4:32 p.m.: Okay, now we see where all the people are. The parking lot is packed, The Black Crowes are playing to field full of fans and HullabaLOU, on its last day, is starting to look, size wise, like a serious festival. The Crowes answer the masses with grooves lanky enough for guitarist Rich Robinson to color with equally loose, boogie-flavored solos. But things turn nicely churchy as Wiser Times intensifies the jams.
5:05 p.m.: “I don’t know what’s going on over there,” remarks singer Emerson Hart as a break between songs found his band Tonic caught between sets on competing stages by Justin Moore and The Avett Brothers. “I just hope they’ve got some funnel cakes.” Understandably, the guitar intro to Mountain is light enough for the infield’s other music to bleed over. But the tune soon toughens into a popish drive and Tonic is sonically isolated again.
5:22 p.m.: By the time I reach the Fleur De Lis Stage, country star Moore is sipping beer with fans in the crowd during an instrumental break from his hit Smalltown U.S.A. Then comes the breakthrough single I Can Kick Your Ass. He invites those offended by the song to leave. Happy to oblige. I’m not offended by the language, just the song’s juvenile sentiment.
5:44 p.m.: The mainstage is back in swing with a Sunday evening, string-style sound courtesy of The Avett Brothers. Initially, the music boasts a plaintive back porch flavor centering around guitar, banjo, string bass and cello. That’s enough to propel Down With a Glistening Shine. By Go To Sleep and The Laundry Room, a drummer is added for a full quintet hoedown.
6:21 p.m.: Time is getting away from me – either that or Loretta Lynn cut her set short. Heard the Kentucky country music matriarch deliver a solid version of God Bless America Again after singers from her band took the reins for a song. Ran off for a bottle of water, returned and she’s gone. What a letdown.
6:32 p.m.: Bluegrass time. Rhonda Vincent and the Rage are ripping through a warp speed version of Bluegrass Express before serving up a new tune called The Court of Love. The latter is a classic cheating song that could pass for vintage country were it not for those sterling three-part bluegrass harmonies.
6:47 p.m.: Hadn’t planned on taking time for 38 Special’s set. Turns out, it didn’t require much. Over the course of about 10 minutes, the band crams Stone Cold Believer, Teacher Teacher, Caught Up in You and more into a one very homogenized medley. Only Second Chance, with its late ‘80s elevator sound, stands out because it steers the furthest from the band’s Southern rock roots.
7:02 p.m.: It’s Miller time with The Steve Miller Band sounding understandably tamer than the old days. But Miller remains a crafty stylist and a very industrious guitarist . He turns the 70s rumble Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma into a funk jam, delivers Wild Mountain Honey as a solo acoustic eulogy to late bandmate Norton Buffalo and ignites the sizable evening crowd with The Joker. He could cut Abracadabra, though, and the loss would be minimal. A surprisingly sharp set, though.
7:34 p.m.: Ever imagine what it’s like to walk in the tunnel under the infield at Churchill Downs while the Zac Brown Band is playing above you? It’s like being below a crumbling building. Everything shakes with one riotous, reverberating sound. So what a surprise it is to come out into the grandstand area and hear the band chilling with a neo-acoustic Free as We’ll Ever Be that bleeds into a tasteful cover of Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic. Never judge an imploding building by its cover.
7:42 p.m.: Finally, contemporary country as it ought to be heard. But that’s only because Kentucky native Dwight Yoakam has the heritage and the stylistic smarts to pull it off. He always did. Miner’s Prayer spells out his Eastern Kentucky roots with bluegrass flavored elegance and zero sentimentality while Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose backflips with a snippet of the Buck Owens classic Buckaroo to bridge Kentucky with the glorious Bakersfield Sound.
8:11 p.m.: “Welcome to Kansas,” said Steve Walsh as HullabaLOU heads into the home stretch. He means the band, of course. The greeting prefaces the hit title song from 1977’s Point of Know Return album – a blend of prog rock intricacy and Styx-like hokum. It proves an earnest enough delivery, though, with drummer Phil Ehart and eye-patched guitarist Rich Williams also remaining from the old days.
8:35 p.m.: The announcement is made that today marked the highest advance ticket sales of any portion of the festival. With that, Yoakam’s set ends and the evening’s headliner, the Dave Matthews Band, blasts off with Funny the Way It Is. Matthews isn’t the classiest raconteur in the world. “I expected this place to smell more like horse (expletive). Guess I’ll have to sniff some more.” Oh, that stoner humor. But the music is monstrous with the band’s secret weapon, violinist Boyd Tinsley, unleashed early on. Drummer Carter Beauford then pilots the groove as the band steers into You Might Die Trying and Stay or Leave. The sound, and its resulting audience zeal, ends the festival on many mighty notes.