May 1, 2013

Festival Rundown: Moonrunners, Chicago, IL

By Jeremy Harris
(Non-editor's note: This is so long and interesting, I'm not going to bother editing. Blame any mistakes on Jeremy's intake at Moonrunners! -Trailer)

Before any details were even released for the Moon Runners Fest I was already full of excitement just imagining who I thought would probably be there. Many of the acts I was hoping for ended up being announced as time passed on. Many others I never would've thought of along with several I had previously overlooked also helped round out an overpacked one day lineup of some of the finest underground and quickly rising talent out today. The event took place at Reggie's in beautiful downtown Chicago. Reggie's is actually made up of several places (rock club, merchandise shop, record store, rock club, rooftop bar, and music joint) that are separated just enough to prevent sound from mixing from one stage to the other. The biggest downfall of MRF was the fact that some acts overlapped each other and you couldn't catch it all. I did however hear enough music to appease me for some time to come and of course I'm only going to provide commentary on the acts that I could get enough of a show to get a proper feel for. The following are my thoughts on these bands in the order I was able to watch them.

Carmen Lee
Carmen Lee and the Tomorrow River Two
These talented folks were the perfect band to get things started at 11:00 am. Carmen has a strong voice and look that instantly takes you back to the days of the 50's rockabilly queens of the past. Her fast pace and varied vocal range along with the old timey sound and aura provided by her bandmates got all those lucky enough to arrive early in the move around and drink beer mode. Instantly I knew I had made a wise decision to drive 6-1/2 hours one way.

The Dirty Generals
If you like a strong sounding edge of country with good rock beats mixed in kind of band, you'll dig The Dirty Generals. They have a very strong sound that doesn't sound like anyone else but has influences from southern rock of the past that really filled up the smaller music joint stage quite well and had most people at least tapping a toe. While the overall sound was great, there wasn't any one lyric or song that grabbed me but unfamiliarity is probably the most to blame for that.

Lonewolf OMB
I had some past experience of Lonewolf in the form of two tracks in my iTunes library and knowing he was a one man band. It didn't take long to be impressed by him and realize the recordings I have don't do a bit of justice to his talent. His growling voice and exceptional guitar and banjo playing are really something to marvel at. His voice lends itself to the blues as well as anyone else you'll ever find while his overall stage presence and energy would be hard to rival. In the end you're left with a feeling of amazement and thrill for what just took place.

Aran Buzzas
One man and his guitar laying it all out for everyone to enjoy. Ranging from low down classic sound to catchy tunes that are on the verge of comedy. Aran had the ability to have at least one song everyone could relate to in one way or another. I probably heard at least 3 people say "I think that song is about me" throughout his performance. I was lucky enough to talk to Aran before and after his show and he comes off as a genuine guy that's very happy just to be doing what he loves. He seemed to appreciate every person that said hello and every merchandise sale he made. I was lucky to purchase Aran's album that became available that very day at the festival. I've yet to listen to it but my hopes are high.

Ol' Red Shed (changed name to Coondog & The Stumpjumpers at some point between the schedule printing and their performance)
This is the band you've never heard of that could make an impact on FM county radio. The first thing I noticed was a superb country music voice mixed with superb instrumentation. The second thing was some of the country cliches we all know so well. While it wasn't overbearing, it was there. Fortunately I don't remember a single truck mention but there were a few name drops and this is how country I am moments. Overall they have the sound and hopefully get a shot at growing with their careers. Catch a show if they get close to you.

Pearls Mahone
Pearls was on the smaller music joint stage and also recording an album live at the festival of her set. As soon as I heard and saw her I was reminded of the movie Crybaby and some of the female characters in the movie. A super strong and classic voice that kept me entertained as I had my first of many run-ins with the Reggie's $10 all you can eat buffet while sitting at the bar. The crowd response was awesome and I'm sure that will help make the live recording that much better.

Robert Dean
I was lucky enough to talk to Robert a few times before he jumped on stage for his spoken word set. A great guy that was pretty nervous leading up to his first performance ever. After talking to him, there was no way I wouldn't be in the front for this. Robert came out and hit it out of the park all the way through his set. My opinion may be influenced some by the fact that I agreed with nearly all his rants and raves but I do believe even if you didn't agree, you would've been entertained by his numerous stories and life experiences that occupied the gaps between the rants and raves. I came away from MRF with two things from Robert Dean: an autographed novel for my wife and an appreciation for anyone who can speak their mind in front of drunk strangers and make them into his friends.

