“Day 0” of the fest has come and gone, with some highs, some lows, and some things that are hard to describe.
I’ll start with the weather, because that’s such a big factor in my ability to enjoy the fest. The weather was…weird. I don’t remember a day like this in all the years I’ve been here. About the time my friends and I arrived on the grounds, clouds rolled in and the wind kicked up, a constant 15 mph breeze that kept up all day long. It was actually somewhat chilly when you were exposed to it, even in the middle of the day. That’s weird, but I’ll take it over the 100 degree days of misery. The wind did make it hard for me to do my job hanging up fliers for my friend Jeff’s band (Jeff Elbel + Ping, playing today at 4:15 on the Gallery – come check them out!), because the wind kept blowing them away.
As for the bands, it was kind of hit and miss. In years past, “day 0” was “Tooth & Nail Day,” with the record label sponsoring the day and having some degree of involvement in organizing it. Generally, the only thing that was going on was bands playing 30 minute sets on the two Encore stages, with the schedule staggered so you could just wander back and forth between the two for continuous music. This year, though, it was “REIGNITE Day” sponsored from Traa from the band P.O.D., and a couple of things were noticeably different. The schedule was different – bands played on the Encore stages, but they played 30 minute sets with 40 minute breaks in between, so there was never really a flow back and forth from one stage to the other and there was a lot of downtime. The average quality of the bands wasn’t as good either, in my opinion. There were bands playing in styles that I like, but a lot of them didn’t seem to be very experienced just yet, so their performances weren’t great. Traa’s thing seemed to be about artist development, so I guess having some rather raw bands is to be expected, but from a fan perspective, it just wasn’t as much fun to watch as it might have been. The crowds seemed to reflect that, too – all day long (at least until the evening shows started), the Encore crowds were miniscule, with just a couple dozen people watching each of the bands from a respectful distance.
There were also a lot more bands playing in places other than the Encore stages compared to years past. Most of the action was on the generator stages. A bit of background as I understand it: generator stages started when young upstart bands would literally bring a small PA and a gas-powered generator and set up along the road and start playing. I guess that got kind of out of hand a few years ago, so Cornerstone started licensing the generator band to keep things a little less chaotic. I think the success of that move is debatable, though. What you have now are a few “real” stages (with tents, fancy lighting, and good PA systems) that are technically labeled generator stages even though they’re as good or better than some of the “real” stages, a larger number of mid-level stages that may have a decent PA and some form of stage, and then some of the old-style do-it-yourself “stages.” Most of them are all piled together alongside the roads between the Encore stages and the midway area, and they all play at the same time, competing with each other. At one point yesterday, I walked by a row of three stages where an acoustic worship band was playing on one, a screamy metal band was playing on another, and the third had no band but had a hardcore CD cranked up to the limits of the PA. Nobody wins in that situation – the bands have to compete with each other to be heard, and if you’re just trying to walk by, it’s pretty miserable. From a fan perspective, it seems like it may be time for the fest to scale back the generator stages.
There’s also a trend toward “real” bands (bands playing actual scheduled festival slots) also playing on much smaller generator stages, and I’m not sure that really does the bands any favors. For example, I saw the band Astellaway playing on one of the stages. Their songs on MySpace sound pretty good, kind of a pop rock sound not unlike Paramore. But on a PA on the side of the road, with speakers that were a lot smaller than the guitar and bass amps, and one small monitor, it was nearly impossible for them to sound good. They did the best they could under the circumstances, and they sounded promising enough that I wouldn’t mind seeing them play their actual fest-scheduled set, but I’m not sure there’s a lot of benefits for some of the bands playing those low-end stages.
I only really made it to see one of the three bands that I said I was looking forward to yesterday. Both times Quiet Science played, I was watching another show, but they’ve still got a bunch of sets left (admittedly, one of the benefits of the generator stages), so I’ll catch them eventually. By the time Los Lonely Boys went on, I was pretty exhausted, so I only listened to a bit of their set. They sounded good, but I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind or body to appreciate it. But I did see Stephen Petree, and he was one of the better sets I saw all day. As it turns out, he’s the brother of one of the founders of Shiny Toy Guns, and co-wrote some stuff on their first album. His band was tight and the songs sounded good, so I wouldn’t mind hearing more from him when his album comes out in August. One interesting thing about the set was the instrument he played, which he called a “Telekeyster” – a Fender Telecaster with a keyboard grafted onto the top half of the body. Kind of a unique take (invented by his guitarist, apparently) on the keytar.
In addition to the aforementioned set from Stephen Petree, the other musical highlights of the day for me were the following:
- Darcy, a hooky, poppy band from Texas with a pretty good stage presence. “Catchy Melody” was the highlight of their set.
- Carolina Story, a married acoustic duo from Tennessee. They were playing a generator stage crammed in between a couple of hardcore bands, but still managed to sound good and drew a surprisingly big crowd.
- Down From Up, a melodic metal band from Tennessee, with one of the shreddiest guitarists I’ve seen in a new band at the fest in a long time. The band was pretty good as a whole, but watching that guy play was a whole lot of fun.
- Deas Vail, an indie pop band from Arkansas that I’ve watched grow over the last couple of festivals. I first saw them a couple of years ago, and they had a nice sound and a decent crowd. Last year their popularity had grown and the played a couple of well-attended sets. This year, their first set was on the Indie Community stage (one of the largest and nicest generator stages), and the tent was almost packed with fans that were singing along to every word. It’s fun to watch a band get bigger and bigger from year to year.
I always enjoy seeing bands play covers, and yesterday was a good day for covers. Divided By Friday covered the Temptations’ “My Girl.” Astellaway covered Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round.” Maron covered King’s X’s “We Are Finding Who We Are” (which totally rocked). And Down From Up went all out, sound checking with Guns’n’Roses’ “Sweet Child O’Mine,” and then playing an instrumental version of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and a lengthy medley of Led Zeppelin songs. I’d never really thought of “Whole Lotta Love” in quite that context before, but I guess it kind of works with just a couple of minor edits.
Things coming up today that I’m looking forward to: Ping, a good night on Main Stage with Capital Lights, Family Force 5, and Relient K, a bunch of other bands I want to see that are all playing at exactly the same time, and a midnight set from Copeland.