Editor’s Note: July/August 2018 Issue featuring Kacey Musgraves

Videos by American Songwriter

The July/August 2018 edition hits newsstands July 10, but the iPad and digital versions will be available on July 3.

Going To A Show

Iggy Pop once said, “Rock and roll is a solution to tragedy.” While discussing his 1982 memoir I Need More, the rock icon went on to say of the art form that it’s about “a small hunting and gathering group, anthropologically speaking, of young men who get together out of nothing more than sheer desperation and go for it in a small town. Everybody knows this, from the Stones down.”

It’s an interesting theory, and one I believe to be true. At this year’s Bonnaroo, when the Tennessee rock band Paramore played the main stage on Friday afternoon, Iggy’s words rushed to mind when lead vocalist Hayley Williams addressed the subject that had become the topic of much conversation among the crowd. That morning, festival attendees had awakened to the news of the suicide of Anthony Bourdain, the world-travelling celebrity chef with the rock and roll persona, who was also, unsurprisingly, a serious music enthusiast. It was another grim chapter in our nation’s lengthening book of grim news.

“We live in a really strange time, and it’s very dark,” Williams said late in the band’s set. “Every day you wake up, and you don’t know what the news is gonna be. And most of the time, it’s not great. This morning, it was really hard yet again to wake up and see another suicide in the entertainment industry, but most of all, just in the human race. We’re all people coexisting, or we should be, just trying to get through. And I want you to take one moment to be present enough to realize that you’re surrounded by people that you may never see again, but for some reason, we all came here today. No matter what you’re going through, I know this doesn’t make it go away, but just for one second, let’s be present and enjoy music, and dance!”

Paramore’s performance, and Williams’ words, encapsulated the Bonnaroo experience in 2018. Much of the band’s set cribbed from its latest album, After Laughter, a record born of desperation in which Williams addresses her struggle with mental health, the band’s almost career-ending inner turmoil, and the initiation into the realities of adulthood. Despite the often-difficult subject matter, the music itself is dance-worthy pop-punk with pulsing Afrobeat grooves, at once jubilant and defiant. The lyrics might knock you down, but the music lifts you up, as it did the crowd that Friday afternoon.

At first glance, Bonnaroo looks like a monument to neo-hippie millennial hedonism. And to some degree, it is. But in this age of increasing social isolation, gun violence, systemic opioid abuse, pervasive sexual assault and, for many, political despair, Bonnaroo in many ways represents the best the culture has to offer. Eighty thousand music lovers peacefully coexisting and having fun in a field on a Tennessee farm.

What the festival provides, above all else, is a chance to experience community, if only for a moment, over the course of four days and nights. The advent of streaming and the ubiquity of music have changed the way we consume it. Listening, for the most part, has become more of an isolationist act and a background experience. But going to festivals, and seeing live music in your hometown, is a great way to deeply engage and be part of something positive.

Since Bonnaroo began, we’ve seen the festival experience become part and parcel of popular music culture. In that time, we’ve witnessed festivals like Forecastle, a more localized version of Bonnaroo that goes down on the banks of the Ohio River in downtown Louisville, take root. To our collective benefit, all manner of highly curated boutique festivals have sprung up. Wildwood Revival outside of Athens, Georgia resembles a laid-back Southern hang more than anything else, so, from the immense productions to more intimate gatherings, there is something for everyone.

Summer is the high season for touring, and if festivals aren’t your thing, there are a lot of great acts making their way across the country right now, including some of those featured in these pages, like Courtney Barnett, Jim James, Milk Carton Kids, Shakey Graves and Kacey Musgraves, our cover star who is currently on the road with British pop behemoth Harry Styles. Musgraves’ new album Golden Hour represents a fresh, green take on country music, with elements of disco and pop set to her always sharp songwriting. Her live show is uplifting, and quite the party, too, so don’t miss it.

Summer NAMM 2018: In Photos