This past weekend, Carbon Leaf put on the first ever Ragtime Carnival in Chesterfield at Pocahontas Live, to what has to be considered a roaring success. A two day music festival, the event utilized the main stage at Pocahontas Live and a small acoustic stage up the hill to bring nineteen sets from sixteen bands Friday evening and all day Saturday.
This past weekend, Carbon Leaf put on the first ever Ragtime Carnival in Chesterfield at Pocahontas Live, to what has to be considered a roaring success. A two day music festival, the event utilized the main stage at Pocahontas Live and a small acoustic stage up the hill to bring nineteen sets from sixteen bands Friday evening and all day Saturday. The lineup was a fantastic mix of recognizable names, bands on the rise, and bands that are still being immersed into the general consciousness of the music world. In addition to Carbon Leaf themselves, Keller Williams, Edwin McCain, Delta Rae, Eddie From Ohio, The Wild Feathers, Holly Williams, The Black Cadillacs, Crystal Bowersox, Emerson Hart, The Alternate Routes, Logan Brill, Von Grey, Sarah Blacker, Gedeo Luke & The People, and Rumbleseat Revival all performed between the two stages.
For longtime fans of Carbon Leaf, a lot of those names sound familiar, and in fact, a good chunk of the lineup are bands that have shared a stage with Carbon Leaf, either opening for the band or vice versa. Some bands, namely Delta Rae, received their first real break thanks to Carbon Leaf. It’s nice to see all these acts come together for a weekend event, which makes it almost a trip through nostalgia for old fans, while still showcasing new material from everyone. Despite the name, the event was extremely musically diverse, and one a fan of any genre could enjoy–unless you like techno music, in which case an outdoor festival not named after an electric flower is probably not your cup of tea anyway. It was the first of hopefully many Ragtime Carnivals to come, and was definitely something that can become a great tradition.
Getting out to Pocahontas Live Friday took a lot longer than I expected, so I ended up missing Eddie From Ohio on the main stage and Von Grey on the acoustic side. From the sounds of it, both delivered great sets, especially Von Grey, a phenomenally talented band from Atlanta that will really take your breath away when you see them. The first act I got to see on Friday was Keller Williams, who had just started as I came in. The Fredericksburg native did his usual set of multiple, multiple instruments played solely by him and looped through an on-stage pedal. Funky, jammy, progressive, and always impressive, ol’ K-Dub opened up the night well (for me at least), with a great sound that luckily wasn’t even close to being duplicated the rest of the weekend.
Climbing up the hill to the “acoustic” stage afterwards, the privilege was all mine in seeing Gedeon Luke & The People performing. The set was short, as were most up on the hill, but it was easily one of the best sets of the entire weekend, with a frantic energy that just oozed not only from the super charismatic frontman Gedeon Luke, but also from every member of the band. Armed with a hype man in the crowd passing out stickers and dancing with everyone who wanted to, the band wowed an initially small crowd that grew and grew as the funk got stronger. Fantastic band and a fantastic set.
Carbon Leaf delivered their first of three sets that weekend afterwards, to close Friday night on a big note with some songs that hadn’t been heard in a while such as “Grey Sky Eyes” and “Miss Hollywood.” “Grey Sky Eyes,” in particular, was fantastic live and featured one of the best guitar solos I’ve ever heard live, not just from Carter Gravatt, but in general. Butch Taylor, a frequent addition to the Dave Matthews Band, joined the band for the set on keyboards, adding a great new layer to the songs that fans have heard a thousand times live by now, like “What About Everything?” The night ended with the usual epic version of “Let Your Troubles Roll By,” featuring the harmonica player from Eddie From Ohio and the saxophonist from Gedeon Luke & The People, making it one of the best versions of that song I’ve heard live to date.
