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Inaugural Evolution Festival Kicks Off In Grand Style in Forest Park

Brittany Howard performing at Evolution Festival at Forest Park in Saint Louis. Photo by Greg Artime/ Artimeg.com.

–by Randy Thompson

–photos by Greg Artime/ Artimeg.com

Evolution Festival held it’s first weekend show this past weekend in Forest Park in Saint Louis with a strong lineup and lots of musical acts. We reviewed Day one of the festival with photos from both days.

Saturday got off to a slow start at the Evolution Festival in Forest Park with a heavy morning rain.   By 2 pm the showers and the crowd were beginning to trickle into the park and by 3 pm, when the gates were finally opened, the rain was down to a drizzle and spirits were beginning to lift, along with the clouds.  The stages were well positioned to keep the sound of music from bleeding into each other and becoming muddy, so to speak.

Ice Cube performing at Evolution Festival at Forest Park in Saint Louis. Photo by Greg Artime/ Artimeg.com.

I have to say that it was a slog to get from one side of the festival to the other, especially as the crowds grew larger throughout the day.  The food and drink options were plenty, and I doubt that anyone left hungry or thirsty by the end of the night.

The first band to play was Punk Lady Apple, a local St. Louis group with an EP already under their belt.  The music was punk with strong, shouted lyrics, loud guitars, and crashing drums.  They are a band that knows how to easily shift from fast and hard with “Steppin” to a slower more R&B pace with “I’m Easy” as they moved through their set.

Punk Lady Apple performing at Evolution Festival at Forest Park in Saint Louis. Photo by Greg Artime/ Artimeg.com.

By the third song, the crowd was grooving to the beat along with them and when they moved into songs pulled from their EP it was obvious that there were some dedicated fans in the crowd as folks near the front started singing along.  The band engaged with their audience well, telling the crowd that this was their biggest gig so far and they’d be releasing a new EP next year.  The new material was more rock based and lacked some of the distorted riffs of the early part of the set, though the lyrics remained rough and gritty.  I’d definitely make time to see them around town as they’re versatile and bound to surprise you, as they did me.

Punk Lady Apple performing at Evolution Festival at Forest Park in Saint Louis. Photo by Greg Artime/ Artimeg.com.

Next up, and across the field, was new wave legend, Modern English.  It took a while for the band to come out because of technical issues but when they finally did, Robbie Grey and the rest of Modern English (originals and new members) were full of energy and raring to go. Robbie announced that due to the sound issues, we’d get a “Fucking short set!”

Modern English performing at Evolution Festival at Forest Park in Saint Louis. Photo by Greg Artime/ Artimeg.com.

Robbie’s voice is as distinctive as ever as the band played hits like “Hands Across the Sea” and “Gathering Dust” and along with others from the albums Mesh and Lace and After the Snow.  The music was pop oriented, pleasantly lyrical, and included several riveting guitar and bass solos. The crowd was dancing along with Robbie to the catchy music. They announced that they’ll have a new album out next year called 1234 and played one of the songs from it “Long in the Tooth” about getting older and learning “the truth”.  The set ended with Robbie announcing “Alright, we’re gonna play THAT song!” and they headed into the iconic “I’ll Melt with You”.  The audience went crazy, singing along and clapping wildly as the band left the stage.  It was a short set, but they’d hit all the right notes as the crowd left happily satisfied.

Modern English performing at Evolution Festival at Forest Park in Saint Louis. Photo by Greg Artime/ Artimeg.com.

Cautious Clay came to the main stage with a big intro from his band and the crowd knew they were in for a treat. Cautious Clay is a songwriter, music producer and multi-instrumentalist who plays the guitar, saxophone, flute, drums, and bass. Did I mention that he has a beautiful, distinctive voice as well?  He has a jazz background and that comes across in his music featuring lyrics about romance and self-reflection that are delivered in a soul/R&B style.

Cautious Clay performing at Evolution Festival at Forest Park in Saint Louis. Photo by Greg Artime/ Artimeg.com.

R&B was also evident in songs like “Joshua Tree” (with an amazing sax solo) and “Wildfire” with their slow, steady beat and Clay’s silky vocals which the crowd loved, while swaying and singing along.  He played the flute on his new song “Ohio” from his album Karpeh, that had the crowd moving with its more upbeat tempo before moving into the jazzy rhythms and clipped lyrics of “Reason”. Clay ended his performance with “Puffer”, a funky, upbeat tune that again had the crowd dancing and clapping as he left the stage.

Cautious Clay performing at Evolution Festival at Forest Park in Saint Louis. Photo by Greg Artime/ Artimeg.com.

Dashing across the field once again, I could hear the big Hip Hop sound of Sugarhill Gang before I could see them and even seeing them was difficult due to the size of the crowd that they drew to the stage.  Wonder Mike, Hen Dogg and Master Gee were already on stage and starting with “Rapper’s Delight” which brought the crowd as close as they could to the stage, people old and young were on their feet dancing and waving their arms.

SugarHill Gang performing at Evolution Festival at Forest Park in Saint Louis. Photo by Greg Artime/ Artimeg.com.

These rappers knew how to work the crowd, and no one remained in their seats for long. Before they moved on to the next song, Wonder Mike talked about how much he appreciated the fans in St. Louis as it was one of the Gang’s biggest markets in 1979 when the song first came out.  They then moved into “Apache” which the entire crowd seemed to know and as the Master Gee and Wonder Mike traded raps, the crowd jumped, hopped, and sang along.  The band had all the energy of their early years, and they didn’t slow down for a second.

