Friday, June 9

A great melodic band with songs that are easy to sing to, Virginia Coalition is making its first trip to many festivals this summer, but the band is certainly not unknown to festival goers. “That song was for the Kansas City Police,” singer and guitarist Andy Poliakoff explained after a cover of Bill Withers' "Lean On Me." Paul Ottinger moved from the keys to auxiliary percussion, slamming his woodblock and set of cowbells, while constantly twirling his sticks and rocking from one foot to another. Poliakoff added the congas to the mix, while Ottinger was on his knees hitting everything in arms reach, cranking out a longer jam. The band gave the crowd everything it had and it was all so easy to enjoy.

Brock Butler :: Wakarusa 2006
The fire department made its way through the crowd of the Sun Down Stage with a fire engine, spraying the crowd with much needed relief from the Kansas sun. It was refreshing, but could not keep the audience from getting right back to their sweaty business. Perpetual Groove's "Three Weeks" gave some fans the chance to slow down, but most everyone else sped up. While the sun was bright, Brock Butler's guitar rivaled it. PGroove was the perfect band to fill the prime of the day. Extending jams with Brock's streaming guitar, Albert Suttle's syncopated drum solos, Matt McDonald's floating keys, and Adam Perry's meshing bass made for a happy, full, afternoon crowd. A perfect set up for the ultimate happy vibe: Michael Franti & Spearhead.

Michael Franti :: Wakarusa 2006
Next up was the inimitable Michael Franti and Spearhead. The scorching heat was transformed into a pleasant summer day with some deft wordplay from Franti, who felt the sunny weather was a blessing from above. The band swiftly segued from a Bob Marley cover to The Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun," which brought a few smiles to the sweaty, sun-reddened faces in the crowd. Nothing that Spearhead does requires much in the way of technical ability; rather, it is the artful way that they intertwine simple patterns and ideas to create a viable musical backdrop that remains interesting throughout the show. By adding Michael Franti into the mix, you now have an upbeat, charismatic ringleader who can galvanize an audience with relative ease. "Tell Me Lies" proved to be a crowd-pleaser, and the call and response of "Hola Hola, Bonjour Bonjour" soon followed. Before too long, many had forgotten about the heat. While Franti actively got the crowd involved – waving their hands or jumping up and down on cue – toward the end it threatened to become a game of Simon Says. A final offering from Franti was the title track off his album Everyone Deserves Music, and at the end he ad-libbed, "Everyone needs music: Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld – everyone!" For those who had never seen the band, one concertgoer put it aptly, "I need to get on the ball and add some Spearhead to the iPod after this."

Grace Potter :: Wakarusa 2006
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals proved to be one of the more pleasant surprises of the weekend for many. The 22-year-old Vermont frontwoman added some nice texture behind the band's sound on the Hammond B-3, but her vocals were truly on-point. The band bridges the gaps between blues, rock, and honky-tonk with a sound that is refreshingly original. Towards the end of the set, Potter explained that the next song was an ode to their tour bus, which recently broke down. It is this ability to make the personal universal which lends credence to the thought that this band may be around for awhile. The tent was packed, and the audience certainly seemed to appreciate the effort displayed. Guitarist Scott Tournet absolutely shredded a handful of solos, giving the band instant credibility for peaking on jam segments. It seems as though the band may be on the brink of a major breakthrough to popular acclaim, and they certainly have the ingredients to do so.

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