Ambient noise conductor Jesse Sykes brought a variety of gravel coated ballads as our summer evening began. With a barrage of sweeping guitar runs and heavy hitting bass, her songs illustrated a soul as long as her black wispy locks. A local favorite from indie label Barsuk Records, Sykes did not disappoint with several smoky chants from her newly acclaimed record, “Like Love Lust and The Open Halls of The Soul.” Like summoning ghosts, Sykes and her enthusiastic group The Sweet Hereafter finished every epic with a meticulous and yet powerfully passionate jam which rattled the hollows of every instrument and audience member alike.
It was once said that the only diction which fill the Lenny Kravitz lexicon are the words “baby” and “hey”. The same can unfortunately be said of Drive-By-Truckers divorce’ Patterson Hood. Compared to the sophistication of the artists preceding Hood’s work only projected sloppiness. When taken to the stage, four guitarists (three from the back up band aptly labeled The Screwtopians) yielded much potential but, the quartet only competed to drown out one-another with the loudest power chords possible. With a set made up of profanity filled lullabies and a cover depicting high school rape, it was sad to see parents having to cover the ears of their toddlers.
Thankfully, a beautiful and stark contrast came at the perfect time when a small bearded man backed by a percussive mahogany guitar treated the ravenous audience to a heartfelt serenade. Though seeming intangible Sam Beam, the one man band of Iron and Wine, became instantly human with several humble and minute lyrical mistakes. Opening with the Ben Gibbard penned Seattle anthem “Such Great Heights”, Beam commented on his inconsistencies which only added to the warm love produced by the now standing mass of folk beneath him. With tracks from every one of his folkie albums of past and present Sam Beam soared with perfect pitch like a man prepared to greet God at the pearly gates; an ideal introduction for the deities to follow him.
As the most respected musicians to attend the festival, the passive songwriting powerhouse of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings were graciously received by a crowd they hadn’t seen in over five years. Looking like representatives of The Devil, the black suited pair delivered their interpretations of America as if the crossroads were directly ahead. Possessed by his own incendiary plucking, Rawlings drew down home lines from his vintage instrument as Welch’s vocals carefully filled them in. After telling the story of their one time meeting with Loretta Lynn, with Emmylou Harris by their side, Welch and Rawlings continued to banter with their fans now covered in darkness. With murderous mountain ballads like “Caleb Meyer” and sardonic observationals like “Look at Miss Ohio” it was without question that these artists were there for the people who loved them, and in their own gesture of country comfort they finished a beautiful set with an encore of the Johnny and June duet “Jackson” and the traditional “I’ll Fly Away.”
After a final thank you and farewell, folks were siphoned out of the natural amphitheater and into their vehicles with real music among them and the idea that perhaps on July 11th 2009, they had witnessed the beginning to what will become the musical reformation Gram and melodic disciples had always wished for; the trail towards Cosmic America and the hope for many more No Depression Festivals to come.