John Paul White has some concerns about The Civil Wars’ appearance at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival this summer, but they might not be for the obvious reasons.
Having grown up in northwest Alabama and southern Tennessee, the singer/songwriter/guitarist is well aware temperatures in June can climb into the 90s.
When the massive four-day outdoor music festival rolls around, his partner, singer and pianist Joy Williams will be close to giving birth to her first child.
“She’s due in June, and it’s going to be hot,” White said. “It could be interesting.”
White performed in a tent at Bonnaroo as a solo artist in 2007. He knows what an appearance at a major music festival like Bonnaroo can do for an up-and-coming band.
“You have an opportunity to be in front of lots of people that may not have heard you before or may not have given your live show a chance and that’s exciting,” White said.
The Civil Wars are not the only band with ties to the Shoals that will be appearing on stages in front of sun- (or rain-) drenched music fans during the summer music festival season.
The Alabama Shakes, an Athens band heavily influenced by the old school Muscle Shoals sound, Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, dance/trance duo Boombox and the traditional country duo The Secret Sisters all have gigs lined up at festivals stretching from Gulf Shores to Washington state.
The Alabama Shakes also are appearing at Bonnaroo, the Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores, Outside Lands in San Francisco, Lollapalooza in Chicago and the Sasquatch! Festival in George, Wash. The band will be playing numerous summer music festivals in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
The Secret Sisters and Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit will perform at Wakarusa, a festival at Mulberry Mountain in Ozark, Ark. Isbell’s band also is playing the Master Musicians Festival on July 21 in Somerset, Ky., and appeared at the Suwannee Spring Festival in Live Oak, Fla., in March.
Boombox, which include Sheffield residents Zion Godchaux and Russ Randolph, are playing a pre-festival show at the Hangout Festival and the Nolafunk Jazzfest Series at Republic in May.
The Civil Wars also are appearing at the Sasquatch! Festival and the popular Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis, which begins today.
“I grew up around here my entire life and never played Memphis in May,” White said. “I’m not sure why that’s true, but this will be my first time. It will be my first time at Sasquatch. The Secret Sisters had many wonderful things to say about that festival. It’s very beautiful and the right type of crowd. And then there is the beast that is Bonnaroo.”
White said he’s glad he and Williams passed on an opportunity to play Bonnaroo in 2011. The Civil Wars, which recently snagged Grammy Awards for Best Folk Album and Best Country Duo or Group Performance, are not typical of the festival music scene.
“When you’re a little quiet band like us that depends on dynamics and subtlety, it can be a little nerve wracking not knowing what to expect,” White said. “I’d like to think that because we waited until this year instead of last year that we’ll have more people standing in front of us that want to be standing in front of us and not waiting on the next show.”
Luke Dunkin, a country/rock artist from Lawrenceburg, Tenn., said the people who attend music festivals are loyal music fans.
“If they like what you do, they can help spread the word like wildfire,” said Dunkin, who attended the Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores in 2011. “I know I’d sure love to be able to play one or all of them.”
Because the music business can be a strange path at times, full of ups and downs, Dunkin said being invited to play a large music festival can have a major effect on an artist.
“I can only imagine what getting booked at a festival like that does for your confidence,” Dunkin said. “For most musicians like me and other independent artists, playing live is the only shot you have at getting out there. The more dates the merrier.”
Jay Burgess, a founding member of the Shoals alt-rock band The Pollies, performed at Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn., in 2009, with an incarnation of his former band, Sons of Roswell.
“Bonnaroo was fun, and being in a small, underground band, it helped a lot,” Burgess said. “We got a lot of press and gained a lot of fans. It also brought more people that had never heard of us before to the shows. If The Pollies got asked to play one of those festivals, we wouldn’t turn them down.”
He said The Civil Wars, Alabama Shakes, Secret Sisters, Boombox and Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit will gain even more fans than they already have by playing on the summer festival circuit.
Jay Burgess the fan, however, is not a big fan of attending large festivals because so much about the events are overpriced, he said.
“I would much rather go to a small theater, music venue, dive bar, etc., than go to a festival,” he said. “To me, it’s more intimate as a fan.”
The Secret Sisters are no strangers to the festival scene.
In 2011 they played the Sasquatch! Festival, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco, the Newport Folk Festival, the Isle of Wight Festival and the largest music festival in the world, England’s Glastonbury.
The traditional country duo from Greenhill concentrated in 2011 on opening shows for well-known acts and playing several festivals in the U.S. and U.K., where they also headlined a few shows.
Laura Rogers, who with her sister, Lydia, make up the duo, said festivals are a great way for fans to see several bands for one ticket price. It’s also a great place for a new band to reach a large number of people who might not otherwise come see them perform, she said.
“The cool thing about festivals is that while you’re playing, people just walking by to see another band play or to get food, you’ll capture their attention a lot of times,” Laura Rogers said. “You’ll see them stop, then wander over a little bit and soon you have a bigger crowd than when you started.
“You can get a group of people who are rude and inconsiderate, but if you believe in the music enough, there’s the potential to get some fans that may not have expected to like you or like your music.”
As an artist, Rogers said festivals are a place you can hang out with other artists you’ve met on tour or performed with in the past.
“We’ve played some festivals where we were the most unknown artists and some where we were the more well-known artist,” she said.
It’s not always a comfortable situation, either. She and her sister had reservations about playing the Austin City Limits Festival.
“It’s just the two of us right now,” she said. “We don’t tour with a band, and it’s a more soft, intimate performance. We could be right by another stage with another band playing with drums and guitars. It can be kind of weird sometimes.”
Rogers said Glastonbury was a whole new experience for her and her sister. Not only is the festival, which takes place every two years at the Worthy Farm in southwest England, the largest in the world, it can also be the muddiest. Rogers and her sister were warned to get rain boots.
“We don’t wear boots, but when we got there, we never would have been able to make it in real shoes,” she said.
Russ Corey can be reached at 256-740-5738 or russ.corey@TimesDaily.com.