In its second year at Pigtown’s Carroll Park, The Shindig Music Festival is a rock show in the broad tradition of the national festival movement that provides distinctly Baltimorean. A mix of local vendors like Little Havana and Mothers Grille flanked the sides of each stage alongside corporate vendors such as Jagermeister and Jack Daniels. Two opposing stages provided 11 hours of eclectic takes on rock music, and a lineup of bands that included several local acts alongside international touring groups.
Rebel Inc. was charged with getting early festival-goers going at the un-rock 'n' roll time of 12:30 p.m. It was a daunting task. The sun was peaking and the crowd was sparse, but the Baltimore-via-Detroit quartet channeled a headlining set’s worth of energy into 20 minutes. Rebel Inc. is a “protest rock” band in the vein of Rage Against the Machine. A small group of fans manned the barricade, and by the time singer Adam Armstrong joined the crowd to sing the set’s closer, the band had claimed several new followers.
Bad Seed Rising
Bad Seed Rising opened the Bird Stage, the larger of the two stages facing one another at opposing ends of the park. This band plays dirty, raw, hard rock. Lead singer Francheska Pastor, the elder stateswoman of the band at age 17, led the group through a fast-paced set of songs, a few of which were debuted live for the first time. On a day when more than one artist questioned the state of live rock festivals, Bad Seed Rising proved that not everyone under 25 prefers Macbook music to metal.
Charm City Devils
A Baltimore band with national exposure, Charm City Devils played a blistering set that demonstrated their considerable talents. Though it was still early, the crowd at the Babe Stage had doubled and many in attendance were familiar with CCD’s selections. Those who didn’t seemed happy to join the fun as lead singer John Allen led the quintet through originals like new single “Shots” and a cover of the traditional folk tune “Man of Constant Sorrow.” If the 1:30 afternoon set time was a bit early for some, Charm City Devils offered fans a second chance to catch them at the festival’s after-party at the Horseshoe Casino.
The Bots, a duo from Los Angeles, were tasked with filling out a big stage with a minimal setup. Additionally, the Lei brothers were the first band of the day without local ties. Accordingly, the crowd looked on with curiosity as they laid down a 30-minute set of improvisational blues-based rock.
Larry and His Flask
Another West Coast outfit, Larry and His Flask, fused rock and folk on the Babe Stage. Apparently, the band was scheduled to play the inaugural Shindig Festival last year, but had to cancel because, as lead singer Ian Cook noted, “a whole bunch of [stuff] happened.” Whatever that stuff may have been, the crowd was welcoming as the band performed a 30-minute hootenanny that featured a stand-up bass, banjo and a bongo-based drumset.
Shindig’s varied offerings were on full display as the bluegrass sounds of Larry and His Flask gave way to the Irish Canadian foursome The Mahones. The Mahones have been around for nearly a quarter of a century, and they offered classic four-on-the-floor UK punk. That said, it was harder to get near the bands playing the larger stage, and I took this opportunity to find some shade and grab a giant turkey leg, which I attempted to eat with only a single napkin. Festivals like this one sometimes help fans discover skills they never knew they had.
Fishbone have been an alt-rock favorite since the days of MTV’s "120 Minutes." The ska-funk ensemble were the first band to play a 45-minute set, though curiously, the band started two minutes ahead of schedule. This might not sound like a big deal, but the open field setup and non-overlapping set times offered fans the chance to march back and forth between stages, and hearing two bands at once was a bit odd. Once they had the park to themselves, Fishbone put on a groove-heavy set that served as a highlight for fans with hula-hoops.
Memphis act Lucero mix country and punk to form an anthemic sound reminiscent of Social Distortion. The raspy vocals of singer Ben Nichols would easily blend into the mix at Warped Tour. At the Shindig, they stood out, though many fans on hand had their backs to them as they awaited the radio-friendly Halestorm.
