MOON RIVER Festival 2019 Day One
MOON RIVER 2019
Lineup: The New Respects, Lady Wray, Lissie, Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds, Drew and Ellie Holcomb, Devon Gillfillian, Moon Taxi, The Oh Hellos, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Josh Ritter, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.
Moon River 2019! Ah, the best weekend of the year! Plotted in beautiful Chattanooga, Tennessee where the hills are rolling, the river is running, and the summer heat shines on, Moon River music festival returned for yet another outstanding year. With a crowd pleasing roster full of must see acts, founder, Drew Holcomb, blew fans away once again with his masterfully curated lineup. Plentiful and diverse, genres ranged from bluegrass, to rock, folk, singer-songwriter, and pop. With Moon River selling out again this year (12,000 tickets in 5 minutes), fans counted down the days until they could return to Coolidge Park to dance and sing with a community and family of 12,000 music lovers.
The New Respects
The New Respects kicked off Moon River on Saturday 12:30 at the Poplar Stage. With a forecasted high of 92 degrees, the lively summer aurora was in action and Chattanooga was ready for a fantastic weekend. They began their set with “Trigger”, an upbeat anthem. Lead singer, Jasmine Mullen, proposed that since they were the band to commence the beginning of the festival, it only made sense to start out with a banger. And a banger it was! The New Respects made for a lively start to the festival and had the crowd on their feet at the Poplar stage.
One of my favorite pleasant surprises and newfound discoveries from day one was Lissie, a singer-songwriter from Iowa. The best way to describe Lissie’s sound would be by having one imagine if Stevie Nicks, Brandi Carlile, Lana Del Ray, and Maggie Rogers had a child together. Hearing her for the first time live was a beautiful experience, and I can say I’ve been hooked on her music since.
Drew & Ellie Holcomb
Moon River’s lovable parents, Drew and Ellie Holcomb hit the stage at 3:30. Recalling back to last year’s festival, fans were treated to the Holcomb’s collaborating on only a few songs at the main stage. As opposed to this year, when the duo performed an entire set. Remembering last year, as Ellie was pregnant with their third child (who was born just days after the Holcomb’s performed), it was evident that Moon River marks not only an important moment in Drew’s career but also in their family’s life. Since baby Rivers entrance to the world, Moon River 2019 marked a whole new level of significance.
Drew and Ellie were able to fit in 14 songs during the duration of their set. Beginning with “Fire and Dynamite”, the Holcombs’ charisma and chemistry were overflowing as they shared the stage together.
Arguably the best moment of the set was when the two sang “Hung the Moon” together. With just Ellie and Drew on stage and a mandolin and a guitar, it provided for more emotion in the song as it was stripped back and acoustic. As they sang, it was hard to tell who was more in awe of each other, Drew and Ellie, or the crowd and the Holcomb’s. Major heart eyes surrounded the couple as they serenaded the fans.
The Holcomb’s spiced up their setlist with a cover of “On the Road Again” and played Ellie’s song “Red Sea Road”, before ending appropriately on “Tennessee”. Sharing their love for their home state, even those who had traveled out of state for the festival were in agreement of its beauty. After all, it was hard not to. With the festival taking place in Coolidge Park, beneath the alluring pedestrian bridge, alongside the river, and sandwiched between the mountains, everyone could relate to the beauty that Tennessee had to offer.
Forming just two hours away in Nashville at Belmont University, Moon Taxi played a lively home-state set on Saturday. The indie alternative band, responsible for smash hit, “Two High”, was ecstatic to play the festival. Animate and alive, one could tell that Moon Taxi is a band that makes sure they have fun on stage when they perform. Moon Taxi, although they made have not been as folksy as other acts on the roster, added a nice amount of diversity to the Moon River lineup and sound. With songs like “Run Right Back”, Moon Taxi’s folk roots became evident. Fused with upbeat rock, it was the perfect cross breed concoction for the 5 o’clock set.
