Day 2 SweetWater 420 Fest Recap: Tedeschi Trucks Band, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Infamous Stringdusters, and Brandon “Taz” Niederaurer Take Over Atlanta

By Max Stewart

The second day at SweetWater 420 Fest was another day of jam-packed music from top tier talents from a variety of backgrounds. What more can you ask for on a beautiful Saturday? 

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Marco Benevento was an excellent early set complete with accessible yet eccentric tunes and crowd vocal participation, which included a cover of the Butthole Surfers’ “Pepper” by bassist Karina Rykman. Benevento had his work cut out for him Saturday, as he also played two sets with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead later in the afternoon. Benevento’s onstage exuberance and the uptempo vibe of his solo show made it one of the best of Saturday and a perfect way to kick off the day.

Georgia’s own impressive The Orange Constant started the set with a Beck cover, which featured a friend of the band’s, Tye Munn. After the song, Munn hopped down into the pit and proposed to his girlfriend. Tears and joyous smiles took over the crowd. The band went on to play a variety of ambiently-melodic songs from their catalog including “Red Ryder.” SOJA set a very mellow tone for the day with their reggae and rasta roots dub songs. “Happy holidays,” singer Jacob Hemphill said to the 420 Fest crowd to a crowd full of cheers.

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To those that have not seen the 14-year-old guitar savant, Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, you folks should make that a priority. He has certainly gotten some great exposure and experiences this weekend, having sat in with The String Cheese Incident on Friday. During his solo set, he played some outstanding originals as well covers of Jimi Hendrix, “the best funk band of all time” The Meters, and he even paid tribute to the late Col. Bruce Hampton. Hampton died at the Fox Theater last year and Taz was on stage soloing, and it really feels Hampton passed the musical torch to Taz on that night.

Luthi was full of vibrant and exciting funk, which included a phenomenal sax player, Amber Woodhouse, and a group rendition of “Feeling Alright.” Atlanta’s own Hedonistas brought the house down at the Lyrics & Laughter Stage to a packed house of local fans and new converts.

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Joe Russo’s Almost Dead captured a huge crowd of attendees, as the fans of the jam-heavy lineup rightfully regard the musical catalog of the Grateful Dead as scripture. ‘JRAD’ has an incredibly unique way interpreting the music of the Dead and even some Jerry Garcia Band tunes, as evidenced by their opener, “Cats Under the Stars.” Superb renditions of “Estimated Prophet” and “He’s Gone” showcased how tight the band is (Joe Russo on drums, Ween’s Dave Dreiwetz on bass, Marco Benevento on keys, Scott Metzger and Tom Hamilton playing the six strings.) Their second set had Atlanta on its feet with stellar performances “Shakedown Street,” “I Need A Miracle,” “I Know You Rider,” and “China Cat Sunflower.” The band topped off the day’s performance with the very-fitting “One More Saturday Night.”

The Infamous Stringdusters got the grass-heavy vibe on the Planet 420 Fest kickin’, which included originals and covers of Phish’s “Possum” and the Grateful Dead’s “Tennessee Jed.” The music of the Dead was plentiful in Centennial Olympic Park on Saturday evening, as JRAD and the Infamous Stringdusters both playing during their same set times.

“What a beautiful day for a festival,” Susan Tedeschi declared as she looked on the sun setting over Atlanta’s downtown skyline. Tedeschi Trucks Band always brings triumph and joy to the masses in a live setting, thanks to their spirituallyanthemic sound. Saturday night was no different. With soulful versions of “Made Up Mind,” “Don’t Know It Means,” “Get What You Deserve,” the wall of sound 12-piece ensemble always manages to interweave tones effortlessly for a rousing live set led by Tedeschi and her husband and guitar legend, Derek Trucks. For my money, it’s hard to beat Tedeschi singing John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery,” with Trucks laying down some slide guitar fills. It was a pleasure seeing Kofi Burbridge healthy and performing with the band in home city of Atlanta. 

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The highlight of the festival so far was when the band brought out Taz for a cover of the Allman Brothers’ “Statesboro Blues.” It was awe-inspiring watching the maestro of jam kind of teaching and guiding the young Taz the “game of catch” in soloing in a group atmosphere. As I watched, thinking about the passing of not only Hampton but also Butch Trucks and Gregg Allman, I could not help but think that Trucks is filling the void of as the patriarch of music. I also kept thinking back to the “10 Commandments of Jam” that Trucks kept as a guide when he saw success at a young age, and I am sure he is trying to help guide and preserve Taz’s potential for a long and frutiful musical career.

Trucks spoke of the heavy spirit in the room when the band last played Atlanta at the Fox Theater in an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, their first return since the passing of Col. Hampton. The music world is lucky to have a spiritual force as powerful and triumphant as the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and it is wonderful that they returned to Centennial Olympic Park under positive circumstances and were able to help pass on their inspiring musical spirit to a younger musician who will certainly be in the live music scene for many years to come.

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