It was Friday afternoon at the 2017 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival and the field at the Which Stage was filled with a crowd fit for an evening headliner. Well before the start of The Strumbellas’ show, there had been a steady flow of people approaching the stage and staking out the best spots to watch the Canadian folk rockers.
Flashback to March 14, 2016– I had heard their infectious song “Spirits” at least a hundred times on local radio, but knew little of the rest of their catalog when I first found myself at a Strumbellas concert at the intimate High Watt in Nashville. I distinctly remember leaving that show sensing that huge festival crowds were just around the corner for this band.
At this year’s Bonnaroo, what stood out about the Strumbellas was growth. They filled the second largest stage at the ‘Roo with ease–their folk rock sound spilled out into the festival grounds refusing to be challenged by the other stages and tents that have a tendency to bleed into the Which field. They connected with the audience and built on the crowd’s energy with their large and diverse setlist. Most importantly, their fan base has grown into a passionate juggernaut.
Their most recent album Hope was of course the centerpiece of the show as it is the album most fans know inside and out. Starting with the optimistic, live-in-the-moment “Wars,” people continued to pour in from every corner of the festival over the song’s building, bouncy sound. A little later in the set, front man Simon Ward kicked the acoustic guitar into high gear with a jamming version of “We Don’t Know” that also featured lush fiddle from Izzy Ritchie. The set of course ended with an extended version of “Spirits” allowing the Bonnaroo crowd to indulge in one last epic sing-along.
The Strumbellas have been making music together since 2008 and were well recognized in Canada for their folk and roots music–even being nominated for a 2014 Juno Award. Fortunately, the band didn’t forget about their pre-Hope works which were mixed into the concert’s flow. I was excited to find on the setlist a springier version of “The Sheriff,” from their 2012 album The Father and the Hunter.
The Strumbellas have mastered the ability to connected with their audience during the show. Their recorded songs feature anticipation-building swells and pauses, and at Bonnaroo, they used this effect to keep everyone on the edge of their feet waiting for the next folk rock drop. And while Ward seems a bit quiet on stage between songs, that is easily made up for by the now celebrity personality of Dave Ritter, whose dancing and energy leads to frequent chants of “DAVE! DAVE! DAVE!” from the crowd. Combined, the band is genuine and music focused while still keeping it lighthearted.
At the 2017 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, I witnessed a band that has embraced its celebrity, rocked a field with tens of thousands watching, and are only touching the tip of where they might go in the future.
[This brilliant Rooview was crafted George Maifair; these fantastic photos were snapped by Sammi Maifair.]