Mason Jennings, Cloud Cult, and more at Lowertown Music Fest, 7/31/10

It was a set-up that seemed destined for failure: A sparse offering of food, limited numbers of bathrooms and trash cans, ample booze for sale, and no re-entry made it seem like the Lowertown Music Fest could end it total chaos.

Regardless of these limitations, however, the bands prevailed and managed to turn the crowded and not-so-scenic city block off Mears Park in St. Paul into a thriving throng of all ages fun. The festival's booking team couldn't have done a better job of gathering a handful of the most accessible, popular indie bands in town, and the event afforded the younger crowd an opportunity to see bands that typically sell out 18+ or 21+ shows in places like First Ave's Mainroom.

The teenagers in attendance did their part to amp up the energy during the day's festivities, an affect that was especially apparent during Cloud Cult's set as the entire pit sang along with the band's songs, even those off their unreleased new disc Light Chasers (which is already available for purchase on the band's site). Though they started shaky, with a five-plus-minute technical difficulty stalling the beginning of their set, Cloud Cult quickly recovered to play a lengthy mix of tracks off their upcoming CD and crowd favorites like Feel Good's "Everybody Here is a Cloud" and an especially punchy and powerful "What Comes at the End."

Mason Jennings, Cloud Cult, and more at Lowertown Music Fest, 7/31/10

While the band performed, their on-stage painters created a vivid, technicolor forest and a portrait of a woman with flowing hair clutching a bright fish, appropriate accompaniments for Cloud Cult's fantastical, otherworldly song imagery and choral explosions.

An early highlight of the day was a set by Peter Wolf Crier, who have spent the past few months on tour with high-profile national bands like Heartless Bastards (who were just in town last week) and Freelance Whales. As such, the duo sounded road-tested and tight, relying on lead singer Peter Pisano's looping and bass pedals to bend their songs in and out of time and create whirring, dizzying climaxes. The pair ended their set with a downright bombastic cover of Nick Drake's "One of These Things First."

Mason Jennings, Cloud Cult, and more at Lowertown Music Fest, 7/31/10

The other two highlights of the day came from a pair of Hansens: Omnipresent brothers Jeremy and Jacob Hansen had the opportunity to (sort of) share the stage at Lowertown, with Jeremy keeping time in Tapes 'n Tapes and Jacob playing electric guitar with headliner Mason Jennings. Though it wasn't quite as amped-up as his stellar sets at First Ave last fall, Jennings relied heavily on the electric guitar in his set to breathe new life into some of his softer, folkier songs. Jennings was also joined onstage by his original bass player, Rob Skoro, who recently reunited with the songwriter for the first time in years. With Skoro on bass, the older songs like "Butterfly" and "Ballad For My One True Love" felt like traveling backwards through time; a perfect end to a long summer afternoon listening to local music.

Mason Jennings, Cloud Cult, and more at Lowertown Music Fest, 7/31/10
Mason Jennings, Cloud Cult, and more at Lowertown Music Fest, 7/31/10
Mason Jennings, Cloud Cult, and more at Lowertown Music Fest, 7/31/10

Personal bias: I have a lot of nostalgia for Mason Jennings, as he was one of the first local musicians I saw live back in the late '90s and early aughts, and am always wishing he would pull out more of his older material. Those first two records were outstanding.
The crowd: Youngsters in the front, older folks in rows of lawn chairs blocking the walkway to the back.
Random notebook dump: Missed openers Koo Koo Kangaroo because of all the road construction downtown (if you can believe it, there was actually a street in downtown St. Paul closed to any cars made after 1975 because of some sort of classic car show, not to mention the light rail construction). Also, I caught most of the performance by the only non-local on the bill, Frank Turner, but thought his solo acoustic shout-songs were a bit too samey to pull in the audience so early in the day. 
For more photos: See our complete Lowertown Music Fest slideshow by Stacy Schwartz.

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