I fall in love very easily, especially with creative talent. I fell again tonight. My town has a two day music festival every summer and it was this weekend. I've posted about it before and almost always positively, because there's just so much talent in the world it's pretty easy it seems to put together two days of continuous bands playing in a lot of different styles and configurations and end up satisfying an audience, and me.
It takes place outside in our main local park in a kind of natural amphitheater, basically a grassy hill for people to sit on with the stage at the bottom and some trees behind it and a river behind them and on the other side of the river a duck pond and behind that a couple of playing fields for baseball/soccer/lacrosse/field hockey/ultimate Frisbee (it was invented here).
When they started the festival ten years ago the bands were local and played on a small riser and had to run for cover when it rained. Now a few of the bands often have a local connection (the drummer grew up here etc.) and one or two are actually homegrown, but the main acts in the evenings are from somewhere else and they now play on a big stage with a top to it.
And where people used to come and just sit down on the hill to watch, and then started bringing blankets and coolers with beer and wine etc. and food, they now have local restaurants in booths at the top of the hill as well as arts and crafts booths and game booths for the kids and etc. and people not only bring their own chairs or blankets but tents, or whatever they call those things that are four posts with a top, to block the sun or yesterday the rain (there were lots of people not in tents, which cluster at the top so as to not block the view, so that yesterday looking down at the crowd it was mostly a sea of umbrellas.The bands kept playing through a torrential downpour and most of the crowd kept sitting there digging it).
Quite often the out of town bands are surprised by the enthusiasm of the local crowd. Part of that is just the kind of community it is, and part of it is that while the kids play the adults socialize and that means many of them have maybe had a few by late afternoon and everyone seems pretty loose. Saturday night's last two bands had people dancing in the space between the last of the sitters and the stage, especially to the last two main attractions. The penultimate act was The Iguanas, a New Orleans four piece band that got such an enthusiastic response from the crowd they seem startled, pleasantly so. After the first two songs had people dancing and shouting like an amen chorus the leader stepped to the mic and said: "Maplewood New Jersey, who knew?"
It was their first time in Jersey and the smiles they exchanged as their grooves got funkier and funkier responding to the crowd's energy made clear, they were not just surprised but delighted. It was a totally great set and then they were followed by Brother Josephus And The Love Revolution, a ten member band from Brooklyn that won the Indie music award last year and put on an amazing show that was lots of fun and packed with musical talent.
There were many other bands on both days, but the highlight for me was the main act of the weekend that closed the little festival a few hours ago: Joan Osborne. I knew who she was from her hit back in the '90s—"Maybe God Is One of Us"—a very catchy and moving song. But I hadn't really followed her music or paid any attention to what she was up to. So when I arrived late (having had to run to a previous engagement for an hour) and she was already up on stage as the daylight faded, there was a huge crowd squeezed up in front of the stage and the closest I could get to her was the thirty yard line.
She mentioned how she had fallen on stage, from wearing wedgies or whatever those high heels with the solid base that slants up are called, but I missed that. From my vantage point the first thing I noticed was her beauty, she looked like a slightly older Jennifer Lawrence (though I guess since she was around first it should be the other way round) and moved like, well, like a lot of women and performers on stage wish they could, free and easy and sexy and funky and groovy and cool and hot and open and generous and in control in a way that seemed loose and spontaneous. A real showman, I mean show woman.
The next thing I noticed was her voice. Amazing isn't the half of it. She ended one song on an almost bass note that had the texture of a good jazz saxophone player's tone. She did half steps up and down the scale in another song that came close to yodeling, but more extended and difficult to control—though she did. In fact her vocal control was so impressive every time the tiniest space opened up I made my way closer to the stage to just watch her move and hear even louder her touches of gospel and jazz and rock and funk and jam (she talked about touring with the Grateful Dead as "the chick singer" and did a Dead song that was lovely, as well as a Dylan a Van Morrison and a Bill Withers tune) and pop touches.
The temperature was high (it's the first day of another heat wave) the humidity killing, the bugs out, and she was under the lights with the band backing her that she was obviously inspiring to groove even harder as well as conducting them to extend riffs and reach pinnacles I'd watch them exchange smiles and nods to each other about—but she never lost her groove or her obvious passion for the music or her willingness to bring it all to the performance in a way the crowd just ate up.
I'm too tired to write any more or come up with the words to do so, but if Joan Osborne is ever performing anywhere near where you are and you love great singing, do yourself a favor and go.