Photos by: Kari Terzino –
Reviews by: Josh Terzino –
Day one of the 2018 High Water Festival took place at Riverfront Park in Charleston, South Carolina last night (April 21st), and featured performances by Americana/Country Music singer-songwriter Jason Isbell, who released his sixth album, The Nashville Sound, on June 16th, 2017 via Southeastern, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, who released his debut solo album, Together At Last, on June 23rd, 2017 via dBpm Records, Grammy-nominated folk-rock singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile, and more!
The headlining act of night one at High Water Fest was Jason Isbell. The past couple of years he’s been flying high on critical acclaim, along with picking up a pair of Grammy Awards for Best Americana Album and Best American Roots Song earlier this year and he’s been selling out venues across the country. The former Drive-By Trucker member is engaging with fans on a whole new level, and ten thousand of them were out to see him at Riverfront Park.
He was joined on stage by his band, The 400 Unit, and his wife Amanda Shires on violin. It’s nice to see them on stage together, like a modern Johnny and June. They opened with “Super 8” off his 2013 album Southeastern before “Hope The High Road” off The Nashville Sound and then one of his Grammy-winning songs “24 Frames” from the album Something More Than Free.
The crowd was enjoying everything to that point, but things really kicked into high gear when he sang “White Man’s World”, which crucifies white privilege and the concepts of sexism and racism in America. In some crowds that may seem like a lightning rod of controversy, but on this night in North Charleston, South Carolina everyone was on the exact same page.
It was smooth sailing after that. He pulled out a Drive-By Truckers cover near the end of the set (“Never Gonna Change”), but mostly stuck to the hits since he only had an hour and fifteen minutes for his set. He squeezed in 17 songs, closing with another Grammy winner, “If We Were Vampires.” All the lovebirds in the audience were holding their sweet things just a little bit tighter after that one.
Last summer, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy released his first solo album, Together At Last. Fans had been clamoring for the record for a long time, and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s basically studio recordings of a lot of songs he’s been playing live at solo shows. It’s also a good excuse for him to play more solo shows like his set on this night.
He appeared even more affable than usual during his set, taking long breaks from the songs to talk to the audience. He talked about learning to whistle “in the joint,” a reference to his recent arrest while trying to cross the Canadian border. That episode ended with him playing a Neil Young song for the border police. He also scolded audiences in general for singing the wrong parts on “California Stars” for years. After the song, he conceded that this particular crowd did a pretty good job.
He trotted out a new song he wrote about Noah’s Ark that sounds promising for the new Wilco album. There’s a line that goes “wouldn’t you rather live on an ocean of guitars,” that of course sounds a bit empty when played on one acoustic guitar. Tweedy mentioned that he would “probably add some more guitars here. Like a lot of guitars.”
The set was billed for an hour and ended up just short of that, with enough Wilco hits to please the biggest fans in the audience. Everything from “Passenger Side” off Wilco’s debut A.M. to “Locator” off their most recent album, Schmilco. The highlight of the show was watching him try to recreate some of the chaotic guitar moments from songs like “Misunderstood” and “Via Chicago” on his acoustic guitar.
Way back in 2007, Brandi Carlilie took the folk/country world by storm with her album, The Story. Hailed as a masterpiece, it got the 10thanniversary treatment last year. She followed that up with a new album this year, By The Way, I Forgive You. It’s been a great critical success, garnering her best reviews in ten years. And 15 years into her career, she’s riding high once again on a wave of a growing fanbase.
She hit the main stage of High Water Fest in a gold sequined jacket with her hair flowing in the high winds blowing in off the river. She had to wrap her head in a bandana to keep the strands from flying in her face as she tried to perform.
The festival has a very Earth-conscious and inclusive vibe, and Carlile was feeling the love as she talked about missing her wife and kids who couldn’t make the trip this weekend before she went into “The Mother.” That was one of five songs off the new record that she played, making up about half of the set. She also played a couple covers of Elton John’s “Madman Across The Water,” and “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” by Joan Baez.
She closed with “Hold Out Your Hand,” which featured a loud singalong on the chorus that just repeats “Ba da da” over and over. It was a feel-good showstopper that closed out a great set of songs both intimate and entertaining.
St. Paul And The Broken Bones
St. Paul & The Broken Bones may not have headlined High Water Fest, but I think they were easily the biggest band to hit the stage. With the horn section they must have had at least eight members up on stage to blast through their 45-minute set. The crowds gathered in anticipation of the headlining set a couple of hours later, but Paul Janeway and co. treated them to a funky good time in the meantime.
Somehow still flying under the mainstream radar, St. Paul & The Broken Bones have been together since 2012. They got a little bit of buzz last year when their song “Grass Is Greener” was featured on an episode of HBO’s Big Little Lies, and they may still be enjoying the benefits of that fame.
Janeway is a force of nature-part James Brown, part Al Green-his full-throated wail ranks up there with the best of them. The band plays a funky soul style that didn’t quite jibe with the rest of the acts at the festival, so it was a nice change of pace from the folk rock that dominated the day.
He announced that the Alabama-based band is hard at work on a new record, but they just had to take a break to come play this great festival. If the reaction to their music is any indication, this new one could be the big break they need to finally take that next step in the direction of worldwide stardom.
Old 97’s have been a band for 25 years, they announced after their first song at High Water Fest. While time has taken its toll on some of the band members, Rhett Miller is still as boyishly handsome as ever. His dark hair only now starting to show some white lines around the edges of his face. They can still play like they did in 1993, and they tried their best to strike that nostalgic chord during this set.
After kicking things off with “Barrier Reef” and “I Don’t Wanna Die In This Town,” they played “Stoned” off their debut album Hitchhike To Rhome, when the band was at their most twangy. The Dallas-based four-piece has evolved over the years to a more rock-n-roll sound, though the lyrics and Miller’s delivery certainly still fall on the folk/country side of the spectrum.
A couple of songs later Miller announced that they wanted to make things a little more romantic so they played “Let’s Get Drunk And Get It On.” That one is on their 2014 release Most Messed Up, one of their highest regarded releases. The crowd obviously was aware of that because they all went wild when they started playing the song.
They brought out Nicole Atkins, who had played earlier in the day, to sing with them on “Good With God” and then a couple of songs later rocked a Bing Crosby cover (“You Belong To My Heart”). They didn’t get around to anything off of2008’s Blame It On Gravity, otherwise it was a career-spanning set that delivered the goods the audience wanted to hear.
The opening act of this year’s High Water Festival was Canadian rock band Weaves. As the crowd wandered before the set, songs like “Wagon Wheel” and “Sweet Home Alabama” blasted over the PA. This was not a great precursor for what was to follow. Weaves is the least country act at High Water Fest. The audience didn’t know what was about to hit them.
Lead singer Jasmyn Burke didn’t waste any time with introductions, instead letting the music do all the talking. “Don’t tell me what you wanna hear, I don’t wanna hear it.” Those words seem to speak directly to the kind of good ol’ boy mentality shared by those who were singing along to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Weaves isn’t interested in your myopic worldview, and they don’t mind letting you know.
The winds in the afternoon were coming off the Cooper River in squalls. At one point the cymbals came crashing down from a very strong gust that took drummer Spencer Cole by surprise. The band went back and forth between their newest album, Wide Open, and their self-titled 2016 debut. With the sun hidden behind the clouds for much of their set, they did their best to keep the crowd warm with a constant intensity that didn’t let up until the set was finished.