Acknowledging the crowd, Moon Taxi attracted similar fans to when Judah and the Lion performed at Moon River last year. About halfway through, all members of the band exited the stage except for their drummer, Tyler Ritter. Giving Ritter the spotlight for a mind blowing drum solo, the musician soloed a cover of Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy”.
What I love about Moon River is that festival goers are there for the music. When others might have chosen this once in a lifetime drum solo as a good time to use the restroom, check their phones, or grab food, Moon River go-ers stuck around, cheering on Ritter as he tore up the stage, with one fan equally as mind blown as the next.
Keeping the energy high, rounding their time up with “Morocco” and “Two High”, Moon Taxi finished leaving fans elated.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones
Next up was the infamous and legendary, St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Whether you know them from their smooth, powerfully retro sound, or lead singer, Paul Janeway’s, dashing outfits, you’re sure to love them. After all, it’s hard not to after witnessing their live shows. Janeway belted high notes and incorporated soul to make for a memorable performance. Bringing their authentic Alabama style to Tennessee, it wasn’t just an impressive vocal range that Janeway contributed to the band, he also brought the personality. Dressed in a sparkly cape, he danced around the stage expressing himself freely, blowing kisses to the crowd, rolling on the ground, and owning the sass.
Although everyone awaited St. Paul and the Broken Bones to play “Call Me”, the best sing along included “Apollo”. Both entertaining in their own aspects, “Apollo” may have won for the best festival anthem. Before leaving Moon River, Janeway ran through the crowd, climbed on top of the video stand, and hyped up the fans as he finished the set.
Josh Ritter has been in the business for quite some time, and there is something to be said about his beautifully articulated songwriting and evolution of his sound over the years. With the release of his debut self-titled album in 1999, Ritter’s expressionism has played a large role in Americana music. At Moon River, the songwriter approached fans with a renewed setlist, including songs from his most recently released album, “Fever Breaks”, produced by Saturday’s headliner, Jason Isbell. Ritter’s smile was contagious on Saturday night. Happy as could be, he made sure to thank the crowd after each song played. The Idaho native had fans bouncing around when singing “Getting Ready to Get Down”. For those who attended, even within just a few minutes of Ritter’s set, anyone was able to see and hear how talented the singer songwriter is. Witty, informative, and poetic, his lyrics spoke to the crowd. Alongside his lyrics, Ritter’s ability to play the guitar, picking and strumming, was mesmerizing. Charming and down to earth, Ritter won the hearts of many.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
When it was time for Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit to play, fans were on the edge of their seats. With an overwhelmingly successful first day under their belts, they were ready to dance under the stars to the tune of Isbell’s folksy ballads. Former member of Southern Rock band, Drive-By Truckers, Isbell began a solo project in 2007. Arising as a solo artist while coming to terms with alcoholism, the newly sober artist began gaining a large fan base of supporters and those that backed him in his journey. In 2010, he began his next project, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, bringing in a full band named after a Florence mental treatment facility. A year of great success for the band, 2019 consisted of a tour with friend and musician, Father John Misty, as well as five upcoming sold out shows at The Ryman in Nashville, Tennessee. Moon River goers couldn’t wait to see and hear what the band had up their sleeve.
Instead of starting out with a “banger”, the band eased the crowd into the night, addressing them with “Last of My Kind”. Singing of isolation and doubt, with an old soul and a guitar, Isbell had the crowd paying deep attention. After all, they were in for an Americana show, and paying attention to the story plays a crucial part in Isbell’s music. However, there were some memorable upbeat nights from the show. Notably, “Super 8”, in which Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit got down and country with Coolidge Park.
As Isbell is a highly successful and accredited artist, each song, one after another, was a hit. Just to name a few, “Cover Me Up”, “24 Frames”, and “If We Were Vampires”, had fans feeling nostalgic and at home in the heat of the Tennessee summer. Ending on a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well”, Isbell kept it classy and overall making for a torch bearing set. When the day was done, fans left Coolidge Park content and excited for what day two had to come.