Hey, it turns out there is a music festival in Everett, Washington. I came up here for the Mariners (and, of course, for Mom), but I stayed for the Morby.
Now in its fifth year, the Fisherman’s Village Music Festival takes place in four venues over three days across downtown Everett each March. Until the Bandsintown app notified me that Kevin Morby was appearing at this festival, I had never even heard of it. Of the roughly 25 artists performing over the three days, the three that I wanted to see (Kevin Morby, Eric Johnson, and Sonny Smith) all happened to be playing on Saturday, so I bought myself and my Mom wristbands for that day’s festivities. While the lineup outside of those three was pretty thin, the small-time status of this festival came with the bonus of $30 day-pass wristbands.
The day started with a Mariners game in downtown Seattle under sunny skies, and even though that was a tense 6-5 loss, any day that includes a Mariners game and 7 different concerts is quite a day. Also, shout out to Mom, who is quite a trooper. Here is a quick recap (spoiler alert: it is not quick)…
Mount Eerie (Everett Historic Theater)
This was a Phil Elverum solo acoustic set. His music features a deeply personal stream of consciousness style akin to Mark Kozalek’s recent work. He has been at it for 20 years, but his recent output has been centered on his dealing with the 2016 death of his wife from pancreatic cancer. This stuff is heavy, heavy, heavy – and by that I mean raw and emotional, tragic, and heartbreaking. It was given extra gravity in this beautiful old venue, built in 1901 – its aged vibe amplified his ghostly songs of pain and loss. Phil is very talented and his guitar work is beautiful, but after 45 minutes of hearing him ripping his guts out about his loss in his songs (yes, every song was centered around this theme), I am left hoping that he is okay and finds the closure he so desperately needs.
Eric Johnson (Everett Historic Theater)
As the singer, songwriter, and guitarist for Fruit Bats, Eric has been part of my musical universe since the turn of the century. Getting an opportunity to see him perform solo with nothing more than an acoustic guitar was one of the two things that brought me to this festival, and he did not disappoint. Of the first six selections four were brand new songs that Eric informed us he had never performed live before, including “Tacoma”, a ballad about a brief but happy time in his life when he lived in that not-so-fair industrial city. The song features a line referencing the smell of the paper mill, which garnered quite a chuckle from the crowd.
After apologizing profusely for putting us through the new songs – which I should add were actually quite good – he played a few more fan favorites from his Fruit Bats catalogue before opening it up to requests from the audience. Now, here was my time to shine. Since I was sitting in the front row, I was able to get his attention and asked for my favorite track from his latest record Absolute Loser, the whimsical yet powerful “Don’t You Know That”. This seemed like a perfect choice to me because of the song’s melancholy and deep message about an individual’s insignificance to the planet and also because the studio recording is little more than an acoustic guitar and Eric’s voice to begin with.
Turns out, Eric could not remember ever performing this song in front of a live audience and almost refused before I implored him to give it a shot. It was fun to have that back and forth with him (he could not see me in the dark of the theater), and he even asked me for the opening line (which I gave him) and what key the song was played in (which I could not). After strumming for a few seconds, he picked it up and played a perfect rendition – and thanked me for the challenge afterwards. After a couple more songs, he left to a standing ovation – but he would make another appearance later in the evening.
New song – “Man with the Mohawk”?
New song – “Like An Orphan”?
Humbug Mountain Song
My Sweet Midwest
New song – Tacoma
New song – “Could’a Been”?
Beautiful Morning Light
Singing Joy to the World
Don’t You Know That
You’re Too Weird
When U Love Somebody
Spotify playlist link:
Karl Blau (Everett Historic Theater)
Karl is a local musician – he and his band hail from Anacortes. The crowd was clearly into his irreverent brand of rock and roll, and Mom loved it also. I found it to be catchy and fun, but not remarkable. Karl’s band included a fine guitar player, drummer, and keyboardist, while Karl’s down-tuned ukulele provided the basslines for several songs. During others, Karl rolled singer-only, dancing around in his custom “Kurt Cobain Jr.” T-shirt. In his defense, he does have a passing resemblance to the late rocker, although any comparisons should end there.
Kevin Morby (Everett Historic Theater)
The former leader of The Babies and bass player for Woods, Kevin went solo in 2013 and has been creating increasingly impressive tunes ever since. His fourth solo LP, last year’s City Music, is a triumph and cemented Kevin as one of the preeminent musicians around today. Through his melancholy vocal delivery and simple songwriting (lyrics usually revolve around one verse repeated or altered slightly throughout the song), Kevin and fellow axe-player Meg Duffy create soundscapes that rock a little but definitely make you move. “City Music”, the epic title track off of his most recent record, is a prime example of how this style works when coupled with a tasty guitar riff and imaginative soloing.
The first thing I noticed was Kevin’s flair for fashion. His custom-made “crybaby” suit is truly badass (see the picture below). Partway through the set he commented that he had never worn this new suit before. Also, he noted that he was playing his last show in his 20s (his 30th birthday is on April 2nd) – which prompted the crowd to sing him happy birthday.
The first half of the show consisted of songs from City Music, while the second half was more geared towards older selections – including Eric Johnson showing up to play keyboard and sing on the classic “Sucker of the Void (The Lone Mile)”. Kevin closed out the night with a solo rendition of his political yet uplifting ballad “Beautiful Strangers”.
Come To Me Now
Aboard My Train
Sucker in the Void (The Lone Mile) (feat. Eric Johnson)
I Have Been to the Mountain
Beautiful Strangers (solo)
Spotify playlist link:
The Wild Ones (Tony V’s Garage)
Mom decided that she was up for still more adventure so we headed over to this dive bar to kill some time before Sonny & the Sunsets played at midnight. I had seen this band the week prior at Treefort Music Festival in Boise, and they seemed about the same – not too shabby but unremarkable. I did recognize one of their songs, in which the lead singer asks “Do you really want to turn me away?”.
The Seshen (Tony V’s Garage)
Another repeat from Treefort, I enjoyed the bongos but was ready to hit the road once midnight was near.
Sonny & the Sunsets (Normanna Lodge)
Sonny Smith plays a fun brand of slacker surf/punk rock, but doesn’t exactly have a diverse sound. If you hear a couple of Sonny’s songs, you pretty much have heard all of his songs. His voice leaves a lot to be desired, but he sure is entertaining and his band is tight. I saw them at Treefort VI (2017) and wanted to catch them here if Mom was up to stay out until 1am. To my surprise, Mom not only enjoyed the set, she told me that he was her favorite part of the entire evening. I thoroughly enjoyed his extended rendition of personal favorite “Check Out”, during which Sonny jumped down into the “crowd” (there were only about 40 of us there) and played amongst us. Solid end to a terrific day of music!
Bonus Fanboy Content Alert:
During Sonny’s set, I noticed Kevin and Eric in the audience and introduced myself to Eric as the voice that had challenged him to play “Don’t You Know That” earlier. I told them that they were the reasons I had shown up and thanked them for their efforts. When I asked Kevin the last time he had been to Boise, he said he had stopped at Neurolux (and loved it, of course) on his first solo tour in 2013. He also mentioned how much it meant to him that Doug Martsch attended that concert and introduced himself afterwards.
Eric confirmed that the new songs he had played will not be on a solo release but rather are set to appear on an upcoming Fruit Bats record that is just now being made. He is hopeful that the album will be released sometime this fall. He again thanked me for getting him to perform my choice of song request and the two agreed to take a mediocre picture with me (my selfie game is not exactly on-point).