It was hard to know exactly what to expect in High Water’s first year as a music festival. On announcement the lineup was outstanding, a slate of bands curated by low-country locals Shovels and Rope for low-country music lovers. Speckled in the lineup between big named acts like Dawes and The Shins were beloved hometown bands like Jump, Little Children and Slow Runner. The lineup was so stellar, and the general excitement behind the festival so high, that it sold out quicker than expected, both VIP and General Admission. The festival didn’t disappoint.
Taking place at Riverfront Park in North Charleston, just next to the naval base, both stages looked out on the Cooper River. In the distant horizon to the south was where the Wando River and the Cooper River join together to flow past Charleston on their way to the Atlantic Ocean. The park was laid out masterfully with a hill in the middle dividing the two stages, aptly named Edisto and Stono, two rivers that end south of Charleston. Flanked beside the entrance was The Refuge, an area filled with high quality food options, all reasonably priced by festival standards, and fitting of a Charleston area festival known nationwide for their chefs and restaurants. We traveled from Columbia, so it was a chance to grab some Lewis BBQ who we’d seen just weeks before on a CBS morning show telling his story and giving the show’s hosts a chance to taste some of his pulled pork. It didn’t disappoint.
As hosts, Shovels and Rope played at sunset on the main stage and everything seemed right. As the sun slowly set through their set it was a constant reminder of their impact on the South Carolina music scene as a whole and Charleston specifically. That this festival came together because of their years of hard work and time on the road playing other festivals and building relationships with all of these other artists so that they could eventually share that with their hometown kept crossing my mind. It was obvious that each artist enjoyed being there, and weren’t just playing another big festival. It felt like something more.
It felt like something more when Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith and Deer Tick’s John McCauley hopped on stage with Matt Vasquez for a couple of Middle Brother songs, a rare occurrence that was heartfelt and amazing. To have The Avett Brothers, one of the South’s best live acts who also worked for a long time to get to where they are, headline a night was most appropriate. They kept the stage dark and moody, performing a mix of material that spanned their whole career, sending everyone home dreaming of what next year’s High Water Fest will bring.
Day one opened up with a variety of young up-and-coming artists who will probably be able to headline the festival in a couple of years. Julien Baker and Caroline Rose are quickly rising stars now, but it’s come to them in different ways. Rose spent years on the road working her way up and adapting her sound, while Baker shot up the ranks quickly with her cuttingly honest songs performed solo, making new die hard fans each and every time anyone watches her perform. They were followed by more established artists, like the legendary Charles Bradley and then Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats who are both two amazing performers who did not let the crowd down. Both left the crowd buzzing with excitement, and it wasn’t even time for dinner. Day one was mostly filled with the out-of-town acts outside of the Shrimp Family Records Band (Shovels and Rope and friends).
Our day two highlights were all about the locals. To see Indianola, Shovels and Rope, Slow Runner, and Jump Little Children all together was something Charleston music fans had to have dreamed of for years. Bands that mostly received the local attention they deserved, but other than Shovels and Rope didn’t break out onto the national level as we all hoped, though they’ve all flirted with that attention. When you put them beside bands like Dawes, Deer Tick, and The Avett Brothers everything seemed right.
It’s hard to imagine a better lineup in 2018, but I’m sure they’ll be able to make it happen. Everything they touch turns to gold and with this festival going off as well as it did makes the hype for next year palpable. An amazing way to showcase the great things happening here in South Carolina in the music and food scene, set in an iconic coastal way. It seems like we now have our own little play on Newport Folk Festival.