Despite overcast skies and forecasts calling for showers, we managed to get lucky: There was no rain when The Stone Fox's Nashville Outlines block-party festivities began on Saturday morning, and still no rain 12 hours and a few thousand beers later, as psychedelic champs JEFF the Brotherhood shut things down with a riff-rife set of stone-cold party jams. We'd heard that Fox employees were unofficially anticipating something like 2,000 attendees, but by day's end, it looked like there had been perhaps twice that. The Spin slipped right in with the herd, ducking in and out of the frequently-at-capacity Fox, braving the sticky heat at the outdoor Garden Stage in the lawn across the street, and checking in at the petting zoo provided by East Side record store/collective Fond Object. Two goats and a pig, y'all.
With the power-pop stylings of JP5 as our soundtrack around mid-afternoon, we approached the Third Man Records-provided dunking booth around back, where TMR consigliere Ben Swank was clad in a banana hammock and an Aladdin-esque vest. A masterful shit-talker, Swank barked something about "gossip columnists" and "yellow journalists" into the somewhat dangerously positioned microphone next to the tank, so with our fifth and final pitch, we sank his ass. That was gratifying. Anyway, JP5 frontman Joey Plunket has been out of state for most of the summer, but he dropped right into his band's mid-tempo grooves without missing a beat. In fact, it may have been the best set we've ever heard from them, their '70s-style rock 'n' roll ballads newly colored by the tasteful embellishments of a new guitarist. We're glad to have the 5 back, as their set-closing call-and-response tune "Wait for It" is an undeniably catchy contender for Song of the Summer.
James Wallace and the Naked Light's weird and smart intergalactic electric folk was up next on the Garden Stage, though we spent a good chunk of their set waiting in one of the Fox's epic beer lines. We quite like the speculative-fiction/sci-fi bent of this year's More Strange News From Another Star, an album that's been growing on us with each listen, and we commend Wallace and the Light for their choice of The Kinks' "Arthur" as a cover — it worked with the band's ramshackle-pop delivery. Oh, also, some older gentleman claiming to be named Charles Manson played a brief harmonica solo during one song — a fun diversion, but we think the Naked Light will get along just fine without Charlie as a full-time member.
We took a step back from Ranch Ghost’s eminently ranchified ghostliness to survey the scene, taking note of the variety in size and shape of dogs that accompanied their owners. We giggled to think how embarrassed the folks must be who brought similar pups to the party, but from what we saw, hounds and humans alike were friendly and dramatically unconcerned with any hints of “hip” in the air.
Stepping inside for Tristen, we wished we’d remembered our eye patch so we would have one peeper adjusted for the dark. As we fumbled our way to the front, we could hear that the one-size-fits-most technical setup required for a festival continues to be at odds with the group’s electronics, but the few hangups dissolved quickly in a warm, dark wash of synth-enhanced pop. Kink Ador’s Sharon Koltick and Hanzelle’s Jeremi Morris continue to round out the rhythm section, the perfect hybrid of synthetic precision and organic feel to complement the new Tristen sound — on the surface, a radical departure from Charlatans at the Garden Gate’s alt-folk, but with the same elegant songwriting at the core of tunes like “Anti-Baby,” which again featured a guest vocal by Cortney Tidwell.
Back outside, D. Watusi burned through a set channeling their youthful energy into a spacey, kraut-rocking vibe. As if we needed further proof that stepping outside your comfort zone is a good thing, the set peaked with an epic exploration of The Grateful Dead’s “China Cat Sunflower” influenced as much by Neu! as the merry pranksters of Haight-Ashbury, and featuring frontman Dillon Watson as a fountain of deliciously angular guitar menace. The loss of bassman Ben Todd in February was a hard blow for the scene — perhaps to this band of his closest friends more than any others — but their continued experimentation and growth, with The Paperhead’s Pete Stringer-Hye on the low notes, is a credit to Todd’s memory.
