Two of the biggest music festivals in the country - CMA Music Fest and Bonnaroo - are about to arrive in Middle Tennessee. Crowds of 50-70,000 people will assemble to commune with artists most of them can barely see, other than via huge video screens. We're partial to more intimate relationships with our music and our fellow fans. And that's what we got this weekend in Murfreesboro - an astonishing lineup of passionate and world-class artistry making common cause with an audience they could relate to eye-to-eye, in an atmosphere that felt a bit like a really big wedding or a family reunion.
There was energy, elbow-room and the lush green surroundings of Hop Springs Beer Park (not to mention abundant craft beer). There were forays into the crowd and rousing sing-alongs. At the first ever 895 Fest, an experience unlikely to be forgotten by anyone who attended, the radio station motto on the banner above the stage matched the vibe on the ground: Friends, Neighbors, Legends and Heroes.
With twelve artists taking hourly slots on Saturday, there's too much to review, but my personal highlights coincided with another dramatic and balmy sunset. Steve Poltz was just one man with one guitar taking the stage between substantial bands, but he confirmed his reputation as a solo spectacle. Always on the verge of excess yet utterly friendly and familiar, Poltz displayed the folk rapport of the late great Steve Goodman, John Prine's running buddy from Chicago. His stories included memories of his favorite baseball announcers and acquiring "the pot" for his elderly mom's hip pain. It was laughter and tears for 40 minutes, capped off with a stroll into the crowd.
Rodney Crowell gave all, playing with as much spirit and smiles as I've ever seen. He and his crack band offered up a simply extraordinary round of standard-setting country roots music. Besides some deep catalog favorites, Crowell led the crowd in a long and righteous re-telling of Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone." I don't know if Rodney does this live often, but it had a cathartic joy as if he'd been wanting to do it for years. 895 Fest says yes.
The night evolved into punchier, bluesier matter, with the uncanny voice of Mike Farris and the modal stomping passion of Liz Brasher. Farris invited John Cowan, a rare voice that can match his for soaring power, up on stage for a duet. He was equally generous to our own John Walker, who got to step away from his marathon day of stage managing to play some rocking electric guitar alongside the great Doug Lancio.
The final set of 895 Fest featured the highly synchronized jam rock of Cordovas, a band out on its own in territory once owned by the Allman Brothers and The Band. The twin guitar arrangements of Toby Weaver and Lucca Soria traded spots with super-tight vocal parts that stacked up to three lines of harmony. They're light on their feet this Nashville band, and extra groovy with a new thing - two drummers working side by side in back. After a rousing roll through the Dead's "Truckin'" the drummers kept up a groove for a couple of minutes on their own to close out the festival, a kind of meditation on rhythm under the stars that seemed to say the music never really stops.
Enjoy these festival photos from Day 2 by our GM Val Hoeppner.
Cordovas closed the night out with magical twin guitars and twin drummers behind.
Jason Ringenberg brought along a new(ish) band that sets his songwriting and brazen showmanship into perfect relief.
Sarah Potenza is our favorite force of nature and fashion whimsey. Her empowering soul music came from her recent Road To Rome album.
Rev. Sekou brought uncompromising social commentary, powerful singing, deep funk and a load of audience involvement to his set.
Rodney Crowell has logged many miles and many shows with bass playing Nashville legend Michael Rhodes.