A new statement on roots music by our columnist –and a songwriter you want to listen, too– Tori Sparks. As summer is here and July is the top month for festivals, here’s a round-up of live shows and artists you shouldn’t miss. Have love, will travel: from Chicago to Barcelona, roots are all around.
Summer: Beach. Mojitos. Music Festivals. It’s pretty much the Holy Trinity of July and August.
Flash back to the 1960s: Rock ‘n’ roll was still in its infancy, the folk music scene was on the rise in a big way. The gods of live music said, “Let there be Woodstock. Let there be the Monterey Pop Fest.” And so it was.
But that was more or less it. There were fewer festivals, although the festivals that did exist were big-time.
These days, there are as many music festivals as there are bands who want to play them. As a musician and music fan, it’s gratifying to see the sheer number of fests that have sprung up over the last few decades in every genre from experimental to classical. It can also be slightly overwhelming. Where to go, what to see? How to decide? Googling “July music festivals” brings up more results than “naked pictures Lindsey Lohan.” But don’t panic, we’re here to help.
With the focus being artists in the roots, folk, blues, and Americana vein, here is a selection of artists that we highly recommend this month, as well as the festivals where you can catch ‘em. Some of these are straight-up folk fests; others cater to a variety of styles. Fasten your proverbial seatbelts… away we go!
The Band: Bon Iver
From: Eau Claire, Wisconsin, United States
Sounds Like: trippy nature folk
Catch Them At: Latitude Festival – Suffolk, UK
Finger-picking guitars, xylophones, lap steel, layered vocal harmonies. The band is primarily Justin Vernon’s project (think one-man band a la Sam Beam = Iron and Wine), but in Vernon’s words, “you are who surrounds you.” He often collaborates with musicians such as Greg Leisz (pedal steel for Lucinda Williams, Bill Frisell), Colin Stetson (saxophone for Tom Waits, Arcade Fire), C.J. Camerieri (horns for Rufus Wainwright, Sufjan Stevens), and so on. He hasn’t left behind his stable of regular musicians – Sean Carey, Mike Noyce and Matt McCaughan – who played on his 2008 debut, “For Emma, Forever Ago”. Click onto their website, and you’re met with visual images such as rolling seas, misty fields with flocks of birds alighting in the dew, and aerial shots of Earth, undulating under a bio that reads more like poetry than marketing. (Which is, in and of itself, marketing…) But what sets them apart from arguably similar artists is their perpetual willingness to experiment with arrangements, such as in the song “Calgary” from their new album “Bon Iver, Bon Iver”. What starts out sounding like a funeral dirge turns into indie folk-pop, all within four minutes. Don’t worry if you can’t understand their lyrics. They don’t necessarily make sense when you actually sit down and read them, but therein lies the fun of artistic license. Vernon paints beautiful and vaguely apocalyptic pictures if you just close your eyes and take it all in, rather than trying to analyse or understand in a literal or linear way.
Catch them in Spain on July 22nd (Palacio Euskalduna, Bilbao) and July 27th in Barcelona (Poble Espanyol), but if you can’t wait, you’ll have them at the Latitude Festival in Suffolk (UK) on July 13th. The festival itself runs from Thursday, July 12th to Sunday, July 15th, and features a variety of artists on no less than nineteen stages or locations. Other artists on the bill include Esperenza Spalding, Buena Vista Social Club, Explosions In The Sky, Ben Howard, and many more. Check out http://www.latitudefestival.co.uk/ for the full line-up. Film, music, children’s activities, poetry, theatre, art, comedy, fashion – ask and ye shall receive. Whatever you’re into, they’ve got it at Latitude…
…well, almost whatever you’re into. For those of you who just don’t get turned on by the above and are in need of the extreme, there’s always Burning Man in Nevada (US) in August. And now back to roots…
The Band: DePedro
From: Madrid, Spain
Sounds Like: smart Spanish folk rock
Catch Them At: Cruïlla BCN -- Barcelona, ES
Singing mostly in Spanish, occasionally in English, this Madrid native turns “folk rock” into a good thing. The musical influence of his extensive travels in the US and Mexico are reflected in the dusty Western edge that pokes through the otherwise shiny sheen of the songs on their album “DePedro”. The space in the arrangements lets the sound of each individual instrument shine, especially the sometimes smooth, sometimes raspy voice of frontman and founder Jairo Zavala. The music is good, in that it’s memorable without being so poppy as to get on your nerves, melancholy without being depressing, exuberant without being cheesy. The lyrics range from politics to family ties to lost love to philosophy of life.
It’s a bit strange that more people don’t know about these guys. I saw them play at South by Southwest in 2011, they have been written up by National Geographic World Music, and Zavala has sung televised duets with Spanish über-trendy folkie Russian Red. He started his career writing for Spanish stars Amparanoia, Los Coronas and others, and was put on the international stage after American indie rock group Calexico asked him to go on tour with them as a guitarist. To date, DePedro have released two albums, and tend to appear in smaller rock fests such as this one.
Check them out at Cruïlla BCN music festival in Barcelona (ES), on the first day of the festival, July 6th. Cruïlla is a compact event -- two days, two stages -- but this festival is special, as it always programs a huge variety of quality music. Be aware that this is not exactly an “acoustic” festival. M.I.A. is one of the headliners. The artists this year range from rock icon Iggy Pop to all-female Flamenco quartet Las Migas, from blind African duet Amadou & Mariam to gypsy punk freaks (in a good way) Golgol Bordello. Check out www.cruillabcn.com for more information. Two euros per ticket sold will go to benefit non-profit organization Amnesty International. Learn more about them here: www.amnesty.org.
The Band: Feist
From: Amherst, Nova Scotia, Canada
Sounds Like: atmospheric indie folk
Catch Her At: Pitchfork Music Festival – Chicago, US
Her arrangements draw on the best of ambient sounds, electronic elements, and acoustic instruments to create an intriguing sound that’s been copied dozens of times since her solo debut album “Monarch” in 1999, and even more so since her first commercial success “Let It Die” in 2004.
Leslie Feist started out singing in choirs and in various bands, ultimately hooking up with Canadian rockers Broken Social Scene, which led to her first taste of commercial success. She has since collaborated with – well, everyone. Wilco, Grizzly Bear, Beck, has covered the Velvet Underground, the list goes on and on. But even after winning Juno and Grammy Awards, she still sounds homespun in her own quirky way. Feist incorporates puppet troupes into her videos and sounds of lapping waves and flocks of birds into her records. Songs like “Brandy Alexander,” comparing a lover to a strong drink, are almost classic in their simplicity. “1234” is bouncy enough that it was featured on The Muppet Show, while “The Park” is a lament that could break your heart. All-around cool stuff, highly recommended.
Feist will be playing at The Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago (US), on opening day, July 13th. The festival runs through July 15th, and also features Hot Chip, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Vampire Weekend, making her one of the few bastions of folksiness in the line-up. For those of you who may not be aware, Pitchfork is a music mag that has created a name for itself in the realm of thoughtful-yet-edgy, as reflected by their relatively hipster roster for this year’s festival. The event will take place in Union Park in the Windy City, rain or shine. For tickets and more info, go here.
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