Greg Mendez kicked off the intimate festival last Saturday with a short, thirty minute set of his casual and relaxed music. His closeness with the microphone and soothing guitar set a gentler mood for the night, and seemed to put everyone at ease. Not as earsplitting as the rest of the night would prove to be, but felt strong and organic.
Small Talks followed after, beginning by insisting everyone get closer in what was a pretty spread out audience. They then began their series of poppy, upbeat, ecstatic songs, driven by Cayley Spivey’s sharp vocals and her insistent guitar playing. She turned the tone lighter, her music focusing around the connection with the audience, with everything from banter to running through the crowd during her solos. This loosened up the crowd, but at times felt gimmicky, and at points the band’s enthusiasm outstripped the audience’s. However, it was mostly welcome, and they never felt disingenuous.
Nervous Dater‘s set was more dance-y, filled with catchy lyrics, and bouncing guitars. You could feel the chemistry in the band, and their sheer comfort performing. They were probably the grooviest band that night, encouraging dancing throughout their performance without showing off. Their songs were filled with playful words that dovetailed into biting insults, a perfect combination. Even “Vomino’s,” the piece singer Rachel Lightner described as “a song about when you eat so much Domino’s pizza that you end up vomiting in the sink” is filled with words of insecurity and doubt. Nervous Dater, however, managed to embody the sense of a hot & fresh pizza, ready to eat.
Hodera was the highlight of the night, bringing their own lighting system to bring a better sense of showmanship, and coupling that with their songs that began small, but built over four minutes to powerful pieces that rung out and blew me away. Their guitarist brought almost impossible-to-keep-up-with riffs, juxtaposed to the steadiness of the rest of the band, complementing each other until they all came alive by the second half of each song, each piece evolving from careful Americana driven ideas into fully-fledged rock ballads. Their set was tragically cut short by a power shortage, most likely from rocking too hard.
Who Loves You closed out the night by performing a rendition of their latest album, start-to-finish. Although by this point most of the crowd had realized how late it had become, Who Loves You brought the energy back up with their loud, explosive, and grinding set. Their screams filled the room and managed to shake everyone awake once again. Perhaps their full album was too much for so late, but they otherwise gave a powerful and memorable show.
Grayling began the second night, and like their name suggests, their songs were quieter and darker, with Lexi Campion’s growling vocals creating an atmosphere of anger and mourning. Her music followed suit, with the deep guitars and heavy drums feeling like something to accompany a growing storm.
Macseal, the five-piece group from New York, introduced a noise unheard before in the fest, breaking through the barrier with their complex and overlapping guitars, and creating a cheerier attitude for the otherwise gloomier mood set by other bands. Such a powerful dynamic shone through, and felt like it lightened everyone up a little, and their songs carried that similar enthusiasm. Every break between songs was also filled with a similar vibe, expressing their gratitude to be able to share their music and perform with other fantastic bands. Little details that often go forgotten about.
Weller‘s performance was more toned down, bringing a sense of ease to the room, and responding to Macseal’s five-piece with a trio, which resulted in less complex songs but more focused melodies, and stronger emphasis on the frontman. Their songs were more static than others I had seen that night, but made up for it with their closer knit rhythms, and tighter jams.
Despite the brilliance of the other performances that night, Harmony Woods clearly shone through. Frontman Sofia Verbilla stole the show with her heartfelt songs full of warm lyrics and coupled with sparkly guitar, creating the perfect blend of alternative and pop. Her band added a sense of fullness to her songs, putting more of the rock in alt-rock, with a cameo from AllegrA on bass. Harmony Woods also debuted a new piece here, titled “Best Laid Plans II” which followed a similar mood of her debut LP “Nothing Special” but with a sharper edge and potentially foreshadowing more of a punk vibe for her upcoming sophomore album. By the time they reached “Renovations,” the crowd was at a high point for the night, and there were few people not singing along to the words. It is becoming quickly apparent that Harmony Woods is one of the best local bands to check out live whenever possible.
Closing out on a strong note, the two-day festival closed out on a performance from Oso Oso, the project of Jade Lilitri, who finished up with a strong performance of selections from his new album “The Yunahon Mixtape”. He managed to help the crowd power through until the end, and the energy felt strong between Jade and the longtime fans of his. At points it felt like the venue could not stretch to fit the size of his songs, full of circular but meaningful lyrics, embodying the emotion that much of the festival attempted to capture. Oso Oso wrapped up the two-night festival with “reindeer games,” the perfect song to close up a festival about community and appreciation of great music.