Sacred Rose 2022 Festival Recap

Words: Aaron Weaver
Photos: Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com

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oing to a new music festival is always exciting - you never know what to expect! Will the event promoters be well organized? What will the festival site be like? How will it be configured? Will there be enough amenities? Porta-potties? Food and beverages? Hand sinks? Water stations? Will the gates be well manned? Will there be enough shade? Will I have a good time?

Sierra Hull on the Canopy Stage (Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com)

Sacred Rose 2022 exceeded all expectations as a new festival. It had an exceptional line-up based on acts who embrace live performance and with an ear towards Americana, Psych-rock, Jam, Indie, Soul, Funk, and Bluegrass. SeatGeek Stadium Campus in Bridgeview, IL (just minutes from downtown Chicago) provided a beautiful and spacious festival grounds outfitted with ample amenities for the size of the crowd and interesting interactive art installations. Upon arrival each day, we were able to quickly enter the grounds through well-manned gates with thorough but efficient security, welcomed by friendly event staff, had bountiful and reasonably priced (by music venue standards) food and beverage options. Restrooms and sanitation stations were plentiful, and if there were not enough water stations available on the first there were additional ones added each day as the temperatures increased above forecasted expectations. And if you needed to cool off, I have never been to a festival with an air-conditioned dome structure the size of a soccer field before. Except for a few normal new event hiccups; shuttles scheduling issues, sound bleed from one stage to another, and credit card system glitches that were glaring but easily remedied, the organizers of Sacred Rose gave us an event that was well staffed, organized, and seemed to anticipate most normal festival concerns. The did everything they could to put on an enjoyable, relaxing, and memorable music event.

But sometimes things happen outside of the control of festival planners – not everything can be anticipated and prepared for…

Friday - Day 1

Highlight of the Day: Phil Lesh & Friends (AKA Philco)

At 82, Phil Lesh, legendary founding member and bassist for the Grateful Dead, shows little sign of slowing down. Not just the highlight of the day, but probably of the festival, Phil was joined on stage by Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline of Wilco (another legendary band in its own right), other friends Karl Denson, Stu Allen, John Molo, Jeff Chimenti, Elliot Peck, and son Grahame LeshPhil & Friends provided fans with two full sets of mostly Grateful Dead songs with a Wilco tune and a few other covers thrown in to mix things up. People were talking through the next day about the “monster version of Shakedown Street” that kicked off the second set and the cover of The Crickets’ Not Fade Away that closed out the first set with the help of Artist of Large Margo Price.

Phil Lesh & Friends (Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com)

Unexpected Surprise of the Day: Gone Gone Beyond

Part ot the reason I go to festivals is to discover new bands. I was unfamiliar with Gone Gone Beyond before seeing them open the festival (never skip an opener, you never know what you will miss), but they are definitely on my radar now. A collaboration between musical producer and musician David Block (The Human Experience) and solo artists Danny Musengo, Kat Factor, and Mel Semé. The group describes their music as a “homage to the traditions of folk-americana songwriting while bringing together a myriad of influences from electronica, jazz, soul and world music.” GGB started off their set by asking everyone to close their eyes and take a breath and asking us to “be still in the moment and appreciate the enjoyment of live music and being there enjoying live music together”. The group embraced harmony in their music too, each member contributing their unique voices at on different times, and trading off instruments throughout their set. The tone was set for the day by these unique individuals and their unique sound and sensibilities. They projected that kind of joy that comes from people that are not only happy to be where they are but grateful to be there as well.

Gone Gone Beyond (Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com)

Other Highlights

Bluegrass singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sierra Hull “made the best of” the bleed coming from the Dreamfield Stage that seemed inescapable on the Canopy Stage directly across from it. Her quick picking mandolin style abounded from her and her band – and they did what they could to play over the sound from the other stage. Something I love about bluegrass musicians is they never forget to let you know whose shoulders they stand upon and Hull gave shoutouts to legends Béla Fleck and Del McCoury as well as contemporary and collaborator Cory Wong.

