Moon River Music Festival 2018 – Day 2
Moon River Music Festival Presented by Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors
Chattanooga, TN at Coolidge Park
The Avett Brothers, The Head and The Heart, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, Judah and the Lion… need we say more? Including a diverse range of bands from genres including bluegrass, americana, folk, singer-songwriter, and folk-hop, the sold out Moon River Festival provided for a packed weekend full of banjos and boot stomping. Moon River Festival majorly improved this year. From the location, to the plethora of acts, food vendors, activities and everywhere in between. Attracting nearly 10,000 people to Chattanooga, Tennessee for the weekend, the city was flooded with festival goers. Held at Coolidge Park, in the heart of Chattanooga right near the breathtaking Tennessee River, festival goers were presented a lovely impression of the city and all that it has to offer. The smaller music festival, curated and created by Drew Holcomb, was originally located in Memphis, Holcomb’s hometown. After realizing that the popularity of the music festival had greatly outgrown its birthplace, the Levitt Shell, Holcomb took it upon himself to find a new home for the musical event.
As the festival nearly tripled its size this year, festival organizers still found a way to maintain the intimacy that was present in previous years. Two stages with staggered schedules allowed more artists to play and overall, gave more satisfaction to fans. Whether it was seeing The Avett Brothers jam out on a sweet summer night, or hearing Joseph’s heavenly harmonies, Moon River had it all and left fans ready for next year.
Rain, rain, and more rain was the forecast for day two of Moon River. However, this did not stop fans from coming. As long as there was no lightning, the festival was good to go, and that was what everyone was hoping for. As people filed in, the festival was bright with color from the different array of rain jackets and ponchos. Fans were not going to let the weather get in the way of them seeing their favorite bands. I, especially, was excited for Boy Named Banjo, Colony House, Judah & the Lion, and The Avett Brothers. Slightly tired and blistered from walking over six miles on day one, I grabbed some coffee and bandaids and was good to go.
Line-up: The Avett Brothers, Judah & The Lion, Margo Price, Mavis Staples, The Dirty Guv’nahs, Colony House, Mandolin Orange, Durand Jones & the Indications, The War And Treaty, The Ballroom Thieves, Boy Named Banjo, Wilder
Boy Named Banjo:
The second act of the day was Tennessee’s Boy Named Banjo. Making music together since they were in high school and achieving success from a young age, playing Bonnaroo and many other festivals, the band was excited to be in their home state playing a festival. Since this was my third time seeing the band, I knew the majority of the songs and it was entertaining to watch others fall in love with Boy Named Banjo. As their set was only the second of the day around 1 o’clock, it was also the hottest time of the day. 90 degree temperatures made for a sweaty and humid atmosphere. One of the band members mentioned how hot it was and a lady from the crowd yelled to him, “TAKE YOUR SHIRT OFF”. Giggles from the crowd and the thrown off band members responded with “you don’t want to see that”. The first time I saw Boy Named Banjo lwas at Americana Fest in Nashville last year. I simply saw them because I liked their name and knew nothing else. But after hearing them once, I was hooked. The young musicians that make up the band don’t mess around when it comes to making music. The band takes a modern approach to folk and bluegrass that appeals to all ages, whether your 50 or 15, you’ll be sure to like them.
The War And Treaty:
The War and Treaty consists of husband and wife Michael and Tanya Trotter. Both individuals discovered their love for music unique to one another. Michael grew up poor and unsure of what he wanted to do with his life. After joining the army and being stationed in Iraq, his captain discovered his talent for music, pulled him from the frontlines, and stationed him to write and sing songs for those who died in battle. While Tanya on the other hand, began singing and writing every opportunity she had, writing on old envelopes, scrap paper, and books. The two met at a festival and instantly fell in love. It is their love for eachother that makes their music so irresistible. Their ability to create together and understand each other accounts for their passion in music. By putting their emotions into words, their songs become electrifying and honest. The two live are unstoppable. Each just as talented as the other, with songs like “Down to the River” and “Hi Ho”, they had the crowd dancing in no time.
Colony house originally was not supposed to play Moon River. However, when Durand Jones & The Indications were unable to play the festival, as veterans of Moon River, they quickly stepped in when Drew Holcomb called. Formed by Caleb Chapman, Will Chapman, Parke Cottrell, and Scott Mills, the up and coming rock band is on its way to fame. The group has released two albums, Only The Lonely, and When I Was Younger”, and is currently working on their third. Instantly running around the stage and shaking their hair, many of the younger festival goers rushed to the stage as Colony House began to play. Singing new songs from their upcoming album, including one titled “Lights On”, the band had the crowd excited for the new material. Caleb Chapman encouraged fans to act as if “Lights On” was their favorite song for its three minute duration, even if they had never heard of it. My favorite song played by Colony House was their song “Moving Forward”. Although it was quieter than their other songs, as the band took an acoustic approach, it spoke loud volumes and inspired those to be strong even in times of sorrow and heartache.
The Dirty Guv’Nahs:
The Dirty Guv’Nahs hit the stage directly after Judah & the Lion at 8:00pm. As the first act since the sun had set, The Dirty Guv’Nahs brought new energy and lit up the festival. Yet another Tennessee band, The Dirty Guv’Nahs hail from Knoxville. Describing their sounds as “rock meets Americana”, the band has continued to dive deeper into finding their sound since their first album in 2010. Frontman James Trimble did not hold back from dancing until he dropped. Jamming to “Baby We Were Young” on the Iris stage, it was hard not to shake and groove along with him. The Dirty Guv’Nahs thanked the crowd for coming to their set as years ago, they didn’t know if they wanted to continue pursuing music. Disbanding in 2015, it wasn’t until this year that they reformed. It was rejuvinating to watch the band reunite as Moon River was one of the few shows they have played this year.
It was an honor to hear and witness the iconic Mavis Staples at Moon River. 79 years old, but her soul is as youthful as ever. A smile so contagious that even the kids who were dragged along by their parents couldn’t help but smile and dance along. Although I didn’t know much of her music, I was instantly intrigued when she came onstage. I also love her recent work with Hozier and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. Preaching love through music only contributed to the many reasons why I love Staples. With a voice so soulful and powerful, she had me listening with goosebumps. Many band members joined Staples creating a gospel choir-like sound. Staples sang both songs of her own as well as songs from The Staples Singers such as “Freedom Highway” and “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)”. To blatantly describe Staple’s performance, it was flat out awesome. I could have listened to her sing for the rest of the festival. She’s still got it, is rockin’ it, and owning it.
Judah & The Lion:
If you could only catch one band at Moon River and were deciding on who to see, my recommendation would have been Judah & the Lion. Let me tell you why. There is no other band that is daring enough to open up with “Booty Wurk (One Cheek At ATime)” at a folk festival, combine banjos with synths and pop music, or sing a song about grinding in the 5th grade. If there’s one thing, it is that Judah & The Lion knows how to have fun. Originally starting out as a christian folk band, Judah Akers, Nate Zuercher, and Brian Macdonald have evolved their sound to be more unapologetically themselves. All influenced by different genres, and coming from different backgrounds, the band throws all they know and love into their music… and make it work. Even my mom loves their music. Calling their fans “family” contributes to the feeling of community they create at their shows. After singing the intro of “Booty Wurk”, the band dove straight into one of their older hits, “Twenty-Somethings”. Just as if Judah & the Lion couldn’t get anymore fun, they invited Drew Holcomb out to cover “Mr. Brightside”. Needing a little help on the lyrics, the crowd had Holcomb covered. They saved their four fan favorites for last. All in a row, playing “Suit and Jacket”, “Going to Mars”, “Rich Kids”, and “Take It All Back”. The band ended their set in tradition with a two minute dance party while the BRKLYN Remix of “Take It All Back” was played.
The Avett Brothers:
Last but not least to perform at Moon River was The Avett Brothers, kings of folk and bluegrass. There is no one that performs like the Avetts. Coming from North Carolina and growing up nearly 20 minutes away from the Avetts they have come to be a hometown hero. I saw them earlier this year in Asheville and was waiting on the edge of my seat to see them again. Opening with “Shame” off their 2007 album, “Emotionalism”, prominent banjo was immediately heard and rung throughout the crowd. At this point in the night, it was pouring down rain. The lights from the stage shone out into the crowd and made the rain visible from miles away. Although, the crowd did not seem to mind.
What’s impressive and great about The Avett Brothers (if you’re a fan) is that their setlist is extremely inconsistent, so you never know what you’re going to get. Not only is it nice for the fans when they have such a large discography, but it also seems to be beneficial for the band as it keeps them on their toes and excited for the live shows. Given this, at the fifth song in, I was pleasantly surprised when the band began to play “Laundry Room”. Hearing this song live is a much different experience than hearing it on the album. The moment when the song shifts after the last verse is something you can only experience live to fully understand and appreciate. In order to imagine it, think of a soft solemn concert turned full on shindig in a matter of seconds, and you have “Laundry Room” live. Also, with the ever changing setlist, many new fans were surprised when they forgoed singing “I And Love And You”, the band’s most popular song. I like to look at this as just another reason to see them in concert again. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll hear it.
Before the encore, The Avett Brothers closed with “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise”, a fan favorite. Returning from the encore they played a traditional cover of “Black Mountain Rag” giving the spotlight to their band including Bob Crawford, Joe Kwon, Mike Marsh, and Bonnie Avett-Rini. Within the encore, the band also played “Kick Drum Heart” as Scott and Seth Avett screamed “My my my heart like a kick drum” and the drums pounded so loud crowd members felt it in their heart. Finally ending on “No Hard Feelings”, things were slowed down a bit as the fans took in the last minutes of Moon River 2018.
Until Next Year:
Moon River year one in Chattanooga was very much a success. Bigger isn’t necessarily always better, but Moon River was an exception. With the festival in the hands of Drew Holcomb it is hard not support him in all his decisions. He is a saint for all that he does in the industry.
After attending the festival, I learned many things but there were three important things that I took away: I need to buy a banjo, wear chacos more often, and visit Chattanooga again. But most importantly, I will be back for Moon River 2019. As one of the last festivals of the summer festival season, it was a perfect way to end the summer. Moon River is a family friendly event that promotes enjoyable music for people of all ages. The lineup this year was legendary and we can’t wait to see what Holcomb has up his sleeve for next year.