Oh, the inaugural year of a music fest. Excitement of the unknown. The hopes. The concerns. Then it comes and the Monday Morning Quarterbacks show up. It’s a roller coaster of extreme highs and lows.
Well, we had a little bit of all of that with the initial Sacred Rose Music Festival in Bridgeview, Il. Illinois has a couple of big annual festivals with Summer Camp in Chillicothe for the past 21 years, and Lollapalooza in downtown Chicago for the past 17 years. There was the aforementioned Phases of the Moon outside of Danville, but that, sadly, was a one-and-done. It could not survive the negatives regardless of all the positives. This writer does think Sacred Rose will be back, but there will need to be some tweaking. The main issues are fixable, but unfortunately, no one can really do much about Mother Nature.
I was only able to attend Sunday’s show, and by that time many of the complaints were being heard. The biggest being the “bleeding” of the sounds from the 3 stages. Since it was too late to change stage set-up, the organizers attempted to lessen the impact by staggering the schedule a bit. My goal was to see some of every act on the 3 stages, and to make at least one visit to the laser dome. Looking at the new schedule, there was still a lot of overlap, but this staggering was going to make my goal a little easier to accomplish.
I arrived right at the opening at noon and walked right in. The majority of the fest is set up on soccer fields made up of AstroTurf. It was definitely easier on these old knees and feet than asphalt or gravel. There was no shortage of bare feet. The set up was fairly basic with two large stages – The Dreamfield and The Vega – set up next to each other with about 100 -150 yards between them. Completely opposite them but facing parallel was The Canopy. Right next to The Canopy was a large inflatable indoor soccer field that was converted to The Laser Dome.
My day started with a very sparse crowd showing up at The Dreamland stage to hear the majestic piano playing of Holly Bowling. She sat down alone on the big stage in front of her Yamaha CP4. A small image, but a huge presence. She offered a quick Good Morning, and launched into Phish’s “It’s Ice.” If you don’t know about Holly, you need to. She began being known on the scene for being able to replicate Phish shows solely on piano. She has since added in some Grateful Dead songs, and for the past 5 years has been a mainstay in the Tom Hamilton-led band Ghost Light. I have heard Bowling play “It’s Ice” before, and it is a perfect instrument for her talents. She uses the whole keyboard as she covers the different peaks and valleys of the tune.
It was after this opener that I made my first attempt to achieve my goal of seeing a portion of every band play. I do not like missing anything, but at a fest like this, it was inevitable. So I allowed myself to keep my eye on the prize, and left to see Nicole Atkins on the Canopy Stage. I had seen Nicole perform with a bunch of different people when she was a special guest on Jam Cruise 14 in 2016. She has a strong voice with a nice stage persona, but to see her lead her own band was a whole new experience. She fronted a 5-piece with her taking center stage sporting her own guitar.
She showed all the glow I saw before and then some. She tongue-in-cheek introduced her song “A Little Crazy” as one she wrote with her “boyfriend” Chris Isaac. She did joke Chris wasn’t aware of the relationship or helping out on the song. She followed that up with another original called “Sleepwalking.” I felt her sound gave off a real ‘70s slow funk/rock sound. This feeling was further confirmed when I was pretty sure I heard a bit of Led Zeppelin’s “Rain Song” during the jam. She continued her playfulness during this song by leaning down at the head of the stage and singing to one of the unaware security guards in the photo pit. It got quite a laugh when she seductively ruffled his hair. She then had Maggie Rose, who was next on that stage, join her for another original, “AM Gold.”
Nicole serenading / Credit: Michael Lepek for American Blues Scene
At this point, I decided to head over to The Vega stage to see the young bass phenom, Karina Rykman. While I have never seen her play in Marco Benevento’s band, she was another performer I had seen on Jam Cruise. Again, only as a special guest sitting in with others. I saw her go nose to nose with Dumpstaphunk’s Tony Hall on the boat in the Jamroom at 2:00 in the morning. This girl plays like a seasoned pro, not like the twenty-something she is. Like Atkins, today she was fronting her own band, but in this case, a 3-piece. And if Atkins was slow ‘70s style funk, Rykman was just straight up funk. I didn’t know the song, but it grabbed me instantly. It was a riot to watch and get completely caught up in her enthusiasm as she ran in circles around the stage.
