You don’t sing happy birthday at your own birthday party. Just like you don’t sing “for he’s a jolly good fellow” at your own promotion or whatever. So why would The National sing Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks at their own music festival? Instead, the audience took over, switching roles and serenading the band instead. We all knew every word.
We bought our tickets months ago, as soon as the festival was announced, before we even knew the lineup. All the other bands were just a happy bonus. The Breeders, Father John Misty, Julien Baker, Feist, Future Islands, Big Thief, and more. The unspoken theme of the festival was heartbreakingly beautiful music. This wasn’t the festival you go to to dance, it was the festival for introverts who have all cried to this music in their darkest hours, myself included. Such sad and meaningful music you feel like you know a little bit about everyone there. It almost felt more like a support group than a typical festival audience.
Saturday was cold. The cold just adding to the angst of it all, as if we weren’t all angsty enough. Usually when I’m chilly at a festival, I’ll just dance harder. Well, as I said, this wasn’t really that type of festival. I danced all I could to The Breeders (the only semi-dancable name on the bill), then I just had to settle with my cold sad girl angst for the rest of the day. You could tell all the artists were cold as well. Kim Deal kept adding layer after layer, at one point putting on a winter hat. Father John Misty, who is usually quite chatty at shows, just played the songs with no banter in between. My guess is because he was cold too.
Julien Baker was the highlight of Saturday for me. First, I was so excited she was on the lineup to begin with. I have loved her since her first album was released in 2015. Even better, not only was she on the lineup, she played directly before The National, which in my mind means she was basically headlining, right? I was so excited for her. We sat at the top of a hill and watched her perform with the Ohio River and the setting sun as her backdrop. It felt like exactly how you should always listen to her.
Then it came time to see The National. Matt Berninger’s mom was in the crowd. I was just imagining a flashback of a young Matt Berninger telling his mom he wanted to be a musician when he grew up…flash forward to him headlining a music festival in his name in his hometown.
They brought out a ton of guests artists, as we all expected they would. Ben Sloan, Lisa Hannigan, Julien Baker. It was pure magic. Julien Baker and Matt Berninger’s voices were made for each other. They are musical soul mates, and it was musical destiny for them to perform together. At one point the band started playing the intro to Chicago by Sufjan Stevens, and the crowd went nuts! We all thought Sufjan was going to walk on stage, but the instrumental just kept going until the song was over, and we were all left disappointed. On one hand, it was a very cool tribute to Sufjan, who has collaborated and written with Matt Berninger a lot in the past. On the other hand, how dare they get our hopes up like that! That would have been the guest artist of all guest artists, and all we got was a little tribute. But I forgive you, The National.
It was emotional to sing Vanerlyle Crybaby Geeks. You could tell the band was in awe of it all. The whole night. The whole weekend. What started as a small garage band in Cincinnati was now headlining their own music festival in the town where they got their start. The audience was not only excited to see them, but equally emotional about it.
Sunday, the sun came out. The music gods must have realized that what I said was true: we were all angsty enough without the freezing winds off the Ohio River. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. And the day flew by. The day was a blur of Big Thief, Feist, Future Islands, Alvvays, and then before we knew it, it was time to see The National again. Tonight, they were playing Boxer start to finish – a dream come true for National fans. They also debuted a new song, “Light Years”, that we all wish we knew the words to already.
The night ended with simple words from Matt Berninger, “This feels like home. Thank you so much.”