No amount of marketing dollars and social media campaigns can create the kind of buzz around a music festival as much as a simply gorgeous day of weather can. Warm temps and clear skies lent Saturday's Old 97's County Fair in Main Street Garden an undeniably positive palette from with which to work.
These days, it seems as though the North Texas festival bubble could pop any day now, if it hasn't began a slow leak already. Produced by Homegrown Festival and the Old 97's, this day-long, single-stage event showed in its second year there's a real way to grow without turning an intimate fest into an unsustainable behemoth.
One stage of music might seem uneventful, but what it did here is offer an all-killer-no-filler roster.
Indeed, the 97's, Lucinda Williams and Mavis Staples were the top-billed names for the night, but the musical goodness began almost as soon as the gates opened. The early part of the day offered the Vandoliers and the Texas Gentlemen, perhaps two of the most exciting twang-flavored acts in town right now. Late in the afternoon as Jonathan Tyler energetically busted out "Honey Pie," and "Hallelujah," the only thing clearer than the resplendent weather was that no one was missing any additional stages of music.
For Homegrown Festival, held each May, a second stage is added to the eastern end of the downtown park, but for this most family friendly of festivals, that end of the space was devoted to a 40-foot Ferris wheel and some carnival-style food vendors serving corny dogs and assorted fried goodness.
The fair-inspired attractions, including a midway with games and prizes, and a massive spot for kids to play around in bales of hay, were far more than kitschy distractions. With scores of families (including small children and loads of well-behaved doggies) spread out around the gorgeous green space, there was really something for everyone.
The youthful sounds of the fest's first half gave way to the time-tested legacies of some of Americana music's most revered names. Seminal alt-country act the Jayhawks crisply displayed songs that have influenced a couple of generations of alt-country types including "Waiting for the Sun," and "Save it for a Rainy Day." Though he may not always get the publicity that festival mates Williams or Rhett Miller may receive, lead Jayhawk Gary Louris's spot on this bill is certainly a prominent one.
As the sun's gaze began to cool, undeniable soul goddess Mavis Staples and her large band injected a vibrant jolt into the affair. And perhaps the jolt was a bit too much: The crowd was left in the dark as a brief power outage kept Staples from continuing her set. But the power switched back on and so did Staples.
If there's a better American music experience than singing along to the Staples Singers' iconic 1972 hit "I'll Take You There," with thousands of others while Staples smiles from the stage, we're not sure we've experienced it just yet.
Continuing the trend of preaching peace and fighting through minor technical issues, 64-year old Lucinda Williams led her blazing band through a blues-inflected, career-spanning set. With her voice in signature drunk-from-desire form, she opened with a cover of Elvis Costello's (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding." A mix of hopefully unity and social anger -- a combo that might best describe the role of art in 2017 -- indeed showed its face when, during "Foolishness," she sang "I don't have room for hate in my life, I don't have room for any walls in my life," to a wave of supportive cheers.
Williams closed with a searing take on Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World," with a fist raised in the air, and the entire day felt victorious before the conquering local heroes even appeared.
After receiving an official proclamation of thanks from the State of Texas, presented by the head of the Texas Music Office, the festival's namesake were ready to greet their people.
Miller, Murry Hammond, Ken Bethea and Philip Peeples, fresh off of recovering from horrific injuries sustained after a fall while out on tour last month, walked out onto the stage under a pristine, coal black sky, authoritatively ripped into the galloping "4 Leaf Clover," one of their oldest songs, and reminded us all what perfection a musical day of family fun in Dallas can really be.