It seems like the only thing cooler than being a hipster is claiming not to be one. So lest we be considered hipsters I decided to cover some music that hasnt been hip in 40 years by attending Louisville, KYs inaugural HullabaLOU Music Festival in Louisville, KY. The event spread out over three days at Churchill Downs, the legendary home of the Kentucky Derby. It was cool seeing bands on the infield, in a place with so much rich history, and it was cool for a new music festival to spring up in a place that is used to so much tradition.
I love going to music festivals and seeing live music, but to be honest I wasnt initially sure how excited I was to attend HulabaLOU. I enjoy several of the bands on the lineup, but hate equally as many of them. I didnt know if the vibe and crowd would be welcoming, laid back, and music loving or a bro and cougar fest looking for an excuse to drink in public. While doing some prep work before the festival (you know, like a real reporter) I read someone jokingly ask, Who will be playing all of the state fairs this weekend?! True, at first glance, the lineup looks pretty strange. It’s filled with as many state fair acts as truly legendary, as much classic rock as bluegrass, and a mixture of local bands none of us has ever heard of and indie acts that no locals have ever heard of, as well.
But after fighting the record high temperatures and a few cougars, heres how it went
Friday, July 23
Around 4:00 p.m., Chrisette Michele strolled on stage wearing a black dress with white polka dots, circa Billie Holiday, boldly adding frosted blonde hair and blue eye shadow. Whats up Louisville,” she yelled out. “I know there are only 10 of yall, but whats up?” Most of the sparse crowd looked like they were just there to get a good seat for the Gladys Knight and the OJays, but there were a few hardcore fans up front.
I only knew Micheles name from being featured on rap songs by artists like Jay-Z, Nas, and The Roots. But I learned that shes got a lot more to offer than a catchy chorus. Micheles got a powerful voice and was funny and engaging throughout her set. She opened with Epiphany, the titular track off latest effort and an empowering song about getting out of a bad relationship (Im just about over being your girlfriend. Im leaving.). She showed off her impressive vocal range and powerful pipes during every song, taking time to do vocal solos, using it like an instrument.
How many of yall are in love,” she continued to engage the crowd, to which seven people raised their hands. “Only seven of yall? It must be part of the recession.
Setlist: Epiphany, What You Do, All I Ever Think About, Im Okay, Porcelain Doll, Golden, If I Have My Way, Blame It on Me, Fragile
The B 52s
We have some special guests with us here today,” frontman Fred Schneider screamed. “Us!
Even though I dont know a ton of their songs, I was still excited to see The B 52s. I like to see classic songs performed, and they had enough of them to get me excited. Its an added bonus when you retain all of your original members (save for guitarist and founding member Ricky Wilson who passed away in 1985). They started the show with two of their more familiar songs, Private Idaho and Mesopotamia.
On stage, the B-52s look like theyre in some kind of improv play, running around as if they’re inventing dance moves, while oozing with charisma and confidence. There must not be a lot of money in the wardrobe budget as theyre all still wearing the same outfits from 30 years ago. Maybe that’s the charm, though.
For Kentucky, they blended newer songs like Funplex with an oldie like Roam, ultimately ending the show with the very expected Love Shack but returning for the unexpected encore of the very awesome Rock Lobster.
Setlist: Private Idaho, Mesopotamia, Give Me Back My Man, Funplex, Roam, Party Out of Bounds, Love in the Year 3000, Cosmic Thing, Hot Corner, Wig, Love Shack, Rock Lobster
After The B52s, I decided to catch the end of Trains set. Im not a fan, but I have to admit their singles can be catchy. I got there in time to see Hey Soul Sister and Drops of Jupiter, which basically runs the gamut of their back catalog’s success. In hindsight, there was nothing really special about their performances, just live versions of their studio work. But it seems like the band’s recent fame and success has given lead singer Pat Monahan a natural smile and a lot more confidence and charisma – at least if we’re to base it off the last time I saw them, which was about 10 years ago.
