When the inaugural Waterloo Music Festival was announced this year at Carson Creek Ranch next weekend (September 7-9), we scratched our heads a bit trying to figure out where this enterprise was coming from. The event organizers advertised three nights of String Cheese Incident performing with other bands. The puzzled look on our face was due to the fact that this lineup wasn’t much far off from the String Cheese fans coming into town for a week to catch the band out at the old Backyard Amphitheater out west of Austin in Bee Cave for three nights. But there’s much more to this festival than meets the eye. In fact, the fest signals a change in the type of music curated at Austin music festivals in general. For years, jam band was a dirty word in Austin. Now, with gargantuan acts like Dead and Company making Billboard’s Top Grossing Tours Chart (and selling out the Erwin Center) and Phish stopping by means the genre is experiencing a popular resurgence in Texas and the rest of the country.
It’s a no-brainer to tell readers to check out String Cheese, but where do you go from there? Who are the other “cannot miss acts” on the bill? We’re going to do our best to answer those questions with a short list of six acts after we give you the skinny on the festival, which has a camping option (Carson Creek Ranch is situated between the Austin-Bergstrom Airport and downtown on a pristine piece of ranch land with the stunningly beautiful Colorado River running through the north side of the site). Like the larger Lockn’ Festival that took place last weekend in rural Virginia, Waterloo Fest will boast only two stages which means festival-goers don’t have to choose between performances. Ticket buyers could conceivably watch each and every act on the bill.
Event planners have peripheral activities planned for campers and early arrivals. An assortment of classes are available, like Heart Opening Yoga Flow, Yoga Nidra Meditation classes and more, along with an evening “Rejuvenate” yoga class and mix of workshops open to all fest goers throughout the weekend. The Festival announced Oskar Blues as the official beer sponsor, along with a variety of food and marketplace vendors such as Brother Magoo’s, The Gouda Boys, Shawarma Point, Spinspiration, Swisher Sweets, and more.
Now that you have the basics, let’s get down to the good stuff, the music. Beyond our 3-night headliner there’s a ton of good music curated by the festival. We pared down our recommendations to six bands we think you shouldn’t miss.
Friday, September 7
Austin Groove Project – Waterloo Stage – 4:30-5:45p
Austin Groove Project isn’t really a touring band, it’s more of an Austin supergroup comprised of some the city’s best players. Consisting of Austin artists, Tameca Jones, Alesia Lani, Jackie Venson, The Peterson Brothers, D Madness and Jon Keyz, this conglomeration of amazing talent is perhaps the most intriguing act in the lineup. Each member is on their own accord a worthy act to perform at the festival. Together they represent a potential juggernaut of vocal performance, high energy and exceptional musicianship. We cannot wait to see what the group has in store for music fans.
Tauk – Relix Stage – 12a
This set begins at midnight on Friday (technically Saturday) but you know what we mean. Tauk is the act that has been selected to finish the evening on opening night. The Oyster Bay (New York) natives began as a threesome that rounded out to four members of the progressive, jazz, funk and rock band that gained notoriety opening for Umphrey’s Magee on their 2014 tour. The all-instrumental act is known for their live shows which features an “underrated visual show” according to 303 Magazine. The group’s sound is unusual enough fans will find the performance unlike any other they’ve seen.
Saturday, September 8
Los Coast – Relix – 4p
We were pleased to see upstart Austin act, Los Coast on the bill. The funk-soul fusion act is ideal for a jam band lineup as their members represent some of the finest players in town. Led by vocalist Trey Privott and John Courtney (guitar) the group has quickly found an audience in the competitive Austin music scene. Previously nominated for a Black Fret award and recognized by the Austin Chronicle as best new band and one of the city’s best local residencies (C-Boys on Thursdays), this band is going places fast. They are fun to watch too. Privott is extremely active and fun to watch on stage while his bandmates lay down ferocious basslines and drum beats. With Courtney leading the action on guitar, fans will marvel at Los Coasts’ musicianship. We’ve caught the group’s exceptional show on several occasions and they never disappoint.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – Waterloo – 6:30p
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead (JRAD for short) is another unusual animal. Russo was slated to perform with Dean Ween Group in 2013. When that act had to cancel, Russo put together what was later called JRAD. The band is technically a super-group of sorts with Marco Benevutto (keyboards), Ween’s Dave Driewitz (bass) with Scott Metzger (guitar/vocals) and American Babies’ Tom Hamilton (guitar/vocals). Given the makeup of the band and their penchant for covering Grateful Dead tunes reimagined in their own style, there’s been a healthy debate about where they fit into the jam band scene. Traditionalists aren’t sure what to make of the group while others have become devout followers. We’re pretty sure with that stellar lineup fans are in for a treat either way.
Sunday, September 9
Hard Proof – Waterloo – 1:45p
If there’s any band fans should arrive early to the Waterloo Fest for, it’s Austin’s Hard Proof. The Afrobeat collective has staked their name on original, Fela Kuti-inspired songs that blend afrobeat, funk, rock and jazz into a fantastic, original sound. The 10-piece group features a crack horn section that has performed with Spoon, Black Joe Louis and countless others. Rhythm section Stephen Bidwell (drums) and Joe Sokolic (bass) are members of Adrian Quesada’s hot new act Black Pumas. Guitarist John Branch has recorded with top-selling Canadian artist City and Colour and toured with Quesada super-group Spanish Gold. In fact, Quesada has been known to sit in with the band. Most recently at their 10-year anniversary show at Continental Club. Keyboardist Mike Sinclair just worked on the recent White Denim record. They’re all exceptional players.
Hard Proof has also recorded with local production legend Jim Eno (Spoon) at the drummer’s Public Hi-Fi Studio. If those credentials don’t mean much to you, that’s ok. All you really need to know is these guys are some of Austin’s finest musicians. Fans can’t help but shake their hips to their songs which resonate with a myriad of styles and energy. Bring your dancing shoes to this performance.
Leftover Salmon – Waterloo – 3:15p
Following the pattern of musical acts with unusual styles performing at Waterloo Fest is Colorado’s Leftover Salmon which we often describe as bluegrass on acid. What the veteran act actually can be defined as is a bluegrass band with a drummer that likes to rock fans out with their frenetic pace and contagious attitude. They’re the epitome of their environment in Colorado where bluegrass is king and rock is queen.
The group has performed at Utopiafest in Central Texas before, drawing plenty of fans to the stage for extended mandolin and fiddle jams on two separate evenings indicating the stamina the band has built up over years of touring. The group didn’t stop at two Utopia Fest performances though, adding an impromptu acoustic set to the schedule in a late-night jam that went on until the wee hours of the morning. Expect more of the same from these guys at the festival who are touring in support of their latest effort, “Something Higher.”