Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Jackson Hole Music Festival: Review

About once a year it's imperative to go out of town and see a concert. While we get a good many shows in Salt Lake City, some bands have a tendency to skip over us and I end up feeling like an abandoned child. Wilco included an August 18 Red Butte date this year, but tickets sold out before I could get in on the action.They were sold out so fast I wasn’t even aware that they were on sale. Bummer! Wilco is by far one of the best live bands I've ever seen...five times, and only once in Utah. I guess I'm kind of a ... Wilhead? A Willy? Willies are probably what they get when they know that you're practically stalking them. Each time they come out with a new album, they manage to bring a new element of awesomeness to their awesome sound--and it comes across impeccably on stage.
Down and nearly out at the missed Red Butte opportunity, I wiped my tears and looked into Wilco's gig at The Jackson Hole Music Festival (August 16-17). I found a friend who is just as directionally challenged as me and she agreed to come on the make-it-there-alive adventure.
We left on Saturday at the very unreasonable, hostile hour of 5:30 in the morning. I printed out a map all nice and pretty out on the Internet with step by step instructions and felt pretty confident that there would be no getting lost this time. Of course, some of the directions on include such things as “take a slight left” on a road that looks like some sort of junkyard dog or better yet, one on which a serial killer may come chasing out after you.

Once in Jackson Hole, I saw more pedestrians crossing than a morning at SLC's Downtown Farmers Market. That paired with no grid system and only a street name for the hotel, panic mode kicked in. I was ready for the best shower of my life and to catch the show. Upon arriving, and knowing that the first act would be going on at 3 p.m. --same time as check-in. Turns out Jackson Hole is on a pretty strange hotel room schedule. The clerk was very accommodating to my whining and let us in early.
There is a shuttle that you can take to the festival site in Teton Village. Bonus! The drive to Jackson is a very scenic one, but only if you aren’t scared of driving your car off of a lush green mountain road that winds and curves enough to think it's curtains for the driver. The one down side to the shuttle is that at each stop they did not announce stops. This immediately prompted me to think that each stop had to have been the one where we needed to get off.

Fortunately, you can always spot a boy going to a Wilco show thanks to his faded plaid shirt, and the bus was full of that boy. Once I saw them head toward the front, I followed and there we were.

After the chill of downtown Jackson, I had put pants on thinking it would be colder in the Teton Village. But by the time I made it uphill, I felt like I was on fire. Apparently the number one festival rule was "shirt-free is the way to be!" Oh, the sweaty topless men dancing in the heat!

I got into the festival just in time to watch Brian Wilson’s set start. Every time I say this people want to hang me, but I am not a fan of the Beach Boys and yes I have listened to Pet Sounds so leave me alone. I am, however, pleasantly surprised by his solo music. The only songs that I didn't like were when the ones with the word "surf" in them. Other than that, the man has really held the integrity of his voice quite well over the years and put on a good first solo impression for me.
After his set, I headed over to my favorite place to hole away from the sun, the tent, and found probably the nicest of group of people in there. Everyone in Wyoming was just so friendly and interesting. Could have been all the free beer. That's always a sure bet to get my warm fuzzies flowing, but either way we did end up meeting some of the most wonderful people that were willing to sneak off and smoke cigarettes with me.

Wilco arrived on stage and played an amazing set, starting with numbers off their most recent album Sky Blue Sky. The crowd was as enthralled as I was. Guitarist Nels Cline does the most amazing, gorgeous things that help Wilco's live material sound just as clean and concise as their studio recordings. Most people don’t seem to know this about Jeff Tweedy either, but when he performs his sense of humor comes through between songs and he playfully toys with the crowd. No signs of his notorious migraine-related pain.

Pre-encore, Wilco ended their set with the epic “Spiders Kidsmoke," followed by an additional, equally epic encore of older material.
Their show essentially made the whole trip worth the drive, but then I realized that there was still a whole extra day’s worth of festival left on Sunday! I would like to admit that I turned in all early in order to prepare for that, but there are still a lot of things you can do when a festival ends at 8 p.m. in Jackson. We went out and explored and I was still up bright and early for Son Volt, who came on around 12:30 p.m.

