“Rain does not ruin everything, unless everything is outside.” A more perfect quote could not exist to describe the opening night of the 2014 Utah Arts Festival. In a moment of fatigue, and dripping wetness, I mumbled those words in the direction of a white-haired lady while taking shelter inside The Leonardo as the rain began to pummel Library Square. I’m not sure she heard me … I’m not even sure that I was talking to her … but I stared at her for a moment, waiting for a reply, only to receive a courtesy, closed lip, forced smile and bonus nod.
The outside was a god damned mess. Dejected artists and vendors, along with volunteers, were rushing to protect their wares from the sheets of water lashing out. Performances were cancelled, booths were falling over, and speakers were getting soaked. It’s not the way, and this is only a guess, the organizers drew it up. I was gutted for everyone involved.
The evening actually kicked off quite nicely. After wrapping a few loose ends up at my office at 300 S Main (believe it or not, I need to supplement my volunteer writing gig at SLUG with actual work … sucks, right?), I made the block and a half journey to Library Square and into the Arts Festival grounds. Being my first time to attend the festival, I wasn’t familiar with the layout. I asked one of the volunteers in the library, a sweet, soft-spoken woman, where the Park Stage was, the location of the first act I was seeing. She wasn’t sure, but opened a map up, enabling us to locate it together.
I made it over to the Park Stage just as Candy’s River House was starting their set. If you’ve never heard of this three piece group out of SLC, check them out right now. Seriously, stop reading this article and go to their fucking website. In the vein of The Black Crowes, ZZ Top, and The Allman Brothers, these boys do bluesy southern rock, plain and simple, and they do it incredibly well. Candy’s is headed by the golden-locked lead singer and guitarist Jordan Young, who, after their opening number, asks how the crowd is doing. Unfortunately, the festival was pretty empty at this point, being that it was just after work. Shame really, because Candy’s set was awesome.
The set consisted of wall to wall raw blues rock, highlighted by constant, dirty guitar attacks by Young. Songs “Dime a Dozen” and “Only Ten I See” were the high marks of a consistently solid performance. Near the end of the set, the rain started to fall – though it hardly phased the crowd, which steadily grew, because of the giant tent at that particular stage. The effect of the drops falling in front of Candy’s added to what was a great set. Catch them this weekend at The Woodshed (06.27 @ 9 p.m.), Barbary Coast Festival (06.28 @ 2 p.m.), or The Hog Wallow Pub (06.28 @ 9 p.m.).
By the time Candy’s wrapped, the rain was coming down hard. I wandered the festival a bit, because I had some time to my next show. Of course, it was fairly empty because, you know, the damn monsoon, but everyone seemed fairly upbeat at this point. The artists at their booths were chatting with attendees, some folks were gathered under a large tent and eating some of the local fare from the awesome variety of food vendors—everyone seemed to be taking it all in stride.
I made my way to where The Bboy Federation was scheduled to play, but, as there was no protection from the deluge, the show was cancelled—such crappy luck. I made my way back into the library, where a short film session was in progress. Trying not to disturb anyone, I snuck into the back. Art house-type short films are always a bit tricky. They are often, how do I say this delicately, terrible. But even thinking that makes my inner hipster scream, “Fuck you, you corporate sell out! Why don’t you just go watch another Transformers movie and leave film to people who appreciate real art?” Look, I consider myself one of the, maybe, top fifty appreciators of art in all of Orem (the epicenter of cutting edge art), but I often find myself mouthing, “What the fuck” when I watch that stuff. With that said, I actually kind of enjoyed the three films I got to see and will probably catch another session Friday.
Outside, the torrent raged on. I journeyed toward The Leonardo, where Lorin Walker Madsen was scheduled to play next. Again, it was an outside stage with zero cover and no one was about to get all of their equipment ruined. The festival was more or less empty at this point. A number of the artists had packed up for the night and mostly volunteers, trying to do some clean up, populated the grounds. I moved into the Leo to take some shelter and see if the storm would let up enough for Madsen to perform. A number of festival-goers joined me, including the white-haired woman. She was talking to, I assume, her husband. “This is a shame,” she said. The disappointment was written all over her face, really everyone’s faces. Mine included, this celebration of the amazing community of artists that we have was marred by an unseasonal rainstorm.
I decided to cut my loses and head home. I went the wrong way, however, and only found a bank of porta potties. I took the opportunity to use one, and when I exited the rain had cleared. I rushed back to the Leo as Madsen and his band The Hustlers were setting up their equipment.
Their performance started only about 20 minutes after schedule, and I am so glad I was able to see it. Madsen and The Hustlers is a high-energy rockabilly / bluegrass outfit. They had the small crowd bouncing and dancing right away, singing about things like growing up in Utah and being harassed by the police. Madsen’s voice reminds me of Social Distortion’s Mike Ness, and set against the distinctly bluegrass sound it makes for an interesting mix. Madsen will be performing Friday in Springdale Utah at the Zion Canyon Brewery before heading back out on the road.
The first night of the festival was mixed for me. Everything I saw and experienced, as far as performers and the art itself was top notch. But the rain and the disappointment on everyone’s faces really brought the experience down for me. It sucks to see something so well planned, with so much hard work put into it, be marred by something no one has any control over. The Arts Festival continues through the weekend, from noon to 11pm at Library Square, 200 E 400 S in Salt Lake City.