I got the feeling I was part of something special Saturday as a good chunk of Charleston’s music scene took over Fall for Greenville — from up-and-comers Volcanoes in the Kitchen opening the main stage at noon, to Holy City darlings Shovels and Rope headlining the main stage Saturday night. Sandwiched between those two acts around the festival were Charleston bands Susto, Brave Baby, and Jordan Igoe, all three of whom have spent serious time touring and making a name for themselves 0n the road this year. It’s not a case where these acts might piggy back off the success of Shovels and Rope. Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst have long been aware of the amount of talent the salty air of Charleston holds, and they were quick to note on stage how proud they were that the music of their town was on display Saturday at Fall for Greenville. These acts have the talent to blaze their own trail, but in this day-and-age it surely helps when you have the support of nationally renowned acts like Shovels and Rope and Band of Horses.
I feel comfortable saying that this year was one of the best all around music years at Fall for Greenville in recent history — and that’s saying a lot. Since 2010 I’ve seen everyone from Rogue Wave, to Dawes, Deer Tick, and Jason Isbell so it goes without saying that Fall for Greenville does a fantastic job programming not only great music, but music that’s relevant. What took this year up a notch is that South Carolina’s music scene is on a huge upswing and Fall for Greenville booked a lot of the Palmetto State’s best bands. Beyond just the bands I’ve written about here, the lineup was full of up-and-coming acts that hope to someday see national exposure.
There couldn’t have been a finer way to start out my Fall for Greenville experience than with Charlotte, NC trio (they were a 4 piece this show) Amigo. The alt-country tinged group brought the flair as singer and guitarist Slade Baird was decked out in his bright red Western button up, cowboy hat, and American flag Chuck Taylor’s — his outfit said they were ready to party and that they did.
I was really excited to see the Dead 27’s Friday evening after listening to their stellar 2014 release Chase Your Devils Down, but due to bad traffic half the band didn’t make it on time and it totally rearranged the set. Entertainment wise the group did an admirable job considering the circumstances, but it was a major bummer not to see the full band performance.
Is van-lag a thing? I think not. American Aquarium drove two days straight to their show at Fall for Greenville all the way from Solana Beach, California where they opened for Fall for Greenville alum Justin Townes Earle on his current tour. They showed no signs of fatigue powering through songs new and old.
Roadkill Ghost Choir
You’d have thought a young Bob Dylan was singing as Roadkill Ghost Choir’s music swept over the beer garden Friday night. Their sound is more relaxed these days, settling comfortably into a breezy roots rock arena similar to The War on Drugs, albeit with less “beer commercial lead guitar.” Note that I do love The War on Drugs.
All the way from Utah, Desert Noises brought a strong crowd out as they powered through an hour and a half set. I’m not sure they’re used to playing that long, but the Tom Petty cover and jamming suited them well at times. They were at their strongest playing their own material, which is a good thing.
This is my second time seeing Old 97’s this year and my third time seeing Rhett Miller. He’s always a great performer and had it going again in Greenville Friday night. They won me over by covering Drive 8 by R.E.M. and mentioning that Mike Mills played it with them the night before in Athens, GA. I might have traveled there just to see that. The Old 97’s more than made up for cancelling on the event last year.
Volcanoes in the Kitchen
I was asked to critique Volcanoes in the Kitchen performance Saturday so they could know what to improve on, but I was having trouble thinking of anything to say. Maybe ummmm open their eyes more while they sing? I just noticed that when I went back through my photos, but I’m not even sure that’s a thing. Seeing them live for the first time, it was incredible to watch their chemistry on stage and the ease at which they all performed. Comfortable like they’re meant to be on stage and play for large crowds.
Sturgill Simpson cancelled on Saturday so Susto held down the outlaw country aspect of the main stage at FFG. Justin Osborne and company played through songs off their latest album as he switched between guitar and keys sounding as good as ever. In 2010 it was Sequoyah Prep School up on that same stage in that time slot. A lot has changed since then and it’s good to see Susto back on the main stage playing some of the best songs he’s ever written.
“Hello, we’re Jordan Igoe” said Jordan Igoe as she kicked off her mid day set in the beer garden Saturday afternoon. This full band performance was their best since her album release show earlier this year. Igoe moved flawlessly between keys and acoustic guitar as she sang to a crowd that packed into any shaded spot they could find in sights distance of the stage.
Can these guys get any better? The answer to that is yes, and they’re just now starting to hit their stride as a band after years of grinding through different songs, changing of a band name, and lineups. Their 2015 album will take them to a new level and a time slot after the sun’s gone down.
I recently read an article about 5 modern bands “reinventing” folk music. Stagbriar instantly popped in my mind as a band rooted deeply in traditional American roots music, but with a forward thinking no-holds-barred attitude to them. As a band, they’re already so much more than their first album, and definitely worlds away from their first EP. Take notice now, as their 2015 (fingers crossed over here) album will make waves, hopefully on a national level.
Mac Leaphart and My Ragged Company
Kudos to Mac and company for pulling double duty Saturday performing in the 3 PM time slot and Sturgill Simpson’s 6 PM slot. People were pumped to see Sturgill so I was scared for Mac when he went up there. I had the Blues Brothers country bar scene in mind, but FFG doesn’t have chicken wire in front of the stage. “Confederate Roses” can win over just about any crowd though.
Shovels & Rope
After years of playing smaller shows in Greenville Shovels and Rope finally got their big stage debut, and Greenville showed up and Shovels and Rope played their hearts out as they always do as sealed it with a handshake at the end of their set. “We don’t care about colors, or mascots, we’re just glad to be back playing in South Carolina” said Cary Ann Hearst. We’re just glad to have them.
The Lilies and the Sparrows
Before Fall for Greenville I wasn’t sure they were still a band, but it was great to see Ben Patat and company back on stage Saturday afternoon. Patat towered on the Carolina Ale House stage as they rocked through a set more reliant on electric guitars and soft loud dynamics than some of their earlier acoustic material. Hopefully this means new music from the Greer band.
Unfortunately I was only able to catch the last song from The Soulfeathers Sunday afternoon. They were the lucky band that got to play during a downpour, which I was told was the first time Fall for Greenville had seen rain in a long long time. The rain didn’t drive the crowd away, but had them dancing under their umbrellas.
The Bent Strings
A South Carolina band I had never seen live before, and there aren’t many of those that are worth noting. The Bent Strings played through a set of originals and covers that they made their own Sunday as the rain died off during their set. The group blends folk, bluegrass and modern rock smoothly into something uniquely their own. The fact that three of them are siblings only helps with live performance.
AJ Ghent Band
OK, not a band a planned on seeing, but easily one of the most entertaining acts I saw all weekend. I was mesmerized by AJ Ghent’s guitar playing, and his guitar, and the amount of pure soul and energy they brought to the stage. I’ve never seen anyone play a guitar, slide on top like a lap steel, and be able to play that flawlessly. And the choreographed dancers flanking each side of the stage. Really, top notch stuff.
St. Paul the Broken Bones
It was rainy, cold, and some of the lowest attendance I’d ever seen at Fall for Greenville when I got there Sunday, but by the time St. Paul and the Broken Bones went on stage Washington St. was packed all the way back to Main St. just like it should have been, and they didn’t disappoint. They played not one, but two encores after a long set of Alabama soul injected between the buildings of downtown Greenville. I’ve never seen a rotating Leslie speaker mic’d up on stage, but sure enough they had one and it sounded incredible. And that was some serious next level jiving. Kudos to that. Couldn’t imagine a better way to close Fall for Greenville 2014.