MusicFest 2010 Recap

<div> <a href="features/musicfest_2010_recap/"><img src="http://www.qromag.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/musicfesta.jpg" alt="MusicFest 2010 Recap" /></a> <br /> </div> <p> On Saturday & Sunday, September 11th & 12th, QRO ventured outside of the NYC-hipster ‘center of the...
MusicFest 2010 Recap
MusicFest 2010 Recap

On Saturday & Sunday, September 11th & 12th, QRO ventured outside of the NYC-hipster ‘center of the indie universe’ to head to that most distant and fabled of lands, New Jersey.  And this was no quick one stop on the PATH to Maxwell’s (QRO venue review) in Hoboken, but a full-fledged PATH ride to Rahway station, then a (free, festival-provided) shuttle to Oak Ridge Park in Union County for 2010 MusicFest.

Union County has been holding the free, two-day festival for years now, but it’s always been just on the other edge of the indiesphere’s periphery, even for QRO when featuring nineties alt-rock QRO favorites like Cracker (QRO spotlight on) or Fastball (QRO spotlight on).  But with some key favorites in the line-up, the desire to keep the outdoor summer shows going just a little bit longer, not to mention wanting to get out of the Big Apple on 9/11 (to avoid the Ground Zero demonstrations, not the ‘next terrorist attack’ that Dick Cheney told us would come if we elected a Democrat…), brought QRO outside of the five boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn & the other three for MusicFest.
carnival

Ferris Wheel!Before talking about the music, one must mention that MusicFest was more than just some bands playing on some stages.  There were stages, two big ones with local corporate naming rights (Overlook Hospital & TD Bank Stages) that alternated, plus the smaller Crossroads Stage (named after the local rock club, who booked it & much of MusicFest), and a kid’s stage.  There were food stalls selling all sorts of Cavalcade of the Oddgrub (they do know how to make a Philly Cheese Steak, even on this side of the Delaware), and a beer tent between the two stages (plus some other VIP tents even closer to the action, with their own buffets).

But MusicFest also had a full-fledged carnival, complete with Ferris Wheel and other rides, various games, a ‘Cavalcade of the Odd’ (overheard while walking by, “Have you seen Brokeback Mountain?  No?  Than this will all be new to you…”), an animal freak show, and more – all it needed was the Cyclone and it’d be the Coney Island of old (i.e., a few years ago).  There were also numerous other stalls from local establishments, hocking everything from hot tubs to technical colleges to bone marrow donations.
animal freak show

 

MusicFest Day One

sky full of balloonsOn Day One of MusicFest, Union County’s freeholders couldn’t have asked for better weather.  The sun shone bright, hot enough to get people to spend money at the concession stands, but not so hot as to induce heatstroke (or worse, forcing the organizers to reduce the price of water…).  Lots of the crowd brought those new-style folding canvas-like lawn chairs, the ones that are a cross between the white trash folding lawn chairs of old & the butterfly folding chairs from the seventies, mostly setting up camp in front of the larger Overlook Hospital Stage.  And the sky was adorned with massive strings & arcs of white balloons, shifting with the wind.  It all was enough to make you forget the darkness of the date on the calendar, or that we haven’t gotten it made a national holiday yet.

cops on segways?The crowd saw a lot of those freeholders, at least one of whom were introduced to the crowd before every band on the two main stages, each one showing up more than once, along with folks from Love, Hope & Strength Foundation, who were not only rounding up donations for the fight against cancer, but also getting people to submit DNA swabs to become bone marrow donors – the swabs collected at past MusicFests alone have produced eight matches, saving eight lives.

[note: your correspondent, inspired by the life-saving opportunity/fact that it didn’t cost any money & only minimal time, got his cheek swabbed – albeit on Day Two, when the weather wasn’t as nice…]
sky full of balloons

 

Mike Peters & Friends @ TD Bank Stage
Mike Peters

a family-friendly festClick image for full gallery

The name of the foundation comes from the chorus line to “Strength”, by The Alarm, and The Alarm’s Mike Peters was on hand with friends – lots of friends.  In addition to covering “The Rising” by Bruce Springsteen (QRO live review) – September 11th in New Jersey, someone pretty much had to cover it – Peters ended his set with “Strength”, including inviting seemingly everyone involved with the festival, and their kids, on stage to sing along, “Give me love / Give me hope / Give me strength”.
Mike Peters & lots of friends

