This is coverage of Day 2 of the 2023 Lemonade Social. A recap of Day 1 can be found here. Day 2 was huge, so we're going to have to keep this one quick. Festival recap rules and all. Let's see how long it takes me to break my pledge of brevity.
Miki P the Swallowtails started day two of the Lemonade Social as the sun poured down on the parking lot turned venue. Attendance was light, and those that were present clung to the perimeter where shade from trees and buildings made the midday outing much more pleasant. The roof added to the venue stage last season provided the trio appreciated shade. The project is led by the eponymous Miki P (aka Mikala Petillo), whose vocals and acoustic guitar are both hit with gusto and confidence. They define the band's folky chamber pop. She's supported by Swallowtails Rachel Lovelace on bassoon and Adee Dancy on cello. Both wear their instruments strapped to them, adding an unusual but sensical mobility to the instruments. Each provided backing vocals that either blended nicely or harmonized agreeably. If "nice" and "agreeable" aren't your thing, then maybe you can lose yourself in the band's smart compositions. While the project's songs remain far from jazz, there were plenty of smart Musical moments and conspicuous compositions in the band's 25-minute set. Something for everyone.
The Lemonade Social is an annual event organized by The Record Machine. While it doesn't feature only acts on the record label, each performer reflects the tastes of owner Nathan Reusch. The afternoon's second act, Paul Jesse from Lawrence, Kansas, certainly bore that mark. The project's hyperpop balanced the electronic with the acoustic. Expansive tracks full of poppy percussion, bass, and backing vocals were augmented by a live threesome comprised of vocalist Paul Jesse, electric guitarist and producer Deegan Poores, and live drummer Billy Orr. Jesse is a sincere vocalist – maybe even an R&B balladeer – except when he's delivering his vocals with a strong party-rock cadence. Poores' guitar adds funk, sparking leads, or even searing solos depending on the song. He even took momentary control of the set to offer one of his solo recordings. Orr accents existing beats and adds crashing cymbals. Unfortunately, the trio's half-hour set was plagued with technical difficulties: The backing tracks dropped out on several occasions. Vocals another time or two. Poore's amp was not immune either. To avoid the electronic gremlins, the band opted to play the last track "semi-acoustic," with the twin vocals of Jesse and Poores, a clean-strummed guitar, and scant percussion that held the twosome together. The sparse arrangement felt different, but as the kids say "F*ck it, we'll do it live." And they did.
Ben Gipson would have played somewhere around here, but the act had to cancel due to COVID. Again, still a thing. Seven bands is plenty though.
Lawrence's Flora was up next. Flora Billen is a high school kid who makes amazing bedroom pop. Her home recordings are small with breathy, searching vocals, wonderful authentic lyrics, simple production, and endearing hooks. Performing her songs live, however, has been problematic, as she has historically been crippled by shyness. The first few times I saw her perform, not only did she not speak to the audience, but she didn't even look at them. While Flora hasn't become a whirling dervish in the months since, things are at least moving the right direction. This was, she would later admit, the first time she performed standing up.
Flora began her set by introducing her father, guitarist Dan Billen to her left, and uncle Sam Billen behind her on drums. Both previously performed in Billions, an indie rock project that folded twenty years ago. She also introduced her computer that would provide the simple backing tracks that sometimes swelled to include keyboard accompaniment and backing vocals, but were often little more than a click track. Backed by her family, she played through a thirty-minute set built from new songs, two covers (by Horse Jumpers of Love and Alvvays), and a couple of fan favorites. But only a couple, as she omitted both "Emerald City" and "Dumb Little Girl," which are delightful gems that were once mainstays of her set. Someday I'd like to have so many good songs that I could shelve two as good as those. Stay tuned as we follow Flora on her continued journey from comforting bedrooms to commanding big stages.
The evening continued with Paris Williams. He's a charismatic performer who paces the stage delivering quick rhymes over thick tracks rooted in alternative hip hop. He's joined by guitarist Alex Norcross. Norcross drops leads, riffs, and licks all over the songs. His vast vocabulary handles each song regardless of its mood, whether it needs post-punk scratching, jazz flourishes, or Hendrix-styled dive bombs. Drummer Taylor Samson bounces behind her kit, intently focused on the drum pad and the tight beats that she adds to most tracks. Between songs, Williams worked the crowd, urging them forward, and sharing over and over again that the next song he was about to play was one of his favorites. And while there's nothing worse than a performer who begs the audience to come forward, there's nothing better than one who succeeds. By the middle of his set, the audience was up, bouncing and waving their hands in the air. Kudos to Mr. Williams on the win.
The sun set between acts, elevating everything to its best. The West Bottoms cooled down into the mid 70s, the fairy lights came alive, illuminating the boundaries of the venue, and the stage glowed gold under the venue's new lights. A perfect invitation for the next act.
Mr. Golden Sun is a local pop rock quartet led by Matthew Hamer. His voice is warm and expressive, his guitars (either electric or acoustic) familiar, his lyrics captivating, and his banter a friendly embrace. He's surrounded by keyboardist Mark Ronning, bassist Jeff McCreary, and drummer Kody Krause. Without them Hamer might be lumped into the coffee shop crowd; with them, his songs pop like Belle and Sebastian and shine like Teenage Fanclub – especially when Hamer unleashes an epic extended solo while the band plays on sublimely. Chills. And not just because the weather is changing. The band hasn't been in the studio since 2018, so most of the set was unreleased material, including the debut of at least one new song. Unfortunately, a tripped breaker paused the fun in the middle of the set, sending the staff panicking and leaving the band anxious. When the power was restored, a relieved Hamer shared with the audience, "We are not the band that broke Lemonade Park." No, but they may break my budget. Someone needs to pay to get this band back in the studio!
Knowing that the power outage played havoc with the schedule, rapper Steddy P (aka Ray Pierce) took it on himself to right things with his set. The result was a twenty-minute speed run where Steddy P started tracks from a laptop, spit his bars, and then stopped the tracks mid beat when his point was made. It was a variation of "don't bore us, get to the chorus," but instead he focused on the verses, and seldom lasting long enough to reach the hook. Curious. Between songs, he quickly introduced himself and his philosophy. The 40-year-old Pierce has been rapping for decades and has been involved in the industry just as long. He explained that he intentionally surrounds himself with multiple genres of music, different scenes, and different crowds, as its important to use those muscles. I suspect The Lemonade Social wasn't too much of a workout, as Steddy P easily connected with the audience through his socially aware lyrics and direct (often off mic) conversations with the crowd.
The night was capped by Record Machine recording artist Black Light Animals. The quintet is a rock & roll band of curious colorings and proportions: Occasionally soulful. Occasionally funky. Hints of psychedelia. It's a slurry the band has been working since it was called Instant Karma. The set was full of mid-tempo rockers, a few slow ballads, and at least one pounding up-tempo dance number. The band wears jackets and slacks – and shirts unbuttoned too far with gold chains. I have no idea what year the band thinks it is, but I always try to appreciate a bit. Colby Bales fronts the band. Sometimes he plays piano, sometimes guitar, sometimes he gets to focus purely on his vocals. It's a clean pop croon augmented by a strong falsetto. He worked the shrinking late-night audience well, and earned some audience participation from the handful of dancers that came forward. Bassist Branden Moser is funky. Lead guitarist Cody Calhoun rips bluesy dad rock solos. Drummer Alex Hartmann is a restrained drummer who leaves lots of air for the band to nestle into. Newest member Nate Hubert plays sparse keys and chimes in with backing vocals. I'd seen the band previously a few times but never connected with them. Sadly, this night was no different.
The band ended at 10:30 and I was ready to go. Day two of Lemonade Social was long. Seven hours. Seven bands. Add in the four bands and the four hours from the event's first day, and you'll understand my festival fatigue. After packing up my camera bag and chair (and water bottle and illicit tofu jerky snacks) I slipped out without a goodbye one. Quick festival rules after all.