Half way through the second day of Free Press Summer Fest, the sun was scorching and we could feel our slight sunburns worsening. However, the Fancy Pants tent cured what ailed us when we stopped by for some much-needed a/c and custom cocktails like the Briar Patch—a mixture of gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and blackberry liqueur.
After our refresher, Young the Giant was getting things going on the main stage. Fans had been camped out at the front of the stage all morning for the band, who has seen a rapid rise notoriety since they came on the scene in 2010. Lead singer Sameer Gadhia uses a dual-microphone setup, one standard and one employing reverb and other effects. The group possessed incredible energy with Gadhia crowd surfing out into the mass of people and ending up with a ripped lime green tank top. After closing with the pounding rhythms of “My Body,” fans chanted “One more song!” in repetition but were denied, likely due to the regimen of a festival lineup.
The trek from stage 1 all the way back to stage 7 near the entrance was a long one, but well worth it to catch Austin’s The Sour Notes. The group blends an impressive array of styles from 50s pop to psychedelia to garage to straightforward indie-rock. With lead singer Jared Paul Boulanger at the helm, the six piece employed several sets of keys and synths, bass, multiple guitars, and drums as they performed songs from several releases, most notably their newest effort Last Looks. Often soaring and expansive, the band is impressive recorded and live. It’s really not fair to say the band is a best kept secret anymore, since they have begun to transition into one of Austin’s most celebrated bands. Onstage, Boulanger performs with sincerity and emotion, clearly engrossed in the songs as he sways and bobs. Offstage, the band members are some of the most enthusiastic and genuine people making music—always a refreshing counterpart to excellent musicianship.
Encapsulating the vastness of Willie Nelson’s as a cultural icon—to country music, to Texas, to… weed—is an impossible task. Everyone in attendance at FPSF wanted to see the set, which was just as crowded if not more so than any other performer’s during the festival. I overheard dozens of conversations earlier in the day during which people were making plans to head over to see the classic songwriter, affectionately calling him, “Willie.” Nelson treated the crowd to favorites like Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Lookin,” as well as song from his own repertoire. It was a fitting, if somewhat telling of the generation gap, prelude to the Avett Brothers, who would follow Willie.
But before that, we caught classic punk outfit The Descendents. The pit was nearly inaccessible to press since so many fans were crowd surfing over the railing and being pulled down by security. Undoubtedly, some attendees looked at the performance as a novelty at best. However, many members of the energetic crowd moshed and crowd surfed wearing faded Descendents t-shirts. The performance emerged as one of the most ruckus of the festival. Punk may be dead for some, but for many it never will be.
On our way back to the main stage, we were able to stop and watch just a few songs of a set by Austin’s What Made Milwaukee Famous. Having kept quiet for the past year or so, the band is poised to emerge from their hibernation with their third full-length You Can’t Fall Off the Floor. The band currently has a Kickstarter campaign to which you can donate here. WMMF sounded as solid as ever, having always been a live band to which viewers instantly attach.
Earlier in the day, a friend commented to me that the Avett Brothers were just so good live, that they made sense as a big festival band. The comment struck me as strange, having only heard them recorded, and always pegging them as a talented, but laid back folk-based group. Never could I have imagined the nonstop action and entertainment that typified their live show. The chemistry of brothers Scott and Seth Avett onstage is electric and both constantly motion to the crowd, involving them in singing and dancing. Joe Kwon, the band’s cellist rocks like no cellist ever has, shaking his wild, long hair all over the place. Fans in the audience sang along to almost every song, closing their eyes, pumping their fists, and smiling from ear to ear. Truly, the band has a loyal following.
Most of the songs played, such as “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise,” “January Wedding,” “Laundry Room,” “Kick Drum Heart,” and the title track, were culled from the band’s most recent record I and Love and You. However, a few older songs like “I Killed Sally’s Lover” and “Love Like the Movies” made the setlist. Despite the band’s leaning toward a more polished studio sound, they have retained their distinctive sound and quality songwriting. Seeing their great live performance was a great way to end our Free Press Summer Fest experience.
Our first FPSF ever was a delight. It’s a homegrown festival with a unique layout and a quality lineup. When passes go on sale next year, don’t delay—grab them up! And in the meantime you can keep up with FPSF on facebook and twitter.