As concert-goers arrived at River Stages Saturday just in time for the rain, they could hear a vendor joking, "Forget 'River Stages; they should rename it 'Rain Stages.' " Umbrellas, considered potentially dangerous, were confiscated at the gates, leaving many people with no choice but to leave or get drenched. Dozens of girls in summery tops got soaked to the bone, providing some cheap thrills for the mostly male crowd. While the action was temporarily shut down on the Shelby Street Bridge, a spirited group gathered below to wait out the rain. Dedicated fans who gamely sat through the storm were treated to great sets from Josh Rouse, Patty Griffin and more.
The carnival aspect of the outdoor concert was enough to make most anyone nostalgic. Tie-dyed followers of Widespread Panic danced next to black-clad Manic Panic'ed Goth kids, and even the most dedicated gastronome delighted in the greasy extravaganza of corn dogs and funnel cakes. Any dry, level patch of grass became the best seat in the house.
The bands catered to a variety of tastes, as did the vendors and sponsors. In a brilliant twist of irony, a large U.S. Army booth was situated within firing range of some placid hippies and their banal collection of hemp fiber granola gear. The high-tech Army booth included an arcade "target practice" complete with faux AK47's. An enthusiastic recruiter cum carnival barker mistook my smirk for actual interest. "Go on, take a few shots," he beamed. "You look like you wanna shoot something." No, I was simply pining for the unassuming danger of my confiscated umbrella.
Sunday was clear, but cool, making it a perfect day for some self-inflicted thermogenesis. Before heading back to River Stages, I medicated my hangover at the South Street crawfish boil. The weekend boil starts at 3 p.m., excellent timing for late risers. A few spicy crawdaddies clear your head and get the blood flowing. Wash it all down with a cold beer (or two) and you'll feel good as new. Even if you're not into shellfish, it's worth the trip just to ogle the display of gleaming chrome. The Harley-riding regulars are a friendly bunch who won't mind your red eyes and rumpled hair. The roar of their bikes is an intoxicating siren's song that conjures visions of freedom, inviting dread of that nagging Monday meeting....
Back at River Stages, the crowd hung on to the weekend with all of its might, giving the three-day event a well-deserved grand finale. There were no sunken Budweiser trucks this year. Aside from Saturday's accidental wet T-shirt contest, the wildest spectacle may have been the drunken ramblings of Julian Casablancas of The Strokes.
The Strokes were the last band to play the main stage, and the set started with good-natured hamming for the buoyant audience. The General Jackson was chugging by and tooted its mighty horn in appreciation. Casablancas, with beer in hand, paused between each song to elaborate on Nashville (positively), on how he felt (really good) and on the "big fucking boat in the river" (mildly confused). Rock stars get drunk. No big deal. But when Casablancas mumbled something about "just tried to take a piss over there...," it was a perfect exit cue. Some consider The Strokes to be genius, but Julian Casablancas is no Lizard King.
Amy Waddell, photos by Darek Bell
E-mail Amy at email@example.com