Hinterland 2016: Part 2
Kicking things off for day two of Hinterland with another majestic drive through lush farm lands and a perfectly partly cloudy sky. It's a vivid contrast between it and the hotel accommodations. But, I’d rather not be on a school bus for an hour each way, which was the alternative.
We arrive at the venue pretty early to catch the first act of the day, Field Division. The small crowds gathering under the shady spots seem a bit sleepy but excited (the bar is already open too, naturally.) Camped out next to massive air conditioner machines in my folding chair (way better than sticky misters, Arizona) layered in SPF 100, I'm ready for the 12 hours of music to begin.
If you ever want to play “I Spy A Band” look for the groups of people in clothes that are not quite the same style as the collective crowd, or that don’t make sense for the weather. Case in point: it's a sunny 85 today and 4 guys with all black sunglasses, long sleeves, pants and boots just walked by. Band! Though I don’t know which one yet. Field Division are a local duo by way of Des Moines, with a new full band backing them (they are the band I spotted, that was fast). Playing through new songs off their upcoming record as the sun plays hide and seek with the clouds. Singer Evelyn Taylor surprised me by bringing out a 12 sting Taylor guitar, and I’m impressed. They are a nice way to start the day.
During their set, the loin cloth man was spotted again; he looks to be wearing the same very small outfit as yesterday and oddly not sunburned. What SPF are you using and where are you hiding it, sir? I don’t actually ask, but if you’re reading this, please email me.
Being that the headliner today is Willie Nelson, today's crowd is leaning a little more country. More cowboy hats, boots, jeans with sparkles & plenty of Hawaiian shirts. Which seems to be the hip style these days for millennials and their parents.
The crowd is building toward the stage and off the blankets as William Elliot Whitmore takes to the stage. It's the first dose of full country music yet, with what sounds like a full band... but it's just him! With a bass drum and a few guitars to choose from, he's got the crowd moving and clapping along. Whitmore, also an Iowa native gets the crowd really excited when he sings about the state itself. He broke out from behind the rig to attempt to throw the beach balls around. This is the first performer I've seen to go an entire set with a pen and what looks like a notebook in his shirt pocket. The crowd started chanting "one more song" as he walked off stage, also a first for the fest that I have seen.
I keep over hearing so many anticipatory Willie comments. Today is 100% all about leading up to that show tonight. Each band has even mentioned it and their own excitement as well. A very different tune than last night. Pokey LaFarge is up, who you really should look up right now if you're not familiar. They bring back the sax for the first time today! The namesake singer lets us know they are out of St. Louis, as does the guitar strap of the rhythm guitarist. The crowd is really filling out now, and interacting with the band itself. More dancing, cheering and signing along.
The same guitarist with the St. Louis strap has played a different instrument every single song so far. Banjo, guitar, harmonica, and even some sort of spoons! They are a lot of fun, even as the cloud cover breaks way to a light sprinkling. Which at first has me very nervous – there’s not enough hay to throw around to avoid mud if it’s going to really rain.
Psych! That rain break was short lived. GOOD. And with lunch time now passed, I’ll send a second shout out to the local folks making the fried food! It's back into the thick of things for Hayes Carll. The steel guitar is out, with a stripped down drum set and Carll on guitar/harmonica. Things seem to getting more country as each set progresses. The woman next to me came here especially for Carll, and she's singing every word.
Turnpike Troubadours could have faced the later afternoon sun slump, being that its half way through today and some of these folks have been here for hours already (me). But luckily, that's not the case. The boxed water & Blue Moon beers seems to be fueling everyone well enough to still be standing front and center of the stage. TT are another classic country band. Banjo, harmonica, story telling lyrics and some swagger to boot (get it??). They are be my favorite so far of today, and my favorites as far as bands I hadn't really listened to prior to this fest. About half way through the set, they have everyone dancing and jumping around to the fiddle. Yeehaw, Iowa! I catch a glimpse of local legend, John Kirsch again, who is here today in red & white striped overalls, and starting a dance party in the VIP tent during the last song.
