The Beat is buzzing more than usual when I arrive. Even though I can't find a seat, it's good to see people supporting one of Neon Reverb's smaller venues. I take up a spot by the door and catch the last few songs of locals Dreaming of Lions' set.
If only I would have seen musician Heidi Guinn's Facebook status in time, I’d have known to bring a box of Kleenex. "Dreaming of Lions are totally owning my heart right now!" I read, but it's too late. My eyes are already a little misty and Chris Leland's lyrics about drinking and breakups (must they always go hand in hand?) keep getting sadder. "Honey I knew we weren't good enough … I keep telling' myself I'm better off without you," Leland sings. It’s simple instrumentation—just an acoustic guitar and a pair of vocal chords. But by the time Dreaming of Lions is done, it has effectively broken every heart in the misshapen semi-circle that's gathered around.
Portland/Brooklyn-based Prairie Empire is up next, and while they're setting up, festival organizer James Woodbridge puts on some classic Roy Orbison on vinyl. Coffee in hand, I score a newly vacant seat. The instruments, some typical and not-so-typical folk accoutrement, have grabbed my attention: a violin, auto-harp, lap guitar, xylophone, tambourine, bells, bass and drums—no guitar? I'm expecting this to be pretty solid. "I guess we're just gonna do this," leader Brittain Ashford says and begins plucking away at her auto-harp as the drums and violin start to pick up the pace.
Then Ashford sings. If you mixed the depth of Cat Power with the quirkiness of Regina Spektor and the intensity of Fiona Apple, you'd have Brittain Ashford. The sheer emotive power of her voice, whether it be a whisper or a fiery, crackling, pull-on-your-heart-strings sort-of-yodel, captures a pain that everyone has experienced but only few can recreate. During "Cold Snow," Ashford's voice dances on the verge of tears, her voice ridden with pain a la Conor Oberst, and then out of left field (or more literally, the left corner) a trumpet sounds. At this point I'm not sure what else this band could possibly throw in to make its live show more entertaining, and looking around the Beat it seems as if everyone else is also on the edge of their seats. I'm sure most of the crowd will migrate over to the Bunkhouse after this to catch Ashford's other band, Harlowe and the Great North Woods, but I've got to quickly jam over to the Royal Resort for a change of scenery.
Before I ventured out for the night, I Wiki’d “The Akashic Record,” to see where the first band playing the Royal tonight, got its name. Turns out it’s a “term used in theosophy ... to describe a compendium of mystical knowledge encoded in a non-physical plane of existence.” Say what? Seeing as that didn’t really answer my question, I figured I’d just see for myself.
The progressive/post-hardcore group doesn’t waste any time diving its set. Nasally vocals (with intermittent screams) and fast-paced, clashing cymbals and beats aren’t anything new, but the ska guitar riffs and jazzy elements thrown in on “House of Horus” revealed something more unique. I still don’t know what the non-physical plane of existence is, but after almost an hour of some seriously complex guitar work, I didn’t really care.
Following The Akashic Record comes local band Candy Warpop, a take-no-prisoners rock monster fronted by the sassy Beatrice Hernandez. The group is a spectacle in itself, from the glittery jacket sported by guitarist Joshua Cohen to the gas mask drummer Anisa Buttar wears while pounding her drum-set with reckless abandon. Buttar’s impeccable playing carries Candy Warpop’s hard psychedelic sound, while Hernandez’s spunky, crass performance is like what Gwen Stefani would have been like had she partnered up with Rage Against the Machine instead of Akon. Let me tell you, it would have been a lot better.
At midnight I’m headed to the Bunkhouse to catch the last band on my agenda, Dusty Sunshine. It looks like it’s been a fun night here, but I might just be the most sober person inside the bar. “Are you guys ready for a rompin’, stompin’, good time?” Guinn asks the crowd of Sunshine fans. The ladies are used to wowing everyone with their harmonies, and tonight is no different. From songs about wanting to make your significant other moan (and having ‘em all to your own), to songs about falling in love with a gay man, Dusty Sunshine incorporates humor effortlessly with a beautiful arrangement of instruments, especially Megan Wingerter’s violin.
As the night comes to a close, my coffee from hours earlier has needless-to-say worn off and I’m ready to call it a night. After all, I have to rest my barking dogs for Saturday’s dance party at Beauty Bar.