Welcome To Cosmic America: A No Depression Festival Review (Part One)
Known as “the prophet” to country artists worldwide, Gram Parsons had a premonition. He knew that American music would transcend all genres to evolve into an entity beyond the imagination; something he called Cosmic American Music. Yesterday, Redmond, Washington produced the prophet’s wishes and then some at the first annual No Depression Festival.
With the light and quiet crowd, the music began with Malaysian pop-princess Zee Avi. Hailing from Jack Johnson’s renowned and renewable label, Brushfire Records, you got exactly what you expected; some ukulele and some “la da da das”. Being new to the concert circuit, Avi’s presence was mildly awkward but the audience that may have been reluctant at first, embraced her as their own.
After a fifteen minute break, the true country jam ensued.
United by geography, the No Depression All Star Revue was constructed utilizing the best Seattle alt-country acts like rowdy barroom kings, The Maldives, North Twin and the latest Sub Pop experiment, Sera Cahoone.
Using country standards like “Luxury Liner” and “Close up the Honky-Tonks” as a foundation, the group could only build up from there with a variety of crowd favorites. Among the most impressive was Jeff Fielder; the man with a pedal-steel soul.
With the precision of Chet Atkins and the hoodoo fire of Son House, Fielder managed to accent every tune with some of the best picking the Northwest has ever seen. Whether following the slow and poised Zoe Muth or the swampy groove and shaky vocals of Star Anna, the house band of locals were the true heroes of this set. After a gypsy-era Dylan cover by the pompadoured character Mark Pickerel, the Revue finished with the howling ballad of a destitute corn farmer lost without a loan.
It was then, that grassy knolls of Marymoor Park were beginning to fill with all walks of life. A wave of people all resembling members of The Band now surrounded the once blanket covered floor and the tie dye clad children were brought back to their parent’s picnics.
After the swarm of roadies had finished transforming the stage, a trio of misfits entered to an almost awestruck crowd. Though not country in sound, Jessica Lea Mayfield projected sorrows worthy of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Primitive in rhythm Mayfield cried to what seemed like a eulogy to the wind while a bearded one-man symphony returned with a feedback filled response. Though packed with songs of slow death and lost love, Mayfield earned great love from her audience particularly with her interesting interpretation of the Buddy Holly classic “Words of Love.”
The breaks between sets gave the concert goers many an opportunity to remain occupied. Local jug bands played vintage outdoor music and inexpensive merchandise was offered from many of the artists on stage. The clean and family friendly atmosphere set this particular concert apart from all the rest and it certainly comforted the peaceful audience who remained at ease and never forgot to recycle.
Finally at four o’clock some dancing music was produced in the form of a slick and skinny showman whose attire gave resemblance to a vintage Ryman Auditorium photograph. Along with his equally thin partner, the pant-suit duo of Justin Townes Earle and Cory Younts produced music which seemed half a century their senior. Inspired by singers such as Doc Watson and Woody Guthrie, Earle sings with the swift and twangy coo of a seasoned moonshiner. With a repertoire of sped-up covers and heartfelt originals, Justin Townes Earle delivered the pinnacle of old-time roots music that No Depression is meant to embody and his performance will forever be remembered.