All words by Ross Bonaime, All photos by Jason Bender
It’s been a few years since the Route 29 Revue – a celebration of all types of great Americana music, from funk to bluegrass – occurred at Merriweather. After a long absence, the return this Saturday had a few hiccups, with frequent technical issues throughout the day and what seemed like strange lineup order, but ended being an exciting day of various genres and styles.
I had never heard Hurray for the Riff Raff before their set, yet I had heard really good things about their 2014 release Small Town Heroes. Lead singer/songwriter/banjo player Alynda Lee Segarra’s style of Americana-fused bluegrass has a nice kick to it that got the day started off quite nicely. Songs like “End of the Line” really showcased her wonderful songwriting and her style has a pleasantly different presence feels like a welcome change in the genre.
Guster is probably my favorite band ever, so seeing their 3:35 starting time didn’t seems quite right to me, as they should’ve been placed later on in the day. The audience also seemed to agree with me, probably as packed and loud as the crowd would get until Trombone Shorty later that night. Despite getting started late to technical issues, by the end of the first song “The Captain,” everything seemed synced and ready for a great eleven song set.
Even with a new album coming out in January, Guster stuck to their greatest hits, with old favorites like “I Spy” and “Barrel of a Gun” scattered amongst their more recent material. Lead singer Ryan Miller even pointed out that the technical issues and early set time had worried him about the show, but that the audience made it much better than he thought it would be. Guster’s playful set really won over the audience, showing their humorous side (daring the audience to boo them) to playing some great songs that Ryan called his “hate-fueled mid tempo pop-rock.
By far the most straight up bluegrass band of the day, The Devil Makes Three’s Pete Bernhard, Cooper McBean and Lucia Turino are three incredibly talented musicians, but man, I just couldn’t take that much bluegrass. Yes, they’re fantastic at what they do, but the similarity of the songs sort of put me in a daze after a while. At the midpoint in the day, I don’t think I was the only one feeling a bit hazy during the set, but clearly many people loved it, dancing like crazy. As for me, I just wasn’t feeling it.
Sam Beam – probably the most established singer/song-writer of the day – was a nice way to lull me back into the day. Starting with “Tree By the River,” Beam’s soothing acoustic sound and distinct voice were a beautiful way to start the second half of the day. It was almost as if the rainy, dreary day decided to become sunny and nice outside due to Beam’s songs. Maybe the biggest audience reaction for a single song came during the opening chords of “Boy With a Coin,” a highlight of the day clearly for many people. After the intricate bluegrass prior to it and the bombasticness that would come after, Iron & Wine was a perfect palette cleanser for the day.
After an entire day of mostly quiet bluegrass and acoustic sounds, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue’s sounds of brass was a fantastic way to get everyone off their asses. Trombone Shorty’s powerful funk had the entire crowd dancing and unfortunately contributing to a widespread case of awful drunk white people dancing. The hugeness of Trombone Shorty’s stage presence, going between playing trombone, trumpet, singing and running around was the height of excitement for the day. Trombone Shorty – as you might assume – is phenomenal with his trombone, doing incredible things with it, yet he never seems to have a problem with having the spotlight shine on someone else, like his fantastic drummer, bassist and guitarist, who each got their own focus.
Merriweather seemed more packed for Trombone Shorty than for any other performer in the day, and no wonder. After a day of watching people stand still, playing their instruments, Trombone Shorty’s set was simply a fun way to come to the end of the night, and probably should’ve been the closer, considering how it’s basically impossible to follow a band like this.
After the giganticness that preceded them, Trampled By Turtles had a lot to live up to. The gorgeously low-lit set featured the five members in a straight line, complete with mandolin and fiddle. Their set balanced the more slow-moving songs, like opener “Repetition” with more exciting, fast-paced songs, trying to keep up the momentum from what came before them. Unfortunately about half the audience had left by the time Trampled By Turtles were a few songs in, so they misses that nice balance of tempos.
Even after such speedy songs as “Help You” and “Come Back Home,” it overall just felt like everyone was spent from the day and the prior performance to get quite as excited about Trampled By Turtles folksy bluegrass set. Their set was quite beautiful, but it’s hard to not imagine a rearranged bill wouldn’t have made things a bit more exciting throughout the day. As it was, the ups and downs of the day just weren’t balanced as they probably should’ve been. Plus the technical issues that plagued almost everyone’s set – from the delay of Guster to the occasional humming and unbalanced mics – almost became a running theme of the day. That being said, Route 29 Revue was an otherwise fantastic day filled with an abundance of throwback music and exciting advances in all sorts of tried and true genres.