McMenamins Edgefield is the epitome of summer. As soon as you step into its lush green village of buildings and bars, you feel a sense of freedom lift you up. As I set my lawn chair down in the late morning sun, I was taken back to memories of last summer's Edgefield nights. It felt good to be back. It felt good to feel free.
The crowd for the series’ first night was a mix of ages, but one thing seemed to be clear for the whole of them: They were looking for a relaxing set, a night to sit back and listen to the sunny pop all of us were there for. I felt strange being the only one in the crowd wanting to get near the stage to stand. I was quickly joined by other like-minded folks though. Besides, how could you listen to Ingrid Michaelson and not be tempted to wiggle around a bit?
As the sun began to set behind the trees around the field, UK songwriter Greg Holden treated the growing crowd to a sweetly short and surprisingly emotional set of folk. I hadn’t heard much of Holden’s discography before Tuesday. I’d heard good things, but for some reason hadn’t made too much of an effort to familiarize myself with his work. Maybe I wanted to save it for a surprise.
As Holden cracked into his golden array of tunes, one stood out to me among the rest. As his live band took leave from the stage, Holden and his acoustic guitar were the only things that remained. He began to sing of a father and son in a battle for freedom of sexual expression. “You're part of this family, I made you myself. But the way that you act isn't good for your health. My son, stop kissing boys in the street.” There was a lot of emotion behind this song, and it hit me hard. It silenced the whole audience, and it was a beautiful moment—the night had just begun.
Jukebox The Ghost, hailing from Washington D.C., kicked things up a couple of notches for the crowd, which began to flock to the stage as the music got more upbeat and the sky got a little bit darker. Jukebox was a band I had known prior and was extremely excited to see. Their upbeat power pop was a slight shift from Holden’s moody folk, but it held the crowd just as much, if not a little more.
Leading man Ben Thornewill had a lot of energy to show, and let it show he did. Even during slower solo piano tracks, the upbeat energy of their vibe never ceased. The crowd especially took a liking to the band’s interpretation of Queen’s “Somebody to Love”—not only did they pull off Queen without a hitch, but Thornewill successfully showcased the amazing vocals he harnesses, especially when it came to the falsetto. Flawless.
By this time of the evening, the standing crowd near the stage had grown significantly, making me wonder what had happened to all those lawn chairs that had once sat a few feet from the barricade. With this question lingering in my mind, the bodies doubled as soon as Ms. Michaelson stepped out onto Edgefield’s stage.
Joining me in the crowd were two little girls. They seemed to be about 7 or 8. With them were a handful of homemade signs. “You’re the best singer ever!” said one. “‘Girls Chase Boys’ is amazing!” said another. Peeking up from the barricade, they held their signs high. It wasn’t long before Michaelson noticed.
“I’m trying to be all sad and sing these sad songs,” Michaelson told us. “But then I see these two adorable little girls in the front row and I just can’t help but smile.”
Michaelson took a break in the set to talk to the girls, as they proudly showed her their signs.
“You are too sweet,” she told them. “This is a happy song. Hold those signs up for me. But two more songs from now, I’ll need you to put them away. I need to get sad again.”
Michaelson went through a mix of tracks off of her five albums, getting the crowd to sing loud and proud to songs such as “Be OK” and the song that made me a fan of her music long ago, “The Way I Am.” By far the highlight of the set was when Jukebox The Ghost’s Ben Thornewill joined the band in an interpretive dance to “You and I,” a track off 2008’s Be OK, where the group proved they could “spoon like no other.”
After a medley of covers and three tracks off Michaelson’s latest record, Lights Out, including “Girls Chase Boys” (to which the aforementioned adorable girls held their sign high as both Jukebox The Ghost and Greg Holden joined the onstage fanfare—watch the track's music video below), the encore was in sight and the crowd cheered loud to earn the right.
Michaelson kicked off her final three with an Elvis Presley cover, followed by a drum-filled rendition of “Fire.” In a party of a finale, Michaelson left us off on a high note: She kept us dancing into the summer night with a cover of Icona Pop’s “I Love It.” Though I knew this was the end of our summer night out, I knew it was only the beginning of many more nights to come on Edgefield’s beautiful lawn.