 

Soul Asylum @ Overlook Hospital Stage
Soul Asylum

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After being called ‘rock ‘n’ roll’s best-kept secret’ in the late eighties & early nineties, Soul Asylum broke through in a huge way during the grunge Dave Pirnerexplosion of the mid-nineties with Gravedancer’s Union (including singer/guitarist Dave Pirner dating Winona Ryder), then fading like all the other grunge bands did in the face of the late nineties hip-hop boom, but Soul Asylum have found another, steadier life, on the road & in the studio, akin to a Pearl Jam (admittedly not as monumentally successful, but who is? – QRO Retrospective).  So whether you only caught them in their Gravedancer heyday, more recently, or have known them since way back when in Minneapolis, Soul Asylum delivered a strong set from across their history – including filling a request from a fan, with a handmade sign, for “String of Pearls”.  Pirner sheepishly said, “I don’t know why you like it.  After this, maybe you won’t.”  And it was arguably the best song of the entire live set.

Soul Asylum playing “Black Gold” live at Musicfest in Clark, NJ on September 11th, 2010:

Soul AsylumAround for almost three decades now, Soul Asylum have naturally had some line-up changes (when did they recruit the rather overweight drummer?), including getting a replacement for original bassist Karl Mueller after his 2005 death from cancer – one of The Replacements, Tommy Stinson of Minneapolis’ iconic & influential eighties punk outfit (QRO reissues review).  Unfortunately, Stinson was off at his other gig, for a little-known band called Guns ‘n’ Roses, so Pete The replacement for a ReplacementDonnelly from The Figgs filled in.  GNR were touring Europe at the time – in fact, only days earlier Axl Rose had stormed off the stage in Dublin when the crowd, angry at the late start of the set, threw bottles at him (of all the things Rose has ever done, this was actually one of the more understandable – especially as the band returned an hour-and-a-half later, when things had calmed down, and played their full set).  Maybe Bob’s little brother was wishing he were in New Jersey…

Soul Asylum playing “Without a Trace” live at Musicfest in Clark, NJ on September 11th, 2010:

 

Jesse Malin & The St. Mark’s Social @ TD Bank Stage
Jesse Malin & The St. Mark's Social

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Or maybe Tommy was lucky to be off in Europe, as he missed hearing Jesse Malin & The St. Mark’s Social not only cover the most popular Replacements single, “Bastards of the Young” (no points for Jesse Malinpicking it amongst the great ‘Mats discography), but doing it as a slow torch song!  Bob must have been rolling over in his grave – hell, Paul Westerberg must have been rolling over in his grave!

That might be a little harsh on Mr. Malin & co., but the outfit did feel like a band that’s far more suited to this side of the Hudson, despite being named (sort of) after a famed Manhattan block, and the (NJ) radio DJ calling them, “A pillar of the New York rock community.”  Maybe to someone from [said in Fred Armisen’s voice as Governor David Patterson] New Jersey.  Upbeat barroom rock with a fashion edge, they were about what one might have expected – evidently, their Lower East Side home has now been fully gentrified/priced out hipsters, who’ve all left the land of The Strokes & Interpol (QRO album review) for Brooklyn.
Jesse Malin & The St. Mark's Social

 

Bern & The Bright @ Crossroad Stage
Bern & The Bright

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The Crossroad stage had virtually no one a New Yorker could/would have heard of [note: and no photo pit], and was on the other side of the carnival from the two main stages, but was worth giving a look after wandering through the carnival between acts.
Crossroads Stage

 

The Bravery @ Overlook Hospital Stage
The Bravery

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Sam EndicottAnother band originating from the Lower East Side that hipsters disapprove of followed up on the main stages, The Bravery.  It seems like forever ago that 2005’s The Bravery and “An Honest Mistake” had indie-cred (the band did once do a residency at Bowery’s small, cheap & quite skuzzy Arlene’s Grocery – QRO venue review); by the time of last year’s Stir the Blood (QRO review), they weren’t even worth hating anymore.  In reality, the hatred was overblown (hipster-hate going overboard?!?  Never…), and the decent band delivered a decent performance at MusicFest.

