Rest Fest 2012
Over the weekend, I dropped in on Rest Fest, the music festival at St. Joseph’s Church in Albany.
Now in its third year, the event is a benefit for the Historic Albany Foundation, which has been restoring St. Joseph’s since 2003, and showcases a mix of local bands and intriguing out-of-town acts in the indie/folk/rock vein. I really only caught a fraction of what Rest Fest had to offer, but my feelings are unchanged from last year, when I decided that the national acts might be what draw people in, but the local bands are just as compelling, if not more so. This year’s two standout performances came from two Capital Region bands: The Kamikaze Hearts, and The Parlor.
Rest Fest marked a triumphant return for The Kamikaze Hearts, a very good five-piece Americana band that hadn’t performed together in five years. The Hearts are the first local band I became aware of after I moved to the area in late 2001, and for a while they were touted as the area’s next big thing. (They were even signed by the UK label One Little Indian Records.) Of course, such predictions generally do not come to fruition, and although the Hearts remain much loved by their fervent local following, they never achieved the fame and fortune for which some believed they were destined.
What’s interesting is that Rest Fest coincided with Wynantskille resident Sean Rowe’s CD release party at Valentine’s in Albany, and Rowe really has lived up to his “next big thing” billing, getting signed to a major label and receiving adoring reviews from the national music press. I couldn’t help but feel a bit wistful as I watched the Hearts: They were among the more talented bands to take the stage at Rest Fest, and yet somehow greater success has eluded them. It doesn’t seem fair.
The Hearts turned in a fine performance, drawing from a back catalog full of well-written, evocative songs with a strong sense of place and a stirring, restless and yet often tender spirit. Those familiar with the Hearts solely from their recorded work might be surprised to discover that in concert the band is sarcastic and snarky, their between-song banter as ironic and caustically witty as their music is heartfelt and yearning. In the past, I remember thinking that this banter sometimes got to be a bit too much, but on Friday night I found it endearing and even a little bit moving, as when Bob Buckley said that until the invitation to reunite at Rest Fest came along, he never thought he would play with the Hearts again, and when Troy Pohl told the story of a woman who used to come to all their shows and request the love song “Half of Me,” and how soon he would marry her. The Hearts played a very generous set — almost two hours, I think — and sent everyone home in high spirits. I don’t know whether they’ll ever get back together again, which makes me doubly glad I caught their performance last weekend, because it was special.
The Parlor blew me away last year at Rest Fest, when they were still performing under the name We Are Jeneric, after members Jen O’Connor and Eric Krans. On Sunday The Parlor performed with a handful of other local musicians, and turned in a set that drew from their very good 2012 CD, “Our Day in the Sun,” as well as older material such as the haunting “In the Parlor with the Moon.”) (I know The Parlor’s new album is good because I bought it at Rest Fest and have been playing it ever since.) Once again, The Parlor really impressed, with the church providing an excellent backdrop for their haunting, mysterious, whisper-to-a-scream songs.
One of the things I like most about the band’s music is how unpredictable it is — how they move from loud to quiet and back again in the space of a single song, with Krans and O’Connor’s slightly unhinged vocals giving the whole thing a wild, howling-at-the-moon feel. They also have a lot of songs with references to the ocean, which is always a good way to win me over, because I love the ocean. (The song “Tear Down the Coastline” was a real treat.)
I also caught Mount Eerie and Sharon Van Etten on Saturday, though I was somewhat distracted during both sets. I will say this: I heard enough of Mount Eerie to want to decide I wanted to hear more of them. They were definitely one of the more unusual bands of the festival, creating a sort of ambient canvas filled with unexpected sounds, mesmerizing vocals and a Sonic Youth-like attention to noise and the occasional beauty within that noise.
Sharon Van Atten is an up-and-coming singer that many of my friends regard with awe, but I’ve never managed to get into her music. I appreciated her Rest Fest performance — she definitely seemed more interesting live than on any of the recordings I’ve heard — without feeling all that engaged by it. But everyone else I spoke with seemed to love her, so I’m in the minority.
Anyway, I’m glad Rest Fest has become an annual event, and I hope it returns to St. Joseph’s next year.
Got a comment? Email me at email@example.com.