Shoe Fest 2016, Best Yet

Shoe Fest 2016, Best Yet

Shoe Fest 2016….man, I don’t even know where to start. It’s taken me forever to figure out how to get my review going, because every time I even begin to plan it out I’m overloaded with smiles and memories of an amazing weekend. The musicians were on fire, the weather was perfection, and the crowd was the friendliest I’d seen yet. Camp Shaw-wa-nas-see is an ideal setting for a smaller, family-friendly festival like Shoe Fest; I always talk about the free showers and flush toilets, but that really makes such a tremendous difference. I also always forget how much I love the familiar feel of the grounds, with the soft earth and clean air. So now that we’ve set the stage, so to speak, let’s dig in.

I unfortunately arrived late in the evening on Friday, just in time to catch the end of the Lowdown Brass Band’s set, and just time for the first performance of the weekend from festival hosts Old Shoe. The past couple years have featured album covers from the Shoe boys, and this year followed suit with Paul Simon’s Graceland, and what an inspired show it was. The set also included a raging Old Shoe original in “Oneida County” and a blistering cover of Phish’s “Birds of a Feather”. Whiskey Shivers chilled everyone out before Still Shine closed out the evening on the late night stage. I sat up with friends at camp for an hour or so and called it a night, looking forward to Saturday.

After I woke up and showered, had a coffee and some food, we checked out the vendors. From the Intrinsic Arts tent to the wonderful ladies selling the sweet hats, from original paintings to hand-blown glass artwork, there was local talent galore, showcasing another aspect of the homegrown nature of Shoe Fest. As we meandered over the bridge between stages, we lamented that the river was too high and the current too strong to allow swimming; fortunately the weather remained absolutely perfect all weekend.

After Miles Over Mountains and The People Brothers Band tore it up, one of my all-time favorite Shoe Fest veterans, the legendary Chicago Farmer, took to the stage for his patented folk-story hootenanny. He debuted a few new songs, played some old favorites, and featured guest spots by Jaik Willis (“$14 Beers”, “Umbrella”, and a soulful “Blowin’ in the Wind” to close the show) and Dan Andree on fiddle for a barnstorming “Farms and Factories”. Chicago Farmer is always a Shoe Fest highlight, and his crowds get bigger every year for a reason.

The Last Revel proved to be a pleasant surprise as they surged through their set and left me breathless for Old Shoe’s second show. I sat back in my lawn chair and let the boys take me on a trip; dirty, stompy, muddy, grassy, hard-rocking Old Shoe. Highlights for me included “Mouth of the Lion”, “Midnight in Harlem”, “Beer” (always a crowd favorite), “West LA Fadeaway”, and a scorching “Dustbowl”. We strolled back across the river and listened to Danny Barnes on the Pavilion stage while we recharged at camp, then migrated back to the main stage for Keller Williams and More Than a Little. They played a supercharged funk set, featuring a slowed-down, funked-up version of Keller hit “Freeker by the Speaker” and an energetic rendition of the Grateful Dead classic “Samson and Delilah”.

Still beaming from Keller, we sat around the table at our campsite and listened to the Way Down Wanderers burn it down. Old Salt Union held down the late night stage, keeping the vibes going for those who couldn’t stop dancing. Cheerful chatter was heard throughout Camp Shaw-wa-nas-see until the wee hours, people reliving the day, strumming acoustic instruments, trading stories, and excitedly planning the final day.

Sunday tested festival patrons’ endurance by boasting one of the most intense lineups in Shoe Fest history. Coyote Riot got things off with a bang before Melk played one of the most enthralling shows I’ve ever seen. Having no experience with the band, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but they were very prog-rock without being in your face about it, and they covered Ween’s “Take Me Away”, so points for that straight away. Seriously though, keep your eyes and ears out for Melk.

Prichard Harter followed Melk, and I missed a bit of that set due to being distracted by the giant bubble wand that made dozens of bubbles at once, and they just caught the sunlight so wonderfully and made the grounds sparkle. The Ghost of Paul Revere proved to be one of the most entertaining shows of the weekend, and 56 Hope Road was great addition this year as well. I didn’t know anything about either of those bands, but do not miss them when they’re in town. Chicago natives Mr. Blotto and EGi formed a back-to-back knock-out punch of dizzying prog-jam, and the Jerry Douglas Band was a dream set: bayou bluegrass mixed with desert slide guitar and a freeflowing jazz feel made for an incredible experience that definitely lived up to the hype. The Henhouse Prowlers kept the bluegrass going before the Shoe String Jam took the reins on the late night stage and brought the festival to a magnificent close with an all-star ensemble playing originals, covers, and basically making their instruments regret coming to work that day.

Another Shoe Fest has come and gone, and I felt the post-festival blues harder this year than average. Maybe it was just the weather, the fact that I didn’t check my phone once after I tossed it in the tent, the friends I haven’t seen in years, the music….honestly, I’m pretty sure it was just all of it. If you haven’t been to Shoe Fest, this can’t be the first time you’re hearing about it, and I hope it’s one of the last before you experience it for yourself. Come and see, come and hear the music, come dance barefoot in the grass. And whatever you do, take care of your shoes.

Check out photos from the weekend (there are more still being uploaded from sources all over the place, those in the albums linked to here are taken by Kristen Burtzos, aka Valkyrie Visions):,


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