While the sound bleeding is a con, the stage set-up and the ability to move from stage to stage quickly was definitely a pro. I decided to catch the end of Holly Bowling’s set and was rewarded with a beautiful “Squirming Coil.” Many in the crowd, which was a slightly larger crowd then when I left earlier, played the role of vocalist singing along to her playing. But at the end it was all Bowling. Just like how Page can silence a whole stadium finishing up “Coil” by himself on stage, you could hear a pin drop as she played the final notes. She is simply an exquisite artist.
Back to Rykman, where while approaching if I closed my eyes, I felt I could have been at an Avril Lavigne show. She followed that up with a “soft” rap tune, a cover of the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer,” a little more funk/rap with “My House,” and then another original called “Elevator.” You can’t really label her because her style is all over the place. But the one constant is her amazingly contagious personality. I have heard the phrase “like a punch of sunshine in the face.” Her picture could be under that headline. It is impossible to not smile while bopping to her playing.
On the Dreamland stage, the Kitchen Dwellers were taking the stage. This is another band I have seen on Jam Cruise. (Public Service Announcement: If you have not gone sailing, it is another must do!) Back to the Dwellers. I feel their take on bluegrass leans more towards Greensky Bluegrass than Yonder Mountain String Band, but is really unique all on its own. I have truly never heard banjo played the way Torrin Daniels plays. They opened their set with “Shadows” from their 2019 album Muir Maid. They followed it up with a couple off of their new album Wise River.
It was during the 2nd of these new songs, “Stand at Ease,” where I had one of those magical music moments. The band wrote this song about their friend, Jeff Austin, who has left us much too early. As the band slowed down and hit the climax repeating over and over “I still hear your voice in my head sayin’ keep on going ya gotta keep on / I still miss that original soul sayin’ keep on going ya gotta keep on,” I felt the chills up the back of my neck. This is the reason I keep going to live music. The music is always wonderful, but there are those moments that are extra special. That stays with you forever. That will be one.
I stuck around to hear them play a great rendition of Jerry Garcia’s “Run for The Roses,” and then headed back to The Canopy to see Maggie Rose. As I approached, I heard a top-notch band playing to the beat of “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” and sure enough I was greeted with Rose’s strong voice confirming the beat. Next song was an original called “Pull You Through.” A sultry little ditty that would sound as perfect on an oldies channel as on a stage at a music fest in 2022.
A true beauty, just like the singer herself. Her band kicked it up a notch with a bluesy funk tune called “What Makes You Tick,” off her most recent album Have a Seat. On the album, Marcus King handles the guitar work, but her touring guitarist (I didn’t get his name) was no slouch at all.
At this point, I decided to check out this infamous Laser Dome. Boy oh boy! Where was something like this a few decades ago when LSD may or may not have been part of my concert-going experience? I was warned to take my sunglasses off before entering, and it was some good advice. I stepped into basically darkness and the soothing sounds of The Grateful Dead’s “Row Jimmy.” It took close to 5 minutes for my eyes to adjust to be able to see vague images. Those images were small groups of people just hanging out while lasers randomly shot out throughout the dome. In the center was a DJ’s control center, and this set just consisted of a vintage Dead show. The room was also an air-conditioned oasis to the pretty severe heat we were feeling outside.
As I left, I noticed all the free water stations, as well as a long line of port-a-potties. There was also an extravagant vending “Shakedown Street” section in this area. In my opinion, these were many of the well-designed set-ups for the fest. In addition, a nice little touch was the constant flow of “smoke bubbles.” I have never seen anything like them. Little cloudy bubbles floating through the air that exploded into a puff of smoke when popped. I noticed a smile with every pop. Another thing Sacred Rose offered was a higher priced ticket for MVP status.
Each stage was divided essentially down the middle with MVP on one side and GA on the other. The MVP side had bathrooms and food/drink vending. My media pass gave me the MVP treatment, so I didn’t really know what it would be like to not have it. In all honesty, it was a nice perk, but it really comes down to “what’s in your wallet” to decide if it is worth it. One of the complaints heard after day 1 and 2 was the state of the MVP bathrooms the later the day got – hopefully another of the tweaks to be addressed in the future.