Last False Hope
Last False Hope
I'm going to be honest. I have probably heard every Last False Hope song that has been released to the public. I wasn't a fan of most of it but had a feeling they would be special live but I had no idea of what was about to take place. I like to think I have a pretty broad taste in music and have been to countless shows and festivals at arenas, bars, amphitheaters, state parks, houses, schools, stadiums, garages and bowling alleys to see everything from (heavy metal band) Lamb of God to the crappiest pop acts available and everything in between. Take all of that into consideration and then add this newly discovered fact. Last False Hope is THE GREATEST LIVE ACT I'VE EVER ENCOUNTERED. You don't expect a band that is being led by a mandolin player and contains a banjo and fiddle to kick your ass quite so hard but it sneaks upon you quickly. What are these guys anyways? Bluegrass/metal, country/punk or just alt country? Who cares! It is real music that is coming from the heart and not trying to fit some stupid corporate mold. I probably asked 20 people after the festival was over who their favorite act was and all but one said Last False Hope without hesitation. If you've never been lucky enough to catch a show you need to change that as soon as possible. From the moment the band takes the stage to the very end, they throw down like they will never have another chance. My damn neck still hurt from thrashing my brains around like a maniac. One of the cooler moments of the whole festival may have been when Nellie Wilson joined Last False Hope on stage for a song that will be on their upcoming album and blowed everyone away. Good lord this woman can sing. Damn do I wish her solo performance on the Record Breakers (this is the name of the record store that is a part of Reggie's that was home to some of the smaller acts) floor didn't overlap Fifth on the Floor so I could have caught her show.

Owen Mays & The 80 Proof Boys
It would be hard to find a better group of musicians than the individuals assembled on the stage during this performance. Owen traveled the road between county and bluegrass with violent swerves in both directions. My only complaint from this particular show would be that the group's energy doesn't always match their talent but very few acts would be able to achieve the level of energy that would require.

T. Junior
T. Junior
I was lucky enough to meet T. Junior before his show and he is such a nice guy. He also was probably the third or fourth person to recognize me from my twitter profile picture. I'm still uncertain what this says about my looks but I have a pretty good idea that it's not a good thing. Once "The Man In Gray" was on the stage his talent was overwhelming. A great guitar player with a soft yet powerful voice whom had the ability to mimic his album sound nearly perfectly while interacting with the crowd between every song and maintain a very strong stage presence, especially for an acoustic guitar act with no backing band.

Fifth on the Floor
My award for greatest moment of the entire night goes to Fifth on the Floor and lead singer Justin Wells for a special tribute to Mr. George Jones. Justin walked onto the stage along with his acoustic guitar and softly stated. "Yesterday my favorite country singer of all time passed away. Let's all take a moment of silence for George Jones." Then something magical happened. Justin sang a song I've heard him do several times, (although never quite like this) "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes" by Mr. Jones and bring countless individuals to tear including myself and Wells. This was definitely the most powerful and heartfelt cover version I've heard of any song in a long time. As soon as the song ended, the band joined him on stage for a very powerful performance of their song "Burning Nashville Down" which ended with lead guitarist Matt Rodgers rendering his slide guitar useless for the night with a broken string. Overall this was the best of several FOTF shows I have attended. I could tell the band knew this was a very important show for them and everyone in the building. One guy standing near me had traveled from Georgia mainly to see FOTF for the first time and I overheard a few others say they had never heard of them before but were buying every album at their merch table after the show.

CW Ayon
Due to an overlapping schedule I was unable to catch much of this show but what I did take away was the fact that this man has a great blues voice and can play the guitar as well as any other you'll find. Several people were raving about his performance afterwards and throughout the night.

Jayke Orvis and the Broken Band
You would really have to dig deep to find a group of performers that could all just stand shoulder to shoulder on a stage and deliver kickass music any better than this fine group of individuals. From the very beginning it was a take no prisoners approach that never wore down. Unfortunately this was also the point in the night where the $10 buffet started rearing its ugly head. Through this, I also found out there was a larger amount of people between me and the restroom than expected. After resting my legs in Reggie's restroom that has some crappy black lights in all the fixtures, I realized there was no chance of me returning to my spot at the front of the stage for this show but I had enough of an encounter to know I'll try to catch another show of their's as soon as I can.

The Calamity Cubes
The bathroom trip wasn't a waste of time after all since the Music Joint Stage had just welcomed the Calamity Cubes and also offered a place to sit without a hole in the middle of the seat. I could quickly tell that these guys love music and hate their instruments. Man did they abuse those things with a violent display of energy that fit the smaller performing area perfectly and had the crowd jumping. They also weren't far from that damn buffet table that was calling my name again. I call that a win/win situation.

Hellbound Glory
Somehow I was able to make my way back to the front of the stage at this point just in time for T. Junior to find me and ask for directions to the buffet and an overly hydrated female to attempt to lick my eyeballs. (Yep, people like her make it to every festival) The crowd quickly made their way back to the stage with little time to spare before the band took the stage. Leroy Virgil and the band played nearly every song a fan would want to hear. (Unless you were that one drunk asshole that kept yelling "Malt Liquor" like a stuck record) The most amazing thing about the band's time on stage was probably the fact that they had just met their bassist for the show that day and he kept up quite well. My only complaint is that they all seemed a little tired and were lacking proper energy but Leroy's songwriting skills compensate for a lot in my opinion.

