your Needle Down. (RS)
Lindsey Stirling 5:30 Yeatman’s Cove Stage
So let me get this straight--she’s doing a combination of improvisatory ballet and Celtic dancing while playing classical violin over EDM beats? Never really made sense to me, but I can now say that the videos never did it justice. Sure, it’s disjointed, a strange island of performance art without clear predecessors, but it also requires more technical skill to pull off than just about anything else on display at this festival. The crowd skewed young in front of the soundboard at this mainstage set, with many families in the park primarily to see Stirling and her crew of dancers. From what I could tell, they were not disappointed in the least. (NTM)
The Decemberists 6:15 Sawyer Point Stage
These Oregon stalwarts were literally faced with the setting sun throughout their sub-headlining set (pushed earlier in the day due to Sunday obligations in Texas), and everyone was smart enough to bring sunglasses except drummer John Moen, a fact his bandmates did not let him forget. “How literary of you, Cincinnati!” mused frontman Colin Meloy, on the Oscar Wilde-referencing origins of the festival’s name. But with the exception of the Foster Wallace-inspired “Calamity Song” and Romeo and Juliet rewrite “O! Valencia,” few of the band’s own literary epics were present during this set. Instead, they focused almost entirely on their last three albums, with a healthy dose of this year’s What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World. “Make You Better” particularly comes into its own in the live setting, its unnerving open-voiced chords perfectly framing Meloy’s vulnerable words.
To my ears, though, it was the material from their previous record, The King Is Dead, that fared best here. “Down by the Water” is the best R.E.M. song Stipe and Mills never wrote, and “June Hymn” was right at home in the early summer sun. Two female backup singers allowed the group to mine 2009’s The Hazards of Love for the first time since that album’s extensive tour, giving us the suite of “A Bower Scene” and “Won’t Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)” near the end of their hour. To close things out, they gave us a raucous romp through Pacaresque’s “16 Military Wives,” during which Meloy conducted the two sides of the crowd in a clapping competition. In 2005, could anyone have called that these bookworm rock weirdos would become festival-savvy amphitheater headliners? Ten years later, and here we are.
Kacey Musgraves 7:15 Yeatman’s Cove Stage
Kacey Musgraves’s debut album Same Trailer, Different Park was an unexpected delight when it landed two years ago, comfortable at once on the mainstream country airwaves and among the NPR set. Now, she’s touring in advance of her much-anticipated second effort, Pageant Material. The stage was set with a plethora of neon cacti, her band decked out in snazzy purple suits as she took the stage to “Silver Lining.” Most of Trailer was here, the generous 75 minute time slot allowing her to play her full-length show. Several of the new songs made it in as well, including mind-your-own-beeswax lead single “Biscuits.” At first listen, she certainly seems to have avoided the dreaded sophomore slump.
Onstage, Musgraves is an absolute delight, engaging and adept at working a crowd. A couple of well-chosen covers were huge crowd favorites, particularly a reimagined wun through TLC’s classic “No Scrubs,” delivered as a genuine, borderline-revelatory interpretation rather than an ironic genre exercise. One of Musgraves’s greatest strengths is her complete unwillingness to play by the rules, best displayed here on her pot-smoking-and-lesbian-love-endorsing hit “Follow Your Arrow.” She led the crowd in the “hey!” interjections during the chorus, before closing with a rousing rendition of “These Boots Were Made For Walking,” made famous by Nancy Sinatra. Between her sheer songwriting skill and her boundless charisma, you have to imagine that amphitheaters and arenas are in the 26-year-old’s immediate future.
Reverend Horton Heat, 7:15 PM, Pavilion Stage
After Reverend Horton Heat’s set, my head was spinning for a while––in a good way. The Reverend, slinging a guitar and rocking with bassist Jimbo Wallace and drummer Scott Churilla, opened with a blessing called the “Smell of Gasoline,” fumes of punk and rockabilly rising in the evening sky. As if naturally, the fumes caused an explosion named “Psychobilly Freakout,” from the Reverend’s first record, Smoke 'em if You Got 'em. It’s hard to describe what was really happening after that. For the next 50 minutes, through the haze of the trio’s fiery, unforgiving set, the Reverend burned through stories of marijuana, martini time and marinated meat, among other topics. I remember thinking of a car on fire and going more than 100 MPH, something I thought Old Crow Medicine Show would have a hard time catching up to. (RS)
Old Crow Medicine Show, 8:30 PM, Sawyer Point Stage
“Rock me mama like a wagon wheel …” You know the line all too well. Yes, Old Crow Medicine Show rocked its incredibly popular “Wagon Wheel” when it closed an hour-long set, but let’s talk about the freight train they brought with that cross-genre hit. With speed faster than the previous described Reverend, Old Crow’s strings and harmonies smoked through such songs as “Hard to Love” and “Mississippi Saturday Night,” seemingly fueled by a bit of George Jones’ “White Lightning.” You had to keep your eyes on these guys at all times to really enjoy the show (as my wife did). They passed around fiddles and microphones, with conductor and lead vocalist Ketch Secor sometimes appearing high on harmonica sounds. And they did slow down on occasion, sneaking away to a “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer” and wondering police and that “Alabama High-Test.”
A favorite among the crowd seemed to be Cory Younts, Old Crow’s mandolin player, piano man, drummer and mountain dancer. My favorite? The band’s cover of Connie Smith’s country-fried “Cincinnati, Ohio,” which Secor claimed the boys learned that day by the dumpsters. If only we could get them to record that for Reds games…. (RS)
Avett Brothers, 8:30 PM, Sawyer Point Stage
Among the Saturday’s acts I checked out, Avett Brothers were the most epic, perhaps even the most explosive. I admit before Saturday I had no idea what they sounded like, but now I soon heard why they connect with so many people. It’s not just because the ensemble, led by brothers Scott and Seth Avett, had the fanciest of stage lights and the largest of crowds, thanks to being Saturday’s headliner. The band unapologetically jammed back and forth and sideways in spaces of country and pop-rock, with something grunge threatening to burst from Seth’s guitar at any moment. One of the opening tunes, “Satan Pulls the Strings,” for example, found the band stringing up a tale about the devil’s control. Not much later, the brothers were howling “Talk on Indolence,” a thudding, almost banjo-breaking barn burner on self-confidence, rage and alcohol. “Signs” turned us to the band’s hold on melodic, slow-burning country, yet it was just a detour en route to reviving Buddy Holly in their original number “Will You Return?,” a bit crunchier than what you might hear on Emotionalism. I couldn’t predict what I’d hear song to song.
Regardless of what genre the brothers Avett and their backing band––it’s too big to name in this space––are jamming, they do it well and honestly. In the latter half of their 75-minute set, Seth Avett sang, “I found a tune I could play,” with his brother on the piano. “But it's all vanity, it's all vanity.” If that was a truth, I didn’t see vanity on his face or his fingers. I saw talent, talent that rang true over the Ohio River. (RS)