North Oak Cliff Music Festival With Edie Brickell, Seryn, South Dallas Funk Revue, Kat Edmonson, David Garza Trio, Fox and the Bird, Sarah Hickman, Meiko and Emily Elbert Lake Cliff Park, Dallas Saturday, October 25, 2014
Families are so uncool. So are old people, and so are people who listen to old music. If any of those opinions sound right to you, then you probably weren't among the attendees at Saturday's North Oak Cliff Music Festival, held at Lake Cliff Park and presented by the folks at the nearby Kessler Theater. "Family friendly" was decidedly the name of this fest's game, but it's a role that was also well-executed.
The big draw, of course, was the reunion of Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, who hadn't played together in Dallas since all the way back in 2006. That's long enough to make a career change (or two) and predates when a large swathe of the attendees had even been born. But the music, in some ways, was only part of the equation.
Rather than being a proper festival, per se, the event had more of a picnic or afternoon-in-the-park type vibe about it. There were food trucks and a couple merch tables, but not too far away there was a playground and, everywhere you looked, there were children running around. Most people brought coolers with them, as well as folding chairs and blankets. It was a laid back afternoon with perfect weather, the lake nearby and a lovely view of the Dallas skyline off beyond the trees.
What's more, the organizers make a proud point of the festival sustaining itself without any form of corporate sponsorship. Being local almost goes without saying. In fact, even though the park was surrounded by parked cars, it seemed safe to assume that most hadn't driven too far to get there. (Although as a cross-section of the neighborhood it admittedly drew almost exclusively on the white population.)
And so it was only appropriate that most of the bands in the lineup took on a more accessible, uplifting tone. Sarah Hickman, who gamely put on an un-amplified set over on the side stage following some technical issues, was about as risque as the day got with her song, "Are We Ever Going to Have Sex Again?" Her set, in particular, was one of self-affirmation, sing-along songs and positivity, which wasn't uncommon to the day.
The South Dallas Funk Revue was inspirational in a whole other manner thanks to the appearance of Rev. Gean West, who returned to stage after an extended hospital stay for heart surgery that sidelined him for two months. Theirs was the most energetic set of the day, topped off by the guest appearance of gospel singer Tommy Young-West to help close things off.
An even bigger surprise was to come shortly afterward when Seryn took stage and announced that this would be their final Dallas appearance before they pick up and leave for new pastures. Specifically, they'll be moving to Nashville, where lead guitarist and chief songwriter Nathan James Allen is already living and his bandmates are set to join him shortly. They'll be back soon enough though, and the Kessler will be involved once again: Seryn's releasing it's long-anticipated second album at the end of December and they'll celebrate the release with a show at the Davis St. theater.
Based on their assured performance on Saturday, Seryn seem more than ready to use their relocation as a stepping stone to the next phase of their career. Their future is laid out in front of them. For the New Bohemians, however, Saturday night was a chance to look back and relive the past for 90 or so minutes. It's rare that the six members, and in particular Edie Brickell, have the time to all get together on the same stage. That North Oak Cliff Fest landed the reunion was nothing short of a coup -- a typically astute catch on the part of Jeff Liles.
For those who had been there back in the glory days, seeing the New Bohos together again must have been a real treat. For those who missed them the first time around, though, it made for an interesting cross section. Here, after all, is a band that often gets held up as one of the marquee acts of Dallas's late-'80s-early-'90s heyday. They even made it to the cover of Spin magazine, which not a lot of people can say.
So it's surprising to think of just how much their music leans toward adult contemporary. Listening to Brickell sing those old tunes, even the hits like "Circle" and "What Am I," it somehow felt as though she and the band had grown into them and now, in middle age, could properly inhabit them. Of course, in Brickell's case specifically that wistful old-soul aura has always been part of the charm. Lyrically speaking, she mixes in seemingly mundane details -- the grass growing or the wind blowing through the curtains -- with a wide-eyed curiosity that imbues them with a sense of marvel.
It was clear, too, that Brickell enjoyed being back home and being back onstage with the boys. (They even played an improvised jam at the end about that very thing.) She smiled and laughed throughout the set, accentuating various points with a playful leg kick or shook hands with some old friend in the front row. Prior to the show, she related, she took a stroll around the lake to do her vocal warm-ups (can you imagine any other setting for her to warm up her voice?) and was pleased to see the cross on Methodist Hospital -- the same hospital where she was born.
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With that said, there was something a little disjointed about the band dynamic. The New Bohos' spirit revolves around Brickell, but they also love to jam out on the songs. That meant a lot of contemplative verses punctuated by some extended noodling. It was a mixed bag; often those jams mirrored the vocals' languid tone without necessarily adding much to it, but then when the music got some real fire under it -- in particular with Kenny Withrow's gnarly riff on "Forgiven" -- the contrast was unexpected. (Can we hear it though for Brandon Aly's turn on vocals during the reggae cut "Simmer Down?")
But then so be it. The New Bohos weren't here to set the world on fire, they were here to get back together and do what they love. It's hard to think that many of those old fans came away disappointed. They probably even came away with new family memories to share in.
New Bohemians' Setlist: Intro Daylike Beat The Time The Wheel No Dinero Early Morning Wakeup Spanish Style Guitar Buffalo Ghost Drums > Jam Love Like We Do Air Of December Lover Take Me Oak Cliff Bra Nothin' Simmer Down Strings Of Love Forgiven Circle What I Am
Encore: Little Miss S Now