Iowa’s Hinterland Music Festival
Upped Their Game in 2021
Story: Jennifer Rolf
Photos: Cory Weaver
Hinterland Music Festival, which took place Aug.
6-8 in St. Charles, Iowa, was an experience to remember. The collection of musicians that gathered to perform—many for the first time since the start of the pandemic—was, of course, the most memorable part. The Avett Brothers playing for two hours, Orville Peck on the Campfire stage, discovering artists like Paul Cauthen and Lillie Mae, hearing the stories behind Hamilton Leithauser’s lyrics, loving that we stayed until the end to see Leon Bridges—those are a taste of the highlights on stage. Off-stage the memorable bits were the camping; the crowd that swelled by the hour to the surprise of many in attendance (the festival was following the CDC’s Covid-19 guidelines when issuing tickets, but the Delta variant caused cases to spike and people to worry); fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; the commingling of alt-rock, Americana and country fans.
As you will read here, Hex Girls opened the festival on Friday. As far as we could tell,
they were the only Iowa band to take the stage, and yes, unlike other festivals we’ve attended, there was only one stage, which was a bit of a surprise. They were followed by the folk rock of Cleveland- born-now-based-in-Brooklyn musician who goes by Cut Worms. Yola, the British Grammy-nominated Southern soul, R&B and pop singer-song writer was up next with songs such as “Starlight” and “Stand for Myself.” The indie-folk sounds of Ohio’s Caamp pleased the crowd with their setlist that included “Peach Fuzz,” “By and By,” and “All the Debts I Owe.” Old Crow Medicine Show was the penultimate act of the day, and a colorful act they were, entertaining the festival audience with “Wagon Wheel” (while performing in front of an illuminated wagon wheel), “Down Home Girl,” and a cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right.” And then came the Avett Brothers, who took the stage after the sun had set on a particularly steamy day, finally giving relief to the crowd as a nice breeze sauntered through the festival grounds. The Avetts’ show is something to behold.
(L-R, Top to Bottom) Hex Girls, Cut Worms, Caamp, Yola, Old Crow Medicine Show and the Avett Brothers.
Seth and Scott may be the namesakes of the band, but they wouldn’t be the same without Bob Crawford on double bass, Joe Kwon on cello, Tania Elizabeth on fiddle, Mike Marsh on drums, and their sister, Bonnie Avett Rini lending a hand on keys. The 23-song set included “Satan Pulls the Strings,” “Victory,” “High Steppin’,” “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise,” “Ain’t No Man,” and ended with “No Hard Feelings,” part of a three- song encore.
Saturday brought clouds but that didn’t darken the sunny disposition of Third Man Records’ musician Lillie Mae, who grew up performing in Nashville and definitely has some stories to tell. “Didn’t I,” “Love Dilly Love” (our photog’s fave) and “Other Girls” were some of the gems she and her band shared with the early birds of the festival. We can’t say we know many artists who were raised in Monkey’s Eyebrow, Ky., but country singer-songwriter Kelsey Waldon is now one of them.
She opened with a Neil Young cover of “Are You Ready for the Country,” and included “Sunday’s Children” and “Black Patch” in her set. We knew the Emerald City had soul, but some of us were not quite ready for The Dip, the seven-piece soul band out of Seattle. It’s amazing what a shared alley between University of Washington musicians can conjure up. Okay, let’s talk about outlaw country singer Paul Cauthen, nicknamed, Big Velvet. With roots in an a capella Christian church group as a boy to turning out songs like “Cocaine Country Dancing,” this guy has some stories. “Holy Ghost Fire” and “Big Velvet” were crowd pleasers as well as covers of classics by ZZ Top, the Who and Johnny Cash. Shooter Jennings (son of the late Waylon Jennings) was in tow opening with “Bound Ta Git Down,” into “Manifesto No. 1,” and welcoming special guest Orville Peck on stage to sing a Rodney Crowell cover, “I Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This.” Oklahoma’s Zach Bryan would keep the country vibe going with “God Speed,” “Shivers Down Spines” and “Traveling Man.”
