Last weekend, the Trust for the National Mall partnered with C3 Presents (who also run Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits) to put on a music festival in West Potomac Park, steps from the Washington Monument. A portion of the proceeds went toward restoring the National Mall (because Abe Lincoln doesn’t want to look out over cracked sidewalks and a tarp-covered Reflecting Pool, alright?). Stellar line-up, cool temperatures, Metro-accessible location, herbivore options aplenty, and a good cause — this basically checked all the boxes. It was remarkably well run, especially for an inaugural event.
Landmark Festival headliners included Drake, The Strokes, and CHVRCHES. Topping my list were Vandaveer, Lord Huron, and Ben Howard. I also caught some of Dr. John and Hiss Golden Messenger. Given infinite time/energy, I would have also seen Rhiannon Giddens, alt-J, Ex Hex, War on Drugs, and TV On the Radio (there will be other chances!). Here are some photos & tunes for your audio-visual gleaning, including a peek backstage, courtesy of the lovable hooligans of Vandaveer.
I’ve seen this band seven times. If I’m so lucky as to increase that number sevenfold, I will still find each experience to be utterly moving. I think our subconscious has a way of registering the Cartesian coordinates laid down by exceptional songwriting. The music that’s exactly right at an exact moment in your life — you will forever return to those songs when you need to find your way again. Vandaveer is one of those bands for me.
The pairing of Mark Charles Heidinger and Rose Guerin’s vocals will jump-start even the weariest of souls. I don’t know how they do it, but they do — their songs easily span the spectrum from charming and welcoming to haunting and lonesome. Mark’s storytelling is a sort of sonic archaeology, excavating the artifacts of the human condition.
Vandaveer has long toured as a duo, and in more recent years as a trio with Tom Hnatow, whose pedal steel adds measured doses of sweetness and melancholy. The three were joined for the festival by guitar/keys extraordinaire Justin Craig and the wizard of all things percussive, Robby Cosenza. There’s something about a musical family that creates an indefinable yet undeniable magic — and so it was with these fellas. Justin and Robby were members of Mark’s former project, KY-based The Apparitions, and later played with Tom in D.C.-based These United States. The five-piece sounded amazing together. I won’t even try to do it justice through words, but I grinned from ear-to-ear when they launched into “The Nature of Our Kind” as a fleshed-out arrangement. Vandaveer will be joined for more shows this week by multi-instrumentalist Emily Hagihara. I can’t wait for the new album to come out. Pick up their other albums here to tide you over.
I am completely smitten with Strange Trails, the second full-length album of Michigan-born, LA-based Lord Huron.
The band started as a solo visual and music project inspired by the adventure novels of George Ranger Johnson (b. 1946). Sadly, George Ranger Johnson’s books are out of print … because they never existed outside the richly-saturated, imaginary world of Lord Huron frontman Ben Schneider. Between the soaring harmonies and rockabilly stylings, this music will take you alternately at an easy meander and a hard gallop through strange, moonlit landscapes: I’m leaving this place behind, and I’m heading out on the road tonight. I’m off for the hinterlands, way up north to have taught you to stand.
Lord Huron evokes the in-between territory of dreams and memories, dislocation and discovery. It’s a strange trail that you ought to follow.
Oh, Ben. You were behind me in line for drinks in the “Artist Lounge.” I did a double take and when we made eye contact, I smiled and swiftly looked away. I was an interloper and wanted to respect your need for a few moments of quiet, so I didn’t talk to you. But of course I wanted to, because I have so many questions. Why Syria? Is the tale of Conrad a reference to Heart of Darkness? How do you get to the heart of our darkness? Is there a way out? WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE? But I kept my mouth shut and my camera in my bag. That’s the closest I’ll ever come to meeting you, but that’s ok. Wild things are meant to live a world apart.
You were wearing the same black T-shirt while chilling backstage that we all saw later as you walked out on stage, picked up your guitar, and began drawing us into a dark, quiet meditation interwoven with strands of cello and guitars and keys.
And then you revealed the animal fierceness within, as your voice prowled the edges of our consciousness and suddenly pounced in a percussive outburst that took my breath away.
And now she’s caught between
What to say and what she really means
And I am finally colouring
Inside the lines that I live between.
Pick up “I Forget Where We Were” here, and join me for Landmark next year.
Hold it in, let’s go dancing
I do believe we’re only passing through …