Hot, Hot, Hinterland
Summer in the Midwest means many things. Baseball games, backyard pool parties, barbecued meats. It also means it’s time for Hinterland Music Festival. The annual event takes place each August in St. Charles, Iowa, a small town about 20 miles south of Des Moines. The festival has boasted a slew of well-known headliners over the past seven years, including Brandi Carlisle, Wille Nelson, alt-J, Sturgill Simpson, Hozier, the Avett Brothers and Leon Bridges. Originally a two-day festival in 2015, Hinterland expanded to three days in 2019, and a fourth day was added this year to include a Thursday lineup.
The music focuses on indie rock, Americana, and country, but always seems to include a few surprises—this year hard rock/metal, pop and funk.
Story: Jennifer Weaver
Photos: Cory Weaver
Our Thursday coverage began with rising country star Sierra Ferrell, who was bedecked in a beautiful white tasseled dress and a headpiece that resembled a crown. The crowd went wild when she invited headliner Billy Strings onto the stage to perform “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” and Ferrell’s 2021 single “Bells of Every Chapel,” where Strings is featured prominently. During Billy’s set, he returned the favor, brining Sierra back to the stage to perform a couple songs with him, including a cover of Dave Evans’ classic bluegrass gem, “One Loaf of Bread,” and finishing the set with “I Don’t Want Your Ramblin’ Letters.” Strings has a cult-like following of fans who not-so-affectionately refer to him as Billy “MF” Strings. I’ll let the reader figure out the “MF”.
Friday’s heat did not dissuade the crowds from filing into Hinterland, although festival goers huddled as much as possible in the limited amounts of shady spots throughout the grounds. By 4:30, Griffin Washburn, a.k.a., Goth Babe, was ready to make his Iowa concert debut. Backed by his touring band, his indie-rock style laced with an electronic effervescence had the crowd swaying with “Moments/Tides,” “Sometimes,” “Canary Islands,” a cover of Drake’s “Forever” and “Encinitas.” During the show Washburn bantered with the fans and checked in to see if they were surviving the heat—as many other performers did throughout the weekend. At one point he invited audience members to crowd-surf on a watermelon raft (pictured). His sound often has a laid-back, synth-pop/rock style that feels right for a West Coast artist of the genre; other times the influences of 1980s new-wave artists like Depeche Mode and New Order shine through more intensely.
Music festival attendees often peg certain artists as “must-sees,” but the smart ones remain open to experiencing music that is new to them, and that’s part of the thrill of it—discovering new bands while artists gain new fans. This was the case for us with Briston Maroney. The Tennessee-based rocker brought his guitar skills to the late-afternoon heat, which continued its unrelenting beatdown. For better or worse, the crowd heated up as well, raising the temperature in the GA area in front of the stage as Maroney performed, seemingly unfazed by the summer sun. He opened with songs from his 2021 release Sunflower: the catchy “Bottle Rocket” followed by “It’s Still Cool If You Don’t,” stopping the song at one point to make sure an overheated fan was okay. He interspersed the set with older songs, including “Fool’s Gold,” “Small Talk” and “Caroline” and “I’ve Been Waiting,” then touched back on Sunflower for “Rollercoaster.” He ended the set with the post-punk inspired, infectiously good “Steve’s First Bruise” and the anthemic “Freakin’ Out on the Interstate.”
As we made our way into early evening, it was The Aces’ turn, and the vibes that Katie Henderson (guitar), McKenna Petty (bass) and sisters Cristal Ramirez (lead vocals, guitar) and Alisa Ramirez (drums) brought to the stage were a nice change of pace. As was the case with many other artists, Cristal Ramirez declared that this was the Utah-based band’s first time playing Iowa (she thought) as they started with the bouncy “Stay,” from 2018’s When My Heart Felt Volcanic and followed with the poppy “Bad Love,” from the same album. Despite technical difficulties that were interspersed throughout the set, The Aces persisted, filling the time with stories and an acoustic version of OutKast’s “Hey Ya” while their latest single, “Girls Make Me Wanna Die” was well-received by the audience once they seemed to get the sound difficulties under control. They closed with 2020’s “Daydream” and “My Phone Is Trying to Kill Me.”
“IYKYK” is one way to describe Turnstile, the Baltimore band that played as the sun was setting on the sweaty crowd of people crammed in front of the stage. Another, more accurate, way to describe the fourpiece is “hardcore, raucous, guitar-heavy and metal-influenced.” A definite favorite of Bands Through Town’s fearless leader, Turnstile turned it up for 90 minutes with a set that included fan-favorite “Mystery,” “Real Thing,” “Blackout” “Underwater Boi,” “Don’t Play,” “Fazed Out,” “Fly Again” and “Moon.” Turnstile is helmed by vocalist Brendan Yates, but mid-set the band did a 180 musically, and bassist Franz Lyons took the lead with “No Surprise,” a toned-down, synth-y break from all of the headbanging. The heavy guitars then resumed, and the band rounded out their time at Hinterland with three songs that had the crowd going wild: “Alien Love Call,” “Holiday” and “T.L.C. (Turnstile Love Connection).”
