in performance: hullabaLOU, day 2

the rev. al green

the rev. al green

4:34 p.m.: A solo trip to the second day of HullabaLOU begins in the infield with Philly-born Musiq Soulchild, a new generation excavator of old school soul who sometimes dabbles in hip hop. Today, songs like Teach Me with its decidedly ‘80s soul-pop sound, best fits Soulchild’s stratospheric crooning.

ben folds

ben folds

4:48 p.m.: On to Ben Folds, who is performing solo on a grand piano – and later, briefly, on drums. The years have done little to smooth the absurdist edge of Folds songs – specifically, the dark fantasies surrounding The Secret Life of Morgan Davis and the odd pop alliance of Zak and Sara. He can still pass for Billy Joel’s over caffeinated, foul-mouthed twin.

5:02 p.m.: The heat is more intense than yesterday – and yesterday was hideous. Still, it was a polite ploy by the veteran soul-funk brigade War, with keyboardist/vocalist Lonnie Jordan as its only founding member, to serenade the crowd with its 1976 hit Summer. But Why Can’t We Be Friends and the inevitable Low Rider establish a cooler, more Latin-savvy groove.

5:21 p.m.: Pass by a tent where a proudly inebriated female is singing She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy by the day’s headliner, Kenny Chesney. Or at least she is attempting to. No doubt about it. When sung from a woman’s perspective, the song looses all of its subtle, poetic allure.

5:25 p.m.: A literal gift arrives from the heavens – a breeze.

michael mcdonald

michael mcdonald

5:36 p.m.: Pop-soul mainstay Michael McDonald begins without a soundcheck and peels back the years to the ‘70s (for an overlooked It Keeps You Runnin’) and the ‘80s (the movie hit Sweet Freedom). His voice and band have to play catch-up with each other for a few minutes, then lock into a bright, poppish stride.

5:45 p.m.: Walk by the karaoke tent again. The Hollies’ Bus Stop is playing. No one is singing.

5:56 p.m.: Steppenwolf. That’s right, the Born to Be Wild guys. Founding singer John Kay, now 66, still runs the show. He’s fit and passionate enough to still credibly perform, though the rest of his current Wolf pack kind of lumber along. Still, hearing forgotten hits like Who Needs ‘Ya and Hey Lawdy Mama fronted by the still-assured voice that forged them was quite fun. For the record, Steppenwolf headlined the first rock concert I went to. Saw them play Freedom Hall in the spring of 1971. My poor father thought they looked like a biker gang. He was right. That’s why I wanted to go.

6:00 p.m.: Waiting by the Budweiser Stage for Louisville/Anchorage native Joan Osborne to play. She’s 20 minutes late. That’s nothing for a festival of this size. But it’s too damn hot and there’s too much to see and hear to stand around doing nothing. Sorry, Joan. Gotta go.

sara evans

sara evans

6:20 p.m.: The mainstage begins its all country lineup with Sara Evans. Possessed with a powerful, assured voice and fortified with harmonies by her two sisters, Evans creates an anthemic stir with the single A Little Bit Stronger. Later on, she shows her country roots by covering – what else? – Cheap Trick’s I Want You to Want Me.

7:17 p.m.: “Y’all ready for Kenny Chesney?” teases country star Jason Aldean from the mainstage. “Too bad. You gotta wait another hour.” To pass the time, he offers the rockish country drive of Amarillo Sky and the power ballad Why. His reverts to his “country” roots as well by adding in Bryan Adams’ Cuts Like a Knife. Have any of today’s country celebs even listened to actual country music?

ricky skaggs

ricky skaggs

7:32 p.m.: It’s bluegrass time with Kentucky’s own Ricky Skaggs. And, is that a sustained breeze in the air? Skaggs’ current Kentucky Thunder band, though comprised mostly of Tennessee pickers, proved remarkably versed on all things stringed in and out of bluegrass. It summoned a loose but learned set that covered Bill Monroe, The Stanley Brothers, in a feisty turn from fiddler Andy Leftwich, swing king Django Reinhardt.

7:49 p.m.: Bringing a little Sunday morning fervency to Saturday night is the Rev. Al Green who turns HullabaLOU into a tent revival with Amazing Grace. Seems the spirit wasn’t fully moving the Rev. He had some visibly choice exchanges with the sound crew that muted the impact of Let’s Stay Together. But by How Do You Mend a Broken Heart and Love and Happiness, that electric Al Green smile was back and the show moved from the heavens to a very earthy R&B charge. Lord have mercy.

warren haynes of gov't mule

warren haynes of gov't mule

8:12 p.m.: The jam band contingency, modest in size as it surprisingly was, got its say with the ever industrious Gov’t Mule. Guitarist/leader Warren Haynes remains a tasteful, unassuming instrumentalist who sparked the slow, soulful Beautifully Broken and a wildly inventive take on I’m a Ram that shifted from psychedelic inclined reggae to full tilt boogie.

8:27 p.m.: It’s the ‘80s all over again with a fit Huey Lewis and a new version of The News fortified by a horn section and a menu of hits (the brassy encore Power of Love), comparative obscurities (We’re Not Here for a Long Time) and covers (the great J.J. Jackson hit It’s Alright). Like Bon Jovi last night, there was nothing here to convert the unconvertible. But for those hopelessly lost in the ‘80s, Lewis delivered the goods.

kenny chesney

kenny chesney

9:05 p.m.: Country beachcomber Kenny Chesney has arrived with a full moon hanging in a sky that still registered 89 degress at showtime. Aside from presenting a band now fortified with horns, there was little to separate this outing from the literally dozens of shows Chesney has saturated this market with in recent years. But the crowd seemed to thrive on the familiarity, cheering on party rocking tunes like the show opening Beer in Mexico and Keg in the Closet as if they were greeting family members.

10:01 p.m.: Feeling not at all short changed for not staying long enough to hear She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy sung by its creator, I head home. The verdict on Day Two of HullabaLOU: a hotter but overall less frenzied set of shows that acknowledged the present day a little more, thanks to Ben Folds, Musiq Soulchild and Gov’t Mule. There was less confusion in getting around, too.  But that was mostly because I learned to stop asking questions.



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