Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

No Depression Festival – Short Version:

It was hot. We ate barbecue. I drank a lot of beer and cider. Most of us had dirty, bare feet. Zee Avi is adorable. Jeff Fielder is totally amazing. Jessica Lea Mayfield is a lo-fi version of Jesse Sykes. Everyone loved Justin Townes Earle. No one much liked Patterson Hood. Sam Beam makes me swoon, EVERY DAMN TIME. Lesbians love Gillian Welch.

No Depression Festival – Long Version:

Due to bad traffic across the water, I was a little late arriving at the No Depression festival on Saturday but still managed to hear the last two or three songs by the very pleasant Zee Avi. I was interested to see her live, owing to the lore that has built up around her unusual entry into the biz and she pulled it off with very confident stage presence. I have to admit though, she does sound a little like Norah Jones to me.

The crew at Marymoor always run a fairly tight schedule, but I did manage to scope out the little string band (The Tallboys) under the trees between major sets. Boy howdy, they were fantastic! Fiddle, standup bass, banjo and guitar coupled with great nasal harmonizing and some percussive dance moves created a real bluegrass kind of feel in the lazy afternoon. I’m hoping that they’ll play in town again soon because I would love to see them again. They sold loads of CD’s and even though it was early in the day, people were dancing and clapping along. Good vibe. I found it amusing though, as we were all stood under the trees listening to bluegrass we were met with an overwhelming smell of curry coming from the nearby food court. That, and the banjo player was drinking Kombucha instead of moonshine, but hey…we ARE in the Pacific Northwest.

I was excited to see what this No Depression All Star Revue would be all about. Holy crap. After a short, glowing intro from Don Slack, members of North Twin took the stage with a high spirited rendition of “Give Back The Key To My Heart”. They had good energy and were obviously having a lot of fun up there. The revue continued with Zoe Muth performing “Give Me The Roses While I Live” featuring a fantastic solo by Jeff Fielding (Incidentally, Zoe’s CD release will be at the Sunset on August 1). This was followed by some Neil Young styling during Mark Pickerel‘s throaty version of “One More Cup Of Coffee For the Road” which was met with thunderous applause. The revue continued with the crowd-pleasing Kristin Ward confidently belting out a very honky tonk Emmylou Harris tune and then Star Anna giving it to us with a very swampy and electrified “Car Wheels On A Gravel Road”. Exhausted yet? I was! But every act in the revue was better than the last, for true! Continuing, we were then entertained by Sera Cahoone and Ian Moore. The final act was a really good, sad bastard tune (“Dirt Farmer”: lots of honky, not so much tonky) by most of The Maldives, encompassing a really good full-band quality sound with all the elements working together, providing a fitting end to the set. Whoo!

Following the revue, we hoofed it over to score some more booze before Jessica Lea Mayfield began. I was grateful for the dark and landscape-y guitar swells, they were different for this festival but still fitting. It’s a nice departure after all the classic Americana we just got from the revue. Accompanied by her “brother and best friend Dave” on the guitar, Jessica sang with plaintive vocals that were reminiscent of Mazzy Star. I love that the music isn’t even a little bit perky, and I’m glad not all the kids are taking their darkness to an electro/emo place. Most of the songs in the intense set had a desperate, kind of druggy edge but not in a negative way. The set seemed a tad long, since there wasn’t much variation in tone, but Mayfield still garnered big crowd love on the finale.

One of the best sets of the day followed, Justin Townes Earle. Taking the stage in classic old-school suits and snake oil salesmen hair, he and his accompanying dude (Cory Younts) entertained the crowd with numbers “They Killed John Henry,” and “Ain’t Glad I’m Leaving” before dedicating their third song to Woodie Guthrie. That third song was so fast I couldn’t keep up with the lyrics, but it didn’t stop the crowd up front from dancing like crazy people. Shifting gears a bit, JTE then rolled out the more sentimental “Mama’s Eyes”. It was absolutely perfection in the dusty heat. The two men onstage were bantering back and forth like carnival barkers as they shifted back up-tempo and switched out strings for mouth harps and harmonicas (swoon) for their next frenetic, bouncy tune. The audience was all over the Younts, what a talent! JTE communicates well with the crowd, giving up the honest details of why he wrote a particular song about a train ride from Nashville to Jackson. It was amazing, harmonica dude somehow totally emulated all the sounds of a chugging train. I was in awe. Not so much that I didn’t break away for more hooch though, and from afar heard Earle’s finale, a truly lovely, stripped down version of “Can’t Hardly Wait”. Hot damn…LOVE HIM. For the rest of the day, everyone I encountered sang his well-deserved praises.

