By Jeremy Harris
(Note: This is largely unedited and unabridged, so all credit and/or blame goes to Jeremy)
MoonRunners Music Festival promised after year one that "You ain't seen nothing yet" (Was this a reference to the blacklights in the restrooms at Reggie's because I don't wanna see it if so.) so I thought I'd put them to the test by checking out version 2.0 this year. And disappointed I was not. Hell, I was even overwhelmed by the talent that was packed into Reggie's in downtown Chicago and the food packed into the $10 buffet over the two day period. They even managed to add a third day as a pre-party at Reggie's featuring Powder Mill, Dustbowl Revival, Rosie Flores and more. Being that I had never caught a Powder Mill show but had enjoyed their recorded music so much, I was ready to spend the extra day at the venue. Powder Mill definitely did not disappoint and played a short but powerful set for the Thursday night crowd. Up next was Dustbowl Revival and needless to say I was a little skeptical when they came to the stage with more members (including a trombone and clarinet player to accompany the normal string band configuration) than you'd find on the coaching staff of a college basketball team. I was pleasantly surprised by the sweet sound and the overall good time feel that the band brought with them. The final act of the evening was Rosie Flores and wow! What a talent and special kind of entertainer she was. Rosie had the entire crowd in the palm of her hand (namely the frontman of a band that performed earlier that night that shall remain nameless) with her superb telecaster skills and beautiful voice as she promised to "Americana your faces off" to everyone in attendance. I'm not sure what it's supposed to feel like to get your face removed by Americana but to me it felt like more of a demonstration of how to kick you ass with rock-n-roll with a country twist, but what do I know, other than that this was a good way to start the weekend and kickoff the festival which would begin the next day.
Joey Henry's Dirty Sunshine Club
So many words for a name of one guy and a banjo. Joey played a mostly slow paced set of mostly original, strongly written songs with a few uptempo songs mixed in and was a good way to kick the festival off at 2:00 on saturday. For his last song, Joey brought up Rachel Kate to do a duet and the two sounded perfect together and had the early crowd enchanted throughout the performance.
A wise man once said "Give a man some soy sauce and he'll eat for a day but give a man a soy sauce bucket and he'll attach a foot pedal and a bungee strap to it and travel around the country playing music and hope he can afford a sandwich every once in a while" or something like that. Point is, Lou took the bucket, and some outdoor carpet, and a skateboard, some rocks, a cup, a box guitar and a few other things and turned them into a musical act that is quite entertaining all while having good material. Lou romped through his short set with his multiple instruments and quick quips between songs. Definitely an act I hope to catch doing a longer set in the near future.
|Six Gun Britt
Every time I go to any festival I can place all the performers into a few groups: Never heard and will give them a chance, heard and wanna hear again and heard and could care less. Six Gun Britt was the first performer to be in the never heard group and it didn't take long for me to know she was a pure talent and could have a bright future ahead of her. Luckily for me she also had a set on Saturday and seemed to improve overnight. Her chatter between songs was sweet and funny and her original songs came off as being very personal and straight from the heart. This is one girl and her guitar that I hope will be booked for next year and continue on an upward trajectory that could very easily reach the top.
After hearing Nellie perform last year with Last False Hope but failing to catch her solo performance earlier in the day, I knew I wouldn't make the same mistake this year. What I witnessed was a very classic country voice playing as a two piece band with her on acoustic guitar while being accompanied by either a steel or electric guitar. Nellie played a wonderful mix of songs and made me wish even more I had caught her set last year.
Coondog and the Stumpjumpers
The Stumpjumpers must have gotten stuck on a branch somewhere so Coondog was flying solo for this one. With or without a backing band this guy just has something good going on and needs more recognition. Seems like I only hear anything about Coondog when MoonRunners starts posting info for their festival each year or when he puts a post up himself.
Nothing but good old time country swing is what you'll get from Pearls and her band. With Pearls providing the vocals and a superb six piece backing band (seven after a clarinet player made his way onto the stage) keeping the beat fast and smooth, Marty McFly would think the DeLorean had screwed up and sent him sixty years too far back. I've got a feeling Marty would've hung around before tracking Doc down to look into this one.
One man and his various instruments causing a dance outbreak on what was quickly becoming a crowded smaller stage area. With his upbeat playing and growly voice, Lonewolf sped his way through a furious set and everyone responded.
