On day two of High Water, the music and weather gods smiled down on us yet again. Despite a tornado watch issued in the early evening, the storms never came and instead the wind blew as a list of diverse musicians offered hours of glorious music. The joy of this festival is that staggered stage times allow you to see every artist on the bill. It’s a festival designed for real music fans and credit must go to all the organizers for this dream of a weekend.
Here are five highlights (in no particular order) of the stacked second day.
1. The Secret Sisters
Opening the festival on the Stono stage are the Secret Sisters, whose heartbreaking songs and warm stage presence start the day off right. Many of their songs are about the ex-boyfriend who broke singer Laura’s heart — she hopes he’s in a ditch somewhere or at least hearing her song on the radio. We have to thank him though for inspiring some of the best songs of the duo's career, including crowd pleaser "He’s Fine." Since it’s Sunday they also take us to church on new song "Healer in the Sky," dedicated to their two grandmothers who they lost to cancer, both within a week of each other. Finishing with the defiant anthem "You Don’t Own Me Anymore," the Sisters remind us that the other side of the struggle really can be a beautiful place.
2. Thelma & the Sleaze
Putting some holy hellfire into the day are all-girl Nashville dirt rockers Thelma & the Sleaze. They perform a set of badass songs about being born poor, giving head, finger banging, having a crackhead roommate, and hating Donald Trump (if you can’t find something to enjoy in that list then you’re at the wrong show). It’s a total blast from start to finish, which is when singer LG is carried across the crowd like the bastard queen of rock 'n' roll she's just proven herself to be.
3. Ranky Tanky
One aim of High Water is to share the best of what the Lowcountry has to offer and they deliver on that promise with a Stono stage set from local heroes Ranky Tanky. Specializing in modern jazz-influenced arrangements of traditional Gullah music, the band get the crowd shaking and raising their hands to the skies. Singer Quiana Parler has an incredible voice but all members of the band bring energy and enthusiasm, as well as impressive musicianship. This excellent set proves there really is no place like home.
4. Hayes Carll
Alt-country Texas troubadour Hayes Carll arrived at High Water fresh from releasing his new album What It Is,
one of the best of the year (and his career). His set is well-received by an appreciative crowd with highlights including "Jesus and Elvis," a ballad written for a soldier who died in Vietnam, and "Times Like These," which is about trying to hold onto hope despite the dire state of the world right now. He introduces "Kmag Yoyo" with a story about a hallucinating soldier and an ironic comment about appealing to mainstream country radio. The music industry might be brutal for independent artists but this set (and festival) proves that there will always be a crowd who wants to hear the truth from talented musicians such as Carll and his band.
5. Shovels & Rope
Festival curators and local legends Shovels & Rope were welcomed onto the High Water stage to a rapturous roar from the crowd. This performance is the first for the band in six months, since the birth of their second baby. They’re sharply dressed in matching blue suits, but Michael soon takes off his shoes to get more comfortable — this is their home stage, after all. Many of the best moments of the set come from their blistering new album By Blood
, including "Mississippi Nuthin" and "The Wire," and both sound freakin’ fantastic. Another highlight is "Carry Me Home," an epic anthem that’s as good as anything they’ve ever sung, which is really saying something.
Before the two leave the stage, Cary Ann takes a moment to thank everyone involved in the making of the festival and reminds us of the charities — The Green Heart Project, Charleston Waterkeeper, and Water Mission — who will benefit from the festival's ticket proceeds. The crowd offers thanks and appreciation in return, hollering for the band to return long after they've left the stage. This High Water home they’ve built was a perfect place for the band to launch the new album and give fans a chance to celebrate their return.
At the end of the evening, headliners the Head and the Heart finish their set by bringing out the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (who had also played an impressive set earlier in the day) for a stirring version of "Rivers and Roads." As a lone boat sailed off into the distance and the crowd headed for the highways, it was a fitting end to a perfect weekend.
Until we meet again, High Water.
Michelle Wards runs Highway Queens, a music blog mainly reviewing new albums by women in Americana, country, folk, soul, and indie — although no genre is off limits if the work is interesting.