MANSFIELD - There were virtually two H.O.R.D.E. Festivals
going on at Great Woods last night, with one crowd rarely
crossing into the other's dimension.
Some clearly came for Barenaked Ladies, the hot band du jour,
arriving late to complete a sold-out house. The other crowd
arrived early and wandered the grounds for seven-plus hours of
nonstop music - with hidden treasures of soul and spontaneity
that still define the tour's widening menu.
Nowhere was that audience dichotomy more sharply drawn than the
following scenario involving the workshop stage (an overlooked
third stage that was a treat for adventurers with lucky timing).
Ben Harper - whose early main-stage set featured his incendiary
slide guitar - captivated a full tent there with a surprise solo
acoustic set. At the same time Harper was hypnotizing fans with a
lilting cover of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing," Marcy
Playground was on the second stage, playing "Sex and
Candy" for a boisterous crowd that sang along and body
surfed - then bolted for the main stage as soon as that hit was
finished and the band slipped into its grunge-light pop. After
all, the Barenaked Ladies were about to go on.
The Harper crowd, however, was in no rush.
As for the Ladies (who are actually five men from Canada), they
delivered the goods for those who eat up the group's cheery,
antic-spiced pop like macaroni and cheese, an in-joke prop for
fans. Singer-guitarists Steven Page and Ed Robertson led the
charge, pogoing and running in place while mixing breezy folk-pop
tunes (like sing-along "Brian Wilson") with more-upbeat
novelty songs. In the latter category were current hit "One
Week" - where Robertson fired a rapid-fire rap of
pop-culture signposts - and "If I Had $1,000,000,"
which led to a snatch of country chestnut "The
Gambler," then spoofs on opera, Celine Dion, Sting, and
hip-hop dance moves.
Much of the quintet's adoring fans, which got only an hour of the
Ladies on the festival bill, then streamed toward the exits. They
passed the second stage where power trio Gov't Mule was kicking
through muscle-blues with finesse, from husky Beatles cover
"She Said, She Said" to a whiplash "Blind Man in
Then tour founder/headliner Blues Traveler whipped up its own
power-blues for a faithful but dwindling crowd. The band has been
writing new material free of John Popper's trademark harmonica,
and indulged last night in a 15-minute "Traveler
Suite," with Popper adding lyrical second guitar over
arranged passages that broke into a rhythmic release recalling
the Grateful Dead's "The Other One." Then Traveler
locked into solo-laced favorites "But Anyway," the
ripping "Crash Burn" and a jammed out "Gina,"
led by Popper's quicksilver harp. The group was later
supplemented by Ben Harper percussionist Dave Leach, just as
Popper had lent his harp to an atmospheric jam in Paula Cole's
Next to the Ladies, Rockport native and Lilith Fair vet Cole was
the main-stage wild card yesterday, but was in great voice and
locked into an organic groove with her Boston-based band. She
built up John Lennon's "Working Class Hero" and Dolly
Parton nugget "Jolene" (with percussive vocals like a
spiritual beat box), and even some reggae and a French-sung
finale of "La Vie en Rose" where she donned a blond wig
and feather boa. Weird, but a levitating set for Cole.
Cole played to a still part-empty house, though to more fans than
sedate soul-pop singer Alana Davis and Harper, whose slide
dynamics on old Weissenborn guitars worked best at their extremes
(as on "Faded") before he rose from his chair to lead a
clap-along chant of Maya Angelou's freedom poem "I'll
Besides Cole, Boston was represented by jammers Jiggle the Handle
and the Jim Kelly Band, whose power fusion was akin to the Mule.
By the way, ex-Allman's guitarist Warren Haynes and the Mule,
plus the Ladies's Chris Brown (on tour while keyboardist Kevin
Hearn recovers from leukemia treatment) also jammed Jimi Hendrix
songs on the workshop stage with New York's Mosaic. Horizons of
rock developing everywhere.