Lauderdale Live 2013, Day Two: Lyle Lovett, Indigo Girls, and Jason Isbell
Alisa B. Cherry
South Florida seems to have become quite the magnet for music festivals lately. There's the burgeoning worldwide popularity of the Winter Music Conference and Ultra Music Festival, not to mention this year's debut of Tortuga and the annual gains being made by the Virginia Key Grassroots Festival. Add to that list Lauderdale Live, which made its bow this past weekend with a lineup so impressive, it's already worthy of being a major contender.
As far as festivals go, Lauderdale Live also scores points in terms of convenience and all-round ease and accessibility. Despite the fact that the weekend shows were staged in the heart of Fort Lauderdale's sprawling downtown environs, it was as intimate as any festival could be. Traffic hassles were nonexistent, and parking was readily available. And with one main stage and a schedule that ran flawlessly from start to finish, there were none of the usual worries about trying to decide which act to see next and how to find time the jog from one show to another. The proximity of audience to performer was ideal, and while the number of bars clearly outnumbered the food concessions, the opportunity for alcoholic consumption made an elated crowd even more festive as the day wore on.
Still, the somewhat sparse attendance was no doubt a disappointment to the promoters, who, by all counts, did everything right in terms of arranging a professional, first-class event. The choice of artists alone -- Lyle Lovett, the Indigo Girls, Jason Isbell, et al. -- ought to have been enough to lure the masses, so why folks opted to stay away poses a question best left for others to ponder. Perhaps it was the myriad choices brought to town just south of here by Art Basel in Miami. It's best to focus on the outstanding array of acts in terms of both headliners and up-and-comers.
Alisa B. Cherry
Not that there wasn't some disparity. The crowd that came to see Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit was definitely distinct from the audience that was there for the Indigo Girls. Likewise, those who shared their enthusiasm for Lyle Lovett were altogether different from those that came to hear most of the others. The one thing all the artists had in common was their mutual appreciation for South Florida's mild weather, a point echoed unanimously and repeatedly through the festival's final day. As more than one musician remarked, balmy Fort Lauderdale was a far cry from the chilly environs that they had just left behind.
The Sunday set began with Holly Williams, whose pedigree as country music's once and forever heir apparent was all but assured by her granddad, the legendary Hank Williams. Yet despite her prominent lineage, she showed she doesn't need to ride on the coattails of her famous forebears. While a good portion of her sweetly sublime set was drawn from her critically acclaimed album, The Highway, it was hardly surprising -- and no doubt, hugely tempting -- that she gave a nod to Hank Sr. in the final song of her set. Indeed, her cover of his sturdy semi-gospel standard "I Saw the Light" likely had the old man beaming with pride from the light above.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day came from the band that was the least known, that being Nashville newcomers Wild Feathers. A feisty bunch, the five-piece started its set with a rollicking display that tilted its country-rock leanings more toward the former rather than the latter. Still, with three lead singers in the band and an impressive stock of material that comes courtesy of a self-titled debut album, it's also clear the band possesses enough subtlety and nuance to win acceptance with today's Americana fans.
But the real revelation of the afternoon came in the form of the duo that calls itself Shovels & Rope. A minimalist outfit that won top newcomer honors at this year's Americana Music Fest, the pair manage to play all the instrumentation between them, including guitar, drums, percussion, harmonica, and occasional keyboards. As a result, the live renditions of songs from their stunning debut, O' Be Joyful, effectively replicated the recorded versions and had the crowd in their grasp practically from the first note. It's little wonder they've become the buzz band, despite their seemingly unorthodox presentation. As a lyric from their song "Birmingham" states, "We made something from nothing"; they do in fact make a lot of noise and keep a steady rhythm with minimum accoutrements. The fact that they do it so effectively becomes an integral part of their charm.
Alisa B. Cherry
Jason Isbell clearly attracted a faithful following of his own, and given his solid repertoire, culled from his four superb studio albums, it's little doubt why. Isbell's songs are thoughtful, reflective and yet exuberant in a singular sort of way, and with an adept five piece backing band in the form of the 400 Unit -- including wife and fiddler Amanda Shires, an accomplished artist in her own right -- he had the kind of support that Tom Petty sees from the Heartbreakers and the Boss finds in his E Street ensemble. The array of material -- a sturdy, sobering "Alabama Pines," the plaintive "Decoration Day" and "Travelling Alone," the nostalgic "Different Days" -- distinguish him as a songwriter to be reckoned with, one who commands both authority and supreme sensitivity. Happily, he's also an artist with a sense of humor. Speaking of his guitarist, Isbell remarked, "He comes from a long line of miniature golfers. They play regular golf, but they're tiny people."