By Matt Wickstrom
During a summer that’s seen Mother Nature prove uncooperative with Kentucky’s music festivals including soggy grounds at The Moonshiner’s Ball in May and a flash flood that wiped out Rudyfest in June, Saturday proved to be a pleasant surprise for Moontower Music Festival with sunny skies and a slight breeze throughout the day.
Aside from an elevated music lineup compared to its three previous years, the fourth annual Lexington-bred festival also drastically improved on two areas that wreaked havok on patrons a year prior – long beer lines and a lack of food options. Neither appeared a problem on Saturday, with beer lines moving steadily and no shortage of food from the plethora of vendors on hand.
On to the music, read below for this critic’s cheers and jeers from an action-packed day of music.
Umphreys McGee – With countless friends who are self-admitted “Umphreaks” I was well aware of the group’s continuity and reputation in the jam band scene, but having never seen them before Saturday myself I was unaware (and unexpecting) of the depth and originality of their jams, notably the fusion of smooth reggae, edgy metal and a variety of other avenues of music. No matter how unpredictable the jams and how far into the ether they ventured they always returned to common ground including on a nearly 20-minute jam on “All in Time.” A rambunctious cover of Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” capped off an electrifying set. CHEER
Cherub – Cherub was easily my biggest disappointment of the day, and disappointing is putting it lightly. The duo relied heavily on pre-programmed tracks which inevitably broke down for a brief time during their set, and laced excessive profanity into their lyrics and on-stage banter that came off as childish and unprofessional. JEER
Tyler Childers – It’s no doubt that Kentuckian Tyler Childers, fresh home from an 8,500 mile west coast tour was the fan-favorite of the early afternoon. A massive crowd gathered before the festival’s Tower Stage during the artists sound check, passionately singing along as Childers prepped to perform. The enthusiasm only elevated itself once the set began, starting with “I Swear (To God),” the lead track off his debut album “Purgatory,” before diving into a cover of Charlie Daniels’ “Trudy” before closing with original “Whitehouse Road.” With a short 30-minute set due to the unexpected rise of Childer’s over the summer the artist had plenty of energy stored up to navigate into the sea of fans following his set to chat, take pictures and sign memorabilia. CHEER
The Record Company – I wanted to like The Record Company, I really did. The Los Angeles trio consisting of drums, bass, guitar, slide and harmonica came equipped with catchy riffs, but at times appeared to sink into a lull. In contrast, when the group did begin to build their instrumentals, and in turn my anticipation of an all-out melee they mostly failed to deliver. JEER.
Speaking of amped-up instrumentals, the next band didn’t have a problem…
Blackfoot Gypsies – What can I say? The Nashville four-piece and Lexington regulars Blackfoot Gypsies grasped the energy from Tyler Childer’s set just before them on the Tower Stage and kicked it up a notch with a series of hits off of their new record “To the Top” including “Everybody’s Watching,” “I Had a Vision” and “Promise to Keep.” The group’s frontman Matthew Paige led the way, high-stepping and hopping around the stage, his stringy hair blowing in the breeze. The group’s mix of guitar, bass, drums and harmonica harken back to the bluesy rock of the 1970s and bands such as The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. CHEER
Moontower Music Festival took massive leaps in year four, improving on past miscues while elevating its musical attractions. There’s no doubt that the festival, powered by LexEffect, will shoot for the moon yet again in 2018.