It’s all just make-believe: Sewaneroo 2013

by Ross Scarborough

After four years of work with Mountaintop Musicians, my friend and fellow MTM executive Michael Grantz (C’13) and I took a well deserved break from the responsibilities of running a music festival to enjoy ourselves at Sewaneroo. Not that the past three Sewaneroos had not been enjoyable, but there is a difference between the thrill that comes from watching a festival your helped organize coming together and the pleasure that comes from sitting back and enjoying great music. Thanks to the diligence of our current president, Cameron Crawford (C’14), Grantz and I were able to watch the fruits of four years’ labor come to fruition in the best Sewaneroo in current memory.

The evening began with the University’s jazz combo group, featuring Hicks Woolwine (C’13) on bass, his brother Huntre (C’16) on drums, John Cochran (C’15) on guitar, Will Crabb (C’15) on saxaphone with occasional vocals from Paigie Wilson (C’14). The group covered jazz standards with intricate and virtuosic solo sections. The elder Woolwine’s deliberate and fluid bass solo was of particular note.

The next group to come on was We Brave the Storm, fronted by Montana Gardiner (C’15) with Matt Presley on guitar (C’15). This group played the hardest set of all Sewaneroo and gave those of us who really wanted to rock something to dance about. The Woolwine brothers took to the stage again with the Scantily Clad Lads, Hicks’ latest music project. They delivered some covers that do not make it on stage often enough here in Sewanee, including the poignant Blink-182 song “Feeling This.”

The festival took a sudden turn towards the acoustic with Joey Mooradian and Bea Troxel’s (C’15) set. Mooradian and Troxel switched off between vocals and guitars, and the audience was treated to hearing Troxel play her fiddle on one number. Mooradian and Troxel have played together for nearly two years now, and much of the material they performed was written for the duet.

Remaining in the folk vein, Murph and the Magictones followed Mooradian and Troxel and offered some down-home mountain bluegrass. Johnny Davenport and Murphy Walters (C’13) gave an awesome guitar-mandolin duet, and were even joined by Jack Nugent (C’13) on their opening number.

Closing the acoustic set was Peace Dream, Sewanee’s self-proclaimed number-one George Harrison cover band. Daniel Church (C’12) offered the audience beautiful renditions of Harrison classics like “Something” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” while your ink-stained wretch held his own on the guitar. Peace Dream was augmented for this show by Cameron Crawford on bass, Meredith Lawrence (C’13) on keys, and Michael Grantz on fiddle (on the Old Crow Medicine Show numbers “Hesitation Blues” and “Wagon Wheel”) and tambourine.

Next came Chocolate Sauce, dripping onto the stage with enough energy to wake the audience from its acoustic coma. Jack Parsons’ (C’13) voice rang out like a singer in a honkey-tonk bar, while guitarists Luke Lovelady (C’13) and David Meyers (C’14) played with a musical intimacy comparable to Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood. Dillon Stevens and Will Black (C’13) kept everything steady in the rhythm section, and covers like Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” had the audience up and dancing in no time.

After Chocolate Sauce came Hummingreen, Frank Hand’s (C’13) most recent band project. Hummingreen has a sound which Hand describes as “Dream Pop,” and incorporates the best of psychedelic, pop, and hard rock genres into one. All of Hummingreen’s songs were written by Hand, with the exception of the Velvet Underground cover “Venus in Furs.” Hand was joined by Richard Armistead (C’13) on keys, John Black (C’15) on drums, and I returned to the stage to play bass.

Uncle Remus was the last student band and provided a great transition from the student groups to the headliners that came afterwards. John Cochran led Uncle Remus through a variety of covers and originals, many of which included Sewanee’s mysterious rapper known only as Legendary V. Pete Thomas and Robert Walker (C’15) were on rhythm duties, while Charlie Hughes and Andrew Zehr (C’13)provided the brass sound that made Uncle Remus unique among this years’ Sewaneroo line-up. Dana Huffer (C’13) rounded out the outfit on keys.

Hotel Oscar was the first of the headlining acts to take the stage. Mose Wilson, lead singer and guitarist, grew up in Winchester TN and has a special connection to Sewanee: his mother, Wendy, teaches yoga here and was responsible for getting Hotel Oscar on this year’s line up. Wilson gave the most energetic and frenzied performance of the evening, bringing old-school gut-rock stardom to the Cravens stage. Based out of Destin, Florida, the four-piece band included Joe Bradford on bass, Clint Moreland on drums and Isaac Eady on Keys and percussion. Hotel Oscar was followed by Star and Micey, an alternative rock group with a particular flair for audience interaction. By the end of their set, Star and Micey were off stage and into the audience on their acoustic instruments, singing their songs in the middle of Cravens surrounded by the audience.

Shearwater was this year’s closing act. Headed by alumnus Jonathan Meiburg (C’97), Shearwater played interesting brand of pop music flavored with experimental tones and timbres. Meiburg’s much-anticipated return to Sewanee was marked by a string of lectures and guest appearances in class the week leading up to Sewaneroo. Shearwater brought the Sewanee community together in a way previously unknown to Sewaneroo as may professors came to see Meiburg’s band.

Despite the unfortunate change in location, Sewaneroo 2013 offered more talent per act than any Sewaneroo I can remember. For every act to give as much energy as they did even after the festival was moved to Cravens is a testament to Sewanee’s dedication to music and the arts. Mountaintop Musicians again has reminded us of the power of live music in our shared community.