Bartlesville native Laura Birkett is the kind of lady who walks up to an aging, beer-only bar on the edge of Main Street and sees a promising oasis of Natural Light and sound.
Friday's NMF started out with a disappointment: Football, etc. canceled their set because their drummer broke both his feet (what?!?). Instead, I caught Thee Bad Newes on Opolis' inside stage, where I spent a surprising amount of time throughout the festival. I'm becoming sedentary, and this is proof.
Nevertheless, Thee Bad Newes were fun to watch. I'm all about the DIY attitude and aesthetic, and TBN has both in spades. The duo releases music on cassette tapes (definition) and sings lyrics about working to build a life in community. The acoustic guitar/cello duo's songs were a blend of the gentle and the harsh, as the nylon-stringed acoustic guitar was most often played in a fingerpicking style reminiscent of both The Tallest Man on Earth and Bob Dylan. The cello provided lithe, swooning accompaniment.
Similarly to both aforementioned artists, the vocals were somewhere between a bray and a bark, bringing a raw element to the sound. It was a unique and interesting set, which was sad in light of the comment "This will be our last show for a while."
Rolling on out to Sooner Theater, I caught the back half of FRMR's set, which just about blew my mind and eardrums. The bizarre, carnival-esque tunes that erupt from the many members of FRMR are dizzying in their volume, erratic changes and general chaos. The bass (held down by local staple John Calvin) powered a lot of the tunes, as well as the army of keyboards. The vocals were oddest of all, making me marvel at the fact that some people's musical brains just work so much differently than mine. It was a fascinating set, and I would suggest anyone interested in experimental pop to check out FRMR's variety of it.
My second dose of Riley Jantzen came at the Brewhouse, with him fronting his new band, Riley Jantzen and the Spirits. They play what I call train-whistle rock'n'roll: twangless country rock that crunches pretty hard, but not in the modern rock sort of way. Whatever you want to call it, Riley Jantzen and the Spirits are incredibly good at it. I got shivers twice during their set, and it's rare for me to feel goosebumps once during a good show. It helps that Jantzen's voice molds perfectly into whatever genre he wishes, and that his songwriting sensibilities are razor-sharp. His supporting cast is also a critical element; the bassist get props for being especially vital. I can't recommend this band highly enough to you; if you take nothing from NMF but Riley Jantzen, you're gonna be doing alright.
My second go-round with John Calvin came at Michelangelo's, where John Calvin and the Cavalry played their final show as an entity. Members may be leaving him for far-off places, but they didn't show any signs of distraction in their locked-in, 90-minute set of rock, pop, blues and folk.
John Calvin is most fun performer in Oklahoma to photograph, because his guitar faces are just absolutely incredible. He can make guitar faces because about half of the fun of a Cavalry set is listening to Calvin totally wail on his acoustic guitar, which he turns into an electric with a combination of pedals. He let no opportunity go un-soloed in this set, too. Calvin has come a long way since his first shows, and his current versions of his oldest songs show it. "Song to Make the Stars Fall," one of his oldest songs, sounds completely transformed, from a nice pop tune to a tour-de-force. It's a shame that the Cavalry is splitting up, because they certainly know how to turn a tune inside out.
The set felt a couple tunes too long, but when you're headlining a stage at NMF and it's your last show, you pretty much have permission to throw in the kitchen sink. It was a blast, and the band looked like it was having as much fun as the audience.
Montu's electonic jams brought the audience out to Jagermeister stage. I stopped in to check out the sound, and I thoroughly enjoyed the few tunes I caught. They will be headlining Groovefest next weekend, so if you haven't witnessed their clubby, electronic, party grooves, it will be a good opportunity to see them. Melodies and rhythm galore.