SugarHill Gang performing at Evolution Festival at Forest Park in Saint Louis. Photo by Greg Artime/ Artimeg.com.

Master Gee talked about how they were THE original hip hop artists, while also mentioning the 50-year anniversary of Hip Hop and how their sound started as party music.  They finished their set with “8th Wonder” and didn’t let the crowd off the hook on any of the call and response, calling out “Say Ho”, “Say Ho, Ho”, “Scream” over and over as they worked the crowd into a joyous frenzy.  They thanked the fans again and left the stage while everyone walked away smiling, sweaty, and looking for a cold drink.

SugarHill Gang performing at Evolution Festival at Forest Park in Saint Louis. Photo by Greg Artime/ Artimeg.com.

On my way back across the festival, I stopped for some of the excellent food options but heard the music revving up for Brittany Howard’s set.  The fans who were standing in front of me jumped out of line and bolted for the stage, and I did the same.  Brittany Howard, as I’m sure you know, was the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist for the group Alabama Shakes and she has successfully gone out on her own to start a solo career.

Brittany Howard performing at Evolution Festival at Forest Park in Saint Louis. Photo by Greg Artime/ Artimeg.com.

To say that Brittany has an incredible voice is an understatement.  Her vocals are soulful and melodious while evoking a nuanced and playful side.  This makes for a beautiful combination of Aretha and Ella while maintaining her own signature sound. She took to the stage with her band and played “Hit It and Quit It”, a Funkadelic cover. This really got the party going, especially when she picked up the guitar and started to jam.  Her band kept the beat steady throughout the set, backing her up through the ups and downs of “Stay High” and “Baby”, taking her willing fans along for an amazing ride.

Brittany Howard performing at Evolution Festival at Forest Park in Saint Louis. Photo by Greg Artime/ Artimeg.com.

Later she launched into a rousing cover of Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher”.  That got the entire crowd singing and dancing while Brittany strode across the stage encouraging us to sing with her.  She debuted some fantastic new material and when she finally left the spotlight to thunderous applause and cheering, she left us elated and wanting more.

Brittany Howard performing at Evolution Festival at Forest Park in Saint Louis. Photo by Greg Artime/ Artimeg.com.

Crashing onto the stage next were the iconic and hard rocking Black Crowes playing “No Speak No Slave” and from that moment on the crowd was hooked and singing along.  The energy from the band and Chris Robinson especially, was palpable as he strutted, twirled, and spun the mic stand as he sang. The band was so involved with bringing these songs to their fans that it’s hard to believe they’ve been singing these very tunes for 30 years.

The Black Crowes performing at Evolution Festival at Forest Park in Saint Louis. Photo by Greg Artime/ Artimeg.com.

The smokey, blues feeling remains evident in Chris’s voice. Rich Robinson’s guitar playing is consistently phenomenal.  The band played music from their classic albums, Shake Your Money Maker and The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.  Songs like “She Talks to Angels” with Rich’s amazing intro, elicited cheers at the first notes and when they started their cover of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” the crowd joined right in, singing loudly and dancing along to the rhythm. We all rocked along with the band from the first song to the last notes of “Remedy”, and it was easy to understand why their fans are so in love with the music of this legendary group!

The Black Crowes performing at Evolution Festival at Forest Park in Saint Louis. Photo by Greg Artime/ Artimeg.com.

The final band for the night was the Black Keys and they were ready to rock.  Pat set the beat, Dan was on fire on the guitar, and the music came at us nonstop. They started with “I Got Mine” from Attack and Release and moved right into “Gold on the Ceiling” from El Camino. The crowd loved their boundless energy and sent it right back to the stage screaming and clapping with the music.

The Black Keys performing at Evolution Festival at Forest Park in Saint Louis. Photo by Greg Artime/ Artimeg.com.

Pat kept the tight group connected with great drumming throughout the evening, while Dan was a musical force to be reckoned with. He is a virtuoso guitar player and has an incredible singing voice, all of which he brought full force to this performance.  Dan rambled all over the stage engaging with Pat and other members of the band.

The Black Keys performing at Evolution Festival at Forest Park in Saint Louis. Photo by Greg Artime/ Artimeg.com.

They presented a wide variety of their songs, pulling out newer delta blues with “Crawling Kingsnake” and older material like “Heavy Soul” and the fans were completely connected to the band.  The music was just as delicious as we’ve all come to expect from the Black Keys, with their incredible guitar and drums working together and lush, gritty vocals overlaid to bring something rich and savory from every song.

The Black Keys performing at Evolution Festival at Forest Park in Saint Louis. Photo by Greg Artime/ Artimeg.com.

The fans responded enthusiastically and called them back to the stage.  In response they received two encores, a bonus that the crowd didn’t get at any other point in the day.  The Black Keys ended with “Lonely Boy” and left to the shouts and cheers of their appreciative fans.  The day was complete now, but it had been filled with a wide variety of incredible music from some of the best musicians around, new and old alike.

Ice Cube performing at Evolution Festival at Forest Park in Saint Louis. Photo by Greg Artime/ Artimeg.com.

I’m not sure how you can top the music played by these incredible performers Saturday but I do look forward to being at Evolution Festival next year to see how they try to top the magic of this year’s event!

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