Ben Kweller Though Ben Kweller only lives a short distance up 290 in Austin, it feels like he's never here enough to satisfy the demand for his music.
Performing as a trio on Saturday night, Kweller's set was composed of hits from every album in his discography with the exception of one, Changing Horses, which interestingly enough happens to be his country album that would have been at home at the fest. But despite the lack of tracks like "Fight" or "Gypsy Rose," Kweller's setlist left little room for want as he jumped from "Commerce, TX" to "Run" to "On My Way."
Of course, kweller sounded as flawless as he always does, but he took things to a new level when he performed many of his piano tracks on guitar instead, including "Down" and "Hospital Bed," which was played in a live setting for the first time on Saturday.
With live versions of "Wasted & Ready" and "The Rules" under his belt, he decided to finish the set with an extended jam of "Penny On A Train Track" before he asked the crowd to meet him back at the merch booth for $5 dollar t-shirts and a hug, leaving us with one question: how can one person be so damn cool? Alyssa DuPree
Shakey Graves Shakey Graves asked if any of the gathered attempted to see his set at 2013's Crawfish Festival. He was two songs in last year when torrential rains arrived, as they sometimes do in Houston in May. No rain this weekend, but the Austin singer-songwriter must have felt snakebit by Crawfish. The sound engineer was having a hell of a time figuring out how to mic an old Samsonite. Then, the vocal mic dropped. With a self-amused laugh, he introduced his next song, "Unlucky Skin."
The glitches were resolved and good thing, too, since the crowd literally grew with every song. Highlights were "Built to Roam;" "Word of Mouth," a waltz with lyrics and vocals that would make Paul Simon proud; the duet "Dearly Departed," which normally features Denver's Esme Patterson, but this day showcased drumming and singing by a stagemate Graves introduced only as "Mr. Boo;" and, YouTube favorites "Late July" and "Roll the Bones," which closed the set.
Near the end of the hour, random dude in the crowd shouted "You're my hero! I wanna be like you when I grow up!" Fully aware he's still growing as an artist, Shakey Graves promised his fan "We'll do it together." Jesse Sendejas Jr.
Willy Mason When Willy Mason took the stage, he sort of fumbled his way through his first few tracks, apologizing for the lack of a backing band or a solid set-list. Regardless, men and women were camped out in front of the stage to embrace Mason, hanging on his every note despite his admission that it was "fucking intimidating being back in the land of guitarists."
Halfway through his set, Chris Tamez, drummer for Houston-based RIVERS, jumped on-stage to help Mason bring a few songs to life.
Mason, whose style is reminiscent of the late Johnny Cash, was nothing short of intriguing, but his set took a turn for the best when he performed a duet with Ben Kweller, written by his parents - both of which were songwriters themselves - before Kweller jumped on drums and performed for "Show Me The Way Home," before he closed out the set with "I Wish I Knew How To Say Goodbye" and "Talk Me Down," as requested by a fan. Alyssa DuPree
The Suffers It was nice to see The Suffers far from Houston's downtown/midtown nightlife and out in the sunshine in the furthest reaches of the county. Not only because this band is festival-ready, but because some area residents rarely venture into the city, like those who sampled crawdaddies for the first time that day. The Suffers gave them something new and flavorful to fall in love with.
Really, what's not to love? They're polished musicians who went easily from Al Green-Willie Mitchell styled soul ("Midtown") to simmering blues burners like "Giver," which showcased saxophonist Cory Wilson, stepping up from his place alongside one of the best horn sections in town. They had time for a cover or two once their proper set ended and kept the crowd dancing with Motown favorites, "Heatwave" and "Please Mr. Postman."
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Vocalist Kam Franklin thanked fans who'd traveled from as far as Dallas for making the trip by talking up a new record in the works and reminding us all the video for "Gwan" was out. Before they launched into the rave-up, Franklin apologized if her mother and stepdad started dancing. No apology was necessary since they had plenty of company, all dancing under the sun. Jesse Sendejas Jr.
Heartless Bastards Despite the graceful poise of their music, there's something rugged about Heartless Bastards, which is what made them such a great pairing for the Texas Crawish Festival. Classified as roots rock, the quartet perfect encompass the spirit of Texas, in the same way that a stiff glass of whiskey or the smell of sun in your hair could.
With a sizable crowd spread out under the shade or dancing directly in front of the stage, fans sang along with front-woman, Erika Wennerstrom, as she belted out tracks from their most recent full-length album, Arrow, such as "Parted Ways" and "Skin and Bones."
Despite a few sound issues, the band never cracked. Instead, it almost seemed as though it helped them perform the best possible version of each song. And though Wennerstrom's vocals are always powerful, it became more apparent in a live setting that each song is sung with experience and conviction that can't be forced. It's the same brooding that is channeled by the likes of Chan Marshall or Martha Wainwright. Even still, Heartless Bastards had a man in geriatric socks rocking out throughout most of their set, while a group of women attempted to match each word's intensity as they sang in time with Wennerstrom. Alyssa DuPree