Sierra Hull w/ Margo Price (Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com)

Austin indie rockers White Denim put on an energetic and rowdy set, even while missing a guitarist for the first 10 minutes – he could be heard telling the band that he had heard them playing from the crowd as he came running onto the stage – “I’m still on Mountain Time”.

Singer Danielle Ponder slowed things down with her soulful, old school R&B modernized for a new era, which transported me to decades I have only seen in movies and television – Ponder counts Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Nina Simone, Big Momma Thornton as influences, as well as more contemporary acts like Lauren Hill, Da Brat, and Alanis Morisette. Her voice is large and full of emotion, and she uses it to tell stories both in song and in between them. Ponder is celebrating a second career as a musician – her first career was as a lawyer and a public defender for 9 years – quitting her day job at 39 and having her first album released at 40.

Danielle Ponder (Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com)

Even before electronic rocker Yves Tumor took the stage, it was obvious we were in for something different – the house music greeted us to the Vega Stage with the sounds of industry, pistons pumping and wheels turning. It helped build a tempo and prepared the crowd for their eccentric and explosive set of experimental music. Yves Tumor cuts a striking image from the stage, dressed in knee high, high heeled leather boots, stockings, a studded denim vest, one studded leather glove, and a camo ballcap, and addressed the crowd with a certain intensity. While very different, I was reminded of Prince, Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, and David Bowie. Yves Tumor definitely knows how to front a band.

Yves Tumor (Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com)

Lettuce has been playing its brassy and boisterous funky jam grooves for 30 years now, and it shows on stage. The crowd at the Dreamfield Stage immediately got up to dance from the first note. The band still looks like they are having fun after all these years.

Not having as much fun at first was the Chris Thile’s progressive bluegrass band, Punch Brothers. Playing from the Canopy Stage, they had to battle the energy coming from Lettuce coming across the festival grounds. In a festival full (and world) of bands that project outward, Punch Brothers turns inward, literally – five men playing acoustic mandolin, fiddle, guitar, banjo and double bass, crowded shoulder to shoulder around a single microphone on stage and sharing intimate vocals on stage. “The world around us is making so much noise, but we are here.”

Punch Brothers (Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com)

Seeing a St. Paul & the Broken Bones show has always felt like going to church, and Paul Janeway is the minister of that service. Their Southern sound may be secular but it draws from the devout religious upbringing of Janeway’s early life before deciding that music was his calling. And Janeway has always looked the part of the minister, wearing either crisp tailored jackets with the occasional pocket square, and more recently wearing gospel choir robes for performances – so it was a little bit of a shock to see him come out on stage in jeans, a satin jacket, and flat brim ball cap. Luckily the change in look did not affect the sound of the music, and after Janeway started the show by pointing up high above the crowd and asked “if they could hear him in the sky”, the Broken Bones exploded into their special brand of gospel inspired, retro soul music.

St Paul & The Broken Bones (Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com)

War on Drugs had the dubious honor of being nestled in between the two Phil & Friends sets, which meant you had to be willing to give up your spot at the Canopy Stage to venture over to the Vega, but those that did were treated to their special brand of dreamy, wandering, guitar and synth driven indie rock. War on Drugs sounded relaxed and into their performance and gave the crowd a set 13 songs from across their catalog.

The War On Drugs (Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com)

Bummer of the Day: Cancellations

Unfortunately, two of the bands I had really been looking forward to seeing, Black Pumas and Animal Collective, had to cancel on the festival. Black Pumas was known ahead of time, as they announced on August 15th that the band was going to press pause for the rest of the year (I’m deeply saddened by this and wishing them the best on working through whatever the band is going through). Animal Collective’s collection was a late announcement made just after 6pm for a 7:45pm set time that they would have to cancel due to Avey Tare losing his voice and being unable to sing.

Saturday - Day 2

Highlight of the Day: Goose

Okay, I am sold. Goose lived up to the hype all my jamband loving friends have been throwing at them. I had listened to their albums, but it wasn’t until I saw them live that I got it. The funky, progressive rock jam band put on a playful and irreverent show for their fans, who were also at the point in the day when they were becoming playful and irreverent – I watched one fan get hit in the head with a balloon with a glow light in it and fall to the ground like he was hit with a hand grenade, arms and legs akimbo in the air and then fell to the ground. Another man stumbled backwards while dancing and did a backwards summersault landing on his backside – a woman who appeared to be a stranger ran up behind him and gave him a shoulder rub until his head became animated again and he thanked her for resuscitating him. I had a great time watching the band and almost as much fun watching their fans watch their favorite live band. This was my first time seeing Goose but won’t be my last.

