Every passing year TNK Fest rises to the occasion: kicking off the year with amazing shows. The multi-day fest spreads itself across a nice collection of venues (this year included Lincoln Hall, Schubas, Sleeping Village, & Gman Tavern). Each show has a wonderful variety emphasizing on rising acts, both local and nationwide, giving devoted concert goers a taste of the familiar and the new. This year I had the opportunity to see what is likely one of my favorite lineups of the fest with Squirrel Flower, Tenci, and Greg Freeman playing Lincoln Hall.
The night kicked off with Tenci, an artist I've been trying to see for quite a while but time has slipped on by me every time. I've been enamored with Jess Shoman's amazing voice since her debut My Heart is an Open Field and that feeling only grew with her sophomore release A Swollen River, A Well Overflowing. Tender and heartfelt only scratch the surface of Shoman's art which was as enthralling as I hoped. "Two Cups" off her latest is a great example of Shoman and crew's ability to create a mesmerizing track as they all ascend into it's chanting end: "I won’t wait (Fill my cup)".
Throughout Tenci's set there was a screen urging the crowd to reach out their alders about supporting the ceasefire in Gaza. Shoman even stopped the set towards the end to add more awareness to the matter. The topic was important for er and the crowd as we all pulled out our phones and together emailed our alders on the matter. While that aside tot he real world may have been odd in another setting, it was exactly what you wanted from an artist like Shoman. Her set continued with the incredible "Sour Cherries" before she introduced her band. Her set ended with a beautiful song I couldn't immediately identify, although the lyrics are still swimming around in my head. While I didn't get to experience "Joy" live, the quality flow of the set more than made up for it.
Greg Freeman followed that up with one of the most instantly gratifying sets I've heard. I wasn't keenly aware of Freeman and his sound but with in moments of starting his set I was hooked. Freeman and his band careened into a set full of undeniably catchy jams. Honestly, I'm a bit at a loss to describe their sound. They evoke a lot of alt country sounds, effectively laying them, with some more experimental elements and a heavy dose of old school rock. "Long Distance Driver" feels like a lost Neil Young track as Freeman's voice yearns and howls while his band rages on. It was a sight to see them all work so furiously and cohesively, especially as as Freeman donned a harmonica for "Come and Change My Body". It all came to a head with "Colorado" where the already blisteringly great band blew past any sense of normalcy and lunged into great territory. Made me an instant fan.
With two unique band having made their mark on the night it was time for another to change the vibe up again and send the packed Lincoln Hall into new territory. The light dimmed and stayed that way for the majority of Squirrel Flower's set, letting this otherworldly haze settle her and the rest of on the crowd. Ella O'Connor Williams, the main power behind the Squirrel Flower moniker, instantly set the mood of her set with an amazing performance of "i don't use a trash can". The track has origins in the early beginnings of Squirrel Flower but has a completely new breath of life infused into it with its appearance on William's latest album Tomorrow’s Fire. Looping her voice over and over on top of itself till the ethereal aura bloomed past the edges of the stage. It was a downright hypnotizing performance.
Squirrel Flower followed that with another track off Tomorrow’s Fire "Full Time Job". Like the opening track, it laments the mundane world around her. While "i don't use a trash can" does so in a lighter than air way, "Full Time Job" rages as she and the band crank up the raucous quietly of their sound. Williams able to maintain both ends of the spectrum so well while her voice is steadfast in the center, anchoring every one of her songs with it's emotionally deep quality.
Most of the songs off Tomorrow’s Fire got a spotlight during the set, with only a small handful off Plant (i) & I Was Born Swimming getting some love. But that's to be expected when your last album is as tight and enduring as Tomorrow’s Fire. There are just so many powerful songs throughout the album. Take the emotions that swirl in telling your crush how you feel about them in "intheskatepark" where Williams conjures up a saccharine cadence as she sings "thought if I told you slowly/you'd be feeling the same way". Or "Canyon" on the other hand which swells with noisy guitars while Williams gets lost in the spontaneity of a relationship. These songs deserved the spotlight as much as Williams' cover of "So Hot You're Hurting My Feelings" deserves to cap off as many Squirrel Flower sets as it can.
All photos by Julian Ramirez.