The roads around Public Square Park are closed. This brings a bit of an unfamiliar sight to the Nashville streets: crowds of people walking across the Victory Memorial and Woodland Street bridges into downtown Nashville to attend the city’s annual music festival, Live On The Green. This past Thursday was the second of four consecutive Thursdays that traditionally make up the festival. This year, Lightning 100 (the radio station that organizes the festival) is adding two more days, filling out the weekend of the September 10th-12th, making it a more serious affair, with two stages as opposed to the typical one. Headliners this year include Ben Folds, Passion Pit, Rodrigo Y Gabriela, Lord Huron, Cold War Kids, and Moon Taxi.
Thursday August 27th started the evening off with Houndmouth. The four piece from New Albany, Indiana has been gaining steam over the past couple years, performing at this year’s Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, among others. The band delighted the still forming, yet significant crowd with their indie-country rock. All four members sing and play at the same time, and all four will take the lead singer role at times. A particular highlight of their set was when the keyboard player Katie Toupin stepped forward and sang a solo with just electric guitar. In general, the band just seemed to be having so much fun on stage that it was hard not to get infected.
Up next was Richmond’s J. Roddy Walston and the Business. This act caters to a taste that is more present in Nashville than many places today: Rock n Roll. Heavy guitars and a hard grit, Walston and the Business draw comparison to classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones before more recent bands. With a tinge of southern flair, they are right up Nashville’s alley.
The night was closed out by Cold War Kids, and they truly affirmed their role as headliners. The band performed with energy and passion, playing a solid mix of new songs and old favorites. While they played energetically, CWK helped highlight some issues with the show. The band was practically only lit from the back. The sun had set by the time they started, so this made it so you could only see the band on the big screen. While the images projected on the screen did look awesome, you couldn’t really just look at the band. It seemed to be a creative choice rather than awkward technical difficulties since it’s been mentioned before how they enjoy playing in dimmed lighting.
This tied in with another issue with the festival that was also present last year: the music isn’t loud enough. Now, don’t get me wrong, a huge issue with live music today is that many concerts are WAY too loud. Rarely do I attend a show that I think is too quiet. However, in huge outdoor spaces, it takes a lot more to deliver a show that really sounds powerful, especially to people at the very back of the crowd. Big outdoor festivals like Bonnaroo will counter this with huge metal tent-ceilings above the crowd, or a second tier of speakers about halfway back. While the former option doesn’t make sense for a temporary concert space, it would seem that the latter could be a viable option. Instead, the audience is left feeling underwhelmed by intense rock acts like J. Roddy and Cold War Kids. This issue is very probably tied to city regulations. It’s more likely than not that Nashville has a decibel limit on outdoor concerts, especially in the middle of downtown on a work night. However, it is estimated that over 100,000 people attended Live On The Green last year, and with the expanded schedule, that number could very well rise. As it currently operates, over half of those people (those not standing by the sound board or closer) are not going to hear a good sounding show, and in the case of Cold War Kids, they aren’t going to see much either.
There may not be an obvious solution to this problem, but hopefully there will be one out there. This is arguably one of the biggest concert events in one of the biggest music cities in the country (with one of the more discerning base of concert goers). The festival boasts serious talent, and it’s a serious bummer that, for many people, the show won’t fully deliver on the promise of the acts performing.