The Bravery playing “An Honest Mistake” live at Musicfest in Clark, NJ on September 11th, 2010:

Michael ZakarinHelping The Bravery’s cause was singer Sam Endicott’s lounge-engaged persona, as well as guitarist Michael Zakarin’s excited-engaged persona – the cool kidwhen he threw a pick into the crowd and it only made it into the photo pit, there were some kids up front eager to grab it [actually landed atop your correspondent’s photo bag; when pulling it out, one rather greedy child snatched it from your correspondent’s hand, but it didn’t bum out this other, much cooler kid].  Hindering the band was that their most recent push into a more electro sound with Blood made them too electro for such a laid-back, suburban festival, despite Endicott joking that they were, “Lawnchair rock”, for all of those who’d brought their folding chairs to the fest.

The Bravery playing “An Honest Mistake” live at Musicfest in Clark, NJ on September 11th, 2010:

 

OK Go @ TD Bank Stage
OK Go

Damian KulashClick image for full gallery

Andy Ross on double-neckOK Go are another band that seems too mainstream-rock for the hipsters, or to be anything too special, as displayed on their latest, this year’s underwhelming Of the Blue Colour of the Sky (QRO review) – when you take away their viral music videos of unique, choreographed, one-take dancing (like their famous one on treadmills), what do you have?  While it might not be that much on record, live at MusicFest, the band definitely delivered.

OK Go playing “Here It Goes Again” live at Musicfest in Clark, NJ on September 11th, 2010:

Andy Ross on whatever that isConfetti cannon?  Okay, The Arcade Fire do that better (QRO photos), but still good (though don’t they realize that someone’s going to have to clean all that confetti up?…).  How about a OK Go's sign language translatorsign language interpreter to the side of bassist Tim Nordwind during their entire set – have you ever seen a band do that before?  Guitarist/keyboardist Andy Ross not only wieled a double-necked guitar at one point, but also occasionally played a large organ-like thing with a hammer.  Singer/guitarist Damian Kulash had problems with his pedals, but went into the crowd for one piece – again, he’s not the first to do that move, but nicely added to the performance by singing in the middle of the audience, pointed house-left, then, halfway through, turning around to do the rest of the song pointed house-right – wherever you stood, you got a chance to see him face-to-face.  And then there was the song that the band did solely with the instrument “from God”, the handbell:

OK Go playing solely with handbells live at Musicfest in Clark, NJ on September 11th, 2010:

confetti cannon!pedal problems[OK Go also let photogs spend the entire set in the photo pit, possibly just as a side-effect of letting one wheelchair-bound super-fan spend the entire set in the photo pit – security did have to keep her from sitting on the arm of her wheelchair to get a better view]
OK Go in the middle of the crowd

 

Train @ Overlook Hospital Stage
Train

bouncing ballClick image for full gallery

kickball!OK Go may have had the most excited crowd of the day, but Train easily had the largest crowd of the festival – by a mile.  After and even during OK Go’s set, people were streaming into Oak Ridge Park for the headliners, Train.  The pop/rock act had a hit a few years ago with the Grammy-winning Drops of Jupiter & “Meet Virginia”, but this summer saw their megahit “Hey Soul Sister” – and it seemed like the entire population of Union County came to MusicFest to hear that song.
all of Union County

Jimmy StaffordTrain sounded like, well, Train (even Joel McHale made fun of them on The Soup, though admitted, “What did Train ever do to us?…”), but at least give them credit for being very excited about Patrick Monahanperforming, especially guitarist Jimmy Stafford and singer Patrick Monahan (and not letting their years slow them down…).  The band had balloon-balls bouncing around the crowd [after seeing that same greedy kid from The Bravery – see above – snag one, your correspondent made special effort to give one to the much-cooler kid in red – QRO photo], which Monahan would occasionally kick off the stage, invited some little girls on stage for one song, joked about being on Country Music Television for another (with Monahan wearing a cowboy hat), and probably more – but after the photo pit was closed, your correspondent & all of the other photographers worked their way through the massive crowd to exit (security didn’t let any photogs dare cross a barrier and go out through the empty part of the park that was cordoned off) & beat the traffic to get out.
Train & crowd

MusicFest Day Two

Day One of MusicFest had a weak headliner, strong middle, and great weather.  Day Two had a great headliner, weak middle, and awful weather.  The early afternoon saw intermittent rain turn into a serious downpour, and though it abated by mid-afternoon, the ground was soggy, the sky was cloudy, and the crowds never matched Day One (even pre-Train).  Also, it seemed that the Giants game was more of reason to be somewhere else on Sunday (the stop for the stadium was on the same line as that for Rahway) than the ninth anniversary of 9/11 was on Saturday – folks hiding under the beer tent (one of the only non-VIP tents on offer, the others being picnic tables far from the stages) seemed angrier about staff not setting up the TV for the game than anything else, though it was set up right by kick-off.

