A thousand shows. Man, that is some kind of milestone.
It was wonderful that Future Islands came back to North Carolina (from their now home of Baltimore, Maryland) to play this special show commemorating this event. And it was also wonderful that they chose so many talented musicians to share the stage with them. Lonnie Walker, Valient Thorr, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, Danny Brown and Dan Deacon all played sets on the stage in a field in Carrboro, NC, last Sunday.
With temperatures in the 90s, it wasn’t too surprising that crowds were a bit thin for the first few bands. The standout, as expected, was Valient Thorr. This band is always so fun to see live (and they are really a photographer’s dream to shoot). Frontman Valient Himself came out like a prize fighter, wearing boxing gloves and a cape, then performed like he was going 12 rounds in the ring.
The crowd continued to build and when Danny Brown took the stage, the place was starting to be packed up front. I don’t keep up with a ton of rap and hiphop, but I was at least slightly familiar with Danny Brown from him playing the Hopscotch festival a few years ago. I missed his set there, but had heard a lot of buzz, so was expecting a fun set. It far exceeded my expectations. He came out strong and kept it up for most of the set. The crowd was going nuts. There was absolutely no chance I was going to be able to work my way back up front to shoot, so shot from the sidelines and the sound board. He made more than a few fans that day, myself included.
I managed to make my way back up front during the break before Dan Deacon took the stage. I had this feeling after Danny Brown that I feel bad for whomever has to follow that up, but Deacon came out and worked the crowd into another frenzy. It was a set big on fun and crowd participation, including a dance circle and everyone linking hands with their neighbor. When Deacon left the stage, I looked around at the ginormous audience and it looked hot and exhausted.
The moment Future Islands came onto the stage, it was like the entire audience got a surge of adrenaline. This was the first time I’d seen the band since their meteoric rise following the hugely memorable Letterman performance. It seems like every time I see Future Islands that the audience has doubled. At this rate, I expect we’ll see them playing Carter-Finley for their 2000th show. Being down front for a Future Islands show is an amazing experience. You can get a bit of feel for what it’s like by watching the Letterman performance or one of the various YouTube performances (the NPR one from the 9:30 Club is a good one to start with), but even that can’t fully get across the feeling of singer Samuel Herring leaning over you with mike in hand singing his heart out.
As Herring sang and did his signature dance moves across the stage, and band members William Cashion, Gerrit Welmers, and drummer Michael Lowry made their brilliant danceable rock, the crowd danced and danced. Then giant balloons appeared seemingly everywhere and started bouncing all around the audience and the stage before most of them eventually lodged in the branches of one of the few trees that earlier in the day had provided some shade. By the time this happened, it was dark and my batteries were on their last legs. My foot had been crushed and I was very dehydrated. I decided that an hour down front was enough and I slowly worked by way through the massive crowd until I eventually popped out into the open.
I watched and listened to the rest of it from the edges as I recovered. It was my first time seeing the band from somewhere other than right down front. Back to back they played two of their best known and loved songs, Seasons (Waiting for You) and Tin Man, and I watched the sea of people dancing. I started to really reflect what an amazing day it had been. I look forward the next thousand shows.