Saturday September 26, 2009



Charlotte Pop Fest

Freedom Park

Charlotte, NC

Review by Chris McKay


Even though the band was taking some time off to regroup as a three-piece and write and prepare new material, this is one of the shows we didn’t want to lose. You see, last year, we were scheduled to play the Pop Fest and wound up not able to go on due to quite a few confounding problems. The bill this year was a killer, too, and I was certainly proud of the company. The Posies, The Smithereens and Jill Sobule were all a part of this along with way too many more to mention.

  We were scheduled for the outdoor stage at Freedom Park. It was pouring down rain as Amanda and I made our way up from Camden, SC. Josh and Gina were traveling in from Asheville, NC while Frank came in from Athens. So much for carpooling. But we all got there plenty early. Amanda and I wandered through the Festival In The Park. Thousands and thousands of people were clearly having a great time and there were activities, artisans, kids of all ages and music at every turn. 

  The Charlotte Pop Fest bands were all on the biggest stage of all, surrounded by a moat (or were we on an island?). It was certainly a beautiful place. Of course, as is the case with all shows with “fest” in the name, there were issues from the get go. The staff that was on site were fantastic, doing everything they could do to make sure things went off without a hitch. Unfortunately, some hitches happened (due to some people at the top of the chain being virtually unresponsive or unable to be found). Such is the nature of a “fest”. And of course, speaking of nature, a massive rain storm moved in, scattering the crowd as the afternoon grew later. 



  We still managed to get golf-carted to the stage in time, which wasn’t too hard since our set was a couple of hours late (again, a festival staple). We hung out a bit with our old friends in The Vinyl Strangers. (We really need to do some more shows with them. It was good to catch up.)

  Before we went on, the park was absolutely drenched with a torrential downpour. We kept hearing that the whole place would soon be shut down and we’d all be sent home. I didn’t want to have this happen to us two years in a row. We managed to get on that stage and blast out a short, but potent set while we had the chance. To my surprise, the sun came out just as we began. Though they were scattered, hundreds of people were wandering around. We drew their attention and kept the focus of the ones that were toughing out in the weather. Children danced. Adults smiled. There was even some head-banging and singing along. I told the crowd that they deserved an extra special performance for hanging out in this weather. I did my best to make it happen.


  My main complaint was the distance from the stage to the audience. I like to connect. On top of that, there was an uncovered part of the stage that I felt wasn’t being utilized enough. I (perhaps stupidly) stormed out to that area, ripping the cable from my guitar and in one swoop messed up the input jack. So every time I swung the guitar a certain way, it would make a terrible, terrible noise. Such is rock. I wouldn’t let it stop me.

Frank, Josh and I went for it and kept it glued through “Sadder Day”, “Happy Here And Now”, “Waiting For The Siren” and “Scared Of Myself”. “I Won’t Stand Still” took us into “Phony” where I went a little crazy. I wanted the big show. I ran out front and started flailing. I was sliding on the still wet stage. At one point, I fell onto my back and kept ripping out as many notes as I could for the solo. I leaped up and ripped the cable from the malfunctioning input jack once again. Frank ran over and helped get it back together. 


What could I do? Just stand there and not give everything I had? I decided to push my luck and do it again. I hit the hard wood of that floor and finished up the song flopping on my back like a fish out of water. Much like the said fish, I was out of breath. There was a nice round of applause. Some people had started crossing the bridge (after I’d invited them) to get right to the edge of the stage so we could commune with ‘em a little better. Of course, the show was already ending. 

We said goodbye with “Towel Cape Song”. Josh and Frank were machine like in the rhythm of this one and I went airborne by the time it wound down. Considering that it was a backline show with mostly borrowed equipment, without any recent rehearsals and with the limitations of the 3-piece still new to us, I thought we did pretty well. I was satisfied. 

I was even happier when Ian from The Vinyl Strangers said how much he’d enjoyed it and even compared some of the guitar ridiculousness to Prince. That’s about as high a compliment as I could get.

Almost immediately after we’d finished, the clouds reappeared and really let loose. It was crazy. The Vinyl Strangers set up. I was looking forward to standing in the wings and enjoying their set, when the word came down. “Everyone out of the park. There’s a tornado warning.” Well, I don’t believe there was any tornado (Maybe that was just the end of “Phony”) but it was certainly a storm. So while I was disappointed to not get to enjoy The Vinyl Strangers, I was satisfied with what The Darlings brought to the rainy party. 


I was also happy to have finally met Olivia (from SC) and John (from the West Coast). Prior to this, there had only been Facebook relationships with the both of them. Today, nice firm handshakes and hugs put some flesh on the bones of our knowledge of one another.

All in all, Charlotte Pop Fest was just another bit of evidence to support the theory that The Critical Darlings are just fine as a trio (even if I was so sore from throwing myself into the stage that I could hardly walk for a few days after the gig).


Set List:

 1. Sadder Day
2. Happy Here And Now
3. Waiting For The Siren
4. Scared Of Myself
5. I Won’t Stand Still
6. Phony
7. Towel Cape Song


Click here for more pics of Chris McKay and the Critical Darlings at the Charlotte Pop Fest.


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All photographs by Amanda McKay. Copyright 2009.