This is part two of Heave’s coverage of the final Widow’s Peak Music Festival. As previously mentioned, unforeseen circumstances necessitated a delay in coverage. Part one can be found in the sidebar to your right.
Best beatboxing at a folk music fest: Jaik Willis. There’s no joke here. The first show I saw on the second day ended with a beatbox of “Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself.” Jaik Willis is a solo performer who plays on an acoustic flying V and sings with super-high energy. We’ve all seen solo acoustic acts before, but when you see one that’s truly great, it sticks out. Willis is a phenomenal guitarist, playing fast, complicated music while singing along with a lot of soul. The songs that he writes are upbeat but personal, with songs about a car crash that killed a friend of his and how uncertain the future is. I asked Willis where the personal nature of his songs came from, and he said it was from his past and things his friends have gone through, going further to say that non-fiction is just more interesting than fiction to him. And back to the beatboxing: it came from the habit of making music all the time, so he began to make music with his mouth when he couldn’t with his hands due to an injury. It’s the mark of a true musician heavily rooted in his craft. He will be playing at The Cubby Bear on June 5.
Best beard: Jack Grelle & The Johnson Family. I would be remiss if I didn’t give a little credit to the best beard that I’ve seen all weekend. It just happens that Jack Grelle is the owner of it. Sure, the beard was fascinating and I was quite envious, but the music his band performed was quite good too. They’re a band of various amounts of members, with people coming on-and-offstage all the time, many of the members coming from other bands around St. Louis with them, like Ryne from The Hobosexuals and members of The Hooten Hallers. The music they play recalls “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?” with songs of love and loss and drinking and having a good time. Grelle said they are inspired by 70s country and honky tonk styles, to which they try to stay true when they play and write. They’re a great band, hopefully coming back to the Chicago area sometime this fall.
Band closest to the venue: Overman. Overman was one of those bands I made sure to see, because they came from the same town I went to high school in, and with the festival being in Yorkville they had the smallest trek over out of anyone performing. This four-piece band had one of the more classic rock setups of the whole show, with a drummer, bassist and two guitarists, with the occasional harmonica. Even without some of the more stereotypical roots instruments, they still brought their great unique take on progressive roots. They brought a more plugged-in feel to folk and country songwriting, with driving electric instruments backing songs whose lyrics tell a complete story. One song in particular, “Lockport St. Blues” was a song about the Overmanor that they all use to live in, along with the founders of the festival, and brought up local landmarks and people like the Petersons. It also showed that the band has been together forever, having been together for a decade playing music that incorporates the varied styles of the members in the band. On top of songs like this, they utilized a whiskey castle, offering drinks to the crowd from a medieval castle. They were fantastic and easily won the crowd over. You can check them out this summer at Naperville Ribfest on July 4.
Best dressed: The guy dressed up like a Boy Scout. This isn’t a band. It’s just something I saw that was cool. Sure, you have your Rastafarian tops and hemp necklaces throughout the crowd, but when a guy comes out in a Boy Scout vest with patches for various skills all over it, you tend to notice.
Founders are musicians, too moment: Clifton Roy & Folkstringer. This is a five-piece featuring Roy and David “Chewie” Rothenberg, the co-founders of the festival. They were reuniting for the first time in a year for this performance. It was a bittersweet performance, with a great sound that had the crowd dancing along and moved by the lyrics, but at the same time it was a reminder of Widow’s Peak’s end. They’re also an embodiment of the progressive folk music they try to attract to the festival, and the kind of music they think more people should be proud of in America. Sadly, since the band consisst of members who live all over the place, there are no planned Chicagoland shows, but if you can see them somewhere, don’t miss the opportunity.
Coolest use of an anthropology degree: Crystal Bright & the Silver Hands. Crystal Bright uses her background in Anthropology and Ethnomusicology and experience in playing in musical groups all over the world to bring one of the most unique sounds you’ll hear at any festival. Some of the instruments you’ll see her play include the accordion, the saw, a piano and an Adungo harp from Uganda. She and the two other members, all from North Carolina, create carnival-esque music that echoed throughout the festival site to lend a spooky vibe. One song has a combination of lap guitar played with a slide and the echo of her voice, leading members of the crowd to ask me if there was a theremin playing onstage. I asked Bright where her influences came from and how she came about touring. She said she picked up a little from her various teachers in her travels, was a teacher for a time and now tours around. She is one of those acts you won’t forget, standing out in a large way among a huge group of fine acts. They hope to be back in the Chicago area sometime in the next few months.
Best band to inspire a festival: The Hooten Hallers. This was a band I heard so much about and was really looking forward to see. When talking with Roy, he said this band was a large reason the festival exists. They are a great act, bringing a much more punk and rock style to very traditional folk stylings. The drummer never sat while playing, the singing was gruff and loud like classic blues and punk and there was not a single person refusing to move in the whole camp, something close to 500 festivalgoers. The set started with a song about a horrible ex-girlfriend that had the crowd laughing and singing along if they knew the lyrics. This fest also saw the introduction of a harmonica player to the duo, which was special because they haven’t added a member in many years, though others were considered. And the harmonica player was fantastic, fitting into the band seamlessly and also adding a few songs that he wrote to the mix that had die-hard fans loving it. When I talked to them pre-performance, Andy Rhem told me of his hate of mayonnaise, a thing he likes to remind the crowd, and did at the end of his performance. It’s just a unique thing, out of place, but hugely loved by the fans who chanted it back at him. Anyways, The Hooten Hallers are a great band with a great sound that you should see for sure. They will be playing in Lombard on May 24.
Coolest tradition: Burning the robot. This is a tradition created by the Hooten Hallers for Widow’s Peak that has lasted through the years. The roots of this tradition came from year two of the fest, when one of the members brought a robot along to burn, chanting “Burn this fucking robot!” and later throwing the megahorn into the blaze. The tradition stuck, with The Hooten Hallers bringing a new robot to every fest, and the crowd chanting along without prompting. It’s a great way to end the night, with everyone together and saying their last farewells to the festival around the tradition that has lasted through its entirety. While this might be the last installment of Widow’s Peak, it shows that fantastic music can be seen in many of the small festivals that happen all around the country, and gives us music from the very heart of America. This is the music that is uniquely ours, and luckily it’s being kept alive by some fantastic acts.