Photo by Ken Sears
This weekend saw the triumphant return of the Green River Festival after the obvious year off. It was a month later than it has been in the past and at a brand new location, but you never would have known based on how smoothly things ran. It was a weekend of fantastic music filled with respectful, joyous music fans. Nothing could have run more smoothly, with the exception of a little too much sound overlap between some of the stages. Here were my musical highlights for the weekend! (Note: I was unable to attend Friday night, and I'm not including any artist I only saw a few songs of).
This one can't be a surprise to anyone who has been reading If It's Too Loud... over the past few months. I've gone fully into rabid fan mode on Bella White, but with good reason. At only twenty years old, her stage presence and banter makes it feel like she's been doing this for decades longer than she's been alive. While last year's album Just Like Leaving was pure old fashioned Americana with just a little bit of a modern flair, White pulled out a couple of new songs. One of them ("Flowers On My Bedside" it may have been called), had a more contemporary feel and a little bit of a ramble. It was brilliant, and may end up being the song of the year when it is released. She also played a more mellow version of "Do You Think About Me At All." Her vocals gave me goosebumps despite being in the heat of the noon sun. Not only was White one of only three artists I watched an entire set of, I watched her entire set twice on Saturday. The setlist was exactly the same, and the stage banter was pretty much identical. Normally that is one of my biggest live music pet peeves, but White pulled it off with her charm. Now I just have to talk myself out of seeing her a third time this week at The Word Barn.
Zara Bode's Little Big Band
Zara Bode's Little Big Band was my big discovery of this year's festival. I knew literally nothing about this band, but with good reason. It turns out this was their very first live gig. They stepped in when another artist cancelled, and since Bode is also one of The Sweetback Sisters, the producers of Green River took a chance. I'm thrilled they did. As the name suggests, they played a version of big band style music and played a ton of standards and classics. Bode's voice is absolutely stellar and irresistible, so hearing her play covers of Ella Fitzgerald and Hank Williams was a wonderfully pleasant part of my afternoon.
Somehow, despite being a fan for ten years, this was my first time seeing JD McPherson. I grew up on classic rock 'n' roll, so it always has a soft spot in my heart. McPherson plays a spot on version of classic 50's style rock 'n' roll, so I'm obviously going to be a fan. The crowd was a wonderfully mix of all possible generations, from elder Boomers to middle school kids all having a great time dancing and singing along. He even pulled out some covers of Richie Valens and Chuck Berry songs just to make his set that much better. Hopefully I won't have to go another ten years before seeing him again,
Vapors of Morphine
Never seeing Morphine play live is one of my biggest regrets. They were just one of those bands I was going to see "next time," and that ran out when Mark Sandman died in 1999. In 2009, Morphine members Dana Colley and Jerome Dupree teamed up with Jeremy Lyons to form Vapors of Morphine at a Mark Sandman tribute concert. They're still going, with Tom Arey replacing Dupree on drums in 2019. I'm usually very dubious of bands like this, since they can go into Sublime with Rome territory. But Vapors of Morphine are doing this the right way. They're playing Morphine classics along with their own songs. The Morphine ones tend to be the crowd pleasers, especially since Colley is playing his sax like J Mascis plays guitar. He's making sounds come out of that thing you would never think possible. Part of it is via effects pedals, but it's such a thrill to hear them live. Plus, hearing those saxophone solos played by the man who originally played them just can't be beat.
For opening the third day of a music festival, you have to ease people into it. Most people are tired of the two previous days of sun, music, and maybe even some alcohol. But you still need to wake them up. Rachel Baiman was the perfect choice. Her version of modern folk-ish pop/rock is mellow enough for a Sunday at noon but upbeat enough to get people moving. She and her band are simply captivating performers, and I can't imagine Baiman didn't end up with a slew of new fans by the end of her set.
Bonny Light Horseman
I really enjoyed Bonny Light Horseman's 2020 album. The folk supergroup of Anais Mitchell, Eric D. Johnson (Fruit Bats), and Josh Kaufman play a compelling version of timeless modern folk that could have come out anytime in the past few decades or so. Their album was truly great. But live? Live is completely different. I've never seen a band play music that was so calm and mellow yet so thrilling. They held a field filled with thousands of people in rapture. It was a near religious experience for all of us there. Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood mentioned that he was in tears because their set was just so beautiful. He wouldn't have been the only one on Sunday. Even if their album wasn't one of your recent favorites, I implore you to make it to one of their live shows. You can't be disappointed.
If anyone had an excuse to have a bad set this weekend, it was Sierra Ferrell. Her and her band's van broke down Saturday morning, making them miss another festival in Kentucky. They had to take a last minute flight to make Green River on Sunday, leaving their bass player behind since there wasn't room on the plane. Plus, their set began with horrific microphone feedback that took a few minutes to fix. But, that's when Ferrell's charm kicked in. I've never seen microphone feedback make a set, but that is what happened Sunday. Playing as a trio, Ferrell's band had more fun than any other band that played all weekend. Taking time to chat with the crowd repeatedly and even play an impromptu "Happy Birthday" to a fan, they barreled through a set of old timey country and jazz. Sierra Ferrell is another artist you need to check out as soon as possible. A party is guaranteed to be had.
I was very curious how Drive-By Truckers would handle a ninety minute festival performance. The band usually plays for well over two hours, and tend to just be getting warmed up around the hour mark. The band took the stage, dedicated the somber "Tornadoes" to the people of Louisiana, and just took off from there. They crammed a sixteen song fan favorite set into an hour and a half by cutting everything out. The only other stage banter was Patterson Hood declaring "We got about twenty minutes left, let's rock this motherfucker out!" with twenty minutes left. The band alternated songs between Hood and Mike Cooley through the set, with Cooley possibly getting the bigger songs. "Women Without Whiskey" got me shockingly emotional as I realized how much I missed being at a barrier yelling out the lyrics to my favorite band's songs. Out of their sixteen songs, only two were from last year's The Unravelling. This set was for the fans, with Drive-By Truckers playing such beloved songs as "3 Dimes Down," "Ronnie and Neil," and the absolute brilliant final stretch of "Let There Be Rock," "Marry Me," "Hell No, I Ain't Happy," and "Shut Up and Get on the Plane." This was the ideal way to bring their blend of countrified rock back to their fans, and win over some new ones at a festival.