Unfortunately Jesse Sykes played her very deep and textured set during what I thought to be the hottest part of the day, and I was more interested in running through the sprinklers and finding a shady place to take a little nap. Eventually the sun’s intensity faded a little and everyone woke up a bit for Patterson Hood‘s heartland-infused performance. There was lots of frisbee playing, lounging, drinking and consumption of HUGE sandwiches (seriously, this girl was eating a sandwich that was bigger than my whole head). Everyone was eating actually, I watched a guy eat beets straight out of a gallon drum. Yay. In between hot dogs, I took note of the interesting assemblage of people at the festival. Old, young, indie, corporate, children, lumberjacks, hippies…and all of them smiling. We live in a truly great place, y’all.

And then there he was, my bumbling, bearded boyfriend, Sam Beam. Iron & Wine. Sam reminded us that exactly one year from the day, he was on this same stage playing for the SP20 festival. He jokingly threatened to play the same set and screw up in the same places as last year, which he kind of did. But no one cared, we all love him. He’s so funny and charming and clearly enjoys interacting with his audience. I’ll just give a total fanboy rundown of his set list, otherwise this could get embarrassing:

  • Such Great Heights (spaced the lyrics again: “Didn’t I mess this song up last year?”)
  • Woman King – Naked As We Came (breathless)
  • History of Lovers (fumbles a bit: “Three chords is just too many”)
  • Fever Dream (gritty)
  • Trapeze Swinger (had the audience in the palm of his hand at this point)
  • Jezebel – Lion’s Mane (Perfect a capella on bridge)
  • New song with no name (heart filling)
  • Upward Over The Mountain (simply played with nice little riffs)
  • Boy With A Coin (awesome)
  • Sodom South Georgia (really rocked out the finale)
  • Flightless Bird (absolute falsetto perfection)

At the close of his set, Beam had the 2000+ member assembly stood completely silent for a moment, then everyone just went all crazy town. The crowd positively roared for more, but alas no encore.

Finally, Gillian Welch appeared just as the sky was painted with pinks and purples and dragonflies buzzed overhead. I have to confess I am not a great aficionado of Ms. Welch, but people around me were plenty helpful. All day long we bumped into crazed Gillian fans, some who had traveled from as far as Saskatoon and Alberta just for this show. Apparently she doesn’t play up there too much.

She began very very softly but I quickly recognized the zydeco “Oh Me Oh My-Oh” in her opener “Miss Ohio”. She dedicated her next song to one of her favorite dead folk heroes (Elvis) which included some beautiful harmonizing and was just simply a pretty song. They brought it down a bit but quickly brought us right back up with some simple banjo on Steve Miller’s “Quicksilver Girl”, followed by “No One Knows My Name” which totally reminded me of one of those old Sunday School songs we used to sing back home. The crowd was totally rocking out to the nice bluegrass jam that followed and then we were all stunned by the amazing slow-paced duet she sang with David Rawlings, “Throw Me A Rope”. He’s got a beautiful, soothing voice and it was the highlight of the whole performance for me.

The tempo picked back up again for a total reel that had the audience clapping along and oooh! noodling! At this point, Gillian told us a funny little story about meeting Loretta Lynn at the Grand Ole Opry: “You know, they just don’t make the good diet pills no more!” followed by a big ol’ jam. As I was headed to my car to beat the mass exodus from the park, Gillian got the only encore of the day, finishing with a great version of “Jackson” and “I’ll Fly Away”, finishing off a really wonderful, lazy summer day. Hopefully they’ll be back again next year.

Photo by Heather Brammer