Crowds gather in the Capitol Brewery Beer Garten on Saturday for the first Roots Festival in Madison.
Capital Brewery had to be happy that the weatherman was right. The skies were clear and the sun was shining for their first ever Roots Fest on Saturday. A large crowd was on hand to enjoy not only the beer but a fine line-up of local bands capped off by Wisconsin native Willy Porter.
The space that had previously only been occupied by dancers filled in with people anxious to get a closer view of Porter during his set. His guitar skills were certainly on display as he ran through songs from his entire career. His backing band was that of his most recent record Available Light -- Dave Adler of Madison's very own Gomers on keyboard, Dave Schoepke on drums and Steve Kleiber on bass, who Porter called "the finest human being I know"-- but the highlights arguably came from his sophomore record Dog Eared Dream.
"Rita" in particular was stunning. The happy-go-lucky strummer turned into a helluva hoedown as Porter turned it way up halfway through. "Angry Words" featured an impressive extended guitar intro. While his guitar playing was the star of his songs with the band, the guitar, a gorgeous Bischoff nine-string baritone guitar, actually stole the show during his solo songs. With three sets of double strings, it had all the jangle of a twelve string, while still retaining the clear sound of a six string.
As the headliner, Porter certainly had a number of his fans in attendance, but the bands earlier in the day drew well too. A number of the folks who danced all the way through Mighty Short Bus's set of Skynyrd-style southern rock sang along to every song. Their choice of covers -- the Black Crowes' "Jealous Again" and the Allman Brothers' "Whipping Post"-- reflected their influences, in addition to being obvious crowd pleasers. In view of recent weather, "The Rain Song" (an MSB original) seemed to be tempting fate.
They weren't the only ones. Natty Nation dedicated "Earth, Wind and Fire," with its chant of "lightning and thunder, thunderstorms, mystical storms," to the victims of the freak electrical accident earlier this week. While that was a solemn moment, the rest of their set of feel-good reggae matched the sunshine of the day. They also seemed to be a favorite of the many kids in attendance at this family friendly event, and many of them could be seen spinning themselves dizzy on the dance floor. My sincere apologies to Mike Droho and the Cash Box Kings whose early sets I missed because my lawn desperately needed to be mowed.
The event was charmingly emceed by 105.5 Triple M DJ's Jonathan Suttin and Pat Gallagher, who kept things moving along. Too bad they couldn't do anything to get the beer lines moving. The wait for a delicious pale ale was my only complaint on the day.