On the weekend of March 12th-14th, the second year of Harvest of Hope Festival came to St. John’s Fairgrounds in St. Augustine, Florida.
The Harvest of Hope Festival was set up as a benefit concert for migrant farm worker support through the Harvest of Hope Foundation. The president of the foundation, Phil Kellerman, was present along with his brother, Ed Kellerman, and they introduced many of the acts throughout the festival, especially the headliners. The cause was explained well but not presented in a threatening or overbearing fashion. There was even an option to text funds to the cause in five-dollar increments. This, on top of low ticket prices, made for a very appealing festival.
The typical campout festival amenities were provided, along with a general store, food vendors in the camp area, and a trailer bathroom facility. Also there were carnival rides and games, although the games weren’t really played and perhaps the Ferris wheel wasn’t ridden. An electric bull ride resided in the beer garden; it wasn’t obvious whether the beer company or the carnival company was running it.
Port-a-potties were fairly plentiful but the toilet paper didn’t hold up for any day of the festival, even in the handicapped facility. Parking was generous, but became limited more each day. The best feature was that getting into and out of the venue, although a single road, was easy. There never was a long wait and people actually allowed merging.
News: Harvest of Hope is doing a post-festival auction to further help the cause, with donated guitars, turntable, and autographed, limited edition, silk-screened HoH Fest Poster –
Ebay Auction Seller (DIRECT LINK): kellerhope
Entertainment Memorabilia (DIRECT LINK): http://entertainment-memorabilia.shop.ebay.com/Entertainment-Memorabilia-/45100/i.html?_catref=1fln=1ipg=ssn=kellerhopetrksid=p3911.c0.m282
Musical Instruments (DIRECT LINK): http://instruments.shop.ebay.com/Musical-Instruments-/619/i.html?_catref=1fln=1ipg=ssn=kellerhopetrksid=p3911.c0.m282
DAY ONE: FRIDAY, MARCH 14th
The festival grounds were soaked at 7:30 PM, as there was heavy rain from the night before and possibly some during the day. Mud was one- to three-inches thick in spots, causing much sliding and trying to keep shoes from sticking to the ground. Some of the audience planned ahead and wore boots.
Avi Buffalo played to a relatively small crowd of maybe 25-30 attentive listeners at the Stage 3 Tent. With a metal folding chair armed with a selection of effects pedals at his side, lead singer and guitarist Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg and his band played a short thirty-minute set of ethereal pop songs for the golf-clap crowd on hand.
Brooklyn’s electronic trio, Bear in Heaven, played one of the first more notable sets of Harvest of Hope on Stage 1. Opening for their neighbors, New York’s Cymbals Eat Guitars (see below), is no small task, but they handled it with the ease of seasoned performers. Keyboards, solid drums and heartfelt vocals were the focus here.
From the first big chords of “…and the Hazy Sea” from New York City’s Cymbals Eat Guitars debut album Why There Are Mountains (QRO review), you knew it was going to be a good time. From Joseph D’Agostino’s vocal delivery, to his facial expressions and body language, to the way he thrashes at his guitar strings you can tell he means every word and every note. The band’s loud-quiet-loud song structure can’t help but draw comparisons to alternative ‘90s bands like Pixies (QRO live review) and they deserve those comparisons. This is a band that’s not to be missed in the live setting.
Flannel was in full effect when Port O’Brien took Stage 1 over for their set. Songs ranged from a variety of albums, including their most successful, Threadbare. Folk-infused alternative rock was on the agenda and they were pretty solid. The songs all seemed to melt into one another and nothing really stood out in particular, but it was a good, safe set.
Portugal. The Man had the full attention of the crowd at Stage 1 on Friday night, many of which had been waiting through several of the previous acts to get a good spot. Frontman John Gourley doesn’t face the audience head-on like most singers, instead singing into the microphone with his body turned sideways, a hooded sweatshirt hiding most of his face from view for the majority of the performance. Songs ranged from Censored Colors to the brand new American Ghetto and they were played with a very real intensity that anyone could appreciate.
Kool Keith may have lost a step over the years, but his flow and delivery is still light-years ahead of a lot of the mainstream hip-hop of today. The set went on like what one could imagine a very sexually charged De La Soul performance would. A good show, but it was Chali 2na (see below) who would take the stage next that was more fun to watch.