Kean University’s tent were giving out ponchos, but the last three were snapped up by some dad there with his three kids, who seemed to have only gone to MusicFest for the free stuff from the booths – indeed, he came to the festival in his own poncho, but had none for his kids until he got some there for free?…

 

Nicole Atkins & The Black Sea @ TD Bank Stage
Nicole Atkins & The Black Sea

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she can play guitarStuck with a terrible slot was Nicole Atkins & The Black Sea – noon on the second day, pretty much the only young & anywhere near-indie act of all of Day Two, other than the headliner, Spoon (see below).  To add insult to injury, MusicFest got her band’s name wrong, calling it by the old name, Nicole Atkins & The Sea – Atkins did say about how it was unfortunate to have decided, pre-oil spill, to call her band “The Black Sea”, “Should have been ‘Nicole Atkins & The Gulf of Mexico’…”

The New Jersey native did her best, despite the circumstances – even had to deal with the band on the Crossroads Stage being clearly audible during much of her set; Atkins joked that she would play along with them, but she, “Couldn’t really play guitar.”
Nicole Atkins & The Black Sea

 

Nils Lofgren @ Overlook Hospital Stage
Nils Lofgren (acoustic duo)

Nils LofgrenClick image for full gallery

rain on the stageThe only person all MusicFest who got worse weather than Nicole Atkins was Nils Lofgren.  The rain was coming down strong while he set up, with the stage crew attempting to sweep the puddles off the stage, but it forced Lofgren & his keyboard player to the back half of the stage.  A former member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and Neil Young’s Crazyhorse, Lofgren was nice enough in the sixties/seventies Dylan/Young mold, but nowhere near gripping enough to compete with the weather.
rain on the stage

 

Suzanne Vega @ TD Bank Stage
Suzanne Vega

Suzanne VegaClick image for full gallery

Thankfully, the rain did let up by Suzanne Vega, and didn’t come back for the rest of MusicFest (though Vega did have to compete with another side-stage, this time the kid’s stage’s Fuzzy Lemons, singing about elephants or something).  The songstress sounded as good as she did back in the eighties, or whenever she started, and indeed was playing a lot of older material that she’s re-releasing on her own label in her ‘Close-Up Series’, such as “Marlene On the Wall” (about a poster of Marlene Dietrich) Suzanne Vegaand “New York Is a Woman” – pointedly noting that the song is not called “New York Is a Lady”, ‘cause the Big Apple ain’t.  Whatever you call her, the reference to NYC got way less cheers than that of “Ironbound”, her song about the Portuguese neighborhood of Newark (though New Jerseyians pronounce the two practically the same, ‘Nork’…).

Vega waited until her last two songs to play the two that everyone had heard of (both from her second record, 1987’s Solitude Standing), “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner” – last on the set list because she doesn’t like to play them, but has to, or because she thought she’d have her biggest crowd late in her set?

Suzanne Vega playing “Luka” live at Musicfest in Clark, NJ on September 12th, 2010:

 

The Zombies @ Overlook Hospital Stage
The Zombies

this guy's got the right idea, hair-wiseyou're too old to have hair that longClick image for full gallery

Next year, The Zombies will have been around for fifty years – and look it.  Spare your George Romero puns – the band just looked old.  Singer Colin Blunstone said they started in 1961, “None of you remember 1961.  I don’t remember 1961…”  When your youngest/newest member is balding & middle-aged, you know you’re old.

the youngest ZombieThe British band has had success in their years, such as with “Time of the Season”, but more so at home than in America – Colin Blunstonesomething they remarked upon a bit too much, though not always in reference to themselves, and Blunstone said, “I don’t hold you personally responsible.”  They also referenced a lot of artists who had name-checked them over the years, such as Paul Weller, R.E.M. (QRO album review), and Dave Grohl.  The Zombies were nice-sounding, but like Nils Lofgren and even Suzanne Vega (see above) to an extent, too sedate in sound for the dreary day (and too old).
The Zombies

 

