As I explained in my Fall Line Fest Night One review, I camped myself out at The National all night, a decision I’m honestly debating the merits of with hindsight. The five acts I saw at The National were incredible, but while Night One had the biggest names (with two being at The National), Night Two had the most stacked line-up and was probably the most important day to not stick around at one venue for longer than one set.
As I explained in my Fall Line Fest Night One review, I camped myself out at The National all night, a decision I’m honestly debating the merits of with hindsight. The five acts I saw at The National were incredible, but while Night One had the biggest names (with two being at The National), Night Two had the most stacked line-up and was probably the most important day to not stick around at one venue for longer than one set. It is what it is though, and even by camping out at The National, I still saw some incredible acts, some of which I probably would be regretting having missed if I’d left. Festival blues, right? Anyway, like my other review, I’ll take you through what I experienced as well as some of the bigger acts I missed, but heard about. So let’s get right into it.
My day on Saturday started late, as I had to host my radio show for two hours starting at 11am, the same time that the Fall Line Fest Brunch began at The Broadberry. I would love to regale you with tales of how the Sausage, Potato, & Roasted Pepper Strata from Society awakened my taste buds in a way that I have yet to fully comprehend. Sadly, that did not happen, as by the time I rolled in at 1:30pm (after getting pleasantly caught in an inexplicable downpour as I was walking in), the only thing remaining was Bacon-Honey Mascarpone-stuffed French Toast from Toast, which was incredibly rich, moist, and delicious. I’m not complaining though; it was made very clear to everyone that this was “first come, first serve,” so rolling in at 1:30 when it started at 11 – yeah, I knew there wasn’t going to be much left. I still got to have some diabetes in a bite, aka the amazing French Toast. According to the word from people still there by the time I arrived, it was a roaring success, with a huge amount of people showing up. Only complaints I did hear from the brunch was that there were no vegetarian options available, and Blanchard’s Coffee ran out very quickly, but those were the very small minority. From the vast, vast, vast majority, people seemed to enjoy the hell out of the brunch and the fest in general, saying that it was a steal considering tickets were only $30 for both days.
Photo by Joey Wharton
After a few hours off, I rolled back into The National (courtesy of a free ride from Uber, thanks Fall Line Fest!) ready to take in a lot more music. Manatree, formerly known as Herro Sugar, took the stage first shortly after 7pm to open things up before a crowd that was slowly filling in. First things first: I think it’s extremely smart of Herro Sugar to change their name, so kudos to the newly-christened Manatree. Hopefully this trickles down the RVA music scene. Anyway, the indie pop darlings delivered their typical lively set, albeit with an extra shot of adrenaline for playing The National and Fall Line Fest. If you’ve seen the band before, you knew from song one that they were really going all out for this set and they definitely nailed it. Accentuated by some colorful Christmas lights, the band played most of the tracks I assume we’ll find on their upcoming album, hopefully due out this year. With their catchy melodies and wistful lyrics, the youthful quartet is always a sure thing when it comes to a quality live performance and they opened up the second night at The National perfectly. Towards the end of their set, it seemed there may have been a technical snafu with the pedal effects or the guitar as the sound abruptly cut off from that end. If there was a snafu, the band handled it perfectly and didn’t let it faze them. If not, then that was a brilliant way to finish the show. Either way, they ended their show on an extreme high note that was memorable, and with so many bands in so little time this weekend, that’s pretty damn important.
Photo by Joey Wharton
After Manatree, everyone’s favorite RVA supergroup, Avers, took the stage for a forty-five minute set that seemed to prove to everyone just why they’ve been the talk of the town all year. The six piece was definitely on point as they played tracks from their wonderful full length debut, Empty Light. The band’s set on Saturday night could be best be summed up as a musical orgy, as the members of the band bounced into one another, switched instruments, built on each other’s musical motifs, and, above all else, seemed to thrive and grow based on the energy of those on stage. Honestly, it was like the crowd wasn’t even there. I imagine this is exactly how they record, and I’d expect there’s probably some broken mic stands, dented guitars, and bruised bodies from all the bouncing around. Adrian Olsen and Charlie Glenn are probably the worst offenders in the best possible way, as watching them bounce around just makes their music that much more meaningful. If it has to be bursting out of their bodies so bad they’re about to convulse, the music has to be great. The band has their biggest show yet in a little over two weeks, as they’ll be opening for the Foo Fighters at The National. If this set is any indication, they’re going to blow the roof off the place, and get the crowd super pumped before Dave Grohl descends. Here, they lived up to all the hype of 2014 with a definitively strong set worthy of headlining any of the five venues from Saturday night.