Red Lion, Pa.'s Halestorm could have easily landed a later set time. The band has a slew of singles receiving heavy airplay on modern rock radio, and they won a Grammy for Hard Rock/Metal Performance in 2013. Lead singer Lzzy Hale channeled her formidable talent into a performance that ranged from throat-torturing shrieks to soaring pop flourishes. Curiously, three-quarters of the band took a five-minute breather mid-set. A less-than-thrilling drum solo ensued, temporarily grinding the buzzing crowd to a halt. Fists were pumping and all was forgiven when the full band returned to finish the show, but it’s not clear why roughly 10 percent of the band’s 50-minute set was squandered on an arena rock cliché.
J. Roddy Walston and the Business
J. Roddy Walston and the Business -- a band with Baltimore roots now based in Richmond, Va. -- brought another change of pace with a piano-heavy set a la The Black Crowes and Kings of Leon. Halfway through the show, Walston paused to admonish the crowd for waning in the six o’clock hour. “I write dance music,” he said. “You know a form of music is dead when people don’t know how to dance to it anymore.” If rock is dead, though, local tie-ins aren’t. The band brought the Oriole bird and Mr. Boh onstage to teach the crowd how to dance to their single, “Heavy Bells.” Well played.
Another band with local origins, Germantown’s Clutch were the choice of the evening for every bearded guy on hand. And there were a lot of bearded guys on hand. Lead singer Neil Fallon brings an easy charisma to the groove metal that the band has honed since 1990. Clutch played The Shindig in 2013 as well, and it’s easy to see why they were tapped to repeat, as their equal mix of umlaut metal and soul fit perfectly into the diversity of the day. They closed with the fan-pleasing “Electric Worry.”
By the time Gogol Bordello hit the main stage at 7:30, the festival was in full swing. The crowd had swollen to its largest and the sun had finally set. Fans were now lubricated and ready for the party atmosphere that Ukranian/New York collective Gogol provided. The band had up to eight members on stage at a time for uptempo floor-stomping rock designed to feel like you’re at an Eastern European wedding. Frontman Eugene Hutz connected with the audience as he worked every part of the busy stage. The band’s set culminated with the singalong “Start Wearing Purple.”
Rise Against were the only band of the night to bring real props along; theirs came in the form of gigantic letters that spelled “Rise,” which lit up as the quartet pounded away and raced around the stage. The band offered a power-chord-driven wall of sound and a stage show that matched iits intensity. Singer Tim McIIrath ordered the crowd to match the band’s energy level, asking them to form a circle pit while claiming he’d seen better pits in Baltimore at Rams Head Live. “This is your last chance to form a circle pit,” he noted. “I guarantee you won’t have one during Jane’s Addiction.” The fans up front obliged, and McIIrath was right.
In many ways, Jane’s Addiction was a curious choice to headline the evening. After hard-hitting sets from Clutch, Gogol Bordello and Rise Against, Jane’s Addiction closed the Shindig with a 75-minute performance that included a healthy dose of singer Perry Farrell's eccentric commentary and multiple acoustic numbers. Dave Navarro, the omnipresent and charismatic as a TV personality, is a silent partner in the band, was rendered nearly invisible on this evening due to poor lighting stage right. Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of the band’s performance (unless you count Ferrell thanking his tailor) was bassist Chris Chaney sitting for roughly half of the show. Still, Jane’s Addiction are a psychedelic space-rock outfit from the early "Unplugged"-era and their performance was about what one should expect. Farrell served as the oddball emcee for the closing ceremonies, remarking about the beautiful weather in “Bal-t-more” and bringing out Suicide Girls models to hang out, quite literally, during the finale, “Stop” from 1990’s "Ritual de lo Habitual."
The Shindig is a rock festival that befits its host city, and it was nice to see a big crowd on hand Saturday to mark the secondyear of its existence. Since the day is long and every fan on hand needs sustenance, it would be nice to see fewer faceless carnival-style vendors and more local companies represented in the tents. That said, this year's Shindig Music Festival was a success, and a great day for rock fans in Baltimore.
Jay Trucker teaches English at the Community College of Baltimore County, Dundalk. He has been a Midnight Sun contributor since 2010.