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What started with dark clouds soon parted for another sunny day at the second day of the Life Is Good Festival, good vibes clearing up the weather as the festival seems to manage every year. Part two of a stacked lineup was ready to get a move on, but not after families stopped by to say hello to WERS and the other booths there to support the festival.
After another great set from Yo Gabba Gabba! (where children, adults, and WERS managers alike were caught dancing away), local act Jesse Dee walked onstage. Boston’s own R&B icon, Jesse Dee split his performance with confidence and comfort, his music as relaxed as his aura. With hits like “Stay Strong,” it makes sense why Dee has opened for acts like Etta James and Al Green in the past. His throaty voice took off with happy chords and brass backup. “We want to send this love right back you you and we hope you spread it amongst yourselves,” he said, arms spread wide to embrace the fans. Sure enough, it was sent right back.
On the opposite side of the field, Canadian musician Bahamas, whose real name is Afie Jurvanen, was already ready to perform. “We’ve removed all mystery of the walk on,” Jurvanen said at the pre-start of Bahamas’ set, the band standing in their right places without making any sound. “James Brown, Elvis Presley — they all mastered the craft. But… we just figured we’d stand out here instead of back there.” Eventually, after much laughter, they did play, starting with “I Got You Babe” where the backup singers rocked Dirty Projectors-like harmonies. Bahamas slowed things down with their lullaby-like “Already Yours,” its increasing power and wobbly guitar (which he teased and promised “sounds really rockin’ on the CD”) turning it into something more like The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done.” Between (or during) nearly every song, Jurvanen kept the jokes coming. As if their spot-on folk wasn’t good enough, taking the trophy for the humorist of Sunday’s set sealed the deal.
Hall & Oats from Satuday’s lineup may have been an impressive return, but no one else gets more of a shock regarding their age than the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Still together after forming in 1963, the guys celebrated their 50th birthday as a band last year and can boast over 150 live tour dates around the world yearly as well. Don’t let their gray hairs fool you; the men have just as much swing in their step as they do in their instruments, and Prowse Farm was transported back in time for a set of classic swing and jazz. Being old is cool, and it’s that much cooler when you can paint your saxophone white, cut your hair with crazy angles, and graffiti your own tuba with reckless abandon.
Families come from far and wide to go to the Life Is Good Festival, and there was no better case of that than the band Delta Rae. Straight out of North Carolina, the six person band is comprised of three siblings and three best friends. The guys and girls trade instruments with ease, every now and then switching places from drums to vocals, guitar to keys, bass to tambourine for all of our WERS favorites: “Bottom of the River,” “If I Loved You,” and “Dance in the Graveyards.” Look no further if you want a show filled with dramatics, energy, and passion; Delta Rae deliver just that.
Surprising myself and many other, Amos Lee’s set wound up easily being one of the highlights of the day. The reason? Armed with a chair and a guitar, his quiet folk music reached the far back of the festival as the crowd murmured at most, if at all, during his set. Lee’s simple songs took folk back to its roots. “I see we have some shy clappers. You can’t be shy and clap at the same time,” he laughed, the crowd giggling in embarrassment before clapping with force, a slow continued beat brought by them for a slam poetry soul tune. His natural voice has a scratch, twang, and lightness that lifts it at its edges, making “Street Corner Preacher” and “Night Train,” songs that don’t go for the shock but rather the aftereffect. Best of all was watching as Lee forgot his lyrics, asked the sign language performer to hand over the lyrics, and cackled at himself. Humble, his mistakes were only more endearing, especially his ease in admitting them. “You’re the only reason that I keep on coming home,” he sang, and the crowd, in their minds, sang the same back to him lovingly.
Second to last came another WERS favorite, Good Old War. Philadelphia’s trio are known for their impeccable live harmonies and feel-good songs, music that absolutely inspires in a live setting. “Looking For Shelter,” “Coney Island,” and “That’s Some Dream” showcased fast finger-plucking and smiles all around. It’s bands like Good Old War that make music-making seem easy. In fact, it’s the opposite, but loving the process makes it easier. Getting to watch them perform is a classic example.
At last, the festival drew to a close with Hawaii’s superstar, Jack Johnson. His soft folk and gentle tones brought a warmth that the cool evening air couldn’t rival. “Man I was feeling really optimistic with those slippers on before,” he laughed, looking down at the new shoes he’d slipped on moments before taking the stage. His set included all of the classics–”Better Together,” “Banana Pancakes,” “Upside Down,” and so on– but there was no better moment than the surprise, spot-on collaboration with Amos Lee that they rehearsed for the first time just ten minutes before Johnson took the stage. Both men are so genuinely friendly that hearing them sing together in one jam had everyone cheering out. Jackson had been seen walking the grounds all day, listening to other bands and saying hello to anyone who recognized them. “Today was beautiful, and thank you to those of you who said hello when I was walking around,” he said. It took no time to realize that he, like the other talented musicians from both days, captured the spirit of the Life Is Good Festival. Without barriers, we are all equals, and Johnson had everyone on stage with him in spirit as he closed out the festival with good vibes, good feelings, and good hearts. To say otherwise would be lying.