Four Sets in 19 Hours: A Musician Look Back at Summer Camp
Nat with HRB’s Bryan Horne
SUNDAY May 27
1:45am. We’re realizing this is going to be a big set, maybe the biggest of the weekend. The Ragbirds are killing it on our stage and there are already 1000 people out there dancing. We make a few changes to the setlist… I think people are going to be ready for “Fruit of the Vine” with washboard about halfway through. Let’s do “Crest” tonight instead of tomorrow. Is it too heavy to do “French” and “Summertime Gal” so close? Nah…
2:20am. Things said in the band huddle before the set: Take time with the improv sections, we have all the time in the world; more reaction than action; don’t be Kobe Bryant and try to take it to the net every time, even if you can; let the energy we feel from the people there inform how we make the groove; sing the fuck out of these songs.
2:30am. We get on stage to shimmering light and big cheers. People are carrying poles topped with glowing animals and spheres, so there’s a whole other party going on four feet above peoples’ heads. Drummer Lucas Carlton is laying it down heavy and aggressive from the very beginning, though there is somehow room for the acoustic tones. As we kick into the “Late in the Evening” I feel this wave of happiness up front, people are hugging each other, smiling up at us. Aaron Redner is singing directly and people are getting it. I’m usually not into starting sets with a cover, but it feels right here. Right out of the unison rhythm ending of “Evening” I kick off the riff for “Like the French.” The band quickly trickles into a full groove and then drops out on a dime. With just the drums grooving, we sing three-part harmony “Like the French we drink the wine, we make the love in the afternoon…” As we get to the guitar solo I decide to take a real easy approach and lay on a variation of the basic riff for awhile. Remembering from the band huddle we are going to “take time,” I keep it in this textured middle ground and interact with Bryan Horne’s bass line. The band builds it up behind the guitar for a few cycles and then catapults things into a really hot space. We take things to a boil and hand it off to Erik. The set continues…
3:17am. This is off the hook. Good scene! 2000 people dancing! Matt Butler sits in with us on Lucas’ washboard for “Ramblin Girl.” It’s 3 in the morning but it’s still 75 degrees and humid and I’m drenched with sweat. I drop my pick and can’t find it. I don’t have another one. I hop over to Redner and steal his mandolin pick.
4am. “Squall” > “Crest” to close. Erik is in top form as he draws out the last cadence of “Squall.” The last four hits of “Crest” bring a huge flourish from the lighting director and we’re done. I feel like we did what we came to do. Very satisfying. I sit on the lip of the stage and meet the people. There are some great kids here. Lots of people we met on our tour with Cornmeal last month.
4:37am. I feel completely unstoppable and could easily party until the sun rises. However, there’s a vague responsibility for the three sets Sunday afternoon. The van is packed and we drive towards the hotel.
5:15am. My head hits the pillow.
10:15. Alarm wakes me from dreamless sleep. It’s somehow not painful to get going. It feels like I’m waking up from a little nap.
11:15am. We decide to forgo a coffee stop en route and arrive at festival grounds to seek out our catered meal.
11:24am. I find myself in a catering tent with a badly-made pulled pork sandwich and a Pepsi cola. No coffee. No breakfast. It’s 95 degrees and humid. What am I doing with my life? Why do people come to these festivals? There’s so much wrong with the pork industry, I really shouldn’t support it. Why can’t I sit comfortably? Why do I hate my bandmates?
12:15pm. Tequila tastes lovely over ice in our trailer greenroom. I come out of my little funk with agave, nourishment and air conditioning. I work on the setlist and run it by bandmates.
1pm. We take the stage for our set. I’m surprised by how many people are there to dance in the dust and the midday sunlight. This might be harsher conditions than Burning Man. These Midwesterners are hardy people… The highlight of the set is “Where the Streets Have No Name” > “Desert Rat” > “Banished Set.” Aaron sings the U2 song so well, and it somehow works with our sound. “Desert” is still one of my favorites to play, even after years of singing it. I love the edgy groove, I love getting into a character’s head. I often get choked up on the last verse, as the world crashes down on the protagonist: “The altar was torn down/the machine defiled my sacred ground/so I stand above the desert sand/with a monkey wrench in my hand.” I feel like this song came out of raw emotion and experience rather than a genre or chords and words. I think again of my Utah redrock/cactus nectar dream from the night before… Then we segue into a set of three traditional Irish fiddle tunes that we call “Banished Set.” Here is where Aaron’s fiddle playing shines. When we play this next to the U2 song, I’ll bet at least one person in the audience gets that they’re both Irish music. I see a dude with a homemade “Busted in Utah” T-shirt. We played it last night or else I probably would have kicked into it — it doesn’t take much to tip us in a direction. The set goes on…
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