From Festivals to Farm Aid, Nonesuch Artists Have a Whirlwind Weekend of Music Making
It was a music festival–filled fall weekend in two great American cities the past few days, with the Austin City Limits Festival going on outside in Austin's Zilker Park (seen in the photo at left) as the free Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival was taking place across the country in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Each festival featured three Nonesuch artists—The Low Anthem, Sara Watkins, and Dan Auerbach in Austin; Emmylou Harris, Allen Toussaint, and Amadou & Mariam in San Francisco. Meanwhile, St. Louis, Missouri, welcomed a different sort of musical gathering, playing host to the Farm Aid benefit concert, with a set by Wilco. All the artist left quite an impression on the crowds and the critics who came to hear them.
The Low Anthem kicked things off in Austin on Friday afternoon, playing before a rapt audience that, the San Antonio Express reports, "listened reverently" as the Rhode Island–based trio performed its set. "One of the bright spots of SXSW 2009," wrote the Express's Hector Saldaña in a preview of the event, "this low-wattage trio delivered one of the best folk albums of the year, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, an Americana masterpiece utilizing offbeat, outdated instrumentation and combining it with classical (and classic) execution—and a big dose of humility and talent."
Sara Watkins's Friday night set at ACL included a very special guest in the form of her Nonesuch album's producer, John Paul Jones, who contributed mandolin to the live set, "complimenting her tender voice as she played the part of crooner, says Spinner's Michael D. Ayers. "Watkins and Jones make quite a team." Rolling Stone's J. Edward Keyes says Sara's set was "as long on charm and good manners as it was on winsome, airy country ... music for sighing along."
Dan Auerbach, whom the Austinist described as "a force in supreme guitar god awesomeness for almost the entirety of this decade," previewed his Sunday festival set in an official ACL Aftershow at Antone's on Fifth Street late Saturday night (and into the next morning). The New York Times's music critic Nate Chinen chose Dan's show over a few other rather noteworthy options and seems not to have regretted the choice in the least. "Stomping through songs from his fine solo debut, Keep It Hid (Nonesuch), released this year, he raised the energy level by several notches, and kept it there," Chinen reports. "His guitar playing was raucously astute; his singing was urgently soulful. And his backing band, chiefly made up of members of the country-soul group Hacienda, tackled every groove with an avid snarl."
As for Sunday's festival performance, Austin Music Source's Patrick Caldwell says "Auerbach delivered a brilliantly realized 45 minutes of hard-edged, full-bodied blues rock." In a set that showcased Dan's "sharp-as-a-razor voice and virtuoso guitar playing," says Caldwell, "Auerbach kept it loud, fast and fierce, with an intense performance that provided a perfect cap to a long, grimy day." Houston Press called it an "A-plus set of menacing, lupine blues-rock."
Out West in San Francisco for the ninth Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Emmylou Harris proved once more why she is "the backbone of the festival," as described her. In addition to her headlining slot at the end of the festival, Harris was on top the day before as well, offering what the SFistSan Francisco Chronicle's pop music critic Aidin Vaziri calls "devastating harmonies" to guitarist Buddy Miller's own set.
Reporting from Farm Aid, at the Verizon Amphitheater outside St. Louis, Rolling Stone's Dan Michel says "Wilco took the stage at dusk and brought the crowd to its feet." St. Louis Post-Dispatch critic Joe Williams says the "talented, continually evolving band has earned its acclaim, and tonight they were loose, live and local." Riverfront Times reviewer Annie Zaleski echoes that sentiment, calling the set "loose and raw." You can watch the concert streaming online and contribute to Farm Aid's efforts to support local farms at farmaid.org.
Prior to the Farm Aid set, Wilco performed over two nights in St. Paul, Minnesota: first, Friday night, a full-fledged concert at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium, followed by a Saturday night live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion, which you can listen to online at prairiehome.org.
As for Friday's show, "it was another outstanding performance by the sextet," says Minneapolis-St. Paul City Pages reviewer Warren Wills. "Tweedy and Co. didn't disappoint." The Minneapolis Star Tribune's Chris Riemenschneider says, "The Wilkins brought out the showy, rowdy, brawny side of Wilco." He then suggests that "if you were going to bring your cousin who only gets out to a few rock shows a year to one Wilco gig, this was it."