I had never seen them live and was obviously really excited since they're one degree of separation away from Wilco. Jay Farrar has the sad country twang down along with a touch of the blues that makes his music sound breathtaking and not at all like that pesky kind of CMT music that makes your ears cry. He played a lot of his original music and tossed in a couple of Uncle Tupelo songs for nostalgia's sake. Farrar's snagged himself an amazing crew, including guitarist Chris Masterson who wowed me with his obscure German guitar that I can’t remember the name of because it had more than two syllables in it.
Later, I walked uphill both ways again to watch The Black Crowes. I have a serious thing for the type of straight-up dirty rock and roll that this band's known for. Chris Robinson, front man for the band came out on stage and immediately started working the crowd with his showboating moves. It was a perfect end to the festival--one I'll definitely return to next year. It’s not that far of a drive, and the location, lineup, and hospitality of the people made this easily one of the best concerts/festivals in recent memory.
Ironically enough, what led me out there to begin with (a sold out show) got me to that sold out show.

After speaking with Wilco's ineffable Pat Sansone and John Stirrat, I let them know what had brought me out to the area, and they completely took care of the Red Butte ticket, enabling me to get home on the 18th and run down to that concert.

Initially, I was a bit perplexed at the Red Butte show. It was a beautiful night, but the crowd appeared to be half asleep in comparison to the one I had just seen. After being warmed up few songs into it, the place was up and excited and everyone started to party like it was a Monday in Utah. The band said with sincerity, that thus far the Salt Lake City one ended up being the best show they have played on this tour thus far.

So, go to Wyoming. Good things will happen.

(Dominique LaJeunesse)


  1. The lead singer of Son Volt is Jay Farrar. Please check your facts before you publish.

  2. Checking my facts....

    We went out and explored and I was still up bright and early for Son Volt, who came on around 12:30 p.m.

    Checking again....I had never seen them live and was obviously really excited since they're one degree of separation away from Wilco.

    Still checking.....

    Jay Farrar has the sad country twang down along with a touch of the blues that makes his music sound breathtaking and not at all like that pesky kind of CMT music that makes your ears cry.

    Checking one more time....Farrar's snagged himself an amazing crew....

    Farrar was mentioned twice there when Son Volt was brought up, did I miss something?

  3. Excellent review.

    I like every band there... where the hell was I?

    My only disagreement... you don't like Pet Sounds?
    That's my one saving grace for the Beach Boys.

  4. that was a rad review

  5. What? No mention of the Ben Harper show? Come on, Ben and crew were great!

    It sounds like you missed the Avett Brothers too - they put on a hell of a show. I'm a Wilco fan and all - they've even provided this atheist with a religious experience while driving through Chattanooga, TN one spring morning - but their show wasn't nearly as good as the Avett Brothers.

    And the Avett Brothers were here in SLC last night (8/20) at the Depot and that show was even better.

    Great write-up though.

  6. You are going to be mad at me, but I missed Avett Brothers AND Ben Harper! I know, I know, getting around in a different state is rough on me! With Ben Harper, I had to go get checked into my hotel at that weird check in time, so I only caught the last leg of that, but what I caught was awesome. Someone who was really good though was Robert Randolph & The Family Band, those guys tore it up!

  7. Domster: yes, that's very disappointing that you missed most of Ben Harper AND the Avett Brothers. Ben Harper was Sunday evening though - shouldn't you have already been checked into your hotel? It's ok to admit you were passed out for a little while. All the heat and the booze and dope... :)

  8. I have always loved the Beach Boys, and seeing Wilco for the first time was awesome. I probably saw you in the tent! I have pictures from the road trip here: http://viewmorepics.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewPicture&friendID=10572885&albumId=2253807

    but I don't have any of the bands. (I forgot my camera.) I have yet to write the blog, or the story for Deadwood Magazine I promised to write in exchange for free tickets.

    I'm tempted to plagiarize your blog instead though. Nice work.

  9. Reading this makes me very nostalgic for a few months ago. I agree though, the Avett Brothers were a highlight, as were Medeski Martin and Wood. The experience overall was great


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