After the University at Buffalo released the lineup for its 2014 Springfest concert, it’d be understandable if you rushed to a series of rash judgments or creative observations.
Perhaps you thought it was too honky-tonk-heavy, with half the bill better suited for spots on Coca-Cola Field’s summertime “Taste of Country” stage than UB’s North Campus. You may have noted its departure from the festival’s usual hip-hop-flavored focus, with such high-profile names as Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West previously headlining the event. Or maybe your analysis went imaginative, judging the performers to symbolize an ideal Crossroads Culinary sandwich platter, with smoky Memphis slabs (Citizen Cope) between two pieces of country bread (Gloriana and The Band Perry) and joined by a side of old Buffalo Chips (Michael King Band).
Anyway you slice it, one thing’s clear: This year’s quartet of talented acts served up sounds outside the festival’s norm for hundreds of hearty UB students and visiting fans who braved cold temperatures for Friday night’s performance outside Alumni Arena.
On paper, the only thing this year’s artists all have in common is their reliance on a guitar. The Band Perry and Gloriana’s brand of Top 40 pop country – no matter their requisite vocal twang or inclusion of mandolin – is still predicated on six strings. Citizen Cope’s dreadlock-wrapped brand of forlorn introspection teams with echoes off his Martin acoustic, and show-opener Michael King has used his electric to move from his UB a cappella days to full-band gigs.
But live, other similarities became more apparent. On Friday, all were able to blur or diversify their perceived style and connect with a crowd eager to keep warm.
Headliner Band Perry had no problem managing this duality. Despite the band’s current status as Academy of Country Music Band of the Year, the sibling trio could arguably be a broken fiddle away from being a straight pop outfit. Throughout their accessible set of tunes off their 2010 debut and last year’s Rick Rubin-aided “Pioneer,” sultry singer Kimberly Perry – along with brothers Neil and Reid – toed their genre line, but simply slid one way or the other when the night demanded.
On songs like “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely,” “Forever Mine Nevermind” and crossover hit “If I Die Young,” the Alabama-bred outfit provided just enough slide guitar or southern references to make each crowd-favorite country-flavored. For covers of Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls” and Pitbull’s “Timber,” Kim and Co. accessed their chameleonic talents to deal out a pair of twang-free pleasers. And in the case of show finale “Better Dig Two,” they strapped on their Stetsons to clap, stomp and fiddle their way through a catchy (albeit morbid) commitment.
Before the Perrys plied their trade, Nashville’s Gloriana set the table, dealing out their own brand of subtle country harmonies through a roll call of relatable lyrics. The trio of Rachel Reinert and Utica-born Mike and Tom Gossin sandwiched first base favorite “(Kissed You) Good Night” and hatchback soundtrack “Sunset Lovin’” around break-up lament “Can’t Shake You” and a sing-a-long-inducing cover of John Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane.”
On a more subdued note was Citizen Cope, aka singer/songwriter Clarence Greenwood. Fresh off his nine-date solo acoustic tour, the Tennessee-born Greenwood brought the same vibe to the Alumni Arena parking lot, stripping down percussion-heavy tracks like “Son’s Gonna Rise,” “Pablo Picasso” and “Bullet and a Target” for sublime, minimalistic versions that matched the early evening’s reserved mood.
Rounding out the festival bill was the multi-faceted opener Michael King Band, whose bandleader utilized his old Chips chops throughout the group’s slot; and accessed his versatility for a lively cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.”