I was half-baked. Smokin’ doobies. Doobie brothers, I was smokin’ doobies with my brothers. Peace out, Seacrest! -Michael Scott, The Office.
The Doobie Brothers played the same stage as the B-52s before them, but the crowd actually seemed to get a lot younger, filling up with 20-somethings like myself who grew up on classic rock. Never having seen the Doobie Brothers before, I didnt know whether to expect a good show or a sad depressing reminder of why it might be better to burn out than to fade away.
First of all, the Doobie Brothers look exactly like what youd think a Doobie Brother would look like. And since they have always had a high turnover rate for band members, seeing the original lineup is somewhat of a relative thing. Even so, this incarnation boasts half of the original lineup, so its no Lynyrd Skynyrd situation.
The Doobies performed mainly classic songs, starting off with sing-alongs Take Me in Your Arms and Jesus is Just Alright. They worked the crowd into enough of a frenzy to eventually introduce some new songs from an upcoming album. I was surprised to see an older guy singing every word of one of the new songs, proving that that generation might watch live concert videos on YouTube as much as we do. (Maybe more if theyre reliving the glory days!)
Anticipation built enough until they finally teased us with the first few chords of Blackwater. Everyone perked up and sang along. Coupled with the encore of China Grove and Listen to the Music, I was reminded of summers full of classic rock radio. The Doobie Brothers look a little aged, but their music and delivery still sound fresh.
Setlist: Take Me in Your Arms, Jesus is Just Alright, Dangerous, Rockin Down the Highway, Clear as the Driven Snow, Nobody, World Gone Crazy, Back To The Chateau, Takin’ It To The Streets, Don’t Start Me to Talkin, Little Bitty Pretty One, Blackwater, Long Train Runnin’, China Grove, Without You, Listen To the Music
Bon Jovi was the nights headliner, and if t-shirts were any indication of excitement, the crowd was ready to party like it was 1988. (Bon Jovi fans must not be familiar with the Dont wear the t-shirt of the band youre going to see rule.) Jon Bon Jovi came out wearing a sleeveless leather vest showing off a Superman tattoo on his left bicep. I was shocked.
While not Bon Jovis biggest fan, Ive got to admit that they play to their audience with the best of them. Calls to the crowd for more energy were met with deafening screams from both men and women of all ages. I actually forgot that I didnt like Bon Jovi while I was singing along to Its My Life.
Their set was 19 songs long, which included 18 singles. The only song that wasnt a single was We Got It Going On off of 2007s Lost Highway. Maybe a deeper cut for the real fans? They delivered.
Setlist: Lost Highway, We Weren’t Born to Follow, You Give Love a Bad Name, Born to Be My Baby, Superman Tonight, It’s My Life, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, We Got It Goin’ On, Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night, Bad Medicine/Oh, Pretty Woman (Roy Orbison cover)/Shout! (Isley Brothers cover) Bad Medicine, Lay Your Hands on Me (Richie Sambora on lead vocals), (You Want to) Make a Memory, I’ll Be There For You, Runaway, Have a Nice Day, Who Says You Can’t Go Home, Keep the Faith, Wanted Dead or Alive [feat. Dierks Bentley], Livin’ on a Prayer
Saturday, July 24
Cincinnatis Kim Taylor was one of Saturdays first acts. I hadnt planned to show up until Ben Sollee but I heard one of her songs on Pandora a few days before and changed my mind. She came out barefoot, wearing an ankle-length, navy blue summer dress. She has a powerful voice that hauntingly echoed as it went through the mostly empty Churchill Downs. Of no fault of her own the lack of an audience made it feel like shes probably more suited for the Bluebird Cafe than for a music festival like HullabaLOU.
After reading reviews of Ben Sollees newest album, released on Sub Pop with Daniel Martin Moore, I was excited to check him out. HullabaLOU was a one-off show, a break from his current tour with Moore and My Morning Jackets Jim James to raise awareness about mountain top removal.