Adam Lee Band
Two songs in and Adam had busted a string and knocked pickup out of whack on his acoustic guitar. Luckily Adam had another guitar waiting behind him on stage and didn't have to miss a second. The crowd was really getting into the old school sounds reminiscent of Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash and so was Adam and his band. One thing that will stick with everyone lucky enough to be packed around the smaller stage area when Adam's hair was flopping around and became askew and a fan handed him a comb to straighten himself back up just so he could jump around and do it all over again.
The Hooten Hollers
These guys are the best three piece rock band you'll ever find that features a tuba in many of their songs. Actually, they may be the only people that fit into that category so lets just say they are a straight up kick ass rock band and the tuba is a pretty awesome addition to the group. If you'd told me I would enjoy a three piece band with a tuba, I would've called you crazy before seeing it myself. At this point the show has started off great but these guys really raised the bar and the energy level and packed the large stage area.
A gritty, three piece band with obvious roots in blues and rock. A few seconds into this one and I started to wonder if I had over consumed the Hamm's beer because I was pretty sure Hank from Breaking Bad was on stage singing and playing the harmonica. (I guess that explains why he won't be on Better Call Saul) The distraction of Hank being undercover didn't last too long though thanks to a killer sounding cigar box guitar with a perfect drum beat keeping it all together.
The Calamity Cubes
Queue the mosh pit. The Calamity Cubes hit the stage with a furry, like a bunch of drunken pilots taking their aggressions out on their instruments. These guys are fast and furious and hit you like a speeding Porsche careening into a tree.(too soon?) One thing was for sure, the band was on fire and the crowd's energy wouldn't die.
Molly Gene One Whoaman Band
I'm still wondering if her name is paying homage to the poetry of Mike Myers' character in So I Married An Axe Murderer. By this point the cheap food and even cheaper beer and starting to make me think nap but one look onto the stage reveals the most energetic person in the building, hell maybe the most energetic person in downtown Chicago. With her shaking head, aggressive playing and a foot stomp that rivals Guliver she forced her energy into the crowd and busted her kick drum pedal all at once. Not to fear, just as cheap beer would bring me back down, a little wire would fuse the pedal back together good enough to finish this one out.
Cletus Got Shot
Coming into this weekend I hadn't heard a great amount of Cletus Got Shot music (after the set I purchased every album and anything else I could) but enjoyed all I had previously encountered. Based on my past listening and knowing that this was a onetime reunion show before the three guys slipped back into retirement, I had a feeling this was a must see show. Must see it definitely was. From the first chord strike all the way through the end it was obvious these guys were a tight group musically and the hiatus they had taken didn't interfere with their ability to bust out a kick ass show one bit. Other than an exploding suitcase bass guitar (luckily another musician came to the rescue with a loner) a few songs into the set they were flawless and had moved the already high bar up several notches.
Even though Hellbound Glory was listed one the schedule, Leroy Virgil was solo on this trip but Leroy is the sound and attitude of Hellbound Glory and carried the scumbag torch loud and proud to a packed crowd as the last performer on the smaller stage. Strumming his way around the highlights of his own catalogue and kicking in a few wonderfully presented covers, Leroy packed a punch swift enough to knock the drunkest of patrons into the next room to finish the night out.
A masterful musician regardless the instrument and a high spirited individual that had the ability to bring everyone to the highest of highs but bring them down to the point of hearing a pin drop whether it was with his playing or his voice during or between songs. Completely going off the cuff and making it work so smooth you'd swear he had been planning this all out in his head for months. Nothing could stop the outpouring of talent and emotion, not even a busted banjo string (which he laid down and said that anyone who could string and tune a banjo was free to come up and get in and fix it during the show) could kill the moment for what was probably the largest crowd for any act on day one.
The Gallows are a band beyond a proper description (not that I'm not gonna try) but if I must, imagine if a large group of circus performers and sideshow acts spent their free time becoming master musicians. Shit, I think I did it! By this time, it's late and everyone has to be tired (I know I was nearly in a low grade hops, greasy cheeseburger coma) but you'd never had known it by the reaction the crowd had to the energy The Gallows were pouring out. The band played harder with each song and the crowd jumped and thrashed into each other nonstop during the entire set. Things were thrown in both directions, water was spit and spirits were high. Nearly everyone in the crowd looked as if they could go for several more hours and this was the perfect band to end night one.
