If you went to a music festival this year, you have your own personal favorite memory. For me, it was getting up on stage with Girl Talk and making an ass of myself, dancing like I wasn’t just about to turn 40. But these are of a more collective nature, shared by thousands of folks and entered into the canons of music festival history. We traveled to countless music festivals this year, and here are our picks for the 15 best moments during 2011. Share your memories in the comments section below.
15. Charles Bradley
Austin City Limits Festival
Word had gotten around apparently, as Bradley’s side-stage tent was packed. His band came out very much like a Sharon Jones gig and just jammed for a while. You could these guys were hired guns—tight and entertaining on their own. You just knew Charles was gonna take it to another level. And he did. From a full introduction, he splashed onto the stage in full James Brown mode, sporting a very purple and very tight fitting suit. And he killed. Emotion and sweat pouring from this guy in equal amounts. I’d read that he danced in between songs so no one would see him crying. In between every song, Charles did cry and repeatedly thank the crowd, exclaiming that he didnt deserve it and it was a miracle that he was on that stage before those people. He danced and he cried and he sang. It was all pretty moving to watch a grown man in his 60s get the praise he’d deserved for many years. —Mark C. Austin (Photo by Mark C. Austin)
14. The Kills
The best performance of the day, however, had to go to The Kills. The duo’s raw, gritty sound somehow extends far beyond their guitar-and-drum-machine setup. Clad in a long-sleeved button-down and black jeans, Alison Mosshart sneered and sweated her way through the show. The heat was palpable in more ways than one—as the sun beat down, Mosshart and Jamie Hince delivered the sultry rock ‘n’ roll they’re known for, tearing through “U.R.A. Fever” and “Baby Says” and exchanging the kinds of looks that suggest Hince should have married Mosshart instead of Kate Moss. Mosshart didn’t let the warm weather get to her. She only slowed things down briefly for a stellar version of “The Last Goodbye.”—Bonnie Stiernberg (Photo by Meghan Brosnan)
13. Kanye West
Austin City Limits
Kanye had caught a lot of mixed press about a headlining gig at ACL, so there was a lot tension before his set. When the curtain dropped, lights and music came on but no Kanye. Then smoke and lights surrounded an industrial crane in the middle of the audience. Nothing bling or Versace covered—just an old crane carrying West on stage. But it was clear that he was coming out swinging, dancing on the lift before the crane lowered him, and he ran to the stage. His set was full energy and honestly one of the better of the weekend. —Mark C. Austin (Photo by Mark C. Austin)
12. Dawes with Mumford & Sons – “When My Time Comes”
WXPN 20th Anniversary Celebration
One of our favorite songs of the last few years—Dawes’ “When My Time Comes”—got a shot of banjo, accordion and Marcus Mumford’s vocals. The blending of the two bands sounds great.
11. Brandi Carlile with the Indigo Girls
The surprise of the hotly anticipated, cruise-closing Brandi Carlile-Indigo Girls combined set was that the star of the show arguably was not the Queen of the Boat (Carlile) but Amy Ray, the Indigos’ gruffer voice. Ray’s “Go” from 1999’s Come On Now Social was the clear highlight—a full-throated rock performance that drew the biggest reaction, fully utilizing the power of “the twins” Tim and Phil Hanseroth, the guitar/bass/BGV pair who make every Brandi Carlile show memorable. We were also impressed with the accordion, piano and vocals of super-sidewoman Julie Wolf, who even took a verse on “Closer to Fine” at least twice during the cruise.—Nick Purdy (photo by Will Byington)