Hinterland Music Festival, now in it’s 5th year, Added a 3rd day to its festival, meaning that to catch the whole weekend you’ll have to take both Friday AND Monday off if you don’t want to drive through the dead of night, at least for out-of-towners like me. Was this third day worth it? For many, the third day itself was worth the price of a full weekend admission. Reading the lineup from top to bottom-for the entire weekend-just seemed to get better and better as it went on. And concertgoers that filled the fields, hills, and camping areas for the whole weekend seemed to agree. Below are some of the highlights of the weekend’s music.
Concertgoers beginning to file into the hillsides of the Avenue of the Saints Amphitheatre likely did so while listening to Jade Bird and her band on stage. While Hinterland’s lineup for music seemed to balance itself around country, rock, and bluegrass, Bird’s music stood out to hit all the marks of a dedicated indie-rock act. One of Bird’s greatest assets, among songwriting that channels the men and women folk singers of yesteryear, is her voice, which becomes more graveley and crumbles the louder she sings. Shouting in No Joy, Bird seems to compete with the likes of Bob Weir in how many lyrics they can fit into a bar of music (ala Truckin’) But unlike Bob Weir, there were no flubs in the lyrics. Side Effects, another upbeat, energetic tune, also shows this same appeal, while Uh Huh Off her latest, self titled album, channels the jump-on-your-bed-with-the-song-on-blast punk rock energy while also giving Bird, a 21 year old brit, a southern accent. It’s these kinds of songs that makes Jade Bird a standout act among her crowd, and hopefully, a better spot further up in future festival lineups.
It’s been awhile since Ive seen a live Hippo Campus show. In fact, the last time I saw them live was in a garage at a birthday party nearly 5 years ago. And while Ive followed their music and seen them take opening act slots, and now successful tours of their own since then, seeing them on this larger stage, all to themselves, did make me feel proud. Then again, us Minnesotans have a weird, proud relationship with Hippo Campus, in the same way parents do when they see their kids off to college and hope they do well. But Hippo Campus’s success also has moslty to do with their fans well outside Minnesota. The fans who lined the rail to see them brought film cameras and sang along to every word of their songs, especially Buttercup off of 2016’s Landmark album, nearly starting a mosh pit. Hippo Campus was also not without their fun stage banter as well, with Nathan Stocker taking a few moments to make sure the fans were doing well (Especially those who were seeing them in the VIP Area, a little tongue in cheek) and commenting about the “Hinter-tree” saying how it’s sprawling, twisted branches made it feel like he was playing a show in the Hobbit. A fan yelled back saying that it was an oak tree. Fans felt completely satisfied with their set, lining up near the gate off stage for hugs and high-fives. While I agree with them that it was a great show, this Hippo Campus fan is still hoping for a Little Grace comeback.
I’m not sure what the crossover of fans looks like between Hippo Campus and Kacey Musgraves, however it does seem like that venn-diagram is pretty big. The same fans who waited on the rail for Hippo Campus were still there, now donning cowboy hats, some made of foam and some made of cowhide, and now that it had gotten a little later into the evening, fans were now better filling the main standing area and flooding around and behind the soundbooth. Kacey Musgraves seems to be at the cusp of the same kind of stardom that have made artists like Taylor Swift famous, coming from a country music background. But what makes her standout from the swifite fanbase is having both indie fans on her side, as well as country fans who are venturing out from (or tired of the same) cold beer, beaches, and trucks songwriting that’s dominated the radio over the last decade. However, Kacey is still able to sing about Silverados, such on Space Cowboy, While still blending it around a cosmic, indie ballad, making her songs now easily found on indie and country music stations alike.
Kacey had what was the most polished and professional stage setup of the night. Her band all wearing matching,mechanic style-jumpsuit outfits as if she had just opened a brand new car dealership, all singing into shiny white microphones. This dream-like state seemed to venture in and out at times, with songs like Slow Burn and Oh, What a World taking us deeper into that dream. Then, Kacey had asked us to greet our neighbors with high fives, and afterwards, all throw our middle fingers in the air before beginning Wonder Woman. Another standout moment came from when she had the band come front and center around the stage to sing Butterflies in a classic bluegrass format. However, as good as her act was, it did seem like it was a bit out of place in Hinterland’s lineup. In between the lineup announcement and the show, Kacey Musgraves’s latest album Golden Hour went on to win all of its nominated Grammy Award categories, Including Album of the year and Best Country Album. As a result, this likely upped the production value of her show, and seemed to be a little over the top for an act who wasn’t headlining.While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all, I think there is something to be said for setting off confetti cannons if you’re not the main act. I think it would have been a good move for Hinterland to move her act to the main set of the night.