Holler Wild Rose @ Crossroad Stage
Holler Wild Rose

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One of only two bands at Crossroad Stage had even heard of, Holler Wild Rose’s alt-country collective left no more of an impression coming out than on going in (save noticing that their keyboardist is pregnant).
Holler Wild Rose

 

Robert Randolph & The Family Band @ TD Bank Stage
Robert Randolph & The Family Band

Randolph leaning into it the jamClick image for full gallerycousin Randolph

But the worst act at MusicFest, or at least the most tiresome, had to be Robert Randolph & The Family Band.  While one could leave early from Day One headliner Train, Randolph & co. played before Day Two headliner/best band, Spoon.  And The Family Band was a jam band, playing lengthy jams with Randolph fronting on pedal steel, doing the equivalent of guitar jam moments by hitting his notes & leaning back at the same time, repeatedly.

Robert Randolph & The Family Band

sister Randolphnon-Randolphs (presumably)They are truly a ‘family band’, with all of them related (save, presumably the white guitarist & keyboardist), including Randolph’s cousin on bass & sister on vocals (they also hail from right nearby – Randolph did have a joke about the Giants).  So why stick your sister in the back, when she was the most exciting member of the outfit – sibling rivalry?…  While inflected with blues at times, there wasn’t as much blues as you might have expected, and little to make the Randolph clan stand out.  Plus, they played forever – right up until when Spoon was to start (made only more trying if you’d been at MusicFest since early Day One…).
Robert Randolph & The Family Band

 

A Million Years @ Crossroad Stage
A Million Years

unlike almost everyone else, not a million years oldClick image for full gallery

While Randolph was going on for what felt like a million years, hit up the other band whose name had been heard in New York, A Million Years, and they were far better than Holler Wild Rose (see above).  Headlining/closing out the Crossroad Stage, the weather & competition unfortunately limited the crowd to something less than A Million, with an indie-rock far more familiar on the east side of the East River than the west side of the Hudson.

 

 

Spoon @ Overlook Hospital Stage
Spoon

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Finally, the reason any alt-music fan that didn’t live right in the area had taken the PATH down to MusicFest – Spoon! (as The Tick would say) The Austin band has been big in the indiesphere for a while now, headlining Siren Music Festival (QRO 2010 recap) all the way back in 2005, but with 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (QRO review) and this year’s Transference (QRO review), they’ve gotten attention in the mainstream, such as playing ultra-classy Radio City Music Hall (QRO venue review) in March (QRO review).  Their indie-rock is rock enough for New Jersey, and while they didn’t have the crowd of Train (let’s all blame the weather, and not NJ taste, shall we?…), did have a considerable one, and did deliver.

Spoon playing “The Underdog” live at Musicfest in Clark, NJ on September 12th, 2010:

Britt DanielThere were some technical problems, which turned out to be singer/guitarist Britt Daniel’s own fault, but the problems did mar the great “Jonathan Fisk”.  Still, Spoon rocked on numbers like “I Turn My Camera On”, “The Way We Get By”, and “Written In Reverse”, not to mention covering “No Time”, by their gone-too-soon friend Jay Reatard (QRO photos), for only the second time ever.  And yes, Spoon brought a horns section to kill it with the still ultra-awesome “Underdog”.  Hipsters may have gotten a more intimate (and dryer) Spoon experience the following day, when the band played Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg (QRO concert listing) in celebration of the third anniversary of the venue (QRO venue review), but they were bigger & cheaper at MusicFest (though Spoon also did a free taping at Manhattan’s Cake Shop – QRO venue review – at lunch on Monday – QRO photos).
Spoonful of horns

Spoon covering Jay Reatard’s “No Time” live at Musicfest in Clark, NJ on September 12th, 2010:

 

 

New Jerseyians

New Jersey rocks!No music scene is as myopic & navel-gazing as New York’s, and no place is more haughtily derided by elites than New Jersey.  Every Williamsburg hipster should take time out of laughing at/making the comments on BrooklynVegan (who apparently couldn’t cross state lines to cover a festival in the Garden State that isn’t from the people who brought you Coachella & couldn’t come back in 2010…) to actually cross the Hudson and learn how the other upper-middle class half of the tri-state area rocks.  And there’s no better place to do that than at MusicFest.

 

[editor’s note: in the name of full disclosure, your correspondent is a New Jersey native, though from Somerset County of Steve Forbes, not Union County of MusicFest.  Decide for yourself how that colored this review]

-words & photos: Ted Chase
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