Boulevardia didn’t end the way it was supposed to, but it ended in ways many people won’t forget.
The two-day festival’s final performance on Saturday night in the West Bottoms was a stripped-down 20-minute set by the Los Angeles band Lost Natives. At about 10:40 p.m., the band gathered at the front of the stage to serenade a crowd of 200-plus who had endured a nearly two-hour delay prompted by ferocious thunderstorm that roared through the area. The storm forced festival organizers to cancel several sets at the three music stages, including main stage acts Local Natives and Guster. Or at least it was supposed to. Some bands made provisional plans.
As the storm rolled in, hundreds of fans took refuge inside the parking garage on the west side of the festival grounds. As the storm raged on, Guster, an indie-rock band from Boston, set up shop for a short, impromptu set that included “Amsterdam,” “Satellite,” “Jesus on the Radio” and a cover of Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun.” The sound was rugged, but the crowd compensated for that by singing along exuberantly to every song and rewarding each with a roar that sounded issued from a horde 10 times its size, thanks to the parking-garage acoustics.
About an hour after Guster was done and the rain was gone, Local Natives was able to deliver its set from the main stage. Guitarist/vocalist Kelcey Ayer warned the crowd that the performance would probably be a rough and rocky endeavor, but his expectations were low. The sound was fine, especially considering the haste with which the band set up. And the crowd before them was as accommodating as it was excited to hear anything that might salvage the evening.
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The set comprised about a half-dozen songs, including “Wide Eyes,” “Colombia” and “Airplanes” (two tracks from its latest album “Sunlit Youth”) and “Who Knows Who Cares.” Like Guster’s set, this was an unexpected, generous and voluntary gesture from a band that could have packed up and departed without singing a word. But it ended up rewarding everyone. To paraphrase Local Native’s guitarist/vocalist Taylor Rice: Rare and unpredictable moments like these are the ones you’ll always remember.
Before the storms barged in, festival crowds and bands endured hours of oppressive heat that was magnified by the lack of wind or ventilation. Nonetheless, there were several noteworthy sets. From the main stage:
St. Motel: The Los Angeles sextet delivered a gust of bright, catchy and slightly quirky indie-pop embroidered at times by fills and leads from its two-piece horn section. Their set included favorites like “Move,” “For Elise,” “You Can Be You” and “Puzzle Pieces.”
The Struts: This British glam band bears its influences boldly and brashly, starting with Queen, the New York Dolls and the Strokes. Lead singer Luke Spiller ladles on the strutting rock-star cheese liberally, evoking exaggerated resemblances to Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger and others. The band has but one album in its catalog, “Everybody Wants,” which was released in 2014 and re-released in 2016. They delivered several of its tracks, including the suggestive “Kiss This,” which prompted a roar of recognition.
The homegrown stage featured bands and performers from Kansas City and Lawrence all day. Here are some highlights.
The Conquerors: This Kansas City band traffics in an appealing mix of garage rock, mod rock and psychedelic pop. Staring straight into a blazing midafternoon sun, they issued several songs off their stellar “Wyld Time” record, including the title track, plus a solid cover of the Who’s “I Can’t Explain.”
Sara Morgan: She’s from tiny-town Arkansas, and she sings about her upbringing and lifestyles in evocative and well-crafted country songs like “Drive a Tractor.” Morgan, who resides in Kansas City, is a Loretta Lynn devotee – her cover of “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” was a highlight of her set – but when she sings her own material she resembles fellow neo-traditional performers, from Miranda Lambert to the Dixie Chicks and Nikki Lane. She performed with a stellar full band that included Kansas City guitar ace Carl Butler. Other highlights: the tender ballad “Let Me Get There” and her version of “Easy to Dream,” a song written by Jeff Porter of the Rainmakers.
Duncan Burnett and the Riot: Burnett is an engaging and feverish rapper who drew one of the biggest crowds all day to the homegrown stage. Backed by a three-piece band, he preached genuinely and dynamically about his love for his grandmother (“Granny Hands”) and the noble things he’d do with the money if he had $1 million (“Nouveau Riche”). His well-honed three-piece band added even more luster to his thoughtful compositions.
Hi-Lux: The skies were growing ominously dark as this Kansas City group took the stage and delivered some thunder of its own. They’re well-heeled musically, comprising some of our city’s finest: Vocalist Julia Haile fronting a band that includes drummer Kian Byrne (the Elders), keyboardist Nick Howell, guitarist Tim Braun and bassist Peter Liebert. Their original songs visit several genres, from funk, soul and reggae to jazz, and each gives Haile the chance to exhibit her considerable vocal skills and her mates the chance to flash their chops.