Lines of Best Fit
After the success of last year's Nashville Outlines fest at West Side bar-slash-venue-slash-restaurant The Stone Fox, nothing could keep crowds away for the sophomore installment on Saturday — not even punishing temperatures and intermittent rainstorms, though there was plenty of that.
We arrived in The Nations early in the day, giving us time to get yelled at by some punk kids on skateboards and scope out the guerrilla-urbanist project that seeks to reshape 51st Avenue — the main road outside Stone Fox — into something that doesn't resemble a deathtrap. Folk rockers Andrew Leahey and the Homestead kicked off the Garden Stage festivities, playing a set of Americana anthems for the smattering of Outliners willing to creep out of the safety of shade. Did we mention that it was hot out? Because it was hot, y'all. Damn hot. Do the Right Thing hot. Leahey and the Homestead were champs about it, though, twanging through a strong set of folksy tunes without melting too much. Kelsey Waldon followed Leahey on the Garden Stage later on in the day, fighting the same battle against the sun with a similar Americana appeal. Waldon bends a little more country, and Leahey's a little more rock 'n' roll — Waldon's set was sweet and pleasant, but we're pretty sure we were getting heat stroke watching her from the field.
Nashville Outlines tried a decidedly different tack at this year's festival — mostly shying away from the snarling indie rock of last year's lineup — turning their attention to folk and pop, with a few major exceptions. The Paperhead, the psychedelic babies championed by the Nashville's Dead set, were the first of those exceptions, rippling through Zombies-inspired rock for a growing crowd. The Paperhead manages to harken back to '60s psych without being self-indulgent — and that's more than we can say for most of the bands that came out of that scene in the first place.
Over at Third Man Records' Rolling Record Store stage, Fox Fun was fully engaged in bringing power pop to the masses. It seems like it was just yesterday that Fox Fun was still trying to figure things out, playing in basements as some kind of baby Black Keys. These days, they're a fearsome foursome making pop songs reminiscent of The Nerves and The Clean, and they've never sounded better. Mystery Twins followed up at the TMR stage, continuing to fill the hole in our hearts left by their inactive-but-not-quite-broken-up band The Clutters. We've always dug the Twins' harmonizing jangle rock, but today we were mostly impressed by how well Doug Lehmann's guitar stayed in tune despite the humidity.
As ELEL took to the Garden Stage, storm clouds began to roll in — but the band's Graceland-esque pop vibes picked up our spirits. Former Heypenny frontman Ben Elkins gets a lot of credit for shaping the sound of his latest venture, but it was the horns and rhythm section that got people dancing in the lawn. As if on cue, the clouds swirled and rumbled as noise outfit Harvest Team unleashed their ominous wall of chaos back at the Rolling Record Store. After about 15 minutes, the downpour began, forcing the Third Man crew to cover up their stage and cut off the Team's noise. We slipped inside to catch some relief from the rain, and Sol Cat was already mid-set by the time we made it back to the main stage. The Sol Cat cats have been in the studio recording an LP due for release in early 2015, and their set featured much of that material. As the band wrapped up their set of dancy, palatable, even-keeled indie rock, frontman Brett Hammann started to get especially expressive with his movements, exploding with enthusiasm all over the stage. It was an entertaining performance, and a solid primer for Spin faves Music Band. At one point in MB's set, frontman Harry Kagan — who was wearing a long, luxurious wig just realistic enough to probably fool some folks who hadn't seen the band before — told the crowd, "You're at the who's who of Nashville right now. Congrats." The trio gave an especially raucous performance of their Natural Child-style, lazy-river heartland punk, capped by drummer Lee Putney giving an impromptu kiss and congratulations on a job well done to his bandmates.
We picked a hell of a time to go for a beer and a shot inside: Casey Weissbuch's tastefully named dancehall reggae throwback alter ego Punani Huntah was in the midst of a breakout performance. JEFF the Brotherhood's Jake Orrall spun tracks and delivered piercing air-horn-ad-nauseam samples, Weissbuch spat hot fire about riding through jungles and such while name-checking himself and using Jamaican affectation, and hype woman Halle Jane mimicked and boosted Weissbuch's every move. The crowd (not exactly looking like a likely bunch to spin Shabba Ranks records on the reg) sometimes looked perplexed, and at other points seemed festively enthralled as they tried to discern whether PH was serious, a joke, or a serious joke.
How did Stone Fox co-proprietor William Tyler ever land this gig! We kid. Taking the stage at the magic hour, Tyler (with a backing band boasting bassist and Stone Fox booker Reece Lazarus, journeyman Luke Schneider on pedal steel and drummer extraordinaire and Trash Humpers co-star Brian Kotzur) couldn't have asked for a better backdrop for his mind-expanding, elegantly shred-worthy instrumental indie-folk-informed post-rock than the one mother nature provided: an eerily glowing blood-red sky as the sun set. Tyler dedicated a hard-grooving, currently untitled new tune with a pounding shuffle lifted from Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll Part 2" to his Stone Fox crew, many of whom had been hard at work for 12 hours at this point.