Goose (Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com)

Unexpected Surprise of the Day: Lespecial

Another new to me band, I had no idea what to expect from Lespecial when I moseyed up to the Vega Stage. When the music started, I at first looked for a flute making the windsong sounds I heard from the stage only to realize it was the guitar. I remember thinking, “this is nice”, just before the band exploded into what I can only call Jam Metal – super heavy, super jammy – that lived up to the description I would later find on their own website of “heavy future groove.” I heard others compare them to Radiohead, some compared them to Primus, personally they reminded me of a jam version of Tool, but I think comparing them to other bands probably does not do them justice, as they felt like an original in their own right. After all the music I heard over the weekend, Lespecial was who I chose to listen to on my drive from Chicago to Cincinnati after the festival.

Lespecial (Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com)

Unexpected Surprise of the Day #2: The Laser Dome

I typically stay away from DJ stages, silent discos, and the like at music festivals – I prefer to concentrate on live bands – but since there was a space between sets and it was very hot, I decided to check out the Laser Dome, an air conditioned shaded area housed in a pressurized domed soccer practice field of the SeatGeek Stadium Campus, and provided a respite from the outside heat and sun, and was the perfect venue for the laser light show accompanying the DJ sets inside. I was able to cool down and relax while listening to the Mark Zender set, and maybe enjoyed a laser performance for the first time in my life. I would return a couple additional times to the Laser Dome for the Dead Inside sets on Saturday and Sunday. I felt restored and ready to tackle the other stages after each visit. Every festival needs a Laser Dome.

Inside the Laser Dome (Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com)

Other Highlights

Luke Mitrani was the first person on to perform on Day 2, and was the first person to have their set times changed up as an attempt to deal with the sound bleed from stage to stage. Coming on just 15 minutes after the gates opened for the day, the former professional snow boarder performed in front of a small crowd, but seemed undaunted by the situation, playing fun jam music to get the day started, the highlight of which was his cover of the Grateful Dead song ‘Know Your Rider’.

Up and coming act Syzygal, an electro pop trio consisting of Mickey Kellerman on synthesizers, vocalist Anna Soltyz, and drummer Darren Heitz, gave us an early day set of energetic dance music. The regular trio was joined onstage by an additional trio of backing vocalists and a touring guitarist to fill out their live sound.

Syzygal (Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com)

Andy Frasco and the U.N. had the first crowd of Day 2, and deservedly so. At its heart, a blues oriented bar band that belts out boisterous and bawdy songs, they are the type of group that gets a crowd excited to see them on stage. Front and center on the stage, Frasco played piano as dramatically as possible, bringing to mind the Jerry Lee Lewis, or more recently J. Roddy Walston, alternating keyboard play with taking swigs from a bottle of Jameson perched on the piano. It was not long before he was standing on the piano, speaking directly to his fan telling them to get down as low to the ground as they could so they could all simultaneously “pop their cork at the same time” while he “baptized” them with his bottle of Irish whiskey, after which he looked around the festival grounds from the stage confusedly and asked, “Chicago! Where the fuck are we?” Not to be outdown, the rest of the 8-person band provided just as frenetic of performances as their leader.

Andy Frasco & The UN (Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com)

Lotus’ jam band meets EDM set was well attended. Like with many dance bands, I decided to watch from way back, to better view the people in attendance. From the wall at the back of the Vega Stage practice field, I was fully entertained by fans getting their groove on, hula hooping, juggling, baton twirling, or just hopping around. I could see people sharing a smoke, sharing a drink, sharing a kiss, and holding hands. I watched people run into old friends and make new ones. At one point I watched a guy spend 5 minutes trying to fill up his inflatable lawn seat by spinning around, until a security person came up and took it from him, ran in a circle to inflate it, and handed it back to him filled and ready to rest upon, to the cheers of the people around them. A minute later, I watched another festival goer run full speed while pushing his injured friend on his knee scooter, and then let him go so he went flying across the field. The entire scene was like watching one of those Bob Dylan songs where he describes a cast of characters unfold in front of me.

