2017 River City Roots Festival (day 2) – live performance review

Day 2 of the 2017 River City Roots Festival came early, and we made sure to get there in time for the first band on the main stage, even though they are a “children’s” band.  The Whizpops are one of Missoula’s best treasures.  Even though their songs are written for children, they have become an adult’s “guilty pleasure,” since the music is so well written that it appeals to all ages.

This award winning band has two elementary teachers and a floating mix of other local performers.  At Roots Fest, the line-up included Josh Farmer on keys, founding member Casey Schaefer on electric guitar, talk box and vocals, Christina Scruggs on vocals, Kevin Cashman on acoustic guitar, tambourine and vocals (including rapping), Jeff Stickney on trumpet, Phil Hamilton on saxophone, Steve Kalling on bass and Daniel Kiely on drums.

The band played songs from throughout their career, including their latest project, Ranger Rick’s Trail Mix, Vol 1, which supports the National Wildlife Federation.  Kids of all ages were dancing to their songs about dancing dolphins, great white sharks, penguins and playing freeze tag.  It was a wonderful start to the day, and the large and enthusiastic crowd ate it all up.

Imagine having to follow an act like that?  Lucky that solo roots songwriter Malcolm Holcombe was up to the challenge.  Holcombe owned the stage as he mesmerized the crowd with his storytelling and songs, holding them in the palm of his hands for 90+ minutes.  His latest album, Pretty Little Trouble, was produced by Darrell Scott, a giant in the Americana scene and a previous performer at Roots Fest.  Needless to say the audience loved every minute of his performance, and showed up in droves to meet him and buy his albums from the merchandise booth.

The Ghost of Paul Revere was the next to take the stage, and they wasted no time in pumping up the energy level, keeping the growing audience entertained and engaged.  They played their own unique blend of folk and rock, and included unique covers of both Springsteen and The Who (“Baba O’Reilly”).  They were coming off a string of opening slots for the Infamous Stringdusters, and kept the energy level high as afternoon turned into early evening.  Like Holcombe before them, they proved popular at the merchandise, and sold out their selection of CDs.

The fourth act of the day was the incredible Band of Heathens, normally a five piece country rock act from Austin, Texas.  They were indeed lucky to be with us at all, as they were almost stuck in Texas, thanks to Harvey.  They did have to leave their keyboard player there, but it was because his wife had a baby, and not because of the hurricane.  The band played many songs from their latest project, Duende, including the amazing songs “Sugar Queen” and “Carry Your Love.”  We were so impressed with their material that we recently reviewed that album.  Lucky for the crowd, the band will be coming back in November to play what will probably be a sold-out show at the Wilma.

The Festival concluded with the dynamic sound of Anders Osborne and his electric blues.   This four piece guitar and drums band put the exclamation point on a spectacular weekend of music.  Thanks to all involved and especially Eileen Buchanan for another successful Roots Fest.