The WonderBus Music & Arts Festival debuted in the CAS (formerly Chemical Abstracts Service) lawn Saturday night and continued through Sunday with a sunny vibe and a nicely-varied line-up. It was a big success on almost all counts.
In advance, the promoters pledged $50,000 to OSU’s Wexner Medical Center and its Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, specifically for its efforts to understand depression and prevent suicide.Keep up on what's going on in entertainment in central Ohio: Sign up for our Life in the 614 newsletter
The attendance was an impressive 11,000 for the weekend in a space that can be expanded to 25,000 capacity. The punishing heat didn’t dampen the spirits of the fans, who clearly responded to the fest’s design and execution. The layout of the site promoted exploration, the vendors, amusements, and a few key organizations playfully spread as if tossed onto a board game surface.
The fest featured two big stages and a smaller one off to the side pointing in a different direction. The two big ones worked fabulously, allowing the next band to set up next door to a performing act. The smaller stage schedule, though, overlapped, with a distracting sound bleed coming from the larger stages.
The “Arts” were a little scarce—few artists were represented but there were amusing decorations all around.
Clearly, the music was prime for the crowd and the variety allowed all camps to find an act that brought them to a peak. The tag team of the Revivalists and Walk The Moon had a huge response Saturday, while Trombone Shorty brought the house down on Sunday.
It was easy to understand Shorty’s fevered reception. The New Orleans native began as a sideman with the likes of Lenny Kravitz and a steadfast promoter of the city’s own jazz and r&b styles. With the sadly underappreciated HBO series “Treme” he got to promote his neighborhood as he transitioned from a jazzman to a star.
Sunday night he tapped that fame with a set full of non-stop energy, one that dove headlong into funk and psychedelia. Part of a crack ten-piece ensemble, Shorty was the expert MC and multi-service frontman, scoring with his singing, raps, crowd-baiting and soloing on both trombone and trumpet.
He played a panicked cover of Allen Toussaint’s classic New Orleans r&b tune “On Your Way Down,” in ‘80s funk style with psychedelic, Funkadelic-like guitar solos; He paid tribute to James Brown with a medley.
Coming from a completely different place, former Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis scored bigtime earlier in the day. The sound mix, which was good all day, was spectacular for her set, detailed and well-balanced. The material was great, too. Ranging from pop with a twist, to ersatz reggae, her songs frequently hinted at classic country. Her ebullient delivery—constantly full of subtext—made her the day’s first favorite.
Ben Harper closed the festival with a set of blues, ballads, and rock that was expertly paced and sophisticated in its dynamics. From the opening “Gold To Me” he held back, choosing to build each song’s energy from a smolder in a skillful and dramatic performance. For the early songs he played the variety of amplified acoustic and electric lap slide guitars that are something of his trademark.
With percussionist Leon Mobley, bassist Juan Nelson, and drummer Oliver Charles, he started his set with rumbling Mississippi-styled boogie, visited pointed r&b, played a few solo ballads, and paid tribute to Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies with “Machine Gun” and “Changes.”
Of the acts between, X Ambassadors most notably had its own loyal following jumping.