The sounds, the visuals, the tastes and the smells were all aesthetically pleasing -- as well they should be -- on the hot opening night of the 2012 Utah Arts Festival on Thursday, June 21.
My son Jimmie and I ventured down to Salt Lake City's Library Square early evening to do a little window shopping, enjoy an ice-cold drink and catch sets by two of the festival's musical headliners, James McMurtry and Mike Farris.
If you are looking to add a lovely accent to your home or wardrobe, and don't mind making your wallet a bit lighter, you can surely find just the thing at the UAF. Pre-concert, we spent time walking the vendors' booths, which featured eclectic pieces by artists from all over the West. Though I restrained myself, I was sorely tempted to hit one of the plentiful portable ATMs and make my own a spectacular handwoven rug, an ethereal blown-glass piece or perhaps a handmade purse.
Then came the real reason we'd made the drive -- the music. McMurtry is something of a family favorite. I always play a cut from him on my KRCL radio show, Sunday Sagebrush Serenade, and as a result, my 16-year-old son had long wanted to see him. Thus, we joined a gaggle of friends right down front to better take in the show.
Though I often act as emcee at music events, I wasn't expecting to take the Amphitheater Stage that night. However, about five minutes prior to downbeat, I heard my name, and saw the stage manager motioning me forward. He asked if I would kick things off and announce the band.
I arrive trying to look my best when I know in advance that I'll be asked to take the mic. Instead, I was in full-on biker-mama-digs-fest regalia --not a stick of makeup, my hair pinned up, wearing old jeans and T. But what the heck -- duty called! The enthusiastic crowd, more than ready for the main event, took this old broad in stride.
McMurtry, who had reggae outfit Third World following right on his cowboy-booted heels, played a short but solid set, featuring fan favorites like the surly "Red Dress," the darkly funny hillbilly breakdown "Choctaw Bingo," his political anthem "We Can't Make it Here," as well as a brand-spankin'-new rocker, "How Am I Gonna Find You Now." Because of the need to set up for Third World, McMurtry and crew were not able to encore, which left many in the crowd longing for a bit more of his brand of Austin roots rock.
After McMurtry's set, we wandered over to the Festival Stage to catch Mike Farris and the Roseland Revue. Nashville-based Farris, a capable guitarist with an emotion-baring and powerful set of pipes, started his career as a straight-ahead rocker. However addiction sidelined him for a while better than a decade ago. When he found salvation and sobriety through his Christian faith, he took up gospel music.
But what a brand of rockin' Southern gospel Farris and his band do play! This ain't your mama's church music. One thing likable about Farris is he never gets preachy, instead letting his music do the talking. He opened the set with a fine version of "Oh Mary Don't You Weep," accompanied by a three-piece horn section drawn from a band that played earlier. The smokin' tuba solo alone (you heard right) was well worth the price of admission.
Farris and his very capable band kept much of the crowd on its feet for the entire set of classic gospel tunes. He ended the show by paying homage to two recently passed roots greats, Levon Helm and Etta James, with rousing versions of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and "I'd Rather Go Blind," and a singalong version of "This Little Light of Mine" that kept the enthusiastic audience in full voice.
The festival continues through the evening of Sunday, June 24. Take a chance and make the scene. No matter who you are, there's little doubt you'll find something there to tickle your fancy. See utahartsfestival.org for more information.