G. Love may have the biggest crowd of any performer at the festival so far. His proven brand of hip-hop/blues flavor has made him a fan favorite for years, and he has people dancing in the midst of a mid-afternoon set. He also appears—to my surprise—to be a pretty tight guitar player. Backed by his band the Special Sauce, G. Love is a fun, relaxed way to open up the second day of the festival.
My brother Michael is most excited to see Robert Randolph and his steel-pedal guitar. It makes sense that Randolph’s father was a deacon and his mother a minister, because there’s something spiritual about seeing the man play live. The message isn’t religious in context, but in its delivery is divine. His incendiary playing is as powerful as any prayer from a pulpit and, what’s more, his congregation is open to any and everyone.
Randolph’s gifts are on full display when a guitar player from one of the other groups at the festival sits in with the band. As good as he is, he can’t follow Randolph’s lead and struggles when the baton is passed. At first Randolph seems to be glaring at him, but he quickly realizes that his guest player is out of his element. The guitarist then tries to play second rhythm guitar, but it is clear he’s going through the motions and is way out of his league.
When the song ends, the guest musician leaves the stage unacknowledged, and Randolph invites G. Love onstage for a duet. Love’s harmonica is a funky compliment to Randolph’s slide, and Love more than holds his own. I guess he just knows how to get down. Looking at the time I realize I have completely missed Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s set, but after watching Randolph’s spectacular sermon I’m almost indifferent.
Michael decides to check out Keller Williams’ set and I opt for Chicago sons Wilco. Jeff Tweedy looks like he’s gained weight since going sober, and he also looks tired. But as soon as the band kicks into their set, the performer in Tweedy steps up, front and center.
If you haven’t seen Wilco since guitarist Nels Cline joined, you haven’t seen Wilco as they were meant to be—this guy gets down and dirty. His solo during “At Least That’s What You Said” is mesmerizing and carries the tender ballad into new territory. Later, during “Kingpin,” audience members become active participants: Tweedy acts as conductor when repeatedly asking, “How can I?” before pointing at the crowd, demanding extended “woooooo’s!” and signaling intermittent hand claps. After a minute of teasing he finally finishes his thought. “How can I give my love to you?!?” he sings, and carries the song home.
I stroll over to catch the end of Keller Williams’ set. The majority of the festival-goers appear split between his stage and Wilco’s. Williams has three guitars resting on stands, and he begins to strum them each individually. One sounds like a traditional electric. One imitates a saxophone. The third sounds like an organ with heavy reverb. He plays with pedals as he momentarily conducts, or rather creates, his own orchestra. Williams layers his loops on top of one another to build a rousing jam. At this moment, I hate the person who scheduled Williams against Wilco almost as much as I hate those bastard bunnies from yesterday. I only stay for a couple tracks before heading to the tent for the Secret Machines.
I can’t picture a better way to finish the festival. I sit Indian-style, alone, about 15 feet from the stage. Purple lights shower the stage while the rest of the tent remains relatively dark. Michael stumbles towards me and plants himself at my side. Slowly, the tent begins to fill up as the others shows draw to an end. The band comes on stage to staggered applause. Either everyone is too stoned or too tired, or perhaps most people here are unfamiliar with the band and just came to check them out.
The band opens with “Alone, Jealous & Stoned”, the lead single off their new album. A simple strumming opens up the sound but rather than take off at a bullet’s pace like “First Wave Intact,” the song expands like a plume of smoke. When Brandon Garza whispers, “I’ve waited for you,” the line may as well have been written for every newly initiated pair of ears in the crowd. The song remains delicate before guitars beam back and forth, and drummer Josh Garza picks up the pace, and the crowd is in his hands. “Nowhere Again” is one of the best songs of the past five years and sends a shot of adrenaline through my dehydrated body. Towards the end of the set the band breaks out a trippy, paranoia-ridden take of “I Hate Pretending”. Josh Garza’s sticks are reduced to pencils after a solo towards the song’s end.
Neither Michael nor I care much for the Black Crowes, so we decide to try and beat the traffic. All weekend I have been concerned about dragging my brother, as a birthday gift, to a festival of music he has never heard before. I could have just sent him a card and some cash. But my fears subside when he tells me he had a blast and we should do it again next year. I smile and agree. It is reassuring to know that, even though I may be getting older, in my brother’s eyes I am still at least a few years away from being really old.