I really enjoyed Sollees set. His voice sounds like a mixture of Amos Lee and Paolo Nutini, mixed with some beautiful cello music. I didnt know many of the songs but I enjoyed focusing on the sounds that he was bringing out of the cello. And there were honestly a dozen fans in front of me that knew every word to every song, which always makes a show more fun. I loved the line from his song Its Not Impossible: And I must admit/All jokes aside/I find some men beautiful/Some girls handsome, and some children wise/And I hope some day/Before I die/I can share the kiss/That brings tears to my eyes.
Sollees from down the road in Lexington and was excited to be playing a festival in his home state. Take care of this festival, Solle said. Hopefully we can grow it.
Bandleader Lonnie Jordan is the only original member still left in War, so this shows lineup was mostly like a review of the original, and I mostly expected to be underwhelmed. But they sounded awesome. These days, War sounds like a jam band, and maybe they always were, even before we really coined the term. Even when there were some sound problems and Jordans keyboard had to be worked on, the band ignored the sound guy and just kept jamming. The youngest member of the band, bass player Francisco “Pancho” Tomaselli, really stood out and was featured on a lot of the songs.
Hearing Low Rider and Why Cant We Be Friends (The best part of Lethal Weapon 4 was hearing this song in the credits according to the friend who came with me) was cool, and both renditions sounded better than I expected. I made it through seven songs before I left to hear Ben Folds.
Setlist: Cisco Kid, Me An Baby Brother, Slippin Into Darkness, Galaxy War, Summer, Why Cant We Be Friends, Low Rider, and more
Ive seen Ben Folds about five times or I would have been there for his entire set. Hes incredibly talented, plays several instruments, and is funny and engaging enough to keep an audiences attention even when hes on stage by himself. I got there in time to join in on a raucous sing-along of Army” and the rest played out just as well.
Joan Osborne is originally from Louisville, KY and had a large crowd at her show. She started the show with a tribute to her second home New York with the song, Bury Me on the Battery.
There were several Grateful Dead shirts in the crowd, people excited to see her for her past work with the band, and probably hoping shed cover some Dead songs. They didnt have to wait long, getting a cover of Brokedown Palace as the third song of the seat. During Help Me Osborne sauntered around stage singing I dont feel like sleeping, I just fell like lying down. She must have been pretty jazzed because she even picked up an electric guitar and played on Ladder. The set finished with songs like her singles St. Teresa and One of Us.
Setlist: Bury Me on the Battery, Pretty Little Stranger, Brokedown Palace (Grateful Dead cover), Help Me, St. Teresa, Ladder, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted, One of Us, Only You Know and I Know.
Al Green was one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend for me. Even though he’s been performing in a red and black tux, throwing out roses, and fronting a 14 piece band for years it still works.
He mixed his own classics like Lets Get Married and Lets Stay Together with contemporary hits like ”I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch), Bring It On Home to Me, My Girl, and Dock of the Bay. I was surprised to see the Reverend cursing at a sound guy during his rendition of Amazing Grace. Apparently he didnt find the grace to be too amazing.
The main thing I took away from the show was how strong Greens voice still is, and how much people love him.
I was able to see about half of Govt Mules show. Even though we were battling record high temperatures all weekend a strong breeze started blowing as I reached the shade of their stage, making it one of the most enjoyable atmospheres of the day. Lots of Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers shirts were scattered throughout the crowd and joined each other singing Soulshine. The crowd liked ending with Soulshine, but seemed like they wanted something with bigger bang to go out on.
Setlist: Railroad Boy, Gameface > Banks of The Deep End, Steppin’ Lightly, Broke Down On The Brazos, Beautifully Broken, I’m A Ram, Mule > Soulshine
Kenny Chesney showed up, played his songs (the ones on the radio and some other ones), and left.
