Photos by: Kari Terzino –
Reviews by: Josh Terzino –
The second and final day of the 2018 High Water Festival took place at Riverfront Park in Charleston, South Carolina last night (April 22nd), and featured performances by Indie Rock band Band of Horses, who released their fifth album, Why Are You OK, on June 10th, 2016 via Interscope, which featured the singles “Casual Party”, “In A Drawer”, and “Solemn Oath”, South Carolina-based folk duo Shovels And Rope, who released their newest album, Busted Jukebox Vol. 2, on December 8th, 2017, and more!
Band of Horses
The best years have already passed for Band Of Horses, but they still know how to put on a great rock show. Ben Bridwell started the band in 2004 in Seattle, and they reached their peak of popularity in 2010 after two great albums that were critical hits. While the band has been constantly changing and evolving, and with members coming and going, the steady core of Bridwell, Ryan Monroe, and Creighton Barrett lay the foundation for everything they do.
They kicked off their headlining set at High Water Fest with two classic tracks, “The Great Salt Lake” and “Is There A Ghost”, before settling into a back and forth of both older songs and new tracks. Bridwell is a South Carolina native who spent much of his life in Charleston, so this was really a homecoming show for him and the crowd greeted him like a returning son.
The sound for this set was the best of the festival, with the quiet-loud dynamic the band is famous for working to great effect. The guitars didn’t overwhelm the keyboards and the vocals were pushed well out front so everyone could hear the words to the songs. It seems like a small victory for a festival, but it is such an important part of enjoying music.
“No One’s Gonna Love You” might be the bands best-known song, and it fell in the middle of the set surrounded by a few cuts from Infinite Arms, their 2010 release that changed their sound immensely from the first two albums. Ryan Monroe got his moment in the spotlight when he sang “Older,” which is definitely a contender for best song on that album.
The band all brought their kids to the festival, at one point joking “Alright kids, you get to stay up late and hear daddy cuss.” It’s a moment that fit right in with the family vibe of the festival. Bridwell thanked Shovels And Rope for putting together this weekend that brings the community of Charleston together.
Shovels And Rope
Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent of Shovels And Rope were already busy as the creators of High Water Festival, but they probably enjoyed the last task they had to do. They played the second to last set of the weekend on the main stage to a crowd of thousands who wanted to thank them for all their hard work. They walked out on stage, wearing matching pink velvet outfits, and took their places snuggled close to one microphone. for the song “This Ride”, off their 2016 album, Little Seeds, and with that their set was off and running.
Only having two members makes it easy to go from one song to the next as there isn’t a lot of tuning or needing time before moving on to the next song, so the set moves pretty fast. Unless, of course, a huge freighter carrying hundreds of shipping containers is floating down the river past where you’re playing and decided to blow it’s horn continuously for a few minutes. This happened three songs into Shovels And Rope’s set, causing a minor delay, but giving everyone in the crowd an opportunity to wave at a giant ship.
They’re generally a chatty band live, and introducing songs sometimes involves a story. On a new one they played, Cary Ann said that they’d got into a fight at some point and she knew she was in the wrong and she wrote a song about it. Michael chimed in “She’s only saying that because our therapist is in the audience tonight.” Big laugh from the crowd, and the song was really good.
On their Busted Jukebox Vol. 2 album they cover Bill Carson’s “Cleanup Hitter” with Brandi Carlile, who had played the previous day. Sadly she did not join them for this performance. They also played a cover of Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” to end their set and dedicated it to Michael’s father who passed last year and was a big Chuck Berry fan.
One thing you may not know about Hamilton Leithauser is that he’s a giant. When he hit the stage at High Water Fest, he appeared to stand at least seven feet tall. That could have been an illusion, but he’s tall. And his presence on stage is huge. He’s built up a lot of credibility after his time with The Walkmen, so his gravitas is understood by those in the audience who know him well.
He shies away from playing too much Walkmen material as a solo artist, so we’re left mostly with songs from his two records plus I Had A Dream That You Were Mine, which he made with Rostam Batmanglij, formerly of Vampire Weekend. That’s ok, though, because songs like “Sick As A Dog” from that Rostam collaboration are great live.
He is a compelling figure in person. There’s something about him that draws you in. Maybe because he seems so large and manly, but vulnerable at the same time. When he sings “A Thousand Times” and starts belting out that gravelly verse you can feel his vocal chords shredding as he tears through every heartbreaking word.
Like most of the artists at High Water Fest, Hamilton seemed to be in good spirits and happy to be playing a niche festival set up by Shovels And Rope. His set started about ten minutes late due to another act running over, but he didn’t seem to mind. Whoever was programming the PA kept the crowd moving with some prime classic rock cuts that kept the crowd occupied while they waited
Alejandro Rose-Garcia, better known by his stage name, Shakey Graves, took to the main stage at High Water Fest as a solo act for the first few songs of his set. He came out and wanted to talk a little bit about his relationship with Shovels And Rope and why it meant so much to play this festival that they created. As a young musician he had doubts about whether he could make it on his own, and after meeting them he realized he could do it. Also they ate a lot of oysters together.
Flash forward six or seven years and he’s playing festivals across the country and selling out clubs. He appears very gracious and humble, thanking the audience after every song and never without a smile on his face. He brought his band out after a few songs and having people around him to do things like play drums seemed to free him up to move around the stage and interact with his bandmates and the audience.
He has a new record out next month so they played a few songs off that and it sounds incredible live. They got into some deep cuts that all the people digging his Bandcamp deals were sure to enjoy, but kept it interesting for the fans that stick to his better-known works like 2014’s And The War Came and the follow-up Nobody’s Fool. The title track from the latter was one of the biggest hits of his set.
M Ward has been playing music professionally since 1999, and had never played a solo show in South Carolina. He kept the fans at Riverfront Park waiting just a little bit longer, as his set got off to a delayed start. It was enough of a delay that it made every act that followed him cut a few minutes off, and dropped his own set from 45 minutes to just under 30. No reason was given for this.
Once on stage he didn’t speak to the audience as the band plodded through songs new and old without much of a care for the audience. Ward was stoic in dark jeans and a blue button-down shirt. He never looked out from behind his dark, square sunglasses.
As is usual for Ward, if you’re looking for fireworks you may want to look elsewhere. His performance style is professional and distant, letting the songs speak for themselves and if you need any explanations that’s just too bad. His better than average guitar-playing was on full display, but a lot of the heavy lifting was taken care of by his backing band, all of whom followed his lead in not engaging at all with the crowd.