all words: Marcus Dowling, all photos: Tatiana Gulenkina, Tam Sackman
At a time where many music festivals in the DC Metropolitan area deal more with turning up, feeling the beat or dropping the bass, Saturday afternoon’s All Things Go Fall Classic was a pleasant shift in direction towards what is now considered more in line with a “classic” festival ideal.
As a day on the onset of fall turned from dreary to crisp, rising alt-rock acts including Tove Lo, Haerts, Bear Hands and Future Islands – Baltimore-to-America’s favorite Late Show (with David Letterman) to “love fest” story of 2014 – played for an appreciative throng at shopping destination-tuned-premium Northeast DC musical locale Union Market.
Proceedings kicked off with a decidedly less-than-ideal chill in the air and rain in the sky. Opening acts like the ironically (for the conditions) named Young Summer, Panama Wedding and Sun Club brought their breezy indie vibes, Panama Summer in particular having a sound that in tunes like their well-regarded single “All of the People” having an appealing pop sound that brought a brightened mood to the early-arriving crowd.
Unlike the recent spate of EDM-centered festivals that have overtaken live event lineups nationwide, the draw wasn’t so much a music that creates a community of disparate people as much as it was a community of people driven by a desire to be communal in the presence of what is agreed-upon as good music. That’s a different set of people entirely than what dance has done of late, and the importance of the city being able to have music-driven events that can serve a plethora of distinct fanbases is of absolute importance.
Locally renowned and nationally respected favorites U.S. Royalty were on the lineup here, playing some well conceived newer material from a forthcoming release. Their sound is more mature than ever before, owing more to just straight up, hook-driven songwriting and feeling more in tune with the Pacific Coast Highway vibes of pop-ready 70s rock than ever before.
As well, for indie rock traditionalists, Bear Hands’ post-punk style was a welcome addition to the festival lineup, as in abutting US Royalty on the lineup, the two acts (aside from the headliners Future Islands) presented the overall most seasoned and entertaining performances of the afternoon.
A key point of interest from Saturday’s proceedings were the sheer number of pop star ingenues present. Brooklyn-based Haerts is fronted by Nini Fabi, Sweden’s Tove Lo is a meteoric-rising vocalist, with DC-based Young Summer rounding out the trio. In this way, the All Things Go Fall Classic felt like a South by Southwest showcase wherein all of these things are all like each other, and one of these things will be a breakout superstar.
As cool as it is to have the moment of seeing a rising star while they were still rising, when the differences between three acts are in the not-so-terribly dissimilar tonalities in three female vocalists singing over lo-fi minor key synth-led rock songs, there’s an issue. While yes, it means that the festival is entirely mirroring industry trends, it also means that the festival itself may run into points where the acts – though talented – may feel as though they are dragging in energy. While yes, they aren’t, as a whole production a festival is a study in balancing and creating disparate energies, which was not quite so apparent, here.
There aren’t enough positive words to use as a rock critic to describe what is happening to Future Islands. There were those in the crowd who have seen Sam Herring and crew perform in front of 50-plus people in Baltimore, and there are those who saw him perform in front of five million-plus people on Late Show with David Letterman in early May. The simple genius of Future Islands lies in a crowd somewhere in-between, erring somewhere greater than 50 but in the range of the thousands packed into Union Market on Saturday night.
Yes, Future Islands sound is heavy enough for your metal bros, yet bright enough for your girlfriend. Sam Herring is thus the perfect frontman for such a group in that between gesticulating like Joe Cocker doing the Twist, growling like Metallica’s James Hetfield and singing with the wholly pop-accessible feel of Dave Matthews, he’s everything to everyone. Songs like “Seasons (Waiting for You)” are well delivered by a tremendous band-as-ensemble and hit everyone’s pleasure centers. However, these songs amazingly don’t feel like cloying Forever 21 anthems (which is unfortunately what so much indie rock becomes). Thus, the hour-plus Future Islands performance was a free-dancing love in. Girls in couture danced next to “happy drunk” bros and tattooed indie kids in skinny jeans tapped their feet in too cool approval. As a close to a day where the sounds were oftentimes more blissful than the weather, it was the event’s most cohesive and agreeable moment.