Large music festivals are always crucibles of noise and odors, and clearly the allure of wonderful noise makes us tolerate the portapotties and the unshowered aromas of musical sophisticates pushing against you toward the stage. Year one of the three-day, four stage Harvest of Hope Festival (schedule), a benefit for migrant workers, was no different. The Saint John's County fairground location was reasonably accessible and spacious, and it was a quick drive from lovely Saint Augustine (and my hotel room; I like showers).
While I had to miss Friday's shows and headliner Girl Talk (not well-received by those I talked to), I did catch two of the acts, Cheap Girls and Failure's Union, the Wednesday before the festival at a local shed show. Excellent bands both, and friends of Ninja Gun, so we were lucky to have them until the cops showed up and shut us down. Michigan's Cheap Girls played a set pleasurably ensconced between 80's Minneapolis punk and 90's Ohio indie, while Buffalo's Failures' Union crunched through a healthy set of blue collar punk. FU's Jason also plays bass in Lemuria, a terrific band my Pandora station introduced me to.
I arrived Saturday, early afternoon, in time to catch Her Space Holiday's last two songs, and then I headed to stage three to hear Alabama blues vet Willie Green sing and blow harp for a small but enthusiastic tribe. Excellent grounding for what was to follow, though he deserved more than the twenty minutes they allotted him. I rambled over to stage four to catch some of Gainesville's excellent Towers of Hanoi (thanks for starting with fave "Empty Chapels" ) before checking in on Pitchfork darlings Deerhunter. They were pleasant enough--sort of Ian McCullough fronting Saucer-Full-of-Secrets-era Pink Floyd pleasant--but it was 2:00 pm, brightly sunny, and there weren't any chemical enhancements save beer around to chill the crowd into the kind of nodding acquiescence toward ecstasy the music suggests.
Midafternoon's S1 acts didn't appeal, so I headed back to S4 and its regional punk flavor for Saturday. Moutbreathers were loud and raucous, and Hometeam featured sloppily affable beer-fueled punk, so, drunk with that noise, I headed over to catch some of Strike Anywhere and touch base with many of the Valdostans who attended, but left quickly to S2 to catch the end of Alabama's Wild Sweet Orange's set (definitely worth listening more into) in anticipation of John Vanderslice and Mountain Goat's John Darnielle's back to back sets. Vanderslice made it feel like he was home, and he was close, playing his well-crafted and intelligently penned unplugged pop. I checked in on Bouncing Souls between the sets, and they pleased their crowd, but I left quickly to hear Darnielle, accompanied at times by Vanderslice, play his Mountain Goats nerd-chic witty or wry song narratives concluding with "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton," giving me the chance to yell out "Hail Satan" and smile big.
Among the most anticipated Saturday performers, Bad Brains took over stage one and proceeded to lecture the crowd into irritation. I mean, just play. You don't have to explain to those who don't get that you're covering all of your genre-bending oeuvre (hardcore, reggae, and metal). Who cares if they get it? Nobody goes to music festivals for the lectures.
I left to go hear Nebraska's Tilly and the Wall, at Dixie and Camille's suggestion, and I wasn't sure at first. I have what I hope is a healthy skepticism about the new wave revival; I think most of the groups are listening to the wrong bands, the sappy, superficial leg-warmer synth-pop of the 80's played to excess at so many 80's dance parties. Tilly also features, to my knowledge, pop's only tap-dancer as a key percussion component. She's cute and keeps the beat, but she made me feel a little like I was at a dance recital. Still, the band managed to win me over. I think it was their cover of Yaz' "Only You" that finally won me over, and "Pot, Kettle, Black" has a nice, hard, anthemic, nasty adolescent edge.
I caught some of Gainesville's Against Me!, much lauded and big supporters of the HOH cause, on the main stage. It's the popular punk style these days, and they're enjoyable enough, but after a few songs I gravitated back to S2 to catch Lucero's driving set. The music is honest and you feel it in the belly and the heart: "I kissed the bottle when I shoulda been kissin' you." Pedal steel slide and Ben Nichols worn out voice found that front-porch moonshiney place that hadn't been touched all day, and the crowd love it. I headed back to stage one for the last act, Propaghandi, but it was the wrong energy after Lucero, so I took that with me out to the car and the short drive back to St. A. and a night's sleep before Sunday's musical feast.