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River Jones & Friends Music Festival at The Paisley Violin Last Night

Michelle Blades playing live at the River Jones Music & Friends Festival at Paisley Violin in Phoenix.
Michelle Blades playing live at the River Jones Music & Friends Festival at Paisley Violin in Phoenix.
Melissa Fossum

River Jones Music Festival
The Paisley Violin
Sunday, January 16, 2011

The first images that came to mind when I heard about a folk festival at The Paisley Violin? Tie-dyed college kids screeching out against the Vietnam War over a haze of sweet smoke.

That wasn't exactly the scene at the River Jones Music & Friends Festival. Influenced by the folk legends of the 60s, however, the artists playing the first annual swapped protest songs for tales of love, death and longing for a home.

Fans arrived early Sunday afternoon to see thirteen bands play over eight hours. The artists weren't limited to folk -- perhaps the reason this is no longer called Folkfest -- and they played a variety of post-rock, first wave emo and ornate indie. Seven of the bands are on the River Jones label, many of which played last year's Folkfest. The "friends" included Underground Cities, St Ranger and The Whisperlights. The Paisley Violin hosted two stages, allowing for a day of nearly nonstop music, save for warm-ups and occasional technical difficulties.

What Laura Says playing at the River Jones & Friends Music Festival.
What Laura Says playing at the River Jones & Friends Music Festival.
Melissa Fossum

Met with feedback, Michelle Blades joked, "Good thing I like noise," and continued playing. Armed with a ukulele, she is Arizona's answer to Regina Spektor and Kate Nash. This songstress is used to playing with a back-up band and remarked, "I feel so weird not hearing the other instruments," shared her urge to drum along. She had the audience do it for her last two songs, first instructing them to stop their feet, then hum and repeat the lines "Why do you look at me with eyes of amber, eyes of amber."

She finished her set with a completely improvised song and had the audience sing along like they're in a cult, because "you really believe in it you're in a cult."

How's that for hippy-dippy sixties stuff?

She then asked the audience to close their eyes during a song she wrote while visiting an 11th century wall in Avignon, France

"It's the only place I've ever felt at home, aside from here on stage. If smells can take you back to a place, I want to do it with sound."

She told the crowd to think about rolling green hills and a river, and shared a cathartic song about "...the only home I know, not of stone not of brick but of heart and soul."

The Whisperlights at the RJM&Friends music fest in Phoenix.
The Whisperlights at the RJM&Friends music fest in Phoenix.
Melissa Fossum

The Fest peaked midday, starting with Courtney Marie Andrews' set. (She's the biggest star in this scene locally, as Steve Jansen wrote in a cover story last year.) The interior was packed wall to wall and as fans eagerly tried to catch a glimpse of her performance.

Like Michelle Blades, she is a soulful singer-songwriter. Fans quietly sang along to themselves during her set, but gave her the loudest cheers of the evening. She was followed by The Whisperlights, who had the most energetic crowd.

Old fans sang along to fast tempo songs like "Meowing" and "Death," while first time listeners bobbed their heads. Michelle Blades was next, followed by Underground Cities, who closed out this two-hour power hour with a lively set.

There were only a handful of bands that explicitly played folk music. A guitarist of What Laura Says commented on this - "We're putting the folk back in folk festival, we've got some folk for you folks."

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Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: RJM & Friends Fest at the Paisley Violin featuring What Laura Says, Courtney Marie Andrews, Michelle Blades, The Whisperlights, The Constellation Branch, and more.

Personal Bias: The Whisperlights and What Laura Says are among my favorite local bands to see live.

The Crowd: Hipster-heavy until the venue stopped their $1 Pabst Blue Ribbon special, then mellow run of the mill twentysomethings.

Overheard in the crowd: "Y'all are gonna need to back up because I need all of this room, ALL of it." That was a Constellation Branch superfan who already had a lot of space.

Random notebook dump: So that's what happens when you cross Conor Oberst with Davy Crockett.


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