Still picking pink confetti out of our hair, Hozier took the stage after dark to the full Hinterland crowd, mostly on their feet toward the mainstage, but also scattered on the hillsides in blankets and air-couches. Not much had changed since we had last covered Hozier on tour almost two months ago to the date. A few members of his band had been switched around, and I had noticed that the desolate, No Plan had been taken out of the evenings setlist, likely because of the kiddos who were in the audience that night. Hozier did take time to talk about how beautiful he thought the Iowa cornfields were, saying that he enjoyed all this really nice land. His signature Take Me to Church remained the encore number before hinterlanders retired to their tents or busses back to the city.
The Wood Brothers
There’s been a sting of bands lately featuring siblings that are making the rounds. Most acts are sisters, like HAIM, First Aid Kit and The Staves, all featuring beautiful harmonies that are all physiologically unique. The Wood Brothers, however, are a unique brother duo that I only discovered at Hinterland, wishing I had known them sooner. Chris and Oliver Wood play bass and guitar, while third member Jano Rix handles percussion and “Shit-tar”, a worn out, 2 or 3 string classical guitar that takes a literal beating onstage. Warm and soulful, The musicianship and camaraderie of these three really show onstage. While the brothers have been playing music for over 30 years, Their trio has been together since 2004, releasing 7 studio albums and 4 live albums in that timeline, more than most bands around for the same period. Their set included many upbeat songs like Sky High off of 2018’s One Drop of Truth as well as two of their more popular songs Luckiest Man and the crowd-favorite singalong I Got Loaded, featuring members of the crowd holding up and waving their White Claws and Bud Lights.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones
If you’ve followed me and my work over the last few years, you’ll know that I fawn over these large, 12 piece bands, with great singers, guitarists, and a brass section. So of course, St. Paul and the Broken Bones check all these boxes for me. Not hailing from my hometown of St. Paul, however, They hail from Birmingham, Alabama, meaning that these guys are the real deal when it comes to southern soul. They’re energy was enough to get concertgoers, sunburns and all, up and dancing into the quickly setting sun. Lead singer Paul Janeway commanded the stage, making sure there wasn’t a single inch untouched. To end the set, Janeway came down from the font of the stage, and walked up the aisle to the soundbooth, now maybe 200 feet from the stage, and climbed to the top of the VIP Balcony above the soundbooth, Illuminated by the phone lights of the lucky few to stand next to him as he sang the final verses to the last song of the night. An absolute power move, and the highlight of the night for a few concertgoers lucky enough to witness it.
Jason Isbell is one of the few Country musicians you can google and not immediately see a cowboy hat. And while his music separates him from the mainstream world of country music stations, it doesnt really seem to phase him. Isbell can be considered one of today’s best storytellers. A modern day troubadour who doesnt give a shit. Even John Mayer said Isbell is “the best lyric writer of my generation.” and he’s not wrong. Isbell’s quips on “White Man’s World” and “Last of my Kind” shows us that there’s a place in today’s world for good songwriting, and ultimitely, great storytelling.
But in between the shredding guitars and the quiet acoustic tunes, The man can control a crowd. In between songs in he middle of his set, there appeared to be some sort of emergency toward one of the front rows that Isbell was able to see. He spread his arms and stood in front of his microphone. “Hey, I want everyone to be quiet,” he said, stern, but not angry “There’s some sort of emergency going on up here, and Its important that these guys handling this can hear eachother.” The crowd obliged and stopped talking completely. Nobody said a word, and for the next thirty seconds or so, the only thing that could be heard were the buzzing of deluxe reverbs and the sizzling of hamburger patties by the vendor area. While I couldnt see how the situation ended up getting handled, Isbell dropped his arms to his side, and the crowd cheered before starting the next song. Never before had I seen such respect for an artist where this kind of request would actually quiet a crowd, having them look toward the stage and set down their phones, and become this quiet. It showed that there wasn’t a single person who wasn’t listening to Isbell, and not a single person who wasn’t listening to these songs.
It’s rare these days that millennials can still be fans of a man who writes new songs and insists on using a 59’ Les paul to do it, but while Isbell certainly isn’t a “new” artist by any means, he seems to be bridging the gap between kids like me and older folk who like to talk about the time they saw CSN (and sometimes Y) in concert while on mushrooms. Jason Isbell is an important artist, not just so you can point your Uncle Mike his way when he complains that “They just dont write them like they used to!” but to show us that good songwriting still has relevance in today’s world of one-hit-wonder music.
Elizabeth Moen was the first act to take the stage Sunday morning. Hailing locally from Iowa City, Moen was one of the only Iowan acts to take the main stage that weekend. She woke us up opening with Red off of 2018’s A Million Miles Away. Soulful and steady, her music went well with the bloody mary’s and veggie burritos concertgoers chowed down as they took their places on the hill and by the stage.
Ruston Kelly is a reminder of the badass, country attitudes we like to hear about in songs about bar fights, witty comebacks, and the tall tales that people can’t get away with today. However, while these things make a great country song, they don’t make a good attitude on stage. Kelly began his first song with the capo on the wrong fret on his guitar, prompting a reset on the first song, which wouldn’t have been an issue to concertgoers had he not cussed out the stage crew in between. Afterwards, switching to a harmonica microphone for the second song, he said into the microphone “I dont know who set this fucking thing up, but this is shit!” Leaving what little crowd he had speechless, and subsequently, smaller. With the crowd quiet, someone yelled sarcastically at him “love the attitude!” from the VIP area. To which prompted a shit-eating grin from Kelly, looking over and saying “Happy to be here though. How much you pay for those seats?”
