- by Mark Moody Rating: Release Date: Label:
I don’t know much about organizing festival line-ups and the like, but the juxtaposition of The War and Treaty and Mitski playing back to back on High Water’s main stage was one of the most brilliant things I have seen. No doubt what these two artists had up their sleeves when this was planned out was not even in their own heads at the time and certainly not coordinated, but it made for great cinema when it happened.
But there was plenty of other music before and after that of equally fine caliber. The third year festival, hosted by Shovels & Rope in their home base of Charleston, SC, stepped things up yet again. The musical approach of two alternating stages has remained, but lots more food vendors and craft cocktail options were available and welcome. They have also created a “No Blanket” zone in front of the main stage and carved out a larger VIP viewing section (more on that later). The no blankets idea was a good move to scare away the indignant types at every festival that will take up twelve square feet of prime space, refuse to stand, and freak out when your Olukais touch a piece of fringe.
Another thing that good organizers know to do is to bring out a worthy festival opener to get commerce flowing. The first year it was Julien Baker and this year Lilly Hiatt got
On the smaller stage, an amalgamation of local bands (including S&R’s Michael Trent on keys) going by the name of Shrimp Records Family Band played for the third year. I only listened to a handful of tunes, but the ragtag bunch had a loose vibe going mixing in punk, garage, and alt country sounds. Singing of broken tail lights and hard core shows, the group came off the Southern cousins of the Hoboken, NJ, collective of bands like The Feelies.
Soundblab’s #1 festival pick The War and Treaty (partly inspired by their Moon River set last year) lived up to their billing with a mid-day set on the main stage. Backed by
The flip side of The War and Treaty’s coin, the characters that populate Mitski’s carefully calculated songs are all about the connection desperately wanted but not made. Walking out to a stage set similar to David Byrne’s recent act, with a white painted shaker style table and chair, though Mitski’s props become central to the entire set. With her band
The sunset stretch of the day was taken by Phosphorescent and Lord Huron. They set the perfect tone for the day’s golden hour. The former artist’s set was the most laid back of the day that I caught. Matthew Houck seemed genuinely happy to be on board, and pleased the crowd with an early set take on ‘New Birth in New England’. Later on he hit on other favorites like ‘C’est La Vie No. 2’ and atmospheric set closer ‘Song for Zula’. Lord Huron seems to be a bit of a festival staple and the group, led by Ben Schneider, has powered up their sound since I last saw them. The gentle groove of ‘Wait by the River’ is hard to resist and revved up versions of tracks like ‘Meet Me in the Woods’ and ‘She Lit a Fire’ were crowd favorites.
But if parties are best held after dark, this Saturday night at High Water got that exactly right. Putting that responsibility in the hands of pros like Jenny Lewis and Leon
The ten hour day was closed out by a consummate entertainer in Leon Bridges, dressed impeccably in home state Wrangler attire and a cream colored Stetson. I am primarily familiar with his first album, Coming Home, and had not caught his set before. A laid back set of classic soul, R&B, and funk punctuated with a relaxed level of showmanship. He opened with ‘If It Feels Good’, which any festival goer should be able to get behind. A few songs later found Bridges jitter stepping to the Chattanooga Choo Choo roll of ‘Mississippi Kisses’. Other early set highlights included his dynamic band’s take on ‘Better Man’ and the smoky croon of ‘Coming Home’. In order to gear up for day two, we had to mosey along an hour into the set to the sultry strains of ‘Brown Skin Girl’. Bridges was the perfect choice to close out a sometimes muggy Spring day as the weather transitioned to a sweetly scented South Carolina night.
All photos courtesy of: Christa Joyner Moody (check out her live music gallery)