San Diego’s bluesy Delta Spirit was getting the crowd moving over at Stage 1 as the evening went on. Singer Matt Vasquez’s playful banter built a nice connection with the audience and it was evident that he was appreciative of the warm reception the band received. Who could blame the audience for loving every second of their set? They tore through tracks from their debut album Ode to Sunshine with a kind of soulful ease that was refreshing to see. All in all, a very energetic live show that’s a blast to take in. They did a great job of getting Stage 1’s audience excited with the band’s folk-based, sixties-inspired, but organically sounding music. Delta Spirit are definitely on the ‘check out again’ list.
Rogue Wave were on Stage 1 next, but were quite disappointing because of bad sound and a low-energy performance. The singing range was decent but mostly mid-range and the style was slurry, like Kevn Kinney of Drivin’ N’ Cryin’, although the band claimed to be from California and not the Deep South. The music was too mellow at times, and predictable but not usually not pop enough to hum or head-bob along with. The keyboards didn’t add much to the music and were mixed way too loud, as was the bass. The sound was really hard to get interested in with such muddy sound. The drummer was the best member of the band, playing lots of cymbals and making more intricate changes than the other musical parts.
Chali 2na , formerly of Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli, was keeping old school hip-hop alive on Stage 2 just as twilight was enveloping the St. Johns County Fairgrounds on Friday night. His jams were full of ‘70s and ‘80s samples and his smiling, playful persona definitely rubbed off on the crowd. He performed tracks off his new solo record Fish Outta Water, as well as favorites from his Jurassic 5 days.
Dr. Dog took about twenty minutes to balance the sound on Stage 1 and sounded much better than Rogue Wave (see above). Dr. Dog, from Philadelphia, was a band full of energy, marching and dancing about the stage, creating a ruckus with their bodies and souls. They kept the audience intrigued with their wonderfully harmonious sing-and-dance-along boogie music. Unfortunately, they could only play as long as their setup time. Reports of bad weather returning began surfacing right before the set, so the music was cut short by the return of pouring rain.
The rain caused a small amount of mayhem via people running out of the festival area to the parking lot. The few leaving actually didn’t have to fight many cars at all getting out because so many festival attendees were camping on the grounds.
DAY TWO: SATURDAY, MARCH 13th
Mud had dried some, but boots were still worn by many audience members as the mud was still thick in front of Stages 1, 3 and 4 and the ground was too wet to sit on.
At 7:00 PM, tented Stages 3 and 4 were packed. The bands that played there, like the main stages, also alternated between indie, local and metal acts.
Torche is a metal group out of nearby Jacksonville, Florida (about 45 minutes north of St. Augustine), and it was obvious that a lot of fans had made the short trip in order to catch them in action. They bruised through their 45-minute set with purpose and pounding drums from their friend who was sitting in for regular drummer, Rick Smith, who was out with a broken hand. They rocked it hard and it was a pleasure to watch them tear it up on the main stage.
Kimya Dawson doesn’t do much physically when it comes to her live show, and that’s not really a bad thing. It was just a guitar, a chair and her, and that’s all anyone watching needed. Dawson just sat there like an open book and played her earnest, and sometimes heartbreaking, songs. With her eyes shut tight for the majority of the time she strummed along, offering up a meek smile every now and again. Her set concluded with John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats (see below) joining her on stage to help sing a song with a little girl she had met earlier in the day. Needless to say, it was adorable and she had the crowd’s heart in her hands.
Anvil played Stage 1 around 7:30 PM. The resurrected metal act from Canada brought the crowd a very energetic performance for Day 2. The singer had a built-in microphone near the strumming part of his strings that he spoke into a couple of times. It was a bit strange because at first glance it looked like he was trying to play the guitar with his mouth. The bass player appeared strikingly solid in many ways: his body’s massiveness, his strong, solid bass lines, and his posing that was quite statuesque in manner. The drummer was fantastically fine-tuned, and kept a steady beat that never quit. The band’s sound was fairly old school, right out of the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, which is a good quality for metal bands. “Thumb Hang” was dedicated to Ronnie James Dio because of his current illness (stomach cancer). The audience was quite in tune with Anvil’s music, forming a mini-mosh pit.
The Mountain Goats is just one guy from Oklahoma, originally, and his name is John Darnielle. He didn’t start his music career until pretty late in his life and he draws from a lot of very personal, sometimes self-admittedly uncomfortable experiences. He’s very talkative with the audience and likes to bring everyone in on what each song is about and what they mean to him. He’s a very likable and articulate person, so you don’t mind when he takes a minute or two in between his lo-fi acoustic gems to chat. It’s like it’s just you and him in a room alone, and he’s willing to tell you anything.