Banjer Dan
"Banjer" Dan Mazer made the most of his night. Not only was he one of the 80 Proof Boys joining Owen Mays on stage but he also used his time on the Record Breakers floor as a performance/banjo course with Q & A between songs. Dan is a superb banjo player and comes off as a very nice individual as well. He also kind of looks like Cecil from that Adam Sandler movie "Mr Deeds".

Scott H. Biram
If you ever need proof that stage presence and energy do not require moving around or even standing look no further than the "Dirty One Man Band from Texas". The power that comes from this man and his equipment is nothing short of amazing. The crowd was absolutely nuts during his whole show. At one point  a (I'm sure she's just lovely) fine young lady tossed a beer onto the stage near Scott and his equipment. He made a slight remark during the song and then afterwards simply stated "Throw a beer at my $10,000 music equipment again and I'll kick your ass you big tittied bitch". Ok, maybe that wasn't so simple after all. Security quickly rushed the stage to grab the woman but Scott lied and said he had taken care of it and she had left while she continued to stand in the front row but held her drink a little tighter. Mr. Biram continued to amaze everyone as he jumped from song to song and guitar to guitar while not missing a single beat and making the best of his time. The show ended with Scott flipping a switch that caused a repeat of a mid range frequency that pounded the crowd. One last middle finger and exit stage right.

Shooter Jennings
11:00 says the schedule. Kiss my ass schedule says Shooter. Oh well, I've been standing for 12 hours so what's another 47 minutes waiting and leaning on the barricade separating me and the stage. Shooter and his current band entered the stage to a massive roar of the packed crowd and kicked the night off with "Hard Lesson To Learn" from his latest album before running though some of the songs off of his older albums and keeping a great mix of songs throughout the night.

The amount of energy Shooter maintained through his set (after he had walked around in the crowd most the night) was only rivaled by the extremely drunk lady that was screaming his name the whole time while trying to offer him a drink. God am I glad he didn't give in and take it unless that would've shut her up. In that case, damn you Shooter for not shutting her up. Just as you would think it can't get any cooler than this Shooter starts in on "The White Trash Song" and is joined by Scott H. Biram just in time for Scott's verse in the song. Then just like that they were gone. No Scott, Shooter or a band. All gone! It's over. Oh wait, I almost forgot I'm up front and can see the setlist which has five more songs listed. And........ they are back. Shooter takes his place at the keyboard and does a great performance of "Wake Up" from the Black Ribbons album which included every last sound effect played live by mostly Shooter himself and rolled right into "Sweet Savannah". A few more great songs and then, POW! "The Gunslinger" is blasting in my face. Live! This song sounds so cool live and really picks up at the end with Shooter at one time playing his guitar, keyboard and some sort of synthesizer type thing all at once. The bass was hitting so hard the building was shaking and my entire body was pounding as the entire crowd joined me in a frenzy. After leaving the stage the crowd exited the room quite quickly and I was lucky enough to get invited backstage to meet Shooter and talk for a short time. Shooter is 100% a super nice guy and luckily has a good sense of humor. (making fun of him on FTM through several postings is what got me invited back to begin with.) He was nice enough to introduce me to his wife and tattoo artist friend and show me the awesome tattoo he's in the process of on his back (Trailer, start photo shopping your guesses now).

A few things I gathered from the show:
While the debate over whether rock is dead or not will go on, one thing that is evident is the fact that the soul of the punk rock fan was alive and well in Chicago on this day. No matter what genre terminology you would like to use to classify these artist as, one thing is certain: There was definitely a youthful angst amongst most the acts and fans no matter the age or geographical place of dwelling. While the types of music displayed at the event differed greatly in sound from each other they all share a common bond of being real and from the heart. I doubt we have witnessed the last of not only the festival, but also several of the acts performing at this great display of quality over commercialism. Countless times I heard the phrase "We will all be bragging about being here for year one at Moon Runners Festivals for years to come." According to Robert Dean, this will cause us all to be hipsters in a few years. And to the dude from Georgia with the backpack, we all know it was you farting all night up front at the Rock Club Stage.

While some memories of MRF1 (as us hipsters to be call it) may fade, some things I'll never forget are the friends I have gained, the soreness of my feet after being on them for 14 hours and $10 for a 14 hour buffet is a good idea that night but not so much the next morning.

My apologies to:
Lou Shields, Nellie Wilson, Jake Cox, Possessed by Paul James, Rachel Brooke and James Hunnicutt for missing your performances this time but I hope to see you down the road.

Photos by Jeremy Harris
Videos by various Moonrunners attendees


  1. Just saw T. Junior and wasn't impressed.

  2. Just saw T. Junior and was extremely impressed.

  3. why take such an effort to say something so mean spirited and read all those reviews and all you have to say is something like that. Too bad, you should take some time to reflect on what really matters in life and maybe try being a positive addition to society.

  4. This site is all about being negative and mean-spirited, but it would be more helpful to say what you didn't like rather than that you just weren't impressed.

  5. Jake Cox is one I hope to see live in the near future, too bad you missed it. I would like to see him picked up by the muddy roots deal

  6. So many of those bands have such cartoonish names.



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