Day 2 of the festival on Saturday started off at noon with a respectable crowd early for Carbon Leaf’s short acoustic set. The great thing about this set was the candor of the band (with Barry Privett looking exhausted, as if it was 6am and not noon) as well as the set list. Songs usually penciled in at concerts in front of the Grand Ol’ Opry mic, like “Two Aging Truckers” and “Comfort,” were performed up here and it worked perfectly as an appetizer of sorts for the day to come. The band ended with something they haven’t performed in front of a Richmond crowd in a lengthy time when they busted out their acoustic cover of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” The best part here was watching the faces of the people in the crowd around me as they realized what song it was.
Down the hill on the main stage, Crystal Bowersox of American Idol fame followed with an awesome set. Equipped with an acoustic guitar and accompanied by a bassist and additional guitarist, she performed a set that blew past all expectations, even for those who were aware of her obvious talent from American Idol. How she lost to Lee DeWyze, I’ll never understand. It just goes to point out flaws in the American Idol “system,” so to speak. Only negative on Crystal’s set here was that she would have benefitted from a full band for a few songs, just to make certain songs stand out a bit more and break the monotony that a (somewhat) acoustic set can bring. The Black Cadillacs from Knoxville followed Crystal with a great rock and roll set. If you like bands like Delta Spirit, this set was pretty much tailor-made for you, and was perfectly slotted in the day to get a crowd alive between slower sets.
Holly Williams came up next with a set more akin to her grandfather Hank Sr. than her father Hank Jr. with in that good ol’ country sound where the emphasis is more on musicianship than a line about beer that rednecks can relate to. The set was definitely nothing like her half-brother Hank3 either, and fit in well between The Black Cadillacs and The Wild Feathers as a mid-afternoon set so you could relax on the lawn in the sun while she crooned effortlessly through the speakers. The Wild Feathers from Nashville, TN followed next with a set that was comparable to The Black Cadillacs earlier, but definitely unique in its own right. For fans of Dawes, The Wild Feathers have a warm, familar sound that could easily fit in any time period in rock’s history, and a great stage presence that’s subtle in its own right.
Delta Rae ushered in the halfway point for Saturday. The band, which was pretty open about how Carbon Leaf was one of the first bands to really give them support in a big way, delivered the best non-Carbon Leaf set of the weekend, and probably gave Carbon Leaf a run for their money too. They have a great history with the Richmond area in my opinion, and this was no different, as the crowd was anxious and rabid for the six piece from North Carolina. As they set up and went through soundcheck, every member looked pretty much exhausted, but from note one of their set to the closing drum smash, the band left literally everything on the stage, showing why they are definitely one of the best new acts to come out in rock music in the last five years. If you haven’t been lucky enough to catch Delta Rae live by now, you are seriously missing out on a true experience and one that was definitely treated as a big deal by the crowd at Pocahontas Live. The Edwin McCain Trio had the “pleasure” of following a set few could top, but the rocker best known for 90s hits “I Could Not Ask For More” and “I’ll Be” did fine and was a perfect evening set before the main event.
Up the hill on Saturday, Rumble Seat Revival, a local six piece band with songs and sounds from the early 1900s, performed two quick sets after Crystal Bowersox and The Black Cadillacs. For Richmonders, if you see something on social media about this band performing near you, trust me: go see them. It’s a great vintage sound and feel that will always be timeless, especially when played by a talented group like this. Logan Brill, Sarah Blacker, and Tonic frontman Emerson Hart also played up on the hill. The need for food and rest, plus nature calling and a ridiculous onslaught of weevils near the acoustic stage kept me from hearing all of their sets, but the good thing about the venue and location is that you could hear each acoustic set fairly well even without being in the area. Sarah Blacker’s set was the highlight of these three as the Boston native is just a fantastic singer-songwriter.
The Wild Feathers
Weevils and weary limbs aside, I wasn’t going to miss The Alternate Routes from Connecticut. The band, performing as a two piece of just Tim Warren and Eric Donnelly, is absolutely fantastic live with a familiar but distinct sound and a keen eye for what makes a set truly remarkable. As far as I know, they don’t play Richmond all that often, something that should definitely be rectified for the sake of music lovers city-wide.
Carbon Leaf‘s third and final set ended Saturday night perfectly just as it did the night before, though Saturday’s show was the better of the sets in my eyes. The band had promised beforehand that each set would be completely different, and while they were, popular songs such as “Life Less Ordinary, The Boxer,” and “Let Your Troubles Roll By” appeared in both main stage sets. In total, six songs were repeated between each twenty-ish song set, so not too much overlap. A few oldies that hadn’t been played in a long time, like “Changeless” and “When I’m Alone,” popped up here, giving the crowd a perfect mix of old and new songs. Closing out the night, the band pulled The Alternate Routes and Sarah Blacker on stage to accompany them on “Let Your Troubles Roll By” before following with a collaborative rendition of “The Weight” as the encore, which may just be the most perfect festival closing song ever written.
Now to talk about the event as a whole. Being an outdoor festival, you can only control but so much, but the hordes of weevils that assaulted the crowd near the acoustic stage was pretty bad, though really only from about 1pm to 5pm. I have no idea what could even be done to lessen this, but it was bothersome to say the least. For Carbon Leaf, I’d like to see the band really embrace three sets next year a bit more. The acoustic set to kick off Saturday was absolutely what it needed to be, but they could definitely do more to make the main sets different. I know it’s hard not to play your most popular songs each night, but the band did get away without playing “Desperation Song” Friday night, and could conceivably split the six repeated songs up so they’re shared between the sets. If not, at least structure the sets a bit more. Ending each night with an extended version of “Let Your Troubles Roll By” is a bit much. It’s definitely musically impressive, but we had literally just heard it, and there are other songs that can close a night just as well–like the aforementioned “Desperation Song.”
On top of that, the band’s catalogue has a wealth of songs that weren’t touched upon. Gems like “Home,” “The War Was In Color,” “Shine,” “Learn To Fly,” and “Love Loss Hope Repeat” come to mind as notable omissions from each night, but the band can even bust out hidden songs like the super-rare “Tip Toe,” or even a crazy pick from the forgotten debut album Meander. Some songs aren’t going to fit in here (so don’t scream “Mary Mac”) as Carbon Leaf does have a great amount of seasonal songs, but that’s why Carbon Leaf works well doing one spring/summer show and one fall/winter show in Richmond. But this was year one and things can and should be different and better for year two… and there needs to be a year two. Next year’s event might also benefit from being an all-day Saturday and short (11am to 5pm) Sunday show, especially as Friday Cheers continues to improve their lineups. It was definitely a hard choice to pick between this and J Roddy Walston & Kopecky Family Band at Brown’s Island, but it was a choice I don’t regret in the least.
So many positives from this weekend that it’s almost hard to list them all. Top five sets from the weekend, in no order, had to be Carbon Leaf Night 2, Delta Rae, Gedeon Luke & The People, The Alternate Routes, and Crystal Bowersox, all five which I believe no one should have missed out on. Sadly, I did miss out on Von Grey and I expected that one to be a “can’t miss” set too. Members of Carbon Leaf were out all day walking around and mingling with the crowd here and there. The staff at Pocahontas Live was great and made going to and from your car for whatever you needed (sweatshirt, bug spray, etc) as easy as possible. Even getting from stage to stage was easy, and you never had to miss out on any music that you wanted to hear.
Overall, the first-ever Ragtime Carnival hosted by Carbon Leaf was a great way to spend a late spring weekend. Unlike other first-time festivals in Richmond, nothing went wrong to the point of upsetting the crowd, meaning that next year’s event only needs a few minor tweaks here and there and some original ideas to spice things up. If you missed out this year, do yourself a favor and set a reminder that you need to attend next year. If Year One was any indication, Year Two is going to be absolutely incredible.