Full Report: LouFest Music Festival

It almost seemed too good to be true. A true outdoor music festival in Saint Louis, one where you could sit on your blanket or in a lawn chair all day, drinking and conversing with friends and music lovers? Really? In Saint Louis?

LouFest delivered on its promise: to make everything easy, like you were walking into your vacation home. Like you just woke up on Sunday morning (some of us may have, indeed). Like you didn’t have to travel hundreds of miles to see what this “music festival hoopla” was all about.

Brian Cohen and his team of supporters (what a nice bunch!) knew what they had to offer in year one, and smartly, didn’t try to overdo it. The only negative aspect we’ve read about the whole darn thing was that the lines for the free water stations were too long. Easily fixable. It’s not like we were invaded by killer bees or had government officials asking to see our IDs. No, LouFest was cool. How cool? Read on for our thoughts about the two-day extravaganza.

Jason Gonulsen: I have been around the festival block a few times, and I am proud of that. While things can get hot, sweaty, and tiresome, the memories you have after a festival are like no other, mainly because you feel like you were part of something special, especially when the damn festival takes place in your city. And LouFest, in its own comfy way, was just as special as Bonnaroo or the ACL Fest.

JG: I started LouFest off on Saturday morning bright and early at noon with one my favorite local/national bands, The Bottle Rockets. They are the perfect festival band and proved to be a great LouFest opener with their rusty Crazy Horse-style rock. They opened with “Lucky Break,” which will go down in the LouFest history books as the first ever LouFest tune, and followed it with a loud fury of new tunes (see/listen to “Hard Times” below) and favorites (“I’ll Be Comin’ Around,” “Radar Gun”). A sweet beginning, but that’s what I’ve come to expect from Brian Henneman and the Bottle Rockets.

Bottle Rockets – “Hard Times”

JG: Stephaniesid from North Carolina featured Stephanie Morgan, who sounded a lot like Regina Spektor: quirky, happy, and a little jittery. Morgan clearly enjoyed herself, smiling and singing, and she even stuck around for the entire festival. I saw her many times chatting it up with everyone who wanted to say hello. See, LouFest was cool like that.

Katie Guymon: My Saturday began with the well-known, local alt-country act, Adam Reichmann. Dude sounded pretty good. It was really nice to see some Saint Louis local acts, getting their due, playing on a big stage to happy festival goers. Reichmann played the kind of music that was perfect to begin a day of sunbathing, beer drinking, and celebrating.

Adam Reichmann

KG: Titus Andronicus, named after Shakespeare’s earliest tragedy, has been on my radar for quite awhile. The New Jersey indie-punk rockers ripped and roared and howled through their set, commenting on the bevy of “country and western” music played at LouFest (see video below). The rollicking (almost) six-minute stomper that is “Theme From ‘Cheers'” below was the closest they got to that referenced genre, but it was definitely the highlight of the TA show. The cherry on top was Amy Klein’s electric blue fiddle.

Titus Andronicus – “Theme From ‘Cheers'”

JG: Unfortunately, Lucero’s set was cut a bit short due to an illness with one of the band members. But it’s not like a pigeon crapped on them; the dude needed an IV. And what’s a festival without a backstage IV? Street cred for LouFest, yes!

Airborne Toxic Event
Photo credit: Jason Gonulsen

JG: The next band I was really looking forward to was Airborne Toxic Event, mainly because I had become slightly obsessed with their song, “Sometime Around Midnight,” a few days before the festival. I totally geeked out at all their guitars before their set (see pic above), and I waited and waited for “Midnight,” which I knew was coming because I had peeked at the setlist. What a great band! Perhaps they can play at Off Broadway in the near future?

Airborne Toxic Event

JG: Built To Spill gave us some hearty jams, so much that one hippie-like creature I met looked like he had seen a ghost. And you know, those are always the best moments: when something is so awesome that you stand transfixed, outside of your body, not worrying about the long lines at the water station, if you might be hungover the next day, or if the bathrooms might be out of toilet paper. At music festivals, you live in the moment.