Ive never seen so many people singing every word, going crazy over something that I didnt get. But then I realized, Kenny Chesney is a genius. He speaks to a neglected demographic. I know people that spend every vacation at the beach every year, and have since they were kids. I know people that have abandoned Sunday school but still somehow feel connected to it. I know people that live for happy hour and a good time. Kenny Chesney speaks to them. Hes taken what Jimmy Buffett started, updated it, and added an American flag. I dont like it, but now I get it.
He did actually cover The Joker, Three Little Birds (he has a member of the Wailers in his band), and Gimme Three Steps which I enjoyed.
Setlist: Beer In Mexico, Keg In The Closet, Big Star, Summertime, Aint Back Yet, Out Last Night, No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems, Dont Blink, I Go Back, Anything But Mine, Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven, Back Where I Come From, The Woman with You, There Goes My Life, Living In Fast Forward, Young, The Joker/Three Little Birds/Gimme Three Steps (with Jason Aldean), Never Wanted Nothing More, When The Sun Goes Down, Dont Happen Twice, How Forever Feels, She Thinks My Tractors Sexy
Sunday, July 25
The Avett Brothers
HullabaLOU lets you get a good place for the secondary stage acts, but unless you have reserved seats in the first section, the main stage view is awful. Its a good side stage venue, but not a good main stage venue. The Avett Brothers were a victim of the main stage. It was ironic to see the band so far away from the fans it usually connects so closely with. There were about 100 people, maybe, in the first two reserved sections. There were a couple of small pockets of fans that knew all of their songs, but most of the seats were empty. I assume their ticket holders were resting up for Zac Brown and Dave Matthews. Theyve gotten a new drummer since their Bonnaroo show, drummer Jacob Edwards who used to play with Samantha Crain.
Half of their songs were from the new album, but it seemed like those were the most familiar to the crowd. Older songs like I Killed Sallys Lover and Swept Away really helped the energy, and it was exciting to hear new song, Down With the Shine. The open spaces and sparse crowd might have hurt them, but the Avetts still put on an energy packed show. I dont think they know how to put on a bad show.
Setlist: Tin Man, January Wedding, I Killed Sallys Lover, Kick Drum Heart, Signs, The Fall, Pretty Girl from Cedar Lane, I and Love and You, Down With the Shine, Swept Away, Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise, Go to Sleep, Laundry Room
I arrived to Loretta Lynn just in time to see You Aint Woman Enough to Take My Man. If newer country gals like Carrie Underwood would key a cheaters car and Taylor Swift would tell somebody theyre gay, Lorettas brand of country would threaten to kill them, and so convincingly that youre sure she means it. Just like with most of the other performers this weekend, I was surprised at how strong Lorettas voice still was. Between songs she rambled on like my grandmother, but I found it warm and enduring, not annoying.
Steve Miller Band
The Steve Miller Band was my most anticipated set of the weekend. Growing up on classic rock, their greatest hits CD was always on heavy rotation for me. There must have been a lot of other people that felt the same way, because this was the biggest non-headliner crowd I saw all weekend. As soon as the first notes of Jet Airliner were played, the large crowd started singing and dancing, and never really stopped. However, you could tell that almost no one has kept tabs on the band, as newer material like Hey Yeah and Further on Up the Road went over everyone’s heads. (They must have missed our review of new album, Bingo.) But that’s to be expected with a “classic rock” act.
Steve Miller came out by himself and played an acoustic version of Wild Mountain Honey, which sounded beautiful and haunting echoing through Churchill Downs. One thing that really impressed me was how Miller’s such an underrated guitarist. After seeing him live, I’m convinced he deserves more consideration, both in composition and performance.
The show ended on eight straight singles, starting with Dance, Dance Dance, The Joker, and Abracadabra. For the song Living in the U.S.A., Miller told the crowd, I wrote this song for some people gathering in Chicago outside of the Democratic National Convention in the 60s. Everybody was paying attention back then. Nobody is paying attention now. I challenge you to question your government and pay attention.
The set closed with Fly Like an Eagle and Rockn Me, which featured a boy named Dillon Brown on guitar. Brown is a student at Kids Rock Free, a School of Rock-type school that Miller helps fund and oversee.
