2023 has changed the national view on what North & South Carolina's music scene can be capable of. From a Charlotte rapper becoming a worldwide household name, to multiple grammy nominations & wins from artists & producers in alternative genres, all from the Carolinas. One thing that hasn't as much changed, as it has "evolved" is the annual 'High Water Music Festival' held at the Riverfront Park in Charleston, South Carolina.
This festival is known for bringing larger names of the indie & rock genres to the Carolinas for many years. They have an impressive alumni of artists/bands including(but not limited to): Jack White, My Morning Jacket, The Avett Brothers, Modest Mouse, Old Crow Medicine Show & more.
This year was seemingly a perfect continuation of the festival, and overall representation of 2023 and the impact of music within a budding live music scene. Bringing back favorites
Shovels & Rope, She Returns From War & Wilco; while also adding & expanding the audience with legend Big Boi, and a surprise unlisted guest performance from Lana Del Rey.
Lets dive into the 2023 2-day extravaganza:
Madi Diaz. Pennsylvania based singer songwriter Madi Diaz has the type of live performance that will make you cry in the best way. Her lyrically emotional, harmony-filled show reels you in at first with the soothing vocals and then lush acoustic backing instrumentals. I wasn't expecting to like this set this much, but it pulled me so far into my feelings & there was nothing I could do. Memorizing is the only appropriate word that comes to mind.
Unfortunately Big Boi's team did not allow any press for his set. I do applaud High Water Music Festival for booking him and hope that they lean more into booking bigger artists outside of the Indie & alternative rock genres & subgenres. It would be really cool to see them book a hardcore rock band, or a well known EDM or pop artist. We'll have to look to 2024 and on to see, but let's hope.
Bleachers is a band that, in all honesty, I had never heard of until I started looking up the lineup for this festival, and well, I guess i've been simply living under a rock recently. New Jersey based Indie Rock outfit sounds like the personification of a late 80's feel good "Breakfast Club" type movie soundtrack. I guess i'm missing something because they have featured on international pop superstars Taylor Swift AND Lana Del Rey's most recent albums.
They, themselves boast features from Sia, Charli XCX, Carly Rae Jepson, and even Bruce Springsteen. Completely stealing the breath of the collective audience, in the middle of their set, they announce a special guest and none other than Lana Del Rey comes out.
Lana Del Rey
Whenever an international superstar does an unlisted, completely unannounced surprise performance at a mid-size festival, they usually steal the show & this case was no exception. As soon as she stepped out, the crowd started up-roaring in the loudest and most ecstatic form possible. She came up and hugged the Bleachers frontman, said some words to the crowd. Then, they performed their collaboration which, for me, was the highlight of the entire festival.
She Returns From War
Charleston natives & High Water Music Festival alumni 'She Returns From War' have been making a splash in the Americana/lowcountry scene with 2 full length albums released since 2015. Brainchild of Hunter Park, SRFW has impressive accolades under their belts such as being national tour support for Band of Horses, and opening for Senator Bernie Sanders during his presidential run at a Charleston, SC rally. All of this, plus a live show should equal nothing but high projections for this band. While numbers aren't everything, I was extremely surprised to see how many streams and listeners (or lackthereof) they hold, especially as a band with a good live show, I guess its just a testament to how much room they have to grow as a brand, and to how much untapped fanbase they have yet to reach. With consistent festival spots such as this one, High Water Festival continues to legitimize & hold this band high.
Tantalizing indie/dream-pop outfit 'Lucius" is a 4 piece band, led by dual-lead vocalists(& original members of the band) Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, they pull out all of the stops for their live show. What would be ruined by extremely minimal stage movement, was completely made up for by the over-the-top sequin-made (& matching) costumes, custom matching floor toms & tambourine combo. The deuling keyboard in front of the custom stage lighting almost for a second makes you forget this is a band signed under the independent Mom+Pop Records.
Bully is a combined band & solo project of Nashville based guitarist & vocalist Alicia Bognanno. I also came into the weekend without knowing much about this band. I was gleefully surprised when I finally heard some distorted guitars, and I was glad that it was this band that brought them to me. I would describe the band as a more polished, modern day Nirvana. With a punky/grungy style and sound, Bognanno's voice sends you right back to the best part of the 90s. She puts so much emotion into her live singing and guitar playing, its clear to see she is passionate about the music. Whats more is that this band isn't new, having formed over 10 years ago, this band is fresh as ever while also have that clear comfort that comes with that much experience of playing live music. In regards to the rock/punk side of the festival, Bully was a breath of fresh air for High Water Music Festival.