Glass Animals, the Friday headliner, transported the audience back in time, performing against a neon backdrop of words and images that elicited thoughts of a 1980s summer: Pac-Man, Rubik’s cube, pool, camp. It seems like there are two major factions of the band’s fanbase: pre-“Heat Waves” and post-“Heat Waves.” The hit single originally appeared on 2020’s Dreamland but did not take hold in the U.S. until 2021, when it got more widespread attention and helped sky-rocket Glass Animals to even bigger fame. It has nearly 2 billion streams on Spotify alone. No matter when you got turned on to them, Glass Animals appeals to the masses and has a little something for everyone. They started the show with “Life Itself,” one of the classics from 2016’s How To Be A Human Being. The percussion, the instrumentation, the lyrics—it’s “fantastic” to use a word from the song. “Youth” was accompanied by images of kids doing what else but enjoying their youth. Songs from Dreamland were crowd-pleasers, including “I Don’t Wanna Talk (I Just Wanna Dance),” “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” and “Your Love (Déjà Vu).” Lead vocalist Dave Bayley’s unassuming look may have some second-guessing him when they first see him, but he is a true MC who will guide you through the Glass Animals performance, engaging with the crowd, running and dancing around the stage, and ensuring the audience is having a good time. “Gooey” was the lone song from ZABA, the band’s debut album from 2014. After a few more songs the band ended their set but then came back to the stage for a two-song encore: “Tokyo Drifting” and, you guessed it, “Heat Waves.”
BTT’s Saturday coverage started with far more clouds than were present the day before; however, the heat was not going anywhere. People were overheard saying, “At least there’s a breeze!” TK & the Holy Know-Nothings, an Americana band that hails from Portland, Ore., took the stage at the 1:30 time slot. The band is the brainchild of Taylor Kingman, or TK, who tells life how it is via his penchant for colorful songwriting. His vocals range from gritty to haunting as he relays stories and experiences that touch on love, loss, heartache, faith and alcohol. “Hard Times” is memorable for the stories TK conveys within and the chorus, “Oh hard times, hard times again.”
Mat Kearney also hails from Portland but transported to Nashville some years ago. The singer-songwriter, whose voice is often compared to Chris Martin’s of Coldplay, has put out six albums over the years. His set reached back more than a decade for Hinterland, sharing songs like “New York to California,” “Ships in the Night” and “Hey Mama.”
Durand Jones & the Indications injected a full dose of soul into the festival on Saturday. If you weren’t moving at this point in the day, you better have a good excuse. Some highlights were “Sea of Love,” a song about love lost, and “Witchoo” an upbeat, party song with a catchy chorus: Come through, bring the crew/ I just wanna be wit' you, ayyy.
Jenny Lewis was a vision in yellow. With a still-empty stage, Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309” began playing, to which I heard a photographer say to his cohorts, “Get ready, that’s her intro song.” As her band shuffled out, festival goers slowly migrated to and filled the GA area in front. Lewis opened her set with “Just One of the Guys,” one of her standout singles from 2014’s The Voyager, to loud cheers from the crowd. She stuck with the same album with the heartbreaking “She’s Not Me.” Other highlights were “Do Si Do,” “Red Bull and Hennessy” and a cover of Girls’ “Lust for Life.” Her vocals are smooth and the harmonies are effortless—and it was well worth the experience as temperature started move ever closer to 100.
Lake Street Dive took the stage as the sun was setting. The New York-based quintet’s performance was highly anticipated; when the first notes played any fans who were not already jammed in front of the stage ran to be a part of the crowd. All eyes were on lead vocalist Rachael Price, donned in a red dress with her hair blowing in the wind. She is not one to bask in the attention for too long, however, always acknowledging her bandmates throughout the show, such as when she turned the spotlight on keyboardist Akie Bermiss, who wrote “Same Old News,” drummer Mike Calabrese, and his song “Making Do,” and introducing standup bassist and bandmate Bridget Kearney (an Iowa native; the audience that was filled with a sea of Iowans went nuts). But Price’s sultry vocals are a trademark of the band and possibly unintentionally steal the show. Of note were “Know That I Know,” “Nobody’s Stopping You Now,” “You Go Down Smooth,” a cover of Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and of course, “Good Kisser.”
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats closed down the mainstage on Saturday night. The band emerged from darkness and exploded into “You Worry Me,” the first single from 2018’s highly anticipated second album, Tearing at the Seams. Rateliff explained that they almost didn’t make it to the show on time—they were delayed coming from Canada, where they had played a festival two days prior. Fans of all ages were captivated by Nathaniel and his ensemble of musicians, and half of the crowd was singing every lyric. Most of the songs performed were from Tearing at the Seams, including “A Little Honey,” “Hey Mama” and “Baby I Lost My Way (But I’m Going Home)” and their latest album, The Future, including, “Face Down in the Moment,” “I’m on Your Side” and “Survivor,” and the bluegrassy title track, among others. “Falling Faster Than You Can Run,” the title track from Rateliff’s 2013 solo album, also made an appearance during the set, as did “And It’s Still Alright,” the touching track from his 2020 solo album of the same name. He explained that he liked to perform the latter because he didn’t have the chance to perform it much for live audiences following its release in early 2020. They ended the set with “I Need Never Get Old,” a gem from their 2015 debut album, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, before returning to the stage for a three-song encore: “The Future,” “S.O.B.” and “Love Don’t.”
Unfortunately our team had a conflict and could not stay through Sunday’s lineup. It killed us to miss the amazing lineup; luckily we’ve been able to catch Phoebe Bridgers, Kurt Vile & the Violators and Lucy Dacus when they’ve rolled through Missouri.
Every summer it seems the one-stage festival churns out a can’t miss vibe whether it be last minute additions like Turnstile or setting up magical moments with surprise duets like Billy Strings joining Sierra Farrell or Kurt Vile and Lucy Dacus accompanying Phoebe Bridgers to closeout the festival. 2023 has a lot to live up too.
MUNA, Kurt Vile & Phoebe Bridgers Photos by: IsmaelQuintanilla