My final day at Rothbury was highlighted by some serious legends: Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan each played substantial closing sets that hovered around two hours each.
A typical Dylan show these days (if there is such a thing) involves fundamental rearrangements of some of his most classic material. Thus it took me a moment to recognize songs that would otherwise be immediately familiar, like "Tangled Up in Blue," "Ballad of a Thin Man," or "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again." Of course, it's just this kind of constant reworking that keeps his shows active and vibrant, not just a run-through of his greatest hits.
If anyone can match Dylan for a song catalog it might be Willie Nelson, who takes a free 'n' easy (or so it seems) approach to his set list, calling out songs on the fly ("Still Is Still Moving"), and shifting from song to song as if he were free-associating, pulling in whatever melody grabs him at the moment. There's a good deal of instrumental solo time, too--which felt pretty old school, being that the band was just a handful of folks with minimal equipment, drummer Paul English for instance playing only a snare. They moved from a laid-back folk and country vibe into blues, pop, and even touches of jazz in how they naturally blend together, and how they can so easily move as a group from one melody to another.
Between those sets I caught a bit of Ani DiFranco, who had a dedicated audience--and who can really kick up a storm on just an acoustic guitar.
Earlier in the day I caught a handful of songs from Guster, who impressed me not only by laying into a bit of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper," but through some excellent three-part vocal harmonies. Need to look into this band a bit more for sure.
Another band I want to spend more time with is The Hold Steady, who were easily the hardest-rocking of the artists I caught at Rothbury. They didn't have a huge crowd (the racket they produced likely scared off folks looking for a mellow Sunday afternoon), but the ones who stayed caught a set full of tight turn-around pop songs with energy, wit, smarts, and bite.
I also was impressed by Yonder Mountain String Band, who are giving traditional bluegrass new life among the younger jam-band crowds. Great playing, bucketloads of energy on stage:
And speaking of energy on stage, anyone who's seen Grace Potter live knows what I'm talking about. She may spend a good deal of time at the piano, but she's way more Etta James than Tori Amos.
This festival was truly impressive overall--great setting (check out our Flickr sets for shots of the amazingly serene and beautiful Sherwood Forest, complete with trippy colored lights at night), a packed four days of music, and a cool crowd of enthusiastic folks--who were obviously having a helluva good time.