Disco Biscuits, Slightly Stoopid, Allen Stone, Dispatch, Black Bottom Lighters, and More McDowell Mountain Music Festival 2014 3/29/14
Saturday proved to be the day for jam bands galore at McDowell Mountain Music Festival, offering up what was arguably the most cohesive and sensible lineup of any of its three-day run.
Despite some early birds, the grounds were exceptionally quiet when we arrived at 11:15 a.m. to get a jump on our third-degree sunburns. Students from the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences were on hand early, prepping live video feeds and acting as stagehands -- a smart move on behalf of the organizers, cutting costs and giving students hands-on experience in a festival format that's not quite as demanding as some can be.
You'd never know there was a campground attached the festival at this hour, which is why placing Jared and the Mill in a morning slot felt like nothing but an injustice given the band's recent profiling and South By Southwest presence. Even with the sun beating down on them and sleepy campers setting up shop on the grass, the local darlings put on a tight performance as the only Arizona act to take the main stage all day.
They're just as appealing on the main stage as they are in a club setting, though the room to spread out onstage played well in their favor. Guitarist Larry Gast, with his Telecaster a little more in the front of the mix than I've heard before, put more of an alt-country bent on the band's songs, keying into that cross-genre appeal that's become a hallmark of the young band.
"Confessions Of An Outlaw" stood out as one of Jared and the Mill's most technically sound songs, from songwriting to stage performance. My only gripe was the CRAS students loading gear in behind the band as they played -- having an 11:30 slot is rough enough, but detracting from a stage performance because road cases need to be moved around seems like a slap in the face.
With Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers ramping up the crowd with serious Grace Potter vibes around 2 o'clock, it quickly became time to slow things down a little when Allen Stone took the stage at 3 p.m.. For all the soulfulness that gets thrown his way, Stone's vocal prowess doesn't quite ring as true as it does in a live setting, much like his personal sentiment regarding live acts.
On point with falsetto runs, smooth crooning and precocious stage banter, he definitely shows all the signs of being a road dog, playing an average of 300 shows a year, according to Stone himself. Much needs to be said of his backing band, however -- they're a group of guys that almost outshine Stone in terms of sheer technique and feeling, lending to the grooviest set of the day.
Vermont's Dispatch started off the...um, kind atmosphere in the late afternoon and paved the way for Slightly Stoopid later on. Smoke hung heavy in the air and the golden hour glow seemed to bring out all the bros, packing the VIP area and main amphitheater alike. The crowd, while varied throughout the day, didn't seem to get as diverse as it did for Dispatch, with people carrying through their set to stick around for Slightly Stoopid.
Fans for the Slightly guys are rabid, and rightfully so -- for a band with as much tour presence as they possess, anything less would be a travesty, and their live set is far more danceable than one might assume, even if parts of it felt slightly rehearsed at times.
Disco Biscuits were more light show than live act, but that didn't seem to stop fans from packing the front of the stage. In the typical jam band manner, songs seemed to blend together and the set slowed down and sped up numerous times -- or maybe that was the contact high. The crowd was as into it as ever, more so than at any other point in the day.
They're a band who has their niche tied down and their fans know it too -- like Donna The Buffalo's Herd, diehard Dispatch aficionados or Slightly Stoopid's stoned-out revelers, Disco Biscuits seems to appeal most to those who've followed them for the past 20 years as they carry the jam band format into the new century with their electronic approach. For the rest of us, it was a hell of a spectacle and easily the most visually impressive set of the day.
Last Night: McDowell Mountain Music Festival featuring Jared & The Mill, Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers, Allen Stone, Dispatch, Slightly Stoopid and Disco Biscuits at Margaret T. Hance Park.
Personal Bias: Not a jam band guy by any means. I was most looking forward to Stone because he's a festival act that's young, still has a lot to prove and definitely plays like it.
The Crowd: Bros, bros, bros, dudes in running shoes and cargo shorts, lots of hair gel, patchouli-scented everything, very, very few kids under the age of 25, even fewer under the age of 20.
Overheard In The Crowd: "Let's take a festival selfie!" Somebody drive a stake through my temple, please.
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