SIOUX CITY | This year’s Saturday in the Park may have been one of the hottest – and coolest.
Sitting in sweltering sun most of the day, music fans were fried, sautéed, baked and broiled.
“Are you cooked yet?” Bonnie Raitt asked when she landed in the frying pan. Offering a history lesson of sorts with a set that touched on everything from early blues to last year’s hits, she provided the glue the eclectic day needed.
“This is a fantastic gathering of the tribe,” she said.
And, indeed, it was.
Paving the way for the oh-so-hot Americana band The Avett Brothers, she nicely bridged the gap, giving the audience a cool-down period after the ringing hot Ziggy Marley.
Performing during what seemed like the oven hours of the day, Marley provided plenty of breezy island songs and a handful of cuts from his latest, “Fly Rasta.” While many of the older numbers had a similar vibe, the “Fly Rasta” offerings showed he’s capable of moving reggae in directions his dad probably didn’t imagine. A rap section here, a rock beat there and the new music had a distinct drive that was fun to hear.
“I Don’t Want to Live on Mars” and the title cut (which brought out the drum-playing Ziggy) were nice diversions from his usual fare. Marley still hammered home the love theme (“only if you give it away can love become love”) and got more than a few references to marijuana in the mix. To paraphrase the singer, more than marijuana trees were blowing in the breeze.
Raitt then found the middle ground for the wide-ranging day of performers.
She “put a little oil” on “Baby Come Back,” cooled things down with a couple of old-school blues numbers and rewarded the faithful with “Something to Talk About.”
Raitt’s voice was as mesmerizing as ever. That signature rasp worked its wiles on “Don’t Advertise Your Man” and gave her great depth on “Hear Me Lord, I’m Feeling Low,” by Oliver Mtukudzi, a Zimbabwean musician.
Because she’s such an icon in the blues world, Raitt was like the day’s queen mother, able to unite the young’uns and the old’uns with music that was unquestionably good.
When the Avett Brothers followed, the audience was ready for the next level of Americana.
And, Scott and Seth Avett didn’t squander Raitt’s promise.
Like Raitt in the early 1970s, they have a sound that’s so fresh, so infectious, it’s easy to warm to them.
Combining a chamber orchestra’s worth of strings (played with the same vigor as Charlie Daniels on “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”), the brothers and their bandmates moved around the stage like the latest rock band (try it with an upright bass – not easy).
With both “Head Full of Doubt” and “At the Beach” they pulled in the audience, got them on their side and then slid into their version of rap. With “Talk on Indolence,” The Avetts revealed their sound is hard-driving, blessed with intelligence and, most of all, fun.
“Live and Die” didn’t just talk about a relationship. It referenced Moses, sparrows and rabbits. “Down with the Shine” let them connect with Ziggy Marley in a way you wouldn’t think.
If Saturday’s performance doesn’t prompt a huge spike in Avett record sales Monday, it won’t be because the band didn’t give it its all.
More elaborate than the others’, the Avett show featured a fairly impressive light display (spots stood like soldiers behind them) and the kind of supporting “love” that most headliners don’t give. Scott and Seth eagerly let their fellow musicians shine.
Some veterans. Some newcomers. And a headliner that’ll change the way to think about the future of music.
That was this year’s Saturday in the Park.
Heat aside, it may have been the best yet.