Built to Spill
Photo credit: Darren Grady

KG: Saturday night ended with Broken Social Scene, the newly reunited and pared down Canadian indie rockers. Admission: even though I know that the Bible of Music Snobbery requires that I sing the praises of BSS on high, I’ve only been a fair weather fan up until three nights ago. Blasphemy! The group sounded great, singing old favorites (like, the few I have on my iPod; obvi need to change that) like “7/4 (Shoreline)” and “Fire Eye’d Boy.” And since LouFest is all about discovery, I will say that the most special treasure I uncovered last weekend was Broken Social Scene, by far.

JG: Sunday started with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who are gaining some serious fans in the Saint Louis area. They play pretty much every organic instrument you could name, and singer Rhiannon Giddens even sang for us in Scottish! I met one of the Drops backstage, and he asked if I would be attending their upcoming October show at the Sheldon. Well, I bought tickets this morning, so, yes!

KG: I was seriously looking forward to hearing Carolina Chocolate Drops live since I missed their not-to-be-missed performance at the Saint Louis Art Museum not so long ago. I am in love with the old-timey music, set ablaze with deep respect for tradition and heritage, this group puts forward. And let’s not forget that genre jumping cover of Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style.” It reminds me of the days when I spent a lot of time in rush hour traffic, and the “Bia Bia Check-In” became a newfound friend. The CCDs did not disappoint.

JG: Gentleman Auction House is a local band I’m familiar with, and while they were staring directly into the sun while they performed, they still killed it. That Kiley Kozel (pic below) can sure rock out on that keyboard, eh? Whew!

Gentleman Auction House
Photo credit: Jason Gonulsen

JG: The rest of the day, before Mr. Tweedy, amounted to three moments I’ll always remember: Cory Chisel performing the delicate “So Wrong For Me,” Fruit Bats covering the Grateful Dead’s “Wharf Rat,” and Alejandro Escovedo tearing my heart out of my chest with a beautiful instrumental. What was that instrumental? Or was that part of a song? Anyone know?

KG: About an hour before Tweedy took the stage solo, he was presented with a proclamation that declared August 29th “Jeff Tweedy Day” in Saint Louis. Once onstage, he commented that it was “the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” but prayed Mayor Slay wasn’t in attendance to note his dubious cynicism. Everyone in the crowd held on to the hope that work and school would be cancelled to observe this new local holiday, which according to the man himself, is “traditionally a three-day weekend.” I, for one, could have used a day of recuperation. Or five.

Behold Jeff Tweedy Day!

JG: The best thing about a Jeff Tweedy solo show vs. a full-fledged Wilco show is that he can play pretty much whatever he wants, and make it sound like anything he wants. And he did that at LouFest. He played Wilco songs, a Golden Smog tune (“Lost Love”), Loose Fur (“The Ruling Class”), a Handsome Family cover (“So Much Wine”), and Uncle Tupelo (“New Madrid”). In an obvious good mood, he even joked that Cicero’s (where Wilco’s first ever show took place in Saint Louis) should be getting his rehab bill when a fan cracked that Tweedy should pay his Cicero’s tab. He revamped “Casino Queen,” giving it a Dylan basement tape-like feel (watch below); “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” was barely recognizable and also a highlight. Hell, the whole set was one big highlight, clearly exceeding expectations, which were lofty, in my mind. Thank you, Jeff Tweedy.

Jeff Tweedy solo set
Photo credit: Darren Grady

Jeff Tweedy – “Casino Queen”

KG: Sunday night was capped with Zooey Deschanel’s She and M. Ward’s Him, the indie princess and the gruff folkster playing songs from their two collabo’s Volume One and Volume Two. While I thought that Deschanel’s voice sounded pristinely clear and confident, I couldn’t help but think her onstage demeanor was a little icy. Trying to stay cool in the Midwestern heat? Or, just kinda bummed to be in the Midwest in the first place?

Regardless whether our Sunday night headliners were dreaming of the California coast instead of living in the Saint Louis moment, it didn’t matter. LouFest was a success. As we tweeted at the close of Sunday night, we at Speakers in Code are believers!

JG: Whatever that Alejandro Escovedo instrumental was, it was dreamlike, just like my LouFest experience. Thanks to everyone who came out; I enjoyed meeting new people and seeing every happy face I happened to glance at in the crowd. See you next year.

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