By Jordan Dowdy
My first ever concert was Phish in the fall of 1999 and in the past 18 years I’ve see a random assortment of acts including Incubus and Velvet Revolver. I’ve seen Panic numerous times so upon seeing that they were in the Sloss Fest lineup I figured I would “throw my money down.”
I was dropped off at Sloss Fest on Saturday and was pleasantly surprised to be picked up by a friendly gentleman driving a golf cart. The man explained to me that I was still several blocks away so the cart was a top notch addition to the Sloss experience for me. Upon entering the festival grounds, I was pleased to see several vendors ranging from Smith Optics to Alabama Outdoors.
Sloss Fest gave us 41 acts in two days and that overwhelmed me a bit as a first time festival goer. I started off the day with Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires. Mr. Bradley was dressed as if it were still the late 60s, shirtless with a tan leather vest. The Extraordinaires laid down a smooth jazz filled rhythm and the highlight of the show was when they played their hit song “Changes.” Towards the end of his set Charles threw out roses to the crowd and Mr. Bradley told us that we are all on this planet together and we must be there for one another, so true.
I was reluctantly dragged to NEEDTOBREATHE by my buddy and his wife. If you were there this weekend I’m sure you may have shared this experience. Like many of these bands I had heard very little of them going into the event and by now the rain had already started for the night. This didn’t damper the show put on by the Christian rock band from Seneca, South Carolina. They absolutely rocked the stage. Performance wise, I’m not sure you can find a more polished band. They performed as one cohesive unit and the crowd was definitely moved when they played “Washed by the Water” as the rain poured over us.
As I arrived at the “Blast” stage to see Run The Jewels I wondered what they had in store because I was not very familiar with their music. The duo is made up of Atlanta’s Killer Mike and Brooklyn’s El-P. Run the Jewels proceeded to electrify the crowd and between songs they protested for us to “vote these assholes out of office.” Their stage was lit up with their name changing colors throughout the set and they got the crowd extremely hyped up throughout the performance.
Just slightly after 10:15 Widespread Panic strutted on stage and laid down a funky “Old Neighborhood” as if to acknowledge the glory days of the Furnaces. They continued the night’s theme of water related songs with Chilly Water as most of the crowd moshed in a pit of mud. I chuckled a bit when they started playing “Up All Night” given their age and the time of night, but my Panic highlight of the evening was a crunchy rendition of “Machine.” With the way the evening played out most thought there would be no “Drums,” but Domingo Ortiz gave the fans what they wanted, a quickie while the band stayed on the stage with JB grinning from ear to ear and Schools prompting us to cheer on his long time bandmate. The boys closed out the evening with a heater “Climb to Safety.”
My Sunday consisted of Sturgill Simpson and the Alabama Shakes. After hearing Merle Haggard proclaim that Sturgill Simpson was the last hope for country music I was sold on going to see him. Between songs Sturgill joked with fans that it was cooler than the last time he was here and I can’t imagine it being hotter than it was on Sunday. Sturgill performed his hits such as “Sea Stories” and “Turtles All the Way Down” and he also shredded a guitar like no one I’ve never seen in my life. It wasn’t like Slash or the late great Michael Houser, it was his own unique style and it absolutely melted faces.
The Alabama Shakes closed out the festival with their 50s rock. Brittany Howard was dressed in an old-school dress and belted out most of their hits including “Don’t Wanna Fight No More.” They gave the same energy Sturgill Simpson gave us and left the audience in awe.
In closing, Sloss Music & Arts Festival should most definitely be on your calendar for next year and I can’t wait to see the lineup they’ll give us in 2018. While the atmosphere around the grounds could have been better there was plenty of free water and a solid lineup of beer. Being able to get a Jack Brown Burger instead of typical event food was clutch. Widespread wasn’t the same Widespread of the late 90s or early 2000s, but there is no doubt those guys can still put on a show. NEEDTOBREATHE was refreshing in the rain while Sturgill Simpson and the Alabama Shakes stole the show.