Updated Fri, May 18, 2012 12:30 pm
There’s something fitting about a little Americana to kick off the start of a music festival tucked in the rolling hills of Appalachia.
Angela Perley & The Howlin' Moons did just that when they opened the Porch Stage performances for the slowly filling-in crowd at Hocking College's Robbins Crossing.
Perley and her Moons have a highly stylized and nostalgic sound, paying homage to The Flying Burrito Brothers, Wanda Jackson and mid-2000s alt-country all at once.
And they even look the part – to an extent. With at least one Nudie western shirt making an appearance via guitarist Chris Connor, and an adorable whimsical retro floral number on the beautiful Ms. Perley (complete with aqua cowboy boots), the band looked a little like wind-ups banging out something influenced by the “cosmic American music” that Gram Parsons espoused.
Some of the songs didn’t soar the way that particular numbers, like “Come on Home”, a track from the band’s 2011 Fireside EP, did. Apat from some occasional flatness, the band was more than enjoyable.
A half-hour into Perley's set, Athens singer-songwriter Mike Elliott held court at the incredibly intimate No-Fi Cabin.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Elliott raised enough money on kickstarter.com, an online funding platform for creative projects, to release his first full-length album. Judging from the sizable crowd that gathered in and around the cabin, that release is a long time coming.
Elliott’s music sounds substantial, like singer-songwriter fare that is unafraid and beautifully raggedy. Guided solely by his haunting, always-truthful voice, the songs filled the cabin as the sun set.
Midway through Elliott’s set, State Park began their set of fuzzy alt-rock songs, featuring deliciously buried, Husker Du-style vocals from Ian Wolfe.
Some of State Park's numbers really stood out, like "Water" and a spirited cover of Guided by Voices' "Motor Away." The instrumental "Kids in Keffiyehs" was another highlight of the band’s performance, sounding a lot like a beautiful b-side you would find on some post-punk 45.
Meanwhile, Nathan Moore of Sport Fishing USA entertained the crowd at the No-Fi Cabin, busting out well-orchestrated acoustic tunes while the outdoor purple lights illuminated the proceedings.
"It’s different, you know, to have people listening to you," Moore joked. It was the sort of intimate atmosphere usually reserved for open-mic nights, but even more so.
Everything about Moore's performance was upbeat, despite some heckling from one very involved--perhaps inebriated--audience member.
Next up on the Porch Stage was Southeast Engine, the most well-known act in Thursday's lineup. Adam and Jesse Remnant powered through their amazing first song, only to be plagued by audio problems that would dot the band's entire set.
However, Southeast Engine has a knack for delivering amazing live performances no matter what the circumstances, and invited the audience to move closer to the stage to hear acoustic renditions of their songs when Adam's vocal mic finally gave out.
"This one is kind of a gospel song, anyway," he laughed before leading the audience in a sort of sing-a-long.
The band truly wowed the audience, skillfully charging through new material (an incredible rendition of “Adeline of the Appalachian Mountains” from their most recent effort, Canary) as well as slightly older stuff (“Black Gold” from From the Forest to the Sea).
Hex Net took the Porch Stage at 10 p.m., starring Tim Peacock, who is not only an excellent bass player, but also one of the main organizers of the Nelsonville Music Festival.
The band played numbers from their recently released debut, Future Holds. While that recording is great, the songs truly came alive before a live audience, which roared its approval throughout the set.
The evening wrapped up with a performance by Boxcar Burlesque, Athens' premiere burlesque troupe, which entertained the (by now, predominately male) audience with its mix of striptease and vaudeville antics.
By the end of the night, the built-up anticipation for weekend's activities was palpable, making Robbins Crossing a truly remarkable place, even before the actual festival.