July 22, 2014

Wildwood Revival

This weekend, I emerged from the backwoods of Georgia with a new outlook on music festivals. While my friends were surrounded by sweaty teenagers, miles away from their favorite bands at Pitchfork Fest, I was intimately stomping my feet on a farm to banjos, guitars, and the soulful voices of Wildwood Revival. And it really was a revival. Against the shell that soulless conglomerate music festivals are today, rose the Wildwood mentality: camaraderie, good local food, and talented musicians. With that combination, I convinced my friends to travel down Wolfskin Road and join the intimate setting of a true Americana experience.

The farm was mesmerizing. A plantation era white mansion overlooked the entrance. Teepees were spread across the property. Dinner tables with hay seats stretched out into the fields. A rustic barn with wooden chandeliers, an American flag, and strings of hazy golden lights, housed the stage. The festival truly dawned a country, vintage feel.

The first band was Banditos. This six piece originating from Birmingham, Alabama had the entire room dancing. With a powerful female vocalist, a banjo, and heavy guitar riffs, the band was spinning out hits that sounded like hillbilly take on Alabama Shakes. In their powerful song, “No Good,” vocalist Mary Beth Richardson lets out raspy howls to a guitar and upright bass accompaniment. “Leave Me Alone” had the shimmying and toe tapping power to provoke uncanny hoots and hollers. With a bearded and long-haired Timothy Steven Corey Parsons leading the wails, this band put on a honkytonk performance that couldn’t be pinned down as just country-folk. When they ended, they had the whole crowd yelling their name. Seriously, check this band out.

The stage quickly transitioned to Rolling Nowhere’s set. Vocalist Brad Cochran emerged with a duct-taped contraption called the Canjo, a washboard type instrument made of various cans and covered in stickers that said, “I want whiskey.” His four band mates on upright bass, telecaster guitar, drums, and banjo surrounded him. Their set had a more old timey country feel than Banditos, but it didn’t disappoint. Cochran introduced “Trailer Park Love Song” as a tune for, “making out with your girlfriend on the trampoline.” Using harmonies to sing over their guitar picking, Rolling Nowhere produced a catchy kind of country that even the least honkytonk listeners could enjoy.

JP Harris & The Tough Choices took the stage next. Accompanied by a pedal steel and guitar, this band had a bluesy spin on country. JP Harris's lyrics were emotional and old school. You could feel his weathered notes, and his deep southern accent added a heartbroken cry to his music. Self proclaimed as, “Sick and tired of the modern Pop-Country filth broadcast shamelessly and persistently across our beautiful countrysides,” JP Harris & The Tough Choices really brought us back to roots of Americana country.

Whiskey Gentry followed, and although I was eating dinner at the time (a delicious ensemble of farm to table wings and mac n cheese), I managed to hear a kickass closing cover of Radiohead’s “Creep”. Their female vocalist sped up the rhythm, added a little country twang, and managed to have the whole room singing along.

I saw The Deslondes next. Seasoned openers for big acts like Alabama Shakes and The Lumineers, The Deslondes played upbeat bluesy tunes that inspired some true floor stampin’ fun. Their tunes were simple, yet creative. The band hummed into the mics and responded to lead vocalist, Sam Doores’ wooed vocals. Deslondes incorporated a pedal steel and harmonica in songs like, “The Real Deal” and “Alligator Shoes”. The pedal steel created an interesting suspenseful sound to their music. It’s raw, it’s original, and it’s authentic.

Finally, it was time for The Whigs. Athens favorites, the Whigs always put on a great show. I saw them few years ago and fell in love with their fun garage rock presence. The Whigs have a cult-ish following in the South, and even if you don’t listen to them regularly, it’s really hard to pass up a show. A Whigs show is either a musical eye-opener for new fans or a reminiscent experience for those of us who have seen them before. It’s a time to belt out your favorites, head bang, and immerse yourself in the heavy drums and guitar solos. Sure, their songs were a little less complicated than the other bands at the festival, but they were able to put on a great show. Vocalist Parker Gispert was lively and entertaining, drummer Julian Dorio’s long red hair flipped the entire show, and bassist Timothy Deaux jumped around stage. They played old favorites like “Right Hand on My Heart” from their 2008 LP and newer songs from their most recent album Modern Creation. The crowd really loved them, and they were an energetic closer for the festival.

Although the festival ended relatively early (around 11:00pm), the festivities continued at a sing along guitar picking session around the fire. The intimacy at this festival was invigorating. I felt like I had joined a secret music community. It was a music community that not only valued music, but also understood the importance of camaraderie. I participated in an underground community of movers and shakers that were convinced that music festivals didn’t have to be big and corporate. They traded in the usual giant parking lots for a beautiful farm. They resisted the urge to make VIP tickets. They figured their festival food could benefit the local economy. It was a well done back to basics movement. I’d be listening to music and a dog would come moseying towards me. Bands that had just performed would be on the dance floor asking my friends and me to dance. I woke up in my tent to the mooing of cows. Sure, the accessibility of larger festivals is great. Larger festivals provide endless opportunities to see bands. Yet, Wildwood Revival made me question the way festivals are produced today. Are the larger festivals still really about the music? Is there any way we can incorporate the intimacy of Wildwood in those convenient bigger size festivals? Wildwood Revival was a simple and honest approach to the festival scene. It felt basic, and it felt good.

Photos by Camilla Grayson

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