Staying in the full-band, modern-folkie spirit but now with vocals (fantastic, sky-reaching-yet-subtle-and-contemplative vocals, may we add), Rayland Baxter commanded undivided attention, leading a full band augmented by one of the Cream's longtime favorite sidemen, keyboardist Matt Rowland, who guided the tunes into a few heady psychedelic freakouts. Highlights included Baxter crooning a stony slow burn about having a deadheaded woman and an earthy, understated adaptation of Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing."
Mad props to any millennials in the crowd who recognized that Reagan Era cover. By the time Wild Cub took the stage, the college-age crowd had turned out in droves, creating a legit music-festival atmosphere (complete with break dancers and fire spinners). It was a solid showing from Nashville's current ambassadors of Vampire Weekend- and Phoenix-inspired indie-world dance pop, but a relatively intimate gig for a band that rocked for a crowd numbering over 10,000 at Live on the Green two nights prior. Nevertheless, Wild Cub still boasted the only bona-fide light show of the day, busting out crisp four-on-the-floor, twinkling guitar- and keyboard-driven fan faves like "Thunder Clatter," "Wild Light" and "Drive," the latter of which gave us Cure concert flashbacks, and the Cubbies' set wound down just in time for another summer storm to pummel the festival grounds.
As the Crows Fly
The Spin followed a sea of bobbing folding chairs being carried on the backs of concertgoers into the The Woods Amphitheater Saturday evening. These were nice folding chairs, the kind that have special backpack straps for ease of transport, designed for and purchased by people for whom outdoor summer concerts are a way of life. The Woods' audience, we decided, is basically the Live on the Green audience with gainful employment.
Despite a high in the 90s, by around 7 p.m. the air was pleasant, and the sun was setting as we made our way past the food trucks to the grassy field to set up our own lawn chair — ours may not be as nice, but we're not fool enough to show up without the requisite gear. Onetime Scene cover duo Shovels & Rope opened as the sun set behind an overcast sky, turning everything mustard. Cary Ann Hearst, the better half of the South Carolina-based alt-country husband-and-wife outfit, grew up in Nashville, and she had plenty to reminisce about. Though their set, pulled from their 2012 release O' Be Joyful and the upcoming Swimmin' Time, had plenty of energy, the audience remained ambivalent, seated comfortably in their chairs. The band seemed dwarfed by the massive stage, and they stayed attached at the hip for the set as though they'd get lost if they ventured too far from one another. "You should write something about the 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken' part," said our date concerning Shovels & Rope's one cover, "and how on that last song they were so close they were almost kissing."
Shovels and Rope wrapped up just after 8 p.m. as a light but steady rain began to strengthen. Our ink was starting to smear, and reportage was suddenly in jeopardy. Around us a few contraband umbrellas surreptitiously opened. But Old Crow Medicine Show has some kind of magic about them — they must, because their appearance onstage seemed to quell the coming storm. The rain petered off, the milling-around music cut out, and the lights dropped suddenly at 8:37 p.m. Just like that, the apathetic crowd rose to their feet and began cheering for the seven men back-lit by an installation of Mason jar lights shaped into chandeliers.
OCMS opened with "Bushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer," the first track off their latest, Remedy. Contrasted with Shovels & Rope, Old Crow was just so big, so full, that the crowd couldn't help but get moving. It was a spectacle, and vocalist and lead fiddle player Ketch Secor busted a string in the first song — he actually switched fiddles mid-solo. With such a rich Nashville heritage, Old Crow couldn't help but talk about their town in nearly every song segue. All the hip neighborhoods received their shout-outs, including 12South, Sylvan Park, East Nashville and Inglewood. Their song "Caroline" had the lyric "We were the Sounds' biggest fan" slipped in, and Secor reminisced about drinking Fat Bottom beer and being drunk in the Slow Bar parking lot. "You're looking at the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry," Secor said after their initial flurry of songs settled, and the audience roared in appreciation. Sure, Old Crow has its history in a number of places. But at The Woods they were a Nashville band that broke big playing to their hometown crowd. "It's just such a great reunion here at The Woods," he'd say later.
Throughout their songs, the band would periodically clump together in living tableaus that would have been comical in their kitschiness were it not for the fact that they coincided with possibly the hottest fiddle solos we've ever witnessed. About an hour into their set, a strong, cold wind began whipping up, flipping blankets on the field and setting all the Mason jars swaying. But the wind was quickly replaced by a warm, wet breeze from the other direction. "Wagon Wheel," normally reserved for Old Crow's encore, was met with little fanfare as the rain started coming in. The audience had its turn to join in, and then it was announced that the set would be cut short due to the coming storm. Old Crow played their last and took a group bow as the spotlights came on. By then, the older members of the audience were already rushing out to beat the traffic and weather, lawn chairs in tow. We weren't far behind.