I had the pleasure of attending Harvest Music Festival in Arkansas this month with my wife and a couple of other friends. We camped on the festival grounds and took in three full days of live performances. This was my first music festival, but I’m thinking now that it won’t be my last. A big part of the fun was even before the festival began, sampling artists and groups I didn’t know to find out if I wanted to catch their performances. Here are a few of my favorite discoveries and highlights.
First, Delta Rae. Here is a music video of their song that has gotten the most attention. Here is another video that I think demonstrates they have real talent. And embedded below is a video of the performance I saw at Harvest. The sound equipment failed and they came down and played unplugged in front of the stage. I really wanted to post this video because Wendy, Bob, Lacey and I are in it, too.
When I first played Delta Rae for Wendy before the festival, she said “No, they sound too Christian.” I found a video that proved they are definitely not Christians. But that didn’t make any difference to her. When I hear “that sound,” I change the station, she said. And I agree, contemporary Christian music tends to have a distinctive production quality that I can’t quit put my finger on, and I guess Delta Rae does sound like whatever that is. But hearing them live, she actually liked them more than anyone else in our group. We sure did get to see them up close.
One night we tried to go to bed before midnight. But I heard a sound coming from the main stage that sounded like a herd of buffalo thundering toward our tent. As soon as Split Lip Rayfield took the stage the next night, I knew they were the band I’d heard the night before. The bassist slaps away on something rigged out of a car’s gas tank creating a massive, rough-edged thundering; everything about them is raw and wonderful.
The fans at the Split Lip show were some of the strangest people I have ever seen. Half the time I couldn’t decide whether to keep my eye on the stage or watch the circus all around me.
I liked honeyhoney and in a different way that I expected to like them. I already knew they had some good songs and a lead singer easy to fall in love with. What I didn’t know is how hard they can rock with a full band. Though brimming with great music and many musical surprises including a cover of Hank William’s “Lost Highway,” their set managed to massively disappoint Wendy anyway for not including a song she likes called “Angel of Death” below.
And speaking of disappointments, this guy didn’t show up. But Joe Purdy was there.
Joe Purdy might have been my most important discovery at Harvest. That is because he was completely off my radar before and is now somebody I know I will listen to a lot, will closely track his output, and probably buy his albums. We’re talking Dylan-level commitment here. For me, that’s huge. Something clicked for me about halfway through the very first song of his set that he performed backed up by The Giving Tree Band. And then the next song was just as good. And the one after that.
The first song was “Goldfish” and below is a video of him performing it with the same band at an earlier performance.
Here is a cello, bass, drum ensemble called Tornado Rider that proves the cello a very untapped instrument for awesome rock ‘n roll potential.
The cellist is a Berklee College of Music grad, and he infuses their act with a manic sort of vaudevillian song-and-dance routine. The video below is a great sampling of his skill. But at Harvest, he traded this prep school attire seen in the video below for tiger-print rainbow-colored tights and a Robin Hood cap. Check that out, too.
The Punch Brothers, of course. They did not disappoint. The video below is of a song called “Rye Whiskey” that became my anthem for the festival (though to really get a flavor for why they are an important band, try the less traditional “Movement and Location“).
Punch Brother, Chris Thile recently won a “ genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation. I’ve admired Thile’s mandolin virtuoso and song-writing skills since I first encountered his work on Nickel Creek’s first album. (Bonus: He’s not working with the Punch Brothers in this Tiny Desk session, but is in some pretty good company nonetheless.)
And lastly, I just love this band, North Mississippi Allstars. When we heard them take the stage singing about shakin’ ’em on down, we were just then sitting around our campsite sipping our tent neighbors’ homemade cider and nobody else but me was in the mood to trudge the mud to the stage. So I grabbed my camp chair and walked over there by myself and I’m sure glad I did.
Here’s a song off their most recent album that weaves the hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” into a joyous chorus about “jellyrollin’ all over heaven”; it even manages to lend some irreverent sex appeal to the afterlife: “I love to see them sisters shakin’ that heavenly thing.”
I could go on, but I guess that’s enough. Harvest Fest was a great time that just keeps giving. I’d do it again, and hope to. Mud and all.