Everyone I was with could not wait for Cory Wong to come on – the multi-instrumentalist, , and chronic musical collaborator is known to be a musician’s musician, and did not disappoint. He put on a funky and energetic set that pleased all who made it to the Dreamfield Stage.

Cory Wong (Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com)

If you have ever seen Umphrey’s McGee, then you know that they are a performance band that likes to experiment with mixing genres – rock, metal, funk, jazz, blues, reggae, electronic, bluegrass, country, and folk all make it into their live jam sessions. Sacred Rose attendees were treated to two sets of Umphrey’s cerebral musical stylings – and their intense intelligent light and LED packages. Watching one of their shows takes me to childhood memories of city firework shows shot off to the synchronized music of the the local hard rock radio station. Their live performances are a feast for the ears and the eyes.

Umphrey's McGee (Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com)

Sound Tribe Sector 9 always surprises me with how much I like them – I am a lyrics guy by nature – so an instrumental band that blends electronic music with instrumental rock is not normally my go to type of music, but STS9’s blending of rock, funk, jazz, drum and bass, psychedelia, and hip hop is too infectious for me to not enjoy. Their set was rousing, energetic, and lively enough to get the tired masses up an moving, myself included. And loud – this was the first time I had been to the Canopy Stage and didn’t notice the bleed from the Dreamfield Stage, which had its own very loud band on stage at the same time – Goose. Which brings me to…

Bummer of the Day: Schedule Modifications

I want to give Sacred Rose full credit for trying to fix problems as they came across them, but some of the schedule changes made in reaction to the bleed from the other stages created problems of their own. I mentioned earlier that some of the bands from the start of the day had their sets moved up, likely too late for people to arrived earlier to see them if they did not already plan on being there for the gates opening, but the modification that bothered me the most, and many others in attendance, was having Goose and STS9 play at the same time. Even when I hop stages, I try to be at every band for at least the first few songs of the set before deciding if I want to go or not, but having to chose between two of the best bands of the festival was hard, and a little frustrating.

Sunday - Day 3

Highlight of the Day: Tie between Kitchen Dwellers and The Infamous Stringdusters ft. Molly Tuttle

There is something about a Sunday afternoon full of bluegrass – I grew up going to farm festivals, harvest events, and Appalachian heritage events and watching live music with my Americana music loving grandparents and both these progressive Bluegrass outfits took me back to those days.

The Kitchen Dwellers name comes from the band getting together in the early days, to practice playing covers and traditional music in the kitchen, likely to play one of the types of events I mentioned going to with my family. From those sessions they started developing their own style of bluegrass, merging it with jam band rock and psychedelia.

Kitchen Dwellers (Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com)

Even though The Infamous Stringdusters won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album for their ‘Laws Of Gravity’ in 2018, the main focus of the band has been live performances, focusing on how a song will sound live instead of how they will sound in a studio when writing. This forethought came through during their set at Sacred Rose, as it was clear that live performance is their passion. They too have created their own style of bluegrass, and are known for their long improvisational and instrumental sets. Unfortunately, there was no time for any long improvisational pieces as the set was cut short due to strong windstorms in the area and it was abbreviated to only 15 minutes, but man, what a 15 minutes it was! What made this even sadder was the Stringdusters were joined on stage by one of best guitarists in the world – Molly Tuttle, the virtuoso known for her flatpicking, clawhammer, and crosspicking abilities, and who was named in 2017 the first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year award, and then won it again in 2018. Also in 2018, she was named the Americana Music Association’s Instrumentalist of the Year. There is no use dwelling on what could have been, but I wish I could have seen that full set.