After finally finding the media area, and refueling myself on Red Bull, it's back out into the crowd for Shovels & Rope. She greets the crowd with the first howdy of the day. This band sings as a male/female duet 90% of the time. Their voices complement each other well, and the still steadily growing crowd is eating it up. The band mates switch places, and roll through their set with nothing short of gumption. They are a wildly rowdy act that keeps the energy up of the folks watching.
Alright! Final stretch with three acts left. There are lines for everything, most importantly the ice cream truck... which I will be hitting up before we leave tonight for sure. The sunburns are real, and the haze of sunscreen is in my own nose after applying it for, no joke, the 5th time since 11am. It's 6:30pm.
Lake Street Dive is up now, and I am pretty excited. This quartet is amazing. Their harmonies are perfection. The lead singer is surprised by a literal inflatable life sized horse for their latest release & title track, "Side Pony." She's rocking a silver leaf and the coolest pants I've ever seen. The guitarist switches over to the trumpet, which is an interesting exchange that I don't see everyday. The man next to me is having his best day ever and keeps telling/yelling "these guys are SO good!!" between waving his hands in the air. Ditto, dude.
I looped back around away from the crowd to seek out the cookie ice cream sandwiches I didn’t want to wait in line for before.... Yeah they are perfect. Thanks, Big Pink Ice Cream Truck! Lake Street Dive is leading a massive sing along as they cover "Lola". They closed out a fantastic set and left people chanting for more.
There seem to be at least twice as many people as last night, as the entire hillside is covered in blankets and the GA standing area is filling up. The sunset is painting the sky much as it did yesterday, and the trash is filling the space between people's feet. Which is a little silly, since the venue provides recycling and trash every 20 feet or so. It’s stomped into oblivion, as all eyes turn toward the stage for Grace Potter. The band walks out to a classic Prince song, “Lets Go Crazy” and it’s meta as well as perfect all at once. Everyone seems to be in matching space prints, and there is sparkly fabric thrown about. Starting things off with “Hot to the Touch” from her solo record, GP has everyone making heart eyes at the stage. She brings out the second 12 string of the day! (Hers seems to be personalized though, taking up the bad ass score by at least 10.) She is playing most of the songs off her latest solo record and her wild hair moves wind up covering her face/eyes, but she doesn't miss a note on piano, guitar or vocally.
The crowd is feeding off her lightning bolts of energy thrown from her guitar, dancing and singing along. She is the most bad ass rock star I have ever seen and makes it all look effortless. They wrap up their set with the entire band holding different colored LED drum sticks playing various percussion and then take a group bow. I’m having a real life manic pixie dream girl fan moment for sure. I don’t know that Willie Nelson could ask for a better warm up act than Grace Potter. There is a longer break between these sets, which allows for a fever pitch intensity to come over the crowd. It’s packed to the brim and even the people who’ve been camped out on chairs the entire weekend are standing closer to the stage. The cowboys in Hawaiian print are getting antsy. I’ve got my last cider of the fest and am standing next to the St. Louis guitar/everything playing from Pokey LaFarge as the first few notes come through the speakers.
Cheers overwhelm them as the man himself walks out to center stage. He started with "On the Road Again," though he looks a little flustered when something doesn’t seem quite right with the sound. It’s quickly resolved and he launches into a medley of his work. With his career and catalog, it makes sense to play 3-4 mini versions of everyone’s favorite songs. He gets through "Crazy" as well as "Georgia," and my bucket list items have been checked off. I point out to Spike that he has on a literal Hawaiian shirt. It's black with the state of Hawaii on it, which now makes him king of all the hip people and their dads who are here in their Cowboy/Hawaiian shirt combos.
We leave the field behind us and once again drive through the dark starry night to the neon buzz of convenience, floating along the high notes of a weekend well spent. If you find yourself anywhere near Des Moines the first weekend in August, this festival is a must see. Cheers, Hinterland.