By: Damien McPherson
Managed to walk in the park sometime around 11, cloudy, sure, but never ominous. The temperature was stellar, and unlike any July on record. In my bag I had the sunscreen I wished I’d brought to my earlier festival appearances, but I never once had to reach for it. I walked the grounds, exploring the options and comparing the layout to years past. The Heine Brothers truck was in place, only 50 feet or so where it was last year, so all is well (I’m a creature of habit. Change frightens me.). WFPK’s Port Stage has moved away from the competition of the main grounds and the awful bass competition of 2013, relocating to the eastern end parallel to the main stage (where longtime attendees will recall the LEO-curated stage from a few years back). A brief lost-kid-in-the-mall moment searching for the media tent (damned entrance change), but the very helpful ladies at the information booth directed me easily. Now Wi-Fi enabled, it was time to study the schedule and map out the day before the gates opened.
Benjamin Booker opened the main stage to increasing drizzle from the sky. Booker’s is a blues-rock with an almost punk edge at times. He began almost dismissively, with a “We just drove here from New Orleans, so, give me a break.” Not a promising start. His performance was fine, if perfunctory, and the songs were mostly background. I expect to hear them with some regularity on ‘FPK and the retail corners of Frankfort, Baxter and Bardstown. They never quite reached past the level of audible wallpaper.
Old Baby was mid-set by the time I wandered over, Jonathan Wood brooding in to the mic. Here’s where I confess that I hadn’t gotten around to listening to Old Baby’s record, a zip file still on my hard drive unopened, and now I apologize for that omission. The songs’ darkness were buoyed by flourishes on keyboard and guitar that gave a great balance and energy, and even the sound guys (a notoriously difficult lot) were enjoying what they were hearing.
Hoofing it clear to the other end to catch the last half hour of The Black Lips’ set, I felt bad for missing the first part as they easily won for best opening act of the day. High energy (besides the guy in the Mike Nesmith wool cap) and polish, these guys were here to play, and the crowd, outnumbering the other stages by far, was more that appreciative.
A quick run to the Media Tent for words from Captain JK McKnight, Ashley Capps and Mayor Greg Fischer, as well as a sampling of a moonshine concoction and some Mellow Mushroom pizza (unprofessionally, I ate the first two bites prior to folding – rookie move), then to a stellar set from Against Me! and an adequate-but-not-exceptional performance by Gary Clark Jr, who excelled at sounding just like the record, but, then, if that’s what you wanted just pay the $9.99 and listen at home.
Nightmares on Wax is celebrating their 25th anniversary with their completely unexpected reunion and tour, and while the crowd was maybe anticipating something different under the overpass Friday, it was a solid set, and brought back some great memories for those who were aware of their previous excellence, and hell, maybe it let the kids all come down for a few minutes off whatever their choice of inebriant happened to be. (I apparently looked like security while people watching as I had several people approach me and ask for assistance or directions during this set.)
The push alert on the Forecastle app was very disappointing. Action Bronson had cancelled his appearance. No reason was given, and none was discoverable by pressing the handful of folks I asked. One journo told me his highest wish for this weekend was to be punched by Bronson, a regular occurrence for Bronson shows. There’s always next year, friend.
Twelve hours later I’m not sure I’m ready to type about Outkast’s performance yet, but, as deadline looms, suck it up and write. With a dead cell phone in my pocket and separated from the crowd I’d been hanging out with, I found one friendly face and made my way. I’d already watched their Coachella set from this year and been supplied with audio from a couple other shows from this tour, so I knew what to expect, but none of it matched the fanboy response I felt hearing these songs in person for the first time. With a live band that included long time background singer and Dungeon Family member Joi Gilliam and several appearances of Sleepy Brown, the just-shy of two hour set satisfied both bandwagon fans (Hey Ya with some pitiable audience-participation Polaroid shaking) and day one hardcore followers (Players Ball, Hootie Hoo, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, and more). Andre was wearing a platinum wig with a pixie cut, a black jumpsuit with the words “obviously oblivious” across the chest and a large “Sold” tag hanging from it, perhaps a not-subtle nod to the tour’s existence. As great as it was to see the duo together, and Andre was good, Big Boi was the star of the show, though he won’t get the credit for it. Rapping much of the show in double time, Big was on fire, whether by compensating for the incomprehensible second-class setting he holds in the group, or because he’s simply one of the best doing it, it’s Big Boi’s performance that stays in my head all these hours later.