(L-R, Top to Bottom) Lillie Mae, Paul Cauthen, Tom Eddy of The Dip, Charley Crockett, The Marcus King Band and Adrian Quesada of Black Pumas
The Marcus King Band and their brand of blues came next—and we still don’t know how a voice like his comes out of someone so young. The next to appear on stage, the Black Pumas, are not new to this magazine, as we first previewed them for their show at STL’s Off Broadway back in 2019, followed by an appearance at Roots N Blues that year. Let’s reiterate: the Black Pumas played the relatively small Off Broadway less than two years ago. Anyway, if you haven’t seen them, get to it. Eric Burton and Adrian Quesada are magical together, and this performance included the soulful “Next to You,” Black Moon Rising,” and of course, “Colors,” to name a few. Don’t miss our review of their August 5th Pageant show on the homepage.
Tyler Childers rounded out the night with a
21-song set that included originals like “Old Country Church” and “Honky Tank Flame,” as well as Kris Kristofferson, Ricky Skaggs and Kenny Rogers covers.
It’s worth mentioning that Hinterland’s campgrounds included a Campfire stage that featured bands that played into the wee hours of the morning. The highlight of those performances was Saturday night’s appearance by Orville Peck, who performed on his own and then had Paul Cauthen join him on stage to form a super duo called The Unrighteous Brothers, and yes, they sang Righteous Brothers’ songs.
Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. Rising country star Vincent Neil Emerson opened the day, performing songs such as “Texas Moon” and “The Ballad of the Choctaw-Apache.” Louisville’s Bendigo Fletcher was up second with their catchy folk-rock stylings. Charley Crockett, the Americana and country singer out of Texas, followed with songs such as, “Lesson in Depression” and “Welcome to Hard Times.” NYC’s Hamilton Leithauser, the former Walkmen front man, was the midday musician—and what a raconteur he is.
Tyler Childers headlined Saturday night
(L-R, Top to Bottom) Ryan Anderson of Bendigo Fletcher, Hamilton Leithauser, Orville Peck,
Khruangbin with Leon Bridges and Leon Bridges closing out the festival.
Nearly every song came with a story, which really puts the lyrics into perspective in “Here They Come,” “The Stars of Tomorrow,” “The Bride’s Dad” and “The Garbage Man,” to name a few. If you’ve never seen him, it’s more than worth it to put him on your music radar. Orville Peck, the masked outlaw country singer and cowboy, is another must- see. In a sometimes more ugly world than beautiful, he is a constant reminder to just keep on doing your thing despite those few trying to disparage you.
With a voice sometimes reminiscent of Elvis, his set included “Roses Are Falling” (and they literally were as he threw roses to the crowd from the incredibly high stage), “Turn to Hate,” “Dead of Night” and a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” Coming down the home stretch of the festival was Mt. Joy, who really is a joy
The band just jells together and looks like they’re having the best time while performing songs like fan-favorite “Astrovan” and their classic hit, “Silver Lining,” as well as covers of the Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize,” Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and the Gorillaz’s “Clint Eastwood.” Houston’s Khruangbin, the psychedelic rock band, came out in black wigs and performed “Evan Finds the Third Room,” “Lady and Man,” “First Class,” and “Time and I” among others, and of course if you know anything about them and the act that was to follow, they had to bring Leon Bridges on stage for “Texas Sun.” Yes, the crowd went wild. Closing a festival on a Sunday night means that only the die-hard fans will remain until the end, and by the looks of it, Leon Bridges has a significant number of them. It’s hard not to like his neo-soul vibe on songs like “Steam,” “Bad Bad News,” “Beyond,” “Smooth Sailin’” and “River,” which was the perfect song to end the night.
(Note that Tanya Tucker and Elle King had to drop out of the lineup.)