I was once again surprised by how clear and strong Steves voice and guitar playing was after all these years. The show lived up to the hype for me, and I was glad to get more than just a note-for-note rendition of the greatest hits.
Set list: Jet Airliner, Take the Money and Run, Mercury Blues, Hey Yeah, Further on Up the Road, Ooh Poo Pah Doo, I Cant Be Satisfied (Muddy Waters cover), Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma, Wild Mountain Honey, Dance Dance Dance, The Joker, Abracadabra, Serenade, The Stake, Living in the U.S.A., Fly Like an Eagle, Rock’n Me
The Bluegrass Stage where Rhonda Vincent played was the strangest stage at HullabaLOU. It was practically in a big open hallway between the entrance and the other stages. The area in front of the stage was so small that almost no one stood in it the entire weekend, choosing rather to sit on benches or tables elevated away from the stage about 30 yards back. So anyone who decided to dance or watch up close was almost part of the show to the audience.
She was billed as just Rhonda Vincent, but she was also joined by her band the Rage. Since she stopped after the Steve Miller Band, I was able to catch the last part of her show. With her popularity and the aged-to-perfection sound of her old timey blue grass, I was expecting to see a much older woman, but surprised to find a younger looking 48-year-old. Even playing to a smaller crowd she seemed to have a good time, and sounded great.
Dave Matthews Band
Im doing this review through the eyes of someone that used to be a big Dave Matthews Band fan. I saw a dozen shows in the late 90s, but gave them up cold turkey and havent been to see them in about five years. So if youre in the same boat as me, Ill give you an update as to whats changed.
Matthews started the show with the first single off their latest effort, Big Whiskey & The Groogrux King, Funny the Way It Is. It took five songs before we heard a song from one of the classic DMB albums, and that song would be Crush. Before all of their recent material, Matthews would tell people the name of the song, which is something that never used to happen. I dont know if its due to the fact that he talks more between songs (dont worry, he still mumbles unintelligibly too), or if its out of necessity because older fans wouldnt know the new songs without an introduction.
The death of founding member and saxophonist LeRoi Moore has taken an element from their live shows that can never be completely replaced. I personally loved what he added to their songs, both in the writing process and in live performances. But the addition of saxophonist Jeff Coffin, trumpet player Rashawn Ross, and guitarist Tim Reynolds does what it can to make up for Moores musical absence, and has added a new depth to their live sound.
Some of the highlights of the show included a great version of #41, a full band version of Gravedigger, and Lie in Our Graves. Zac Brown joined in for covers of Willie Nelson’s Funny How Time Slips Away and Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower.
The show ended with an acoustic version of Some Devil and the typical version of Ants Marching, with a little different drum intro to try and throw people off.
All in all it was a solid show. I can see why people are still drawn to it, and I remember why it was a gateway to other things for me, and why it’s something that Im no longer really into. Im sure they will continue to headline festivals, but at this point Im not sure Ill find myself in the crowd.
Setlist: Funny The Way It Is, You Might Die Trying, Stay or Leave, Seven, Crush, Dont Drink the Water, Why I Am, Spaceman, Corn Bread, #41, Gravedigger, Lie In Our Graves, You and Me, Shake Me Like a Monkey, Aint It Funny How Time Slips Away [w/ Zac Brown], All Along the Watchtower [w/ Zac Brown], Some Devil, Ants Marching
Overall, HullabaLOU was a great success. I wasnt sure if it was going to be like going to a frat party, or an incredible music experience. In reality, it was a little bit of both. I had a good time and I saw a lot of bands that performed and sounded much better than I thought they could. The heat was rough, but there were places you could go that actually had air conditioning, there were several free water fountains, and cold water was only two bucks a bottle, so it was manageable.
I mainly enjoyed the small crowds and the chance to see so many legendary acts in just three days. Steve Sexton, president of Churchill Downs Entertainment, says that HullabaLOU will be back next year. And hopefully I will, too.