The Infamous Stringdusters ft. Molly Tuttle (Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com)

Unexpected Surprise of the Day: Dawes’ First Song of their Set

Why the first song? Because Dawes’ playing of their new song ‘Someone Else’s Cafe/Doomscroller Tries to Relax’ was phenomenal. They really showed their chops, and a return to form, for playing songs full of soaring guitars, entrancing keyboards, and thought provoking lyrics. This indie folk band drew every jam band fan that found their way over to the Canopy stage into their poignant, emotional, and reflective performance. Dawes showed off their musicality, their ability to put out a genuine live performance, and to make the audience feel what they are feeling. It was everything I have loved about Dawes. Why only the first song? Because, after drawing everyone in with their heartfelt first song, they chose to cut that line by playing the banal power-pop country crooner ‘When the Tequila Runs Out’ as their second song, a song that has always felt like a Kenny Chesney/Jason Aldean anthem that something that Dawes would sing – instead of insightful lyrics about the human condition, we get a song about getting drunk on tequila and then getting drunker on champagne. I am not sure why they thought this song would connect with the the crowd, but it did not. Unfortunately, we will never know if they would have recovered because…

Dawes (Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com)

Bummer of the Day: Severe Weather

After Dawes second song, frontman Taylor Goldsmith stopped playing and announced to the crowd that due to the lightning in the area that they were told they had to stop their performance. Sacred Rose had already pressed pause on the festival earlier in the day, that time due to strong winds (as noted earlier as to why The Infamous Stringdusters ft. Molly Tuttle had to abbreviate their set). There had only been some wind during this previous storm at the site but out of a preponderance of caution for a storm that radar showed only a few miles away and heading our way, they made the decision to delay the show. When the pause was lifted, an adjusted schedule was released through social media showing new set times and a reduction to only one set for Joe Russo’s Almost Dead to make room for as many performers as possible. Now Sacred Rose was hitting pause a second time, although once again, severe conditions did not seem evident at our location but radar showed disruptions in the area heading our way. Guest safety was a priority, so security evacuated the three stage areas, and people were told they should seek shelter in the stadium – many did not and took the delay as an opportunity to get something to eat at one of the food vendors that lined the exterior of the stadium instead. Ironically, almost as soon as the last people were cleared from the stage grounds, security opened everything back up and let people back into the area, although now the first visible signs of the storm had appeared on the horizon. A message was delivered that the everyone would continue to perform at the times announced earlier, so we made our way back to the stage areas and waited for the music to start back up. Stage hands were visible on stage moving tarps and setting things back up, and it seemed a good sign things would resume soon, but all of a sudden lightning appeared on the horizon and it was clear the rest of the festival would be called. There is no doubt Sacred Rose did everything they could to keep the festival going, and only canceled the remainder of the day when it became inescapable. There were detractors on social media, who were rightfully upset that the were not going to see their favorite bands, but weather is beyond the control of festival promoters and nothing could have been done to prevent what happened – we all know the risks of outdoor venues. Hopefully this does not lead to any impact on a future Sacred Rose – I would gladly return to this festival again.

Other Highlights

Blu DeTiger is a TikTok sensation known for sharing videos of her skill on the bass – and she is indeed a very skilled and very adept. Her performance at Sacred Rose demonstrated this and gave us a view of the artist she will become, although she still seems to be figuring out who she is onstage and who she will become once she gets past the the pop culture stage of her career. Her audience was by far the youngest I saw at Sacred Rose, likely due to the vehicle which has given her her fame, but she also seemed very youthful onstage relative to the other musicians at the festival. I fear her social media persona will not serve her as well during live performances and may limit her exposure to a larger audience. I hope this is not the case as she is too talented to not deserve an expanded fanbase.

Blu DeTiger (Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com)

Singer-songwriter Maggie Rose has transitioned during her career from Alt-Country to Country to Pop-Country to Pop and now to Soul, but after 50 appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, country is in her blood. It is admirable to experiment in other genres of music for artistic growth, Maggie Rose sounded like the mainstream country performer she is during her set, and showed skill in that – and after so many years in the industry, it it good to see her branching out into different audiences. Her vocals were clear, her sound was heartfelt, and she made many new fans from her Sacred Rose performance.

Maggie Rose (Brian Bruemmer, Rubatophoto.com)

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