Review: 2018-08-02 - The Werk Out Music Festival - Thornville, OH
This was my first Spafford show. I’ve been looking forward to this for months as I have not listened to a band this obsessively before seeing them live since I started listening to Phish in high school. The deep dive has been strong the last 3-4 months and my excitation was peaking hard the morning of the show (pretty sure I was just pacing around my house for an hour waiting for my girlfriend to get off work so we could head to the festival). We arrived at the Werk Out with a few hours before Spafford was set to play and it is really just a beautiful, small festival. No waiting lines, beautiful venue, and laid back vibe. After we hiked all our stuff in and set up camp with a big group of our friends, I ran down to catch some music because the Thursday night lineup was absolutely killer. As I was enjoying Mungion’s set, I saw the boys pull up behind the stage and eventually Cam came over and sat down next to Rob Compa (who was about to shred with Mungion) and the dreams of a sit in started to float through my mind. I am a guitar player myself, and Brian and Rob are easily my favorite two players not named Trey Anastasio.
Alas, the sit in never happened, but just the thought of it was enough to keep me geeking until the set. After Mungion, Lettuce kept the tunes rolling and Michelle and I went over to camp out in front of the other stage to wait for Spafford to start. We set up 15-20 yards back as I usually like to be close enough to see well, but far enough back to get the best mix possible. The boys finished setting up and left the stage empty and utter excitement (and mild nervousness for my first show) was coursing through my entire body.
After a few more minutes of waiting and Michelle making fun of me for being a ‘Nerd and setting up a notepad on my phone so I could remember all this when I sat down to write the review, the boys took the stage. Jordan started up the opening bass line of All In and a sense of “I’ve made it” rushed over my body. This is the first song I became obsessed with, so it was a fitting start to my first show. Unfortunately, there were some sound issues at the beginning of the song with a very audible low end feedback smothering every other frequency. Moss made some gestures to the sound guy that the low end was causing issues and he seemed to fix it for the most part as they made it through the composed part of the song and I started to forget there was ever a problem. Right as they were finishing the ‘song’ and Brian was shredding away to head into the jam, the feedback (my buddy thought it could have been a grounding issue) reared its ugly head and came back with full force. My stomach immediately sunk, they only had an hour to play and it was bad, set ending bad. The guys faces were visibly upset and Moss eventually stopped playing all together with his hands up in a “what do we do” type frustration. As the sound guys kept working on the issue, the band, although obviously perturbed, kept chugging away with a groove. I cannot say how well they handled themselves in what was a terrible situation. After about 3-5 minutes it seemed the sound guys fixed the issue and the boys were still holding it down and grooving while Moss provided some sick jazz runs and Cam was adding tasty snare rolls. The sound issues may have been a blessing in disguise as it caused them to be very patient building up the jam. Once they felt comfortable they could play without issues they slowly built up the jam to its roaring finale that we all know and love. Moss shredding, the band flushing behind him, building into a glorious peak before returning to the composed ending to wrap up the song after about 25 minutes.
After this, it looked like they were going to go into a Red song, but there were issues with his microphone and they started up Broken Wing. Right away you can tell these guys love this song as there were smiles all around while they set the stage with a nice opening jam. I really enjoy this song and I always get a NASCAR-y vibe from the riff that leads into the vocals. Moss crushed the vocal portion of the song and they settled in for the jam. I often try and think of the reasons why this band is one that really grabbed me so tightly and there are many reasons, but a large part of it is how patient they are with their jamming. They are not afraid to take their time and it really makes the release at the end that much greater. Red was adding some very tasteful playing behind Brian’s leads, while Cam and Jordan were holding down the groove incredibly tight. They kept the energy low and light for a bit before slowly starting to build it up with Moss leading the way. This is what makes him such an incredible guitar player to me, he really knows how to craft a solo and build you up, taking you through little peaks and valleys while shifting the overall energy upward and finally releasing in a peak of joyful bliss.
Absolutely crushed and with the sound issues far behind them they started up It's A Bunch. I was really hoping to hear this song as it’s the one song that ‘For Amusement Only’ really turned me on to and is a top 10 song of mine. They played it to a T, with no extended jamming, which I was totally onboard with since the first two songs went close to 40 minutes.
After a brief pause, Moss started up the opening chords of Electric Taco Stand and with about 15 minutes left I figured this would be the last song of the night. ETS is such a great fucking song and they were funking around hard in the beginning. My notes are “percussive Moss, shuffle Cam, slap poppin’ Jordan, chordally tasteful Red” so I’ll leave it at that. During the vocal portion the crowd was singing along to the chorus and it really makes for a great live experience. Out of the vocals and coming into the jam they settled into a nice groove and kept with the theme of the night (every show?), PATIENCE! Again I was awed at their comfortability to be patient with a jam. Eventually, they moved into a new sonic arena and Moss was teasing a melody on his guitar while singing/scatting over it. I’m not sure what it was, it could also have just been a nice improv melody, but maybe some ‘Nerds can help out when the recording drops. After building this up to one final peak, they dropped back into the final chorus (with the crowd really singing their hearts out now) and concluded my first ever Spafford show.
Yes, there were issues in the beginning, but I couldn’t have asked for more and I was grinning like a Cheshire cat for at least ten minutes after. Spafford is my favorite band these days and I cannot wait to keep riding along this journey. Cheers!
P.S. JRAD played directly after and those guys are absolutely unbelievable. They may be the best improv band on the scene right now. My jaw dropped countless times.