I can't believe I'm awake and made it back to Reggie's before 11:00 am. I'm too old for this but I've got my buffet bracelet on for day two and decided bourbon would be the way to go today. Good idea? I don't remember…. Good thing I kept taking notes about each act.
Nothing like a bratwurst, bourbon and the blues in the morning to get the body rolling. The bar provided the first two and Tony French more than accommodated my need for the third with his strong riffs and low bluesy voice presenting several covers and a few originals with that guy from Under The Dome coming up to lend his harmonica skills on a few tunes as well.
Jeff Shepherd and the Jailhouse Poets
Three words to describe this group: WOW, WOW, WOW! Awesome writing, playing and vocal all coming together to possibly be the best band at the festival so far and it's only 11:50 am. Not only was the band superb but Jeff performed solo at the end and pretty much blew everyone away with his song that I believe is title Daddy Loved You More Than Life Itself. If you're not familiar with this group, what are you waiting on? Me personally, I'm just waiting to find an album to play nonstop.
Super high energy group of guys with a knack for performing live. The entire crowd was really getting into the set which featured some hardcore, upbeat picking and well thought out lyrics. Everyone was moving and enjoying the show from start to finish.
I was really looking forward to seeing these guys based on the recorded music that I had already heard and the countless videos I has streamed online and I had a feeling they would be a fun band to watch but I had no idea what I was in for. Not only was The Imperial Rooster the funnest band to watch over the entire weekend but they may have also been the best showmen at the entire festival. They performed as if they were in front of thousands of people but unfortunately they had one of the smallest crowds at the larger stage. Regardless of the small crowd, the people that were there packed in near the stage and knew they had witnessed the do not miss show of the weekend. I've got a good feeling that not only will The Imperial Rooster be back next year but they will also enjoy a much larger crowd. How could you not bring back a band that uses a road cone as a musical instrument?
I feel sorry for Matt Woods because since I had five different people come up to me and start conversations with me thinking I was him and I'm sure he gets tired of people saying "Hey, aren't you Jeremy from Farce The Music?" Poor guy, probably burns him up when that happens. Even his drummer almost came up to me thinking I was him… by the way, Matt has a drummer now. Matt came onto the large stage pretty early (around 2:30 pm) and brought in a pretty good crowd for his set. He managed to provide the set everyone would hope for as he swept his way through several songs from his (at the time) upcoming album and left the crowd speechless with his critically acclaimed (Trailer liked it, so it's critically acclaimed) single Deadman's Blues and left everyone wanting more.
I'm beginning to think these guys are stingy. They made my list of top live shows from 2013 and I think they thought they could get another mention this year. Hell, I think they may. This was one badass set and somehow the guys seemed to have a tighter sound now than they did last time I caught them live. Must've been real tight for me to remember it after two days of greasy food, cheap beer and only the finest bourbon.
They also have made me waste countless hours trying to find Sasquatch bones. So while they may be an awesome band, they can be blamed for this writeup not getting finished closer to the festival conclusion.
Last False Hope
This band caught me so off guard last year and really blew me away. Could it happen again or would I be prepared? From the moment Robert Dean walked onto the stage to introduce the band there was a feeling that this could be something special. He announced that frontman Jahshie P would be dedicating this performance to his stepdad who had recently passed and that Jahshie's mom was in attendance. From the moment the band took the stage there was an obvious amount of emotion exuding from all of them and many in the crowd as well but they pulled it all together and delivered a great show. As the band played on and the boom of the bass drum shook the building emotion sat in once more as Jahshie told of his family's loss and the strength of his mother and pulled it together to perform another song. Part way through the song, Robert Dean (a head writer at moonrunnerscountry.com) and Chris Miller (host of Blue Ribbon Radio) stormed the stage from the back and began to jump and sing into the microphone with the band. After the song ended and as the next song was beginning Jahshie called for anyone in the crowd to jump onto the stage to join them but just don't mess up an equipment. I could hear people in the crowd talking and trying to figure out if this was legit and they could really get up there as he kept insisting during the song to rush the stage. Very few took him up on this and then next thing I know Robert Dean was reaching down to me and pulling me onto the stage. Honestly at first I was unsure about this but figured it was a good way to advertise the farcethemusic.com shirt I was wearing. (available at http://www.redbubble.com/people/trailerparkman/shop in case you were wondering) Actually I was just to drunk to fight him off but I'm glad it turned out the way it did in the end as my wife, several friends and even more strangers made this a show that at least we will always remember.