High on Fire, a California band that opened for Megadeth’s Gigantour 2008, stepped up the metal to modern, thundering thrash that almost melted the eardrums. In tune with their name, the drummer seemed to be on fire, kicking double bass drum pedals like no one’s business. The singer had an extremely strong voice that ranged from a low growl to nice howls. The guitar strumming was so fast that the singer’s hand blurred in almost every photo taken, even when solos were to be had. The bass player completed the trio, keeping up the high-paced tempo. Audience loss was at a minimum during High on Fire because their music and performance were engrossing.
Billy Bragg pulled a large crowd to Stage 2. The troubadour from London, England appeared on stage alone, playing many songs of rock, folk or just pure singer-songwriter style that supported the ideology and themes of unions, love, rock and roll, political action, right to speech, and anti-racism. Along with his great guitar and lyrical skills came many stories, many funny, but some quite serious.
Fun topics included tea time, how someone in Florida didn’t know what language he was speaking, how his 16-year old son loves rock and roll (including Anti-Flag, who had played earlier in the day), and a mention of High on Fire (see above) sounding like Satan singing on a Saturday night. Serious topics included the hope that Obama brings to the country, and how he has recently spoke to Woody Guthrie, and civil rights icon Stetson Kennedy, who he made a point to visit on this trip to Florida. He also talked about how the festival attendees should take the festival benefit theme of supporting workers seriously and how this could be a first in their own political statements, as he had done in 1978 when he attended a Rock Against Racism event put on by members of The Clash at Victoria Park. He also spoke about the Hope Not Hate anti-racism concert he played, and how he hoped not to get the two festival names confused. Overall, the performance was quite entertaining from a musical and political standpoint.
DAY THREE: SUNDAY, MARCH 14th
At 11:00 AM, the mud had mostly dried except more traveled areas. The ground was finally safe for the audience to sit on.
Gringo Star, an Atlanta band, appeared on Stage 1 very soon after people were allowed in the gates, almost too early for a suave indie band clad in dark clothing. They played songs inspired by The Kinks and other ‘60s rock, dressing and sounding the part, even playing vintage instruments and speakers. Three of the four members wore jackets but were sweating because of the intense Florida sun before the set ended. Those same three guys switched between singing, playing guitar, playing keyboards and playing drums behind a four-piece, high-sitting set. Despite taking about three songs to loosen up, once they hit their groove, the set was golden until it was over. “I Will Not Follow” and “Come On Now” were audience favorites.
Danielson, a twee band with matching outfits and music stands, played Stage 1 not long after Gringo Star ended. However, their fun indie pop gathered a more playful audience who indeed participated when the singer pointed out, “This is a sing-along” or “a clap-along” or even “a snap-along.” Maybe to try to prove their fun factor, a toy piano was one of two keyboards played by the two women in the band, whose outfits resembled old nursing uniforms. Bubbles floated through the air while the New Jersey-based band entertained those that would listen. It was during their set that hula hooping commenced for the day.
Fruit Bats played Stage 1 next. They may have been unknown to many but attracted more and more people as they played. They had a light, hippie sound that resembled Blind Melon with their airy guitar playing and higher pitched singing, but also had guitar solos and keyboards similar to The Allman Brothers. The light breeze of the day kept everything cool and light like the band’s music. People dancing and hula-hooping during the good-time music added to the pleasantness as well.
Off With Their Heads, from Minneapolis, ground out straight ahead, solid punk similar to Social Distortion. The audience created an area for a mosh pit that was full of fun. The band’s songs were short and the band must be fairly new because they said, “We were given 45 minutes to play but we only have 25 minutes of music. If you like something, let us know so we can play it again.”
Mucca Pazza is truly something else. By their own description, they are a 22-piece punk marching band from Chicago. Now, it’s easy to see where you could be lulled into thinking this is some kind of poor man’s Gogol Bordello (QRO album review) and you would be wrong. You can listen to their albums and see how they’d be fun to see live, but you just don’t know until you actually see them. They appeared onstage as just three members clad in marching band gear, at attention and not moving. Slowly they began to move, almost like dancing nutcrackers, one step at a time until a rhythm began. After the intro, more members showed up from behind speakers and backstage, catching many of the audience unawares, as they tried to live up to their MySpace description as an “astounding circus-punk-marching band.” ‘Punk’ may be stretching it a bit, but the rest was certainly proven. Some dressed in full marching band regalia and some in cheerleader outfits, there was more brass on stage than you could shake a stick at. Along with the many horn players, including sousaphone, were four cheerleaders, two placed on each side of the stage, to make things even more exciting. By the third song, many festival attendees were cheering and really getting into the exciting music and performance. Later into the act, a megaphone was introduced.
The stage could no longer contain them, as some climbed up the lighting rigs. Then they made their way out into the festival crowd. By Day Three of a camping festival a lot of people were tired, dirty and some just over the whole thing. That all changed when Mucca Pazza marched out and brought smiles to nearly everyone’s faces. The crowd really gravitated to them and it’s for sure that a lot of people are wishing that their march was still going on right now. By the end, the audience had become part of the act itself, and that seems like what Chicago-based Mucca Pazza desires in an audience, as they also performed two audience parades on the same day.
Chicago’s own Kid Sister was a performance that a lot of people had been waiting for since her single “Pro Nails” dropped a few years back. Although she was, by her own admittance, ‘kind of wasted,” she never missed a beat and her juke-inspired dancing was fun and really enjoyable to watch. Her fun-loving personality and million-dollar smile didn’t hurt as she navigated her way through her debut Ultraviolet‘s bouncier, more memorable tracks.
No wonder it’s always sunny in Philadelphia – they’ve got Man Man! This is a band that never disappoints when it comes to putting on a great show. Between Pow Pow’s (Christopher Powell) driving, off-kilter drum beats and Honus Honus’s (Ryan Kattner) constant bouncing around at the keys and whatever other instruments he can get his hands on, it’s impossible to watch without a smile plastered across your face. Aside from Broken Social Scene (see below), they had one of the largest crowds of the weekend, and it’s no wonder why. This is a band that you simply have to see live in order to fully understand what they’re all about. Confetti, spoons and red feathers everywhere!
Broken Social Scene were in good spirits, despite the fact that the main singer and spokesperson, Kevin Drew, said he’d just arrived one hour earlier, had been up for 24 hours, and that the band had taken two days of travel to get to the festival, the first stop on their current U.S. tour. The evening was brisk, and Drew asked, “Why is it so cold?” before playing the set in a coat and hoodie. Other members also played in coats.
Drew led the rock band from a somewhat soft, slow start to a rising plateau of sound, and by the time “7/4 Shoreline” was played, that plateau was achieved and surpassed, and the music was enchanting and exciting. Lisa Lobsinger was the female singer of the evening – none of the other Broken Social Scene women were there. New songs were played, one from Brendan Canning (QRO interview), “Water in Hell”, and at least two from the band, “Texaco Bitches” and “World Sick,” which were both being played for the first time live. Drew also sung a song from one of the KC Accidental Anthem albums, and said thanks for letting him sing it. Many Broken Social Scene songs were played, with “Superconnected” as an audience favorite, causing much dancing.
Like Billy Bragg (see above), Drew promotes personal and political agendas. On this evening, Drew spoke about the health care reform bill, called the audience “brothers and sisters,” and mentioned an incident involving a female audience member, saying, “It’s a man’s world, but we don’t have to prove it everyday.” Promises were made to return to Florida, because Drew said, “We were told we were going to play Miami once and we ended up at a strip mall.” Harvest of Hope was the band’s only other Florida performance.
To prove that Broken Social Scene knew how to have a good time, members of Mucca Pazza (see above) were invited to join the band onstage to play “It’s All Gonna Break” as an encore, cheerleaders included (video). Charles Spearin (QRO interview), who played with Drew in KC Accidental, played trumpet with Mucca Pazza’s horn players. Andrew Whiteman (a.k.a. Apostle of Hustle – QRO spotlight on) and the cheerleaders playfully moved toward each other and away from each other. Drew seemed to enjoy watching the cheerleaders. Sam Goldberg joined Whiteman in a guitar salute near the end of the song. Drew encouraged lots of applause from the audience by making them cheer for the festival, and it was given gladly.
SORRY QRO MISSED YOU!:
Due to heavy traffic and severe weather on the way to the Saint Johns County Fairgrounds, we missed festival-opening sets by James Husband (QRO photos – of Montreal multi-instrumentalist – QRO live review) on Stage 1 and The Dig (QRO live review) on Stage 3. Plenty of other photos from past performances are available in the extensive photo gallery!
Unfortunately, Japanther‘s (QRO photos) 6:00 PM set on Stage 2 was postponed to a late-night slot because the band missed their shuttle to the fairgrounds and they couldn’t make their set time.
A torrential downpour that soaked the fairgrounds just as they took to the stage hampered underground hip-hop stars Dead Prez‘s set. As throngs of people ran for cover, only a brave few stuck around to mix things up in the muddy pit.
-words & photos: Gail Fountain and Michael Gonzalez