We just saw Clear Plastic Masks at our birthday party last month, but we were eager to catch another solid set of their raw, impassioned, soulful rock. This time out, Fly Golden Eagle/Thunderbitch/Ranch Ghost key master Mitch “Jitch Mones” Jones sat in, lending an appropriately eerie air with ghostly organ licks. This guy has a superb touch — every time we see him with a different band, he fits in like he’s been playing with them for years, adding weight to the sound without drawing attention away from the song. There was a brief scuffle at the door right in the middle of the set, but like any saloon band worth their salt, the Masks played on while the trouble was moved outside.
Speaking of the outdoors, we moseyed back to the Garden Stage, where Ettes frontwoman and regular Country Life contributor Coco Hames displayed her trademark composure, launching lyric salvos in cool contrast to the helluva ruckus she and her bandmates whipped up. Drummer Poni Silver and bassist Jem Cohen are also co-conspirators in Fond Object, the arts collective and record shop that opened this spring in Riverside Village and sponsored the aforementioned petting zoo. This touch was no doubt appreciated by the several parents we marked in the crowd, who were cultivating a new generation of rock fans as they bounced their toddlers (in appropriately adorable ear protection) along to gritty boogies like “I Heard Tell” and “Walk out That Door.”
As expected, Sweet Baby Richie "Ri¢hie" Kirkpatrick and his mighty band brought out the old rollicking spirit that made Ghostfinger shows a cherished memory. The wizard spells of keyboardist Matt “Mr. Jimmy” Rowland, in what appears a more or less permanent addition to the group, iced the cake nicely. Night Games, their official full-length debut, hasn’t even been physically released as far as we know, but they’re rearranging old songs and breaking in new ones, with a slightly slower version of “Come Over Tonight” and the relatively new “Natural Light” standing out. The wandering mouth-harp minstrel who crashed Wallace’s set wouldn’t fit on the bandstand, but he posted up front-and-center and let the spirit take him, soloing his head off and dancing like no one was watching. We sincerely hope we keep feeling the magic as hard as that dude, but please, keep us from rushing the stage? Thanks.
Back outside, headliners JEFF the Brotherhood opened their set in classic duo format, reminding us why we cottoned to them in the first place: Less can be so much more in the right hands. Having fewer elements lets their sound be full-throated, as evidenced by the thick, gorgeous torrent of guitar and thundering beats pouring from behind their billowing fog machine cloud. They know just how much to ask of an audience, delivering tunes about mundane things, like summertime jam “Six Pack,” with an air of honest appreciation. Not to stay on one note, the Bogus Bros’ sound has slowly expanded to include some motorik touches, with contributions from King Karl in the bottom register and Christina Norwood on keys. The pair came out mid-set, along with two air-powered tube men in a coordinated dance Dr. Seuss could appreciate (cut short by the stage-left guy banging into the neighbor's house). While crowd surfers gyrated wildly, the full group brewed up a decidedly creepy intro to “Whatever I Want,” driven by Norwood’s organ licks and massive Sun O))) drones, before wrapping it all up with longtime favorite “Mindrider.”
As we headed for the Fox proper, we bumped up against the roughest patch in the whole festival plan: The doors were closed for the later-night sets to help keep the neighbor-waking sound leakage to a minimum, but that meant only so many patrons would fit inside. We found ourselves at the back of a one-in-one-out line for the duration of Fly Golden Eagle’s set. There was a tinge of uneasiness in the air — the outside bar was closed, the Grilled Cheeserie truck was gone, and as a colleague pointed out, nothing makes you want something like not being able to get it — but heads stayed cool. We made it inside in time for Natalie Prass’ always-impressive updates on Sade-inspired R&B, with Heypenny’s D.J. Murphy and Ben Elkins and experiment-friendly drummer Tommy Stangroom backing her up, but tired feet and a foggy brain got the better of us halfway through the set. For the first time out, Nashville Outlines ran remarkably smoothly, and we’re counting down the days to the next run.