It's not very often you can find two guys that can sit in chairs on a stage with acoustic guitars and blow you away with their playing and their overall energy but that is exactly what these two did. I'm still completely unsure how the sounds I was hearing were being produced by what looked to be a normal flattop guitar. Overall this may have been one of the biggest surprises of day two as they tore through their time on stage with great vocals, great lyrics and unbelievable instrumentation. If these two had more people with them they'd be unstoppable.
Guess what. Those two guys in Whiskey Dick are now unstoppable…. and standing up on the stage with several more members. This may have been the craziest show of day two and 100% the craziest and most packed show on the smaller stage. A ridiculously badass sound, a crowd that was asking for every beat to be delivered harder than the last and a lead singer who was nuts. He would fall forward off of the stage during a song and allow the fans up front to push, beat and knock him back on! If you ever want to see what stage energy is all about, get to a Black Eyed Vermillion show.
Fifth on the Floor
From talking to several people that were returning to the festival from last year, this was the most anticipated show of the weekend this year. Many were blown away by last year's performance and were in for a great show once again. Fifth on the Floor has changed immensely since last year's MoonRunners not only by switching out two of the members but also by maturing musically. The sound has changed and the overall attitude and direction of the band has taken a more upward trajectory in twelve short months but could they raise the bar for people that had been waiting a year for this? Hell yes, and other than a couple that were "engaging in their own activities" above the stage to the side, I'd say they had everyone's attention. (a few may have been listening but catching a more extreme performance higher up) In case you didn't figure it out, some dude was giving it to a chick during a large portion of the set. Honestly though the real performance was on the stage (that's a lie but I had a horrible angle) and the crowd was treated to many FOTF songs that didn't exist this time last year and a few other surprises (bukaki? No, get your mind out of the gutter.) including when the band stepped off the stage and allowed Joshua Morningstar to come up with his guitar and do an original song. Josh is definitely a talented guy to keep an eye on and deserves to be performing in his own slot next year. Another great moment came at the end of the set when lead man Justin Wells brought Adam Lee and Matt Woods up to join the band and perform The Highwaymen classic "Highwayman" by trading off verses along with FOTF Jason Parsons. This was something that everyone will remember for some time to come except for the one drunk guy that came up to me afterwards and said I did a good job up there with "them fellas from Kentucky and that other guy doing that Traveling Wilburys song". And I thought I had drank a bunch.
I've been a Roger Alan Wade fan for years and couldn't wait to see him perform but was unsure how it would be. I've heard many of his recorded songs and knew he swayed back and forth from sad to funny and also listen to his SiriusXM show often. The first thing that impressed me with Roger was his guitar playing ability. I'm not sure if it's that his lyrics are so ear catching that I've overlooked this before or if he just doesn't showcase it enough on cd but he's way better in that field than I had ever expected. The rest of the show also exceeded every expectation from telling jokes to soundcheck his mike to performing flawless cover songs. The best part of the Roger Alan Wade show actually came a few days after the festival when it was announced that he had requested to return in 2015. My calendar is marked and my stomach is already aching from the thought of cheap food and even cheaper beer.
|Scott H. Biram
Scott H(oobastank) Biram
And the award for drunkest coherent person in attendance goes to…… Mr Biram. Luckily Scott is a funny drunk and also one of the people that can flawlessly play and sing while being under the influence. The performance was top notch and exactly what you'd want to get from a Biram show as he played the old, the new and put his own twist on some great covers. When unforeseen circumstances caused Shooter Jennings to have to miss this year I'm sure Scott was near if not at the top of the replacement list and he made whoever made that decision look like a genius.
I would personally like to thank Jahshie P, Robert Dean, Jody Robbins and everyone else at moonrunnerscountry.com along with the staff at Reggie's and all the bands that made this a special weekend for everyone in attendance. Most of all I would like to say that the hardest part of this entire thing was being there without my good friend Robert Earl Reed because I know how much being included in this meant to him. See you next year Chicago!