The University at Buffalo’s Springfest 2014 went off without a hitch last Friday night, but I challenge anyone who was there to recall one spring-like thing about it.
The sun was in hiding, the winds were howling, and the unseasonably bitter temperatures made standing in a general admission parking lot for five hours analogous to the throbbing one’s quadriceps endure during the final leg of the YMCA Turkey Trot.
Yes, it was cold.
So cold, in fact, that the university went out of its way to erect a makeshift warming tent for those who were either underdressed or in need of a break from the action, which appeared to be everyone given the frequent size disparity between the stage crowd and the tent’s huddled masses.
Had it rained a fraction of the day, the event would have been held inside Alumni Arena, but, alas, Mother Nature’s decision to teeter along meant that diehard fans of The Band Perry had to “Keep Calm and Perry On” until the last note of “Better Dig Two,” a song whose Southern Gothic austerity was guaranteed to be right at home under such an ominous Western New York sky.
First, though, Clarence Greenwood, aka Citizen Cope, hit the stage with nothing but his guitar and soulful perspicacity to deliver a performance worthy of more attention than it was given. He burned through poignant staples such as “DFW” and “Bullet and a Target” without much in the way of audience interaction, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the majority of the attendees knew nothing about him or his music. The 30 minutes he was allotted weren’t nearly enough, but, then again, it’s easy to see why his bare bones acoustic beat poetry soared right over the heads of a festival crowd hungry for electric guitar-driven spectacle.
It was up to Gloriana to fill that void with cohesive musicianship and crowd-pleasing choruses, both of which they had no problem exhibiting in abundance.
Anchored by brothers Tom and Mike Gossin, the Nashville collective made the best of a frigid situation by donning official University at Buffalo apparel throughout its set, a gesture aimed as much at winning over the students as it was the fact that none of them had actually brought cold weather clothing on tour.
Either way, the band brought its A-game, because the guitars were clean, the harmonies were tight, and the saccharine trappings of modern day country music were nowhere to be found. Vocalist Rachel Reinart was a stand-out on “Wild at Heart” and “(Kissed You) Good Night,” while guitarist Mike Gossin brought rock ‘n’ roll attitude to what would soon become an all-out honky-tonk hootenanny.
When The Band Perry arrived, the energy levels peaked and, for the first time all evening, the warming tent was vacated. Synthetic warmth was no longer necessary, because Kimberly Perry was primed to deliver the real thing via her smoky demeanor and no-holds-barred writing style.
Her lyrics read like the after-hours musings of a spurned lover who would treat a whirlwind high school romance with the same pointed snarl as an adult relationship. Whether she was wronged at 15 or 25 doesn’t matter. The nerves are exposed regardless of how much time has passed, and she’s ready and willing to unleash the beast whenever called upon to do so.
Countless hours are wasted on Internet message boards pitting Perry against Taylor Swift to see who is the better artist, but, based on what I saw at UB, Swift isn’t even in the same league.
“Done” and “Chainsaw” were two especially sassy barnburners that left me wondering if I hadn’t been premature in my dismissal of all things country-related in 2014. Reid Perry attacked his bass with an aspiring punk rock posture and Neil played the mandolin as if he were still on his front porch in East Tennessee duking it out with a fellow picker, so these siblings are definitely the real deal.
So what if the show contained such token Country-isms as a fiddle version of The Star Spangled Banner and Kimberly’s sweet-natured take on “Amazing Grace?”
The Perry clan embraces its roots while simultaneously recognizing that their talents and ambitions are too great to be contained to one specific genre. They offer a down-to-earth alternative to much of what plagues modern Country music by staying true to themselves and not trying to hijack headlines.
The music is what matters most, and, at a time when the ghosts of Johnny Cash and Lefty Frizzell have to be feeling restless, The Band Perry has created something that purists can finally get behind.