by Wayne Bledsoe, Matt Rankin, Tanner Rutherford, Allie Stoehr and Lee Zimmerman
In conjunction with Barley’s and WUTK, Rhythm N’ Blooms sponsored a battle-of-the-bands competition in the weeks leading up to this year’s festival. The winner, Gag Me, earned an opening slot at Cripple Creek, the event’s main stage. Although the sky looked threatening all morning and through the early afternoon, it finally opened up into a downpour about an hour before the weekend’s festivities began. The rain did little to dampen the spirits of the pop-punk trio, however, whose members beamed proudly and waved at familiar faces in the crowd before being introduced to the masses.
Bantering nervously and excitedly between songs, the band was all business when it came to the music, belting out taut tracks with sharp hooks and witty lyrics. Having formed just last year, the group clearly was relishing the moment. This set proved why it has seen such a meteoric rise in such an abbreviated period of time, and it was a fine kickoff to Rhythm N’ Blooms 2018. Given how adeptly, intuitively and professionally the three collectively handled their opportunity on a big stage (both literally and figuratively), it would be fair to expect more good things from this young group moving forward. – Matt Rankin
Booker T. Jones
It was wet. It was cold. Still, Booker T. Jones warmed the night with music. Jones is, of course, the keyboardist/bandleader from Booker T. and the MGs, the band that created some of the most iconic instrumentals of the 1960s, co-wrote the Albert King classic “Born Under a Bad Sign” and produced Willie Nelson’s “Stardust” album, along with a whole raft of other accomplishments.
Dressed in a dapper suit and cap and looking a little more like a doctor or a college professor than a musician, Jones educated the crowd on his history and played the Hammond B-3 organ, with two Leslie speakers spinning on each side of him, like no one before or since.
At the Cripple Creek stage under James White Parkway, Jones and his young band (which included his son Ted on guitar), played the hits (“Green Onions,” “Bootleg” and “Hip Hugger,” among them) and pulled out some surprises. The surprises included Jones switching to guitar to play “Born Under a Bad Sign” and covers of “Mannish Boy,” “Hey Joe” (with a story about Jimi Hendrix) and “Purple Rain” (along with a little bit about Prince).
The crowd had to navigate for the under-the-highway dry spots and avoid the downspouts from the road above, but seeing this legend in town was an absolute honor. Ending with a stretched-out version of “Time is Tight,” it was worth the damp and chill. This was a theme that remained throughout the opening day of Rhythm N’ Blooms. – Wayne Bledsoe
The Lonely Biscuits
A capacity crowd packed into the Pilot Light to witness these Nashville-based indie rockers play the first of their two scheduled shows on Friday. Channeling a deep ‘90s aesthetic with their music, the trio looked the part, as well. Its members’ animated onstage antics replete with high leg kicks, twirls and pogoing, however, were a far cry from the shoegazing stoicism of that decade. And the tunes were too good and individualistic for the band to be considered merely a throwback act. I checked in to a couple of other shows while this set progressed, but I returned to hear the last few songs. No offense at all to those other artists, but I wish I had stayed for the duration of this set. I doubt these kids will be playing intimate rooms like this one for much longer. – MR
David Francisco set a nice-and-easy mood at Jackson Terminal on Friday evening, bringing an array of new and old tunes performed solo and with his band. Jimmy Green and Aksel Cole brought fullness to songs like his opening cover, “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Isn’t She Lovely,” which many recognized as David’s audition song from this season’s American Idol. David invited his fiancé, Kristi, on stage to sing sweet, romantic harmonies on “Brave Desire,” a crowd favorite. Francisco mixed emotional stories with upbeat love songs about his beloved and gave the night’s performance a rounded vibe of forever love and triumph. – Allie Stoehr
Secret show #1 – Daniel Donato and Andy Wood
Those who rushed from the Cripple Creek stage to make the weekend’s first secret show at Jackson Terminal were thrilled to see Andy Wood standing alongside the band members of Daniel Donato. The performance kicked off with a cover of “Tulsa Time,” which marked the beginning of a top-notch set of jam rock with a country tinge, with lead-guitar duties shared between Telecaster-master Donato and Wood, an aficionado of all types of the instrument. Vibes of the good old days flowed throughout the set through their strings as they covered the likes of Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. Songs like “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean” and “Cocaine Blues” invited opportunity for solos that riled the crowd. In true rock fashion, Wood busted through two amplifiers during the set. The scream of pedal-steel guitar and the playful echo of the electric created a buzz as the sounds left the stage, and the unique arrangement of musicians satisfied all ears present. – AS
Granted, Deer Tick’s rough-and-tumble approach on the Cripple Creek stage had little in common with the smooth grooves of the venerable Booker T. Jones, but even so, the incessant rain and uncomfortably cold weather provided the same concerns and conditions for the audience attending both shows. Happily then, Deer Tick were worth waiting for, given the drive and dynamic that was evident throughout the hour and 15 minutes of music they shared from the stage. Clearly intended to be one of Rhythm N Bloom’s big draws overall, they earned special standing on the festival’s marquee, with other programming overlapping at just the fringes of their set.
Deer Tick’s methodology is simple: provide a yin to the yang by rocking hard while keeping the melodies intact. Their recent pair of albums, “Deer Tick Vol. 1” and “Deer Tick Vol. 2,” released simultaneously late last year, emphasized that ability, but the dynamic is equally illustrated in concert. Singer/principal songwriter John J. McCauley is the ideal frontman, able and adept at maintaining focus on the songs, even while guitarist Ian O’Neil tends to jerk and twitch around his side of the stage. Drummer Dennis Ryan not only keeps the backbeat simple, but he also provides an ample share of harmonies (and even the occasional lead vocal). For his part, bassist Chris Ryan grounds the proceedings, but he also makes it clear he can get caught up in the overall exhilaration. As a unit, the Providence, Rhode Island, foursome purvey a kind of punk-like folk attitude – all higher platitudes along with their soaring melodies. The lovely sing-along “Too Sensitive for This World” offered up halfway through an otherwise invigorating set, provided a purpose to which any number of audience members can likely relate. – Lee Zimmerman
The rhythm section (drummer Zach Gilleran and bassist Travis Bigwood) for this Knoxville-based, indie-rock trio performed on the same Barley’s stage the night before in a different capacity, as it steadied the pace for local alt-country giants Guy Marshall. Ironically, it was the sharp-edged Sweet Years, led by wunderkind Dakota Smith, that made an indelible impact on Rhythm N’ Blooms, a festival known for its focus on Americana acts. With buzz saw riffs and snotty yet laser-precise harmonizing, the band tore through an all-too-quick selection of tracks culled from last year’s “Coat Guts,” as well as from the series of EPs that preceded that full-length. The raucous music wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea (which is fine, as those folks had other options elsewhere). But for those with whom it struck a nerve, the set was a highlight of Friday, and it likely will serve as a positive reminder of the weekend as a whole. – MR