Artsquest Gains HUGE "Indie Cred" w/ Nowadays Music Fest [Day 1]
This was the first year for the NOWADAYS Music Fest in Bethlehem, PA at the newly built ArtsQuest Center which turned out to be an indie rock lover’s haven. Not only was the lineup truly awesome, but I must first nned to mention how AMAZING this venue is. “ArtsQuest” is a very deserving name for this huge facility that’s a feast for the soul for anyone who truly loves ‘the arts’. There’s three floors and in one day you can see live music, a movie, live comedy or a live theatrical performance of sorts, visual arts, shop a farmers market and purchase hand made crafts or something from the unique gift shop. If you have not been to The ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks, it’s definitely worth the trip!
This venue was the perfect place to hold a early season festival like NOWADAYS since the weather during end of March is so unpredictable and Saturday was a pretty crappy day outside. But the outdoors had no bearing on the musical playground inside. Bands were featured on two stages- one that was in front of a big screen inside one of the amazing theaters and the other in the Yeungling Music Fest Cafe located on the 3rd floor. Music Fest cafe is state of the art, with it’s indescribable all window back drop, featuring the massive old steel mill that’s up lit at night with color changing LED Lights at night fall. It’s hard to do it justice with words, so take a look at the photos to see how cool this is. Not to mention the sound system in this room is stellar no matter where you are catching the show from!
Now onto the music! This was such an exciting lineup and it was great that even tho set times did overlap there was enough time between stages to see a decent part of each band’s set. Each band was great, I really enjoyed all the acts, but here I’ll just give you my highlights and favorites from day 1.
On Friday, the early evening start time was kicked off by California alt country group HoneyHoney, who are now one of my new indie fav’s. Suzanne Santo, the band’s female lead has one hell of a voice which was beautifully fused in perfect harmonies with the group’s other founder Ben Jaffe. Sue’s voice was so effortlessly perfect. She carried heart felt, story telling songs with ease, but with such power and grace. Her voice is the type that most vocalists would sell their soul to the devil to be able to have. The songs were instantly likeable, fun and emotional all at the same time. You will be hearing more about this 4 piece “A murican” (as they describe themselves) band. So do your self a favor and check them out and keep your eyes peeled for our video interview from the fest coming soon!
NYC based band, Caveman, who just won a TSI Music Award for “Best NYC Band Of the Year” also played the main stage. I was very much looking forward to hearing this band live since I missed most of their set at the very crowded NYC venue Pianos during CMJ last year. I really loved this set. The swooning harmonies and the intriguing layers of percussion with waving strong and soft under tones really makes this live experience almost a cathedral like experience. If you have not heard Caveman as of yet, what comes to mind for me is something like a Doves and Fleet Foxes love child. There’s such a beautiful ambiance about Caveman that really rocks at the same time. Next time there are in you neck of the woods, you should most def put this on your list of must see shows.
An unexpected highlight for me was Brooklyn based band, ARMS. They played the theater stage and I was not too familiar with this four piece going into it, but after hearing the first song I ended up staying for the remainder of their set. It was fun, melodic, and poppy all at the same time and it kept my toes tapping. The crowd was really into it as well. I think ARMS definitely gained some fans on Friday night and I hope I can catch them again sometime soon.
It was really fun to see Philly fav’s Buried Beds play on the theater stage as well. This group is always a pleasure to watch. So much talent on so many levels and the complexity of the songs, you can really hear the seriousness and care they take in their writing process. But they play with fun, passion and easy on stage. Always a good live show from these guys.
Another Philly band in the house was Jukebox The Ghost who ended up playing without their drummer, Jesse Kristin. Apparently he had a family emergency and couldn’t make it and we hope everything turns out ok with what ever happened. But in lieu of not having a drummer, Ben Thornewill – Piano/Vocals and Tommy Siegel – Guitar/Vocals really pulled off a great duet set with the help from XYLOS Drummer (Chris Berry) sitting in on a few opening songs. Jukebox’s sound is so full for a three piece, with the strong harmonies, very full piano and high energy fun, it was kinda cool to see the band in a more acoustic realm. The band is always interactive with their crowds, but this was very intimate and almost gave you the feeling you were hanging watching them play in someone’s living room. It was cool.
The headliners on Friday were Detroit MI band, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., and boy do I love this band. The first time I saw them live was at the Philly POPPED fest last September. Sadly that day I only was able to catch a small bit of their set since we were so busy with interviews in the media area that day. So at NOWADAYS I was ready! With a PBR pounder in hand and a day full of great bands already under my belt, I made sure I was front and center for this set. For a solid hour I was able to enjoy the fun, funky delivery of ass moving tunes. Rocking my world with “We Almost Lost Detroit”, which is my personal fave of their latest 2011 album, It’s a Corporate World, and also with the ambient, mystical track “Nothing But Our Love”, they didn’t disappoint. Their set came complete with all the ascetics – bubble machines, “JR” “JR” flashing racing lights, Detroit baseball jackets, and also a mid-set wardrobe change into their famous, brightly colored disco jackets.
Dale Earnhardt Jr JR is fronted by Joshua Epstein & Daniel Zott, who are the obvious founders and creators of the group. But their touring drummer, who ever he is, really does an amazing job of keeping everything together. He’s just non- stop and carries Josh, Dan, along with the crowd through this blazing fun, electric pop, harmony filled journey.
I be looking forward to seeing Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. again out on the festival circuit and It will be interesting to see what new things come from them this year. Maybe a new record, new remixes, or even a collaboration? I’m proposing a match up with these guys and Jim James of My Morning Jacket. The funky magic that would come out of that pairing up could be the beginning of another Jim James super group like, Monsters of Folk. They could call this mash up, Transformers of Pop? Just throwing it out there….
Stay tuned for Saturday night’s coverage of the NOWADAYS Festival in Bethlehem, PA at the ArtsQuest center and video interview with Maps & Atlases, Honeyhoney and more!