Concert Review: Nashville’s Festivus — Guest Post by Ray Blair

Nashville’s Marathon Music Works is an excellent venue for a concert. It is a renovated former automobile manufacturing factory. The overall facility has a museum feel. It is a gallery of physical objects harkening back to America’s industrial past, and perhaps a simpler time. Across the street is a small museum with some of the cars that were produced in the factory, which stopped making cars over a century ago.   The overall facility has an intriguing combination of diamond in the rough, tourist trap, and self serve museum. It is often very quiet and it has something interesting around every corner. The concert venue itself is wonderful. This is a standing venue, so be prepared to stand for the show, but it is very spacious, so there is less of a concern about how to get crowded into the closest square to the stage. There are bars in the lobby and at the venue, and a pop-up local restaurant spot or two. The urban industrial feel goes well with a music venue. And it is both off the beaten path in amidst the burgeoning Nashville cityscape. The venue attracts an eclectic mix of acts. The ones I look forward to in coming months include, Tove Lo, Dr. Dog, Cold War Kids, and Michael Kiwanuka.

When I was growing up, I had a station in San Francisco, KFOG, that hit my sweetspot and was the type of independent alternative radio station I believe should exist everywhere. Well, if I was any good at business, I would be good at business. (For more on KFOG, check out this link.)

Here in Nashville, in independent alternative radio station is turning thirty years old, and I have been lucky enough to be a local listener for twenty years.  They host an annual Festivus concert to benefit a local police toy drive. On a day off they were giving away tickets to the concert. The way to enter was to make a type of ‘jingle rocks.’ A contestant needed to send in a song that had a rock connection and then rebrand it as a Christmas song.  So I tweeted several things, none too impressive, like ‘Rock Me Like a Candycane’ and much to my surprise I was put in the drawing and won. In my correspondence to actually collect the tickets, I sent in my favorite, “Sleigh Ride” by Foghat. The comnination of the band name, and the changed song title would make it a great walk-up song for Rudoph!

So…the Festivus show…I went to the store to buy two unwrapped toys for donations, put on an elf costume and walked down to Marathon music works.  

The first act was Lucie Silvas. She has a great voice, a great accent, a good look, and plays with really good musicians. Being the first of three acts is not the best thing for the energy in a large room. Add to that the smooth and calming sounds of her songs, and you don’t have the best recipe for a raucous crowd environment. I really enjoy listening to her songs. The production is strong and her lyrics catch your attention. Her songs sound like a lazy afternoon drive when you have no destination but are looking for things you usually don’t notice.  (She called it in one interview, the Laurel Canyon Vibe) She delivered her radio hits at the very beginning. A great part about hearing her live is that you get the feel for the range and high quality of her voice. She can hit clear notes with genuine sweetness, she has a Kim Carnes-esque smokiness in her voice often, and volume level she can hit is really impressive. Her voice can drip with nostalgia, and I often think I am being pulled into the late 70s and early 80s with her sounds. Pro-tip the name of Silvas’ current album is E G O said as the letters, not EGO all caps as a shouting vanity title. For me her two strongest songs are ‘Black Jeans’ and ‘Kite.’ In both cases, production value, sound, and lyrics combine to make them playlist-worthy.

Lucie Silvas has a great accent. She opened with two hits, easy to listen to, showing a fun range from hum along to high notes, including some raspy Betty Davis eyes. The last song ROCKED.

The Black Pumas seem like an inverse of Lucie Silvas. They seem like a fantastic small club band that has developed a crowd at home in Austin that would always make the crowd and the club owners happy. They feel like a party about to happen even when they are not playing a note. They are modern alternative music meeting the best of seventies funk music. For a nashville reference they are the sounds of historic Jefferson street playing before an audience of Cool Springs.  They are a big band with a big sound, and none of that can at all get in the way of the piercing and clear voice of their lead singer Eric Burton. Their stage presence is relatively stale for their hit songs, but the payoff is the tremendous quality of sound and that fills the room. Then for the non-airplay songs, the band energizes with rooms with feel of great jam sessions, tossing to the backup singers, the drummer, the Billy Preston-like keyboard set up as they ride through their music like surfers. The Black Pumas is a 2019 grammy nominated act for Best New Artist.  They sound great on the radio, and they are amazing to watch live. Their most-aired songs so far are Black Moon Rising and All My Favorite Colors.

This Austin band has a made for the stage modern alternative meets the best of 70s P-Funk style.  They have the sounds of Jefferson Street and the audience of Cool Springs. The band’s sound showmanship vibe combined to elevate the room immediately without using established hits. As they transitioned to a stage jam song, the performance climaxed with showing off vocals from backup singers into their hit song which sounded radio quality on stage. It was fantastic!! They closed their set extremely song with an incredible finish including an intoxicating drum beat with vocal hit.

The headliner of the Festivus concert was Anderson East. They hit you with a Pacific wave to knock you off balance and then you have to dance to keep your balance.  They are a medium sized band with a giant sound. Their lead singer belts out the sounds of sixties soul and channels a distant relative of Otis Redding. At times I thought I was listening to Ike and Tina Turner, at others I heard the keyboard tones of the Doors. A fantastic horn section and excellent backup singers pair wonderfully with Anderson East’s gravelly but powerful vocals.  Their stage presence and performance level is so strong that you almost forget you can download their music or that you have heard them on the radio. That had me at hello, but they cemented a grand performance with a must sing along with cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Hungry Heart.’ If you have a chance to see this act, you…must…do…it…period. They pull you into their show so fully, the individual songs and qualities seem less important. For days afterward I would hear their songs and remember that they are also really strong as airplay music.  My favorite songs of his are, ‘Girlfriend,’ just the tension of the line, “I think I’m in love with your girlfriend,” combined with the energy of the music make it a solid hit. Even stronger is “All on My Mind.” 

Marathon Music Works:

Marathon Village:


Cover photo credit: Marathon Music Works IG

**Note: The editorial delay on this post is entirely the fault of co-editor Greg Jones. Ray was on the ball with this excellent, interesting review!

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