What’s that they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men? Oh right, mother nature doesn’t care about your best-laid plans, and she’s going to do what she damn well pleases. Heavy storms have become a recurring theme at Rites of Spring, an otherwise fine mini-festival held on Vanderbilt University’s campus every April. Just like last year, one of the days was delayed and cut short resulting in many acts being canceled. This time around, the storms came on Friday. The gates were scheduled to open at 4 p.m.. They officially announced a delay shortly after, with an open ended, “We will notify you when it is safe to enter Alumni Lawn.” It wasn’t raining yet at that point – but sure enough the storm hit, and it hit hard. The rains came in heavy spurts, but the lightning was consistent.
They eventually updated us with the time-frame for the lightning warning – from 6:30-7:20 p.m.. Then it was extended to 7:40p.m.. Then 9:17 p.m.. Then 10:30 p.m.. For most attendees, this was no matter – as the event is held on their own campus. They could just wait out the storms in their dorms, halls, etc. But for the good percentage of attendees that aren’t Vandy students, we were just stuck waiting in the student center, restaurants, or anywhere else we could find around town. Finally the music started at 10:40 p.m., around the time the headliner was originally supposed to come on. They had to cancel the first three acts of the night, keeping only their three big names and giving them each greatly shortened sets.
Due to the extreme circumstances, and the comedy of errors that happened to us throughout the weekend (for one example, my camera does not cooperate with the rain), we’ll forego the usual band-by-band breakdown for Friday and give you a quick run through of the events of the day.
Sara Bareilles was up first, but due to the quick announcement of the gates opening, we missed the set. Public Enemy was up next, and they got the crowd jumping as they tore through a set of strictly classics – like “Fight the Power” and “Bring the Noise”. The crowd went crazy for Flavor Flav, and Chuck D was on fire on the mic. But just as they hit their stride they had to shut it down – leaving us with a blazing 20 minute set that left the crowd wanting more. But, of course, due to the storms and the delays, there was nothing they could do.
Closing down the night was the National, who started out slow but picked up steam during their High Violet-heavy set. The crowd, which wasn’t as large as it would have been without all the weather, was appreciative of the National for the most part. Though since it was held on a college campus, there was a large constituency that was just there to be drunk at a concert. The show it self was solid as usual for these guys, but the mixing for the first half of the show seemed a bit off. They figured it out just in time for the wonderful ending stretch of “Abel”, “Fake Empire”, “Mr. November”, and “Terrible Love”. There are few things in indie rock as exhilarating as watching Matt Berninger scream into the mic after being so subdued for most of the set like he does during “Abel” and “Mr. November”. They were not immune to the delays either – after “Fake Empire”, Berninger told the crowd they were being told they only had time for one more song, which was received with loud boos. They reiterated how they wanted to play longer but were being cut off – ultimately deciding to go against the wishes of the organizers and play two songs after that, finishing the set around 45 minutes after they started. All told, the day could have been worse, but I feel bad for single day ticket holders who ended up paying to see just over an hour of music from the two biggest bands of the day combined.
Senior Staff Writer
Saturday, April 16th
David Mayfield Parade – 5:35 p.m.
The nearly hypothermic crowd needed the warmth of Nashville-based David Mayfield Parade‘s lighthearted brand of twangy pop to keep going. With entertaining on-stage goofy banter and their all-smiles demeanor, it was clear that this band functions more like a family than just a band, and performs with a contagious passion for their craft. The threat of rain subsided as the set progressed, allowing for even more smiles as the former Cadillac Sky member danced, encouraged crowd participation and flawlessly performed his bluegrass-infused tunes. Highlights included a rendition of “Just a Little Talk with Jesus”, with the entirety of the audience clapping and dancing along, all upset when the brief set ended. -Caitlin Meyer
Madi Diaz – 6:25 p.m.
Photo by Carson O’Shoney
Next came Madi Diaz, another testament to the strength of the Nashville music scene. With poppy melodies, sugary sweet vocals and stellar harmonies, the sextet came through with a clean, tight, thoroughly enjoyable set. Diaz’s charm is definitely in her delivery, as her eyes were closed belting her heart out through most of her songs. With bass lines and percussion grounding lofty vocals, piano and guitar accenting them, the band worked incredibly well together and the songs were well-composed. It was truly refreshing to see a folksy pop singer bring some originality to a hyper-saturated genre, especially in Music City, and Diaz did so with spunk and finesse. With favorites such as “Let’s Go” and “I Know I Know”, Diaz’s very festival-friendly brand of pop kept up the high energy of the previous act, and set the stage for a phenomenal set from The Features. -Caitlin Meyer
The Features – 7:15 p.m.
