Beer wasn’t the intoxicant of choice for a significant portion of the several thousand people at the headlining set by George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic on the opening night of the Boulevardia festival in the Stockyards District on Friday. Although dozens of varieties of beer were available at the event sponsored by Boulevard Brewing Company, suspicious smoke filled the air as funk classics like “Cosmic Slop” were performed by Clinton’s sprawling collective.
Originally scheduled to last only an hour, Clinton’s set was limited to 45 minutes due to a storm threat. Aside from the slightly premature closing time, the event appeared to be an unqualified success. Situated a few blocks south of previous Boulevardia events, the new location is markedly more accommodating. The large site offered plenty of shade and bountiful space for beer, food and merchandise vendors.
Although seven hours of music was hosted on three stages, Clinton overshadowed the other offerings. Almost as important as James Brown in the evolution of American popular music, Clinton was a primary architect of funk in the 1970s. The disembodied voice of the elite rapper Kendrick Lamar rang out on a rendition of “Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You?” A reminder of Clinton’s ongoing influence.
Clinton’s disciples include the eight members of the Phantastics, a jubilant Kansas City party band that played with urgent insistence. Their intensity was matched by the locally based blues-rock trio Katy Guillen & the Girls. Guillen’s pithy guitar solos elicited appreciative cheers, but the band’s real strength lies in its superior original songs. The one-two punch of “Driving To Wake Up” and “Heavy Days” that opened the trio’s set was as potent as anything heard at Boulevardia on Friday.
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The Strumbellas, a cordial Canadian indie-folk sextet, performed peppy songs with beery choruses. “Wars” and “Young & Wild” inspired carefree sing-alongs. Even though the Joy Formidable attracted a substantially smaller crowd at the main stage, the Welsh trio’s punchy rock reverberated throughout the festival grounds.
Performances at a small acoustic-themed stage were occasionally assailed by echo-aided sounds. Matt Pryor of the locally based emo-rock titans the Get Up Kids joked that “the funnest part of playing an acoustic showcase at an outdoor festival is that you can hear all the other bands play.” Pryor’s complaint was legitimate, but at least almost all of the music performed at Boulevardia on Friday was well worth hearing.
George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic set list: Cosmic Slop, Pole Power, Get Low, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You?, Maggot Brain, Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker).