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Hinterland Music Festival Brings the Heat in St. Charles, Iowa

“The highlight of my summer was a trip to Iowa” was not a phrase I anticipated for myself this year. But alas, never say never—especially when Maggie Rogers is going to be there.

Truth be told, the weekend was hot. Very hot. This heat was made worse by the fact that I was camping. OK—so I partook in a “glamping” option that included an air mattress and free coffee in the morning—but listen. It was hot.

Photo by Juliet Farmer

I rolled into St. Charles, Iowa just in time to catch Jade Bird’s set. If you haven’t listened to her before, it’s time. Hits like “Lottery”, and “Uh Huh” were dynamic and oozing with confidence when sung live, and her natural charm only enhanced the performance.

Photo by Juliet Farmer

Up next was hometown heroes Hippo Campus, whose presence seemed to conjure up screaming teens and 20-somethings out of thin air. Their fans immediately filled the grassy landscape, singing along to every single song they played.

Photo by Juliet Farmer

To sum it up, Hippo Campus were flawless. As always. Not exciting, but flawless. They are polished. They know what works and they stick to it. They are the Midwest One Direction, and I will stick by that statement.

Photo by Juliet Farmer

As the sun set and the air cooled down, it was time for the Slow Burn of Kacey Musgraves. Backed by her jumpsuit-clad, male bandmates, Musgraves immediately hypnotized the crowd with a kind of retro country magic that fit perfectly in the surrounding landscape.

Photo by Juliet Farmer

She played many songs from her most recent album Golden Hour, taking a quick break to encourage everyone to hold up a middle finger to the current political landscape. After fulfilling fan favorites like “Follow Your Arrow’ and “High Horse,” Kacey ended her set with her recent single “Rainbow,” releasing confetti onto the crowd to punctuate the colorful tune.  

Photo by Juliet Farmer

Hozier closed out night one. Though I overheard a security guard grumbling about the two-hour set, Hozier did not disappoint. Yes—his set was two hours. And yes, I bet the first few rows nearly peed their pants. But by the end, I understood. The long performance gave Hozier and his talented band a chance to showcase their talents outside of the traditional pop arena.

Photo by Juliet Farmer

Hits like “Take Me to Church” and “Cherry Wine” floated out over the festival grounds with a lulling warmth. Although Hozier was shredding on his guitar and giving vocals his absolute all, there’s still something undeniably soothing about his music, making it a lovely way to end the day.

Photo by Juliet Farmer

The next day was a male-dominated country fest. I don’t know why the entire lineup was men, but the shift in tone was palpable. The day was filled with steel guitars, southern twang, and lyrics about Texas and pretty women.

Photo by Juliet Farmer

The Wood Brothers were no exception, but their talent was on the forefront. The Nashville-based band dove headfirst into their bluesy American sound. They spoke between songs with a dry wit and a lightness that matched the material they played from their Grammy-nominated album One Drop of Truth.

Photo by Juliet Farmer

St. Paul and the Broken Bones took the stage next, offering a refreshing flamboyance that I didn’t know I’d needed. Vocalist Paul Janeway donned a sequin cape that made the “St.” in his name all the more fitting. Incredible, perfect vocals rained over the crowd in an amazing spectacle of a performance.

Photo by Juliet Farmer

By the end, I had never witnessed so many people enraptured by a festival performer. The attendees on the outskirts of the grounds, seated on blankets with their friends, were engaged like front rowers. Janeway ended his set by walking through the crowds and climbing to the top of the soundboard—where VIP attendees sat—and finished up his final song from there.

Photo by Juliet Farmer

Once we all calmed down from the dazzling performance, it was time for headliner Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. Isbell was the perfect mix of a classic country presence and a 2019 masculinity—think less macho, more woke. With songs about current politics as well as his young daughter, it was clear that his thoughts have been soaked in existential struggles as he’s aged.

Photo by Juliet Farmer

Isbell sang about his journey with strength and transparency, starting off his set with a song called “Anxiety”. With impressive guitar riffs and unwavering vocals, Isbell sent us into the night with rock and roll confidence. And there was still one more day.

Photo by Juliet Farmer

Day three brought unique and wide-ranging performances from bands like The Nude Party, War and Treaty, and Dawes. Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith grinned throughout much of the set, clearly delighted that this is his job.

Photo by Juliet Farmer

The crowd was pleased to hear hits like “When My Time Comes” and “Things Happen.” As usual, Goldsmith’s vocals did not disappoint. The energy of the band was pleasing and family-friendly, lacking the grit of many of the other acts, but still fitting nicely into the Hinterland flow.

Photo by Juliet Farmer

When I tell you Maggie Rogers was transcendent, I mean that. Donning fringe and tousled, beachy waves, Rogers was impossible to look away from as she sang hits like “Light On” and the beloved “Alaska.” She danced like no one was watching and sang like the world was listening—which it should be.

Photo by Juliet Farmer

The audience members—many of whom had purchased tickets just for her performance—were beside themselves with excitement, invigorated by her sheer presence on stage. Rogers has star power, but her humility was still apparent as she got teary-eyed at the abundant screams of the crowd at the end of her performance.

Photo by Juliet Farmer

Legend Brandi Carlisle wrapped up the weekend. Her following Maggie Rogers was the perfect sequence, showcasing joyful wisdom and thick discography that Rogers may likely gain with time.

Photo by Juliet Farmer

Carlisle didn’t make the audience wait for her hit “The Story,” and her vocals were amazingly just as flawless as the recording. This woman can sing. After performing her Grammy hit “The Joke” Carlisle played an impeccable cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” Her wide-ranging set provided a spell-binding tour of her musical talents, and I know I’m not alone in saying that it was still on my mind as I rolled into Minneapolis, covered in dirt, but still smiling.

Written by Juliet Farmer

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