Photo by Carson O’Shoney
The Features were the biggest of the hometown bands playing at Rites this year, so when they took the stage they were greeted with a warm welcome. They’ve been around the scene for a while, and have flirted with nationwide recognition (most notably with 2004’s “Blow it Out”), but their recent venture with another Tennessee rock group – The Kings of Leon – might end up proving to be their most successful. The four piece’s latest album was released on the Kings’ new label, 429 Records, and they gave the Features the chance to open for them in many sold out arenas and amphitheatres. The Kings of Leon’s influence is heard clearly in their new songs – and they seem primed to break out at any minute. Their blend of southern rock with big pop hooks kept the crowd hyped, and they pumped the intensity up for their entire set. Look out for these guys. -Carson O’Shoney
Matt & Kim – 8:15 p.m.
Photo by Carson O’Shoney
Matt & Kim shows are always ridiculously fun, and this was no exception. Despite unfortunate sound problems and other technical glitches, their explosive energy and silly antics more than compensated. Starting off the set with “Yea Yeah” and inciting a dance riot, the two-piece were in top form. Set highlights included introducing a song with “Jump On It”, a bombardment of balloons with Matt’s face on them and a singalong version of “Good Old Fashioned Nightmare” – their trademark enthusiasm keeping the previously hesitant, highly inebriated crowd dancing the entire time. Bottom line: their music may not be revolutionary and Matt will never be a soul singer, put Matt & Kim know exactly how to push their poppy dance rock to its threshold and put on a hell of a show. -Caitlin Meyer
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros – 9:45 p.m.
Photo by Carson O’Shoney
The eternal question with Edward Sharpe: how can a set change possibly take that long? Every time I’ve seen this band, they take forever to get going, and this time it was absolutely ridiculous. The crowd was jam packed and impatient, as Alex Ebert and the gang wasted almost half of their set time getting ready. When they finally stormed the stage, “40 Day Dream” alleviated most of the ill-will and the fun could begin. The brief set included an extended version “Carries On” and an incredibly soulful rendition of “Fire & Water” by leading lady Jade Castrinos, both executed in the band’s characteristic sloppy yet discernible, lackadaisical form. Naturally, the crowd went crazy for “Home”, and Ebert and Castrinos delivered heartfelt performances. The too brief set was highly enjoyable, but bittersweet considering they could have played a few more, including staple “Om Nashi Me”, had they been prompt. -Caitlin Meyer
Kid Cudi – 11:15 p.m.
I promised my mother I would never tell a lie. I might not always follow that rule, but I’m going to here. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was forced to leave Kid Cudi’s headlining set just three songs into it. So I can’t provide a comprehensive review of his show, but I can describe the feeling of being there before I had to leave. I settled into the photographers pit around 11:10 p.m., five minutes before he was scheduled to go on. Everything on stage was set up and ready to go, and his DJ was even playing some songs to hype up the crowd. Then 11:15 p.m. came and went with no sign of Cudi. The DJ left the stage, and the crowd started chanting “CU-DI! CU-DI!” (which they had been all night actually). Eventually the music stopped and the lights went dim – the crowd freaked out because surely the time had some. Well, they were wrong, and were just left to push and squish in silence for about 15 more minutes. The people in the front were obviously huge Cudi fans – to pass the time they started singing a cappella versions of many of his hits. Not just one or two people – it seemed like the whole crowd joined in.
Photo by Carson O’Shoney
Finally, 30 minutes after his scheduled start time, Cudi finally made his way to the stage to a crowd that was just going ape-shit for him. The moment the music started I could barely breathe – the photographers were stationed right behind a wall of massive subwoofers. The bass was so overwhelming I could feel my bones rattling. No matter I thought – I had to get the shot since we only had a song and a half to shoot for this particular performance. Cudi was standing right over top of the photographers and reaching out into the crowd at every opportunity. So I point the camera up and… nothing. Remember that comedy of errors I was talking about? Well, I guess the battery ran out while I was taking crowd shots while waiting for Cudi to come out. By the time I scrambled to pull my spare out of my bag and finally got it in, we were being forced out. But while I was there I saw firsthand the intense reaction his fans gave him. While I prefer my live hip-hop with a full band as opposed to a rapper and a DJ, for his fans it didn’t matter. They waited all day to just see him, and I hope for their sake it was worth it. It sure looked like they were having the time of their lives. -Carson O’Shoney