While Kelly did apologize for the “absolute shit ton of technical issues” he had encountered, it didn’t mean much to fans who had already decided to lunch early and picked out what food truck their lunch would be from, and left Kelly to attempt to win back those who were left in the crowd. Call it technical difficulties, or call it “Whatever, It’s only Iowa,” Fans don’t need to be the ones to hear about these issues. I’ve never seen an act personally attack a stagehand, and I hope I wont have to again.
The War and Treaty
Whatever diva Ruston Kelly had been was completely forgotten when The War and Treaty took the stage, Becoming just the powerful, soulful duo we needed to see to get our spirits up again. “powerful” and “soulful” are big words of their own, but dont seem to do The War and Treaty Justice for how damn good they were. If concertgoers missed church that morning (many of us did) Tanya and Michael Trotter took us there. Their voices harmonizing and bending notes past comprehension on Down to the River were enough to get concergoers attention in the long water lines on the hill, and then, clapping and stomping along to Hi Ho. Every festival has an act that can grab people’s attention, and this was it.
Ive covered Dawes many times before, in Theaters, parking lots, and now in a cornfield. But each time they play, it’s like seeing them again for the first time. Frontman Taylor Goldsmith, professional as always, introduces the band to concertgoers who may be there for the first time, and thanks them for coming, all before shredding away on guitar. Songs from their new record Passwords were prevalent, opening with the groovy Feed the Fire and Living in the Future. Classic Dawes tunes were also a staple to the set, with When My Time Comes and Something Along The Way remaining crowd favorites.
Anyone whose called millennials lazy and entitled needs to see a Maggie Rogers concert. Right from the start of the show, her energy was phenomenal. It’s almost as if we started the show right in the middle of her set, and just kept going. While energetic shows were not uncommon this weekend, Rogers took her set far beyond what anyone in the audience expected, including myself. With her energy, clever songwriting and refreshing sound, It’s no guess as to why Maggie Rogers debut album Heard It in a Past Life debuted at number two on the US Billboard 200 Back in January. For most of the year she’s been touring behind her album, although you wouldn’t have been able to tell her and her band were on the road for the past seven months. Watching the crowd move to the beat of “Give a Little” and “Burning” was almost surreal.
While I don’t think we’re seeing Maggie Rogers in her prime, It’s also not a bad thing. It’s rare that we can see an artist like Maggie and know exactly where she’s going. It’s these kinds of performances that people like to brag about. “I saw her before she was cool!” After seeing Maggie perform live, it’s clear: There’s nowhere for her to go but up.
It’s taken me about a week to find the words for Brandi Carlile’s set. To sum it up, you had to be there. But since it’s my job to write about these things, the hardest part can sometimes just be finding the words to use.
How someone can just walk up to a microphone and sound like that goes beyond talent and skill. Brandi opened her set with “Hold out Your Hand” She spent time going into her backstory about playing Sweet Home Alabama too many times in Seattle bars and meeting “The Twins,” Phil and Tim Hanseroth. With harmonies this good (Like the jaw dropping, crowd silencing The Eye) Its safe to call it destiny that they were meant to make music together like the have for the past 20 years. I sure hope nobody goes anywhere anytime soon. A little bit of summer is what the whole year is all about. And listening to the single guitar and voices on stage sing The Eye in the setting summer sun brought a tear to my eye for no reason other than it was perfection. Years ago, three part harmonies used to be so frequent when singing that nobody thought much of it. Now, when done right, it silences an audience.
While The Eye was the only moment that brought a “There’s just dirt in my eye!” moment to me, Other fans had their emotional moments during the set too. Brandi took time to explain the backstory of becoming a new mother before singing The Mother solo onstage. As a surprise, her daughter Evangeline ran across the stage to her when the song ended, and they hugged together. The crowd was the loudest it had been all weekend. And when her daughter ran off stage, a fan turned to me with tears running down her cheeks, saying “Goddamnit, I came here for a rock concert.”
Her music was on a totally different level than any other act to perform that weekend. Brandi was wholesome, taking time to talk with the audience, giving backstories and advice, and we took it all in with open ears. She also practiced a Joni Mitchell cover she’ll soon be performing on TV, A Case of You, and, of course, nailed it.
“You guys are seriously a once-in-ten-years kind of crowd.” she said. And she was right. Looking around, there was hardly a phone in the air to take photos or video, and if there was, it was only up for a brief time. As cliche as it is to say, people were actually living in the moment. If we were a once-in-ten-years kind of crowd, Brandi is a once in a generation kind of performer. As a fan I can’t wait to see her again. As a reviewer, I hope I can better find the words for this someday.