The 2013 Red Stripe Midsummer Music and Food Festival was held June 15 at lovely Candler Park in Atlanta, Georgia. This was my third time at the event, which tries to appeal to the largest cross-section of Atlanta as possible by combining country, soul, and rocks acts. As a result, past line-ups have included Dr. Dog, JJ Grey and Mofro, and Robert Randolph and the Family Band (2011), and Futurebirds, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and G Love & Special Sauce (2012). The festival headliners this year were Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros.
Numerous photos are posted over at Flickr. Below are some highlights to accompany the discussion of the sets that I heard.
When I arrived, raucous country band Connor Christian & Southern Gothic were already on stage and well into their set.
The band featured a rather interesting electric banjo.
According to the band's bio, Connor Christian was born in Los Angeles, but before he was a teenager, had lived in South Korea, Indonesia, and Belgium. At the age of 14, he left home and continued his travel and musical growth in Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia, South America, and even Africa. Their fiddle player is from Siberia. By the time I arrived, I didn't get to hear much of their set, but what I did hear sounded like it hadn't traveled much further than Austin and Nashville.
Atlanta's The Whiskey Gentry also played in an Americana style, but reflected more diversity than their better-traveled predecessors, playing some country, some bluegrass, occasional honky-tonk, western swing, country rock, and even some Slavic numbers that would have made Beirut proud.
Bonus points for interesting instruments. In addition to the usual guitars, bass, drums, and pedal steel, they also played fiddle:
And what I think is an electric ukulele:
New Orleans' The Soul Rebels brought some good old-fashioned Crescent City funk and jazz to the stage.
In addition to some tasty horn playing, they had lots of vocals and even some rapping, choreographed stage moves, two drummers, and a hip-hop dancer on stage at the end of their set. Bonus points for leading an audience sing-along of the surprising selection of The Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams Are Made of This, and for getting the entire audience to participate in a "get down low and then get back up" routine.
But the reason I went was to see Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. We last saw the band at Variety Playhouse back in 2010, fresh off the release of their breakthrough Up From Below album. The band has toured extensively since then, although they apparently found time to record a second album, Here, as well as a solo effort by singer Alex Ebert.
Despite all the touring and recording, last night's set was still as fresh and invigorating as their 2010 concert, and the chemistry between Ebert and singer Jade Castrinos still lights up the stage.
Reviewing the 2010 set, I noted that the band tends to break down the barrier between performers and audience. It is no different now. Ebert wasted no time crossing the stage monitors and security barrier, high-fiving and embracing audience members, and even getting the front of the crowd to sit down with him as he sang a song, campfire-style, while the rest of the large (11-person) band sat on the end of the stage accompanying him.
Ebert still has his shamanistic/messianic charm, exuding a neo-hippie peace-love-and-understanding vibe without even having to use those words. Throughout the set, he indulged the requests of the audience, and even invited people up on stage to sing along with the songs they had requested ("You want to hear Mayla? Do you want to come on stage and help sing the chorus with us?").
Jade Castrinos' family, including her Mom, were backstage, so naturally they got brought on stage too for one song, too.
The band even let one young man perform the whistling part of their signature song, Home.
But the most adorable part of the whole evening, and the highlight of the set for me, was when a very young child, Avey, somehow found her way to the stage. Jade immediately took her under her wing, sitting out one song as she taught Avey how to play the tambourine and fixing her up with some earplugs. For the next song, Avey sat on the monitor next to Alex and stared, transfixed, at the audience as they chanted her name ("Ave-y, Ave-y, Ave-y") and cheered when she remembered to shake the tambourine like Jade had taught her.
Little Avey clearly liked being on stage, but barely moved a muscle. When her face finally broke out into a smile, the audience cheered again, and she just sat there like a Cheshire Cat with her adorable grin. I'm not sure if the reality of what was happening really sunk in to her, or if she thought she might be dreaming. It must have been a surreal moment.
If in about 10 or 15 years from now you hear about some performer who got her start after being on stage as a child at an Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros show, it will be little Avey to whom they're referring.
It's hard to top little Avey, at least in terms of charm, but the band still ended the set, post-Avey, with a triumphant finish, and bidding a "good night" to the enchanted audience.