LouFest 2014 – Big Dream in a Small Park

As the summer comes to a close, so does music festival season, and what better way to do so than with LouFest! That’s right, Loufest. This two-night music festival based in St. Louis’ Forest Park is only four years old, but is already boasting lineups that can compete with the likes of North Coast and Riot Fest. With great local food vendors, good homemade tents, beer garden and games, LouFest seemingly has it all, but was it actually a time to remember? Come along and join me as I recollect my experience with one of the biggest-small festivals to hit the scene.
As I strolled into Forest Park late, all I could worry about was not being able to get a good spot for Brooklyn based punk band SKATERS. That fear quickly went away as I stepped past security and noticed something strange. There was no one there. Not literally, but for something boasted as the biggest music festival in St. Louis, I found it odd that there was such low attendance. Especially since it was already two hours into the fest, but I shrugged this off and rushed over to the Forest Park Stage to see SKATERS. Their set was filled of energy fueled by songs from their debut album Manhattan. It was a shame that the energy wasn’t reflected in the crowd. It wasn’t until they played hit single “I Wanna Dance (But I Don’t Know How)” that the crowd started to move.
The afternoon continued with a trance filled performance by Washed Out. As the sun raged on, Ernest Greene and his touring band pumped out gorgeous renditions of various songs across his discography, including “Feel It All Around” and “It All Feels Right.” Many a time throughout the set, Greene and company would embark on five-minute jam sessions, in which they incorporated heavy layering of synths and guitar effects, leaving the audience in awe. Overall it was a perfect set for a summer afternoon.

Next stop was at The Shade Stage to catch a soulful set from Those Darlins. Attracting the older population of LouFest, front woman Jessi Zazu impressed the crowd with her many guitar solos and vocal prowess. Having seen Those Darlins before in what was one of the worst opening acts I’ve ever witnessed, it was nothing new to me, as I couldn’t see what everyone was getting excited about. Their live sound just isn’t refined as there were many times they fell off tempo, had sound difficulties, and overall didn’t sound pleasant. It was a shame as I had hoped to see a decent performance from an excellent studio band.

Parked at The Shade Stage, I opted out of seeing Future Islands to be upfront for one of my personal favorite bands, Delta Spirit. The indie rock quintet came out in a haze of fog and entertained with their new single “From Now On” and other songs off of their new album, Into The Wide. Matthew Vasquez interacted with the crowd after every song and created an overall feeling of family amongst the crowd as we all came together in sing-a-long fashion to some of the newer material. With guitar solos and showmanship abounding, Delta Spirit put on one of the best performances of the entire festival.

In between my next priority performance were rising stars, The 1975. Not well versed in their discography, I was able to pick out the only song I know by them, “The City.” Even though I was one of the very few not singing in the crowd, I was still able to enjoy myself as they put on a captivating performance that had the audience dancing and teenage girls swooning for heartthrob Matt Healy.

As the sun slowly set upon the St. Louisans and all of Forest Park, Cake took to the Forest Park Stage as they embarked an amazing set filled with songs from Motorcade of Generosity all the way to Showroom of Compassion. During “Long Time,” we were treated to an inspiring speech John McCrea about freedom, happiness, and reaching one’s potential through love that resulted in a thundering applause. After being led on many sing-a-longs, which had become a common occurrence throughout the day, Cake closed up an impressive set the only way they could, with “Long Skirt/Short Jacket.”

I started making my final pilgrimage to the Bud Light Stage when I suddenly realized that the festival grounds had actually filled up significantly. I came to the conclusion that most of the Saturday tickets were bought with the intention of only seeing Arctic Monkeys, and I can hardly blame them as Arctic Monkeys absolutely rocked LouFest. The album artwork to their newest release, AM, shone through fog the entire set as they played a massive twenty-song set with hits from every single record. We were all charmed as Alex Turner told all of St. Louis that he loved us in his thick Yorkshire dialect. The night closed on a high note with “R U Mine,” leaving all of LouFest thoroughly satisfied and excited for the next day.

Entering the gate Sunday morning made me think that I was at the wrong festival. The difference in early attendance between Saturday and Sunday was as different as night and day. It was clear that OutKast was the more anticipated headliner of the two, and all these people were packed in for the only performer at the moment, Portugal. The Man. The day was still early, but the audience was already full of energy as Portugal. The Man rocked the stage. The festival veterans were action packed, getting the crowd involved and demanding their attention. It was an overall amazing start to the day.

After spending the afternoon briefly listening to act Moon Taxi, Young & Sick, and Marc Scibilia, I prepared for the one act that had piqued my interest all week. It was time for Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew is that it was probably going to be a jazz street band. Sure enough a band containing a bassist, guitarist, drummer, and two tenor sax players emerged on stage and started jamming, but one question kept racing through my mind: Where is Trombone Shorty? Soon, from the fog appeared the patron saint of brass instrumentation, Trombone Shorty. Wielding his trombone in his right hand and his trusty trumpet in his left, he led The Orleans Avenue on a jam session filled with improvisation and wonderful R&B vocals. I was left stunned as Shorty soloed for two minutes solid without taking a breath. Easily one of the best performances of the weekend as I left the Bud Light Stage thoroughly satisfied.

There was no better band to hit the stage while the sun went down than Cherub. Energy had been building in festival attendees all day, and their disco influenced music took it to the next level. It was the first spotting of crowd surfing I had seen all day as a young teenager crowd surfed while lifting a 1975 Kentucky Women’s Tennis State Championship trophy, visibly proud of the moment he was living. Soon the whole crowd followed suit, as the crowd became a sea for surfing enthusiasts. The energy of the crowd was rewarded in the end as Cherub closed out with “Doses and Mimoses.”

I shunned the hype for Grouplove to stay at the Forest Park Stage to get close for the best festival performers of all time, Matt & Kim, and my choice paid off. Matt & Kim came out already turned all the way up for a powerful and ridiculously fun set. Notorious for their live antics, they did not disappoint as Kim twerked no less than five times, and rap tracks filled every single gap between their own songs. The only time the show slowed down was for an out of place cover of R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)” that the crowd knew all the words to. Various technical difficulties marred their performance, but in the end there was nothing that could hold them back.

Verbal arguments and small fistfights broke out around me as I slowly pushed closer to the Bud Light Stage to see OutKast. Who could blame them, as this was clearly the act to see all weekend? Having never seen OutKast, I could hardly wait. The curtain dropped to a dramatic display of Big Boi and Andre 3000 in a cage pacing around, only for them to burst out and set the night off right. The entire set felt like a giant block party, and all of St. Louis was there. Playing hits like “Hey Ya!,” “Ms. Jackson,” and “Roses.” The set took a short detour as the lone “Mike Brown” reference of the fest came from Andre 3000’s jumpsuit that said “can one rest in peace & violence?” Mood was instantly brought back up though when Big Boi brought a dozen young girls on stage to dance for the upcoming song. It was by far the best show of the fest and the perfect end to the fest.

As I left St. Louis, I left with fond memories of a small festival with big dreams and endless potential. Even though the lineup was bigger than the festival itself, LouFest showed why it is one of the upcoming festivals you need to go to. With more years under its belt, LouFest could easily challenge Lollapalooza and the other big boys. Keep your eyes out when LouFest 2015. If this year has proven anything, it’ll be a blast.