I made my way over to The Vega for Blu Dr Tiger, and found a similar set up to the previous band on this stage – Rykman, but a much different sound. Blu (apparently her true name) makes appearance a big part of her show. She definitely catches your eye, and she has quite a stage persona. However, the music was quite poppy, and I did not get to hear much of her bass-playing talents. Part of the intrigue to Sacred Rose was the diverse line-up, and though Tiger did have a small crowd, it really was not my cup of tea.
I headed back to catch the end of the Dwellers and was rewarded with one last jam sandwich of New Horizons>The Living Dread>New Horizons. This included some more incredible banjo work from Daniels and a little nod to Phish with a segue into Twist including a handful of the “Hey” that the crowd joyfully led. These guys were truly the highlight of the day for me.
Sadly, the Dwellers being the highlight could have been since there wasn’t much more competition because this is when the day began to go awry. Just when the Infamous String Dusters along with Molly Tuttle began to take the Dreamland stage, they were ushered right back off. There was a lot of confusion because it was completely sunny with blue skies. Eventually a message came on the big screens saying there was a weather alert and to please evacuate the grounds to safer areas. Since today’s phones and weather apps allow us all to become weather experts, it was quite confusing. Storms were in the area, but according to radar, we looked like a football going directly through the uprights with storms passing by on both sides leaving us untouched.
No one evacuated, but we were forced to move a distance away from the stages in case the winds – which were apparent – caused the stages to fall. After 80 minutes, the Dusters and Tuttle took the stage. They sounded great opening with an original, Rising Sun, followed by a couple of Tuttle songs. “Flatland Girl,” where she prefaced it with growing up not too far from the fest, followed by a great version of “Dooley’s Farm.” They covered Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” and then they were done. Unfortunately, a 26-minute set due to a “non-storm” delay. Haitus Kaiyote was playing at the same time, but due to the shortened set lists, I missed my first – and it would turn out only – band of the day.
New schedules to accommodate for the lost time were sent out via the Sacred Rose app which had the Wood Brothers up next on the Dreamfield. They led off with three songs from their 2020 album Kingdome in My Mind. First was “Little Bit Sweet” followed by “Little Bit Broken,” which included a real nice organ solo, and then “Cry Over Nothing.” It was what you expect from a Woods Brothers performance – a nice mellow sound with those very distinct vocals. Thankfully, one of the tweaks to the schedule did not have Kamasi Washington overlapping at the neighboring Vega Stage. The Woods Brothers would have definitely been eaten up.
I decided to take this opportunity to continue to see as many bands as possible, and ventured back to The Canopy to see Dawes. I had never seen or even heard anything from this band. I arrived in the middle of their opening song “Someone Else’s Café/Doomscroller Tries to Relax” which is also the opening song on their recently released album, Misadventures of Doomscroller. As I listened, I couldn’t help but think this is what journey would have sounded like had they taken the jamband route. I really enjoyed their energy as well as the sound. They followed with an older original “When the Tequila Runs Out,” and were really grabbing me when, sadly, we came to our next weather delay.
This time we were given the reason that lightning had struck ground within 8 miles of the venue. We were requested to move to safety again, but this time security did not relent. They herded all the patrons to the adjacent soccer stadium to take shelter. However, with no rain coming down the majority of the crowd hung out alongside the stadium for about 30 minutes. We were once again told the music would be resuming. I decided to move on from the possible return of Dawes, and instead head to the Vega stage to see Kamasi Washington. As we all sat down waiting for the band to take the stage, we saw the security cover up all the equipment. Then the skies lit up with a spectacular lightning show. Still no rain, but the writing was on the wall. The inevitable announcement came that the rest of the night – along with the headliners, JRAD, Greensky Bluegrass, and Khruangbin – was canceled.
It was a sad end to what had started as such a great day of music and fun. While the first two delays caused a lot of head-scratching, at least the final one was understandable. The communication throughout the day definitely left a bad taste in many mouths. Especially after how communicative the promoters had been up to that point. However, at the time of this writing one week later, the promoters offered a sizable write-up apologizing for the lack of info, and a full refund to everyone for the Sunday show. A pretty unprecedented action for a show that was canceled due to nature. And in all honesty, we all saw quite a good half day of music. I think it will go a long way to some good faith toward what this fan hopes is just the first year of an annual fest.