Clearwater 2010 Review



This year was my first time attending the Clearwater Festival, even though it's held nearby. I missed it in the past due to two reasons that are hard to argue against (or for): 1) the lineups did nothing for me or 2) I didn't know it was going on. Perhaps a month ago I first heard some of the initial lineup on WFUV and made a mental note to follow up. Since I am a fairly proficient procrastinator, I bought my ticket for will call a day before the festival started.

Day One

I decided to walk to the event for the first day. It was in the 80s and sunny, but nothing to really complain about (relatively low humidity, etc.). As I walked near the entrance, I picked up some music (mostly bass, of course) and lyrics… “I put some whiskey/into my whiskey” to a slow withering beat. It was pretty awesome. I picked up my wristband and wandered over to the music. It turned out to be The Felice Brothers in the middle of their set. They had a great addictive energy; they certainly created a new fan in me. A couple of their songs put their hooks in me, so I picked up their albums once I got home that night. While I had heard them a few times on the radio in the past, I never had a reason to pull the trigger; now of course, I want to see them again.

The next performer I watched was Keller Williams. I've had one of his albums for awhile and am generally familiar of him, but this was my first time seeing him live. He was fun. On the flip side, I had my introduction to the annoying staff working the show. Apparently, they take offense to people standing basically anywhere. If you stand near the stage, they make you move for people in wheelchairs. If you stand on the wrong side of a yellow tape on the ground, they yell at you for blocking traffic. If you stand on the other side of the yellow tape, they make you sit down or move away because you're blocking people's view. I get the underlying value of “why” they were enforcing their guidelines, but as always they seemed to take a special zeal with said enforcement (not to mention questionable application). During part of Keller's set, I was sitting in the middle; most of the area was empty with blankets and chairs people had left (apparently to claim spaces for later?). I stood to stretch my legs; within a minute two volunteers were yelling at me to move because I was blocking views. They waved vaguely at people across the yellow-lined traffic zone. I told them to fuck off (in my mind) and went somewhere I could stand. In my new spot (behind a yellow line, but no one sitting behind me) I looked over again at the people they had pointed to; they were fucking knitting! Glad I moved. A few minutes later a guy stood near me, but on the wrong side of the yellow line. He was admonished by a passing volunteer. “But if I stand on the other side of the line the sun is in my eyes!” No matter, rules must be enforced, particularly silly PC ones. I suppose I should point out that the magical yellow lines in this area gave enough room for a tank to drive through, let alone the golf carts they had. Anyway, I guess if that's my main complaint for the festival it's not all bad. Well, not my only complaint; they didn't serve beer at all.

After all that fun, I skipped over to another stage to watch Mike Doughty, of Soul Coughing (and now solo) fame. It was my first time catching him live solo, but I'd seen him back in the day with the band (great show!). He put on a good show; of course I'd prefer more old school stuff. I think he's also better with a band, as a lot of his guitar work gets kind of repetitive. Another downside was the stage he played on; it was on the river, but facing perpendicular to it. Since the sun was bearing down on the audience, most people were under the shade of large trees up on a hill to the side of the stage. It just felt like a poor layout.

I caught a little bit of Railroad Earth and need to look into them more. They seem cool. Likewise for Buckwheat Zydeco; I had originally meant to watch their full set, but was pretty beat from the sun at that point and wasn't in a dancing mood. Hopefully next time! The downside for the “stage” they played in (called the “world dance tent”) was that it was, well, a tent. It had a simple wooden floor (granted, nice in place of mud in case of rain), but was really limited in that the band was not significantly elevated. Unless you were in the tent and had short people in front of you, you couldn't really see anything except some of the PA.

To close out the first day I watched Steve Earle. I've got a few of his albums and have liked him for maybe the last decade or so, but this was my first time seeing him live (and, frankly, one of the main reasons I went to the festival). It was a solo acoustic set; as you'd expect from most singer-songwriters, he did well talking up the songs he was playing by mixing in history/biography, humor, etc. This stage had the best setup, as it was almost the bottom of a bowl (although not symmetrical). It had a number of small hills, so it was pretty easy to be able to find a spot to see and listen. As mentioned earlier, if you wanted to be close by you had other issues to deal with.

I walked home, but did take advantage of free bus service to the train station. That knocked off maybe a mile, so it was nice. I did manage to get a blister, but other than that no major issues on the day. I put on SPF 50 before I left and wore my wide-brimmed hat, so I successfully avoided sun burn.

Day Two

The second day didn't have as interesting of a lineup. I waited out a passing storm before driving over to the train station ($5 for parking, not bad). I watched a little of Lucy Kaplansky, including a cover of Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah”. I heard Joan Osborne from