Every time I’ve fallen in love, it’s been a slow, subtle thing that eventually grabs me tight and doesn’t let me go.
It happened again this weekend: the music started and slowly, band by band, and I fell. By Sunday, it wouldn’t let me go. Now I can’t stop listening to Blind Pilot and I’ve been thinking about M. Ward more than I’d like to admit.
Folks Fest at Planet Bluegrass in Lyons is one of the most amazing experiences of the summer. This weekend was no different, filled with touring bands of stellar musicians who gave incendiary performances. Madeleine Peyroux and Rufus Wainwright headlined Friday; Don McLean on Saturday; and Gillian Welch, after hitting the stage earlier, headlined Sunday.
But for me, the highlights punctured the three-day event like stars in the sky. Here are my top 10 experiences.
1. With songs like “The Highway’s Home,” Will Hoge has an old-school vibe and a cream-over-sandpaper voice. He gave a surprising, little-bit-country-little-bit-rock performance midday Saturday.
2. JJ Grey and Mofro did an amazing bout on stage. With Grey’s soulful, heart-tugging songs and powerful musicianship, the performance was emotive and fiery.
3. Dumplings with a spicy curry sauce from one of the vendors. Heavenly.
4. Man overheard saying, “Let’s just say, four people went up the mountain and only three made it to the top,” after a woman fell 15-20 feet while climbing a near-by rocky ledge.
5. Indie band Blind Pilot—a band made hype-worthy by an NPR story about their bike-powered tour that was cut short when their bikes were stolen in San Francisco—drove into Lyons this weekend. Before the performance a man behind me told fellow concert-goers, “I just took a picture of Israel (Blind Pilot frontman) setting up his gear. Years from now, this picture is gonna be worth something. I’m not even gonna sell it. I just want to put it out there for people to enjoy.”
6. Turns out Blind Pilot’s superfan wasn’t completely ridiculous. Their show was phenomenal—soft and familiar yet novel and 100 percent dynamic. Their songs are enveloping and comforting and simply beautiful. Maybe someday, my pictures of Israel will be worth something too!
7. Australian songstress Mia Dyson poured a cocktail of folksy, bluesy rock—balancing a feminine electricity with her meaty voice, natural toughness and real, honest talent.
8. M. Ward—who teams up with Zooey Deschanel for She & Him—took the stage, bringing along David Rawlings and Gillian Welch for a handful of slightly quirky yet highly entertaining songs. Ward is a miraculous performer: captivating and cool, filled with heart and soul and a dry humor. His unique sound is ethereal and devilish at the same time.
9. Brett Dennen does a clean and magnificent show. His sound is playful and unmistakable, and his personality—joyful, full of love and humor—shines big.
10. The venue: Planet Bluegrass is incredible, the vibe is laid-back and blissful, and the people are casual and kind. One performer said it best: “One day, when I get older and wiser and I possibly adopt a religion, I hope that its heaven looks a lot like this.” Love indeed.