Photo by Joey Wharton
As the crowd kept trying to wind down from Avers, the split set of Swedish acts The Mary Onettes and Amanda Mair followed. I got into the Mary Onettes’ album from last year, Hit The Waves, around March, and besides Death, they were probably the band I was most excited to see. My excitement was deflated a touch to see that The Mary Onettes weren’t going to be fully represented for their set. Some band turmoil (explained hilariously as “wrestling ice bears”) led to them being a one-man show for Fall Line Fest, but Philip Ekström still performed amazingly and gave me the live experience I hoped for. The indie pop sound definitely would have been fuller with a complete line-up, but Philip performing solo delivered an intimate vibe that dream pop almost needs to sustain itself as a genre. Following him was Mair, an artist I wasn’t too familiar with and was completely taken by surprise with. Armed with only her piano, fingers, and beautiful voice, the young Swedish singer delivered several piano ballads with melancholy melodies and heartbreakingly vulnerable vocals. She may be a completely different person off stage, but on stage, her heart is exposed with every note that comes from her mouth and it was all truly awe-inspiring. It was great to catch at least one fresh act I’d never heard of before at Fall Line Fest and I’m completely stoked it was someone as talented and mesmerizing as Mair was.
Photo by David Parrish
At the same time virtually as The Mary Onettes and Amanda Mair, Priests were going on at Gallery 5 and they would be the one band I’m most bummed to miss out on from Saturday night. Choices, choices, choices. I do love the Swedish set I got to witness, but man, Priests have been killing it and there has been many a day where Bodies And Control And Money And Power has been on constant repeat in my ears. I received plenty of texts from people about the show too, so if you caught it, I’m sure you loved it. Oh, well – c’est la vie.
Photo by David Parrish
Closing out the night at The National was maybe not the biggest name of the festival, but probably the most important in terms of current credibility. Real Estate have been blowing the critics out of the water this year with their third record, Atlas. This band is just the type of headlining act that gives Fall Line Fest that instant visibility and competitiveness that they need, even if they are only in their second year. As The National’s floor quickly filled up following the Swedish split set, it was clear everyone wanted to at least catch a little bit of the band constantly mentioned in the indie rock world in 2014. Those in attendance caught something truly unique from Real Estate’s live set. It wasn’t a huge jam session, no one lost their shit on stage, no faces were melted, and no huge emotional crises were solved. Instead, Real Estate’s live set was just relaxed. Very relaxed–and I mean that in an extremely positive manner. When you go and see a punk band, they turn the volume up to eleven and go harder than they did on the record. When you see a piano crooner live, they push their voice to the point of destroying their vocal chords. But when you’re already a dreamy, easy listen? Turn it up and it’s even more relaxing. It’s chill, it’s dreamy, it’s ethereal, and it’s truly an experience. After The National had a serious mosh pit break out during Death the night before, Real Estate had the crowd gently swaying to the slight surf melodies. You could feel the collective consciousness of the crowd float to the heavens. As “Easy,” “Talking Backwards,” and “It’s Real” played, you could sense the excitement for the big hits, but the crowd swayed just the same, keeping the serene feeling floating on. It was the perfect cool-down from a long weekend, and Real Estate sent the crowd home with their heads completely in the clouds. I could have dealt with a rock show to leave me utterly destroyed, but here, it was perfect to be carried to the end of Fall Line Fest on the velvety cloud of Martin Courtney and Matt Mondanile’s pristine guitar playing.
Photo by David Parrish
With that, Night Two and the weekend came to a close. Camping out The National again had its disadvantages (probably more so than Night One) as I missed acts like Rapsody, Sports Bar, Fairweather, and Protomartyr as well as the previously mentioned Priests. From what I’ve gathered, they all delivered great sets and were the source of many a text message to people that began with, “OMG, I can’t believe you missed…” I also would have liked to have taken in some art too in order to experience the full festival, but there’s only so much time in the day and I’m not an art lover, so it sadly wasn’t a priority. Overall, Night Two was incredible, although I have to say that I much preferred Night One. However, if you were to factor out Death (one of the best five concerts I’ve ever seen), Night One and Night Two would surely be on an level playing field, with Night Two getting the slight edge for the very real sound diversity between acts.
Now, for the negatives. Outside of the brunch complaints I listed, the only real complaint I have would be the lack of the Fall Line Fest beer being available at The National. I asked Friday night and was told it would be available Saturday night. I could have snagged one Saturday morning at The Broadberry since people were raving about it, but since it was 1:30 and I was enjoying some food-coma French Toast, I opted to try it later on with some tunes. Forward to Saturday night and the staff now tells me they didn’t have it again that night. If it’s still available, someone let me know, as I’d love to try it, but if not, oh well – another drawback from hanging out at The National for two nights straight. If that’s the only valid complaint I have though from two nights worth of music, then that should show you how well this festival was organized, especially when you line it up with other attempts at festival in Richmond, like Sound City in 2012.
Fall Line Fest left a lasting impression on people in their debut last year. This year, they successfully raised the bar on what a successful weekend music festival can and should look like in Richmond. Their second year was definitely the most important, as the event had to grow and had to be able to sustain the quality with the growth. After two nights, a million conversations with concert attendees, and a good time spent browsing the hashtag history, it seems that Fall Line Fest did just that in its second year and surpassed all expectations. Those who attended were able to get a world-class brunch buffet, a free trial of Uber, an art show, a one-of-a-kind event beer, and multiple sets that were so great that they’ll surely be talking about for months to come. All for $30. $30! It’s only year two, but Fall Line Fest is now going to be one of very few weekend events in Richmond that are truly “can’t miss.” In a city where a million things are going on any given night, that is surely saying a lot.
Thanks for the amazing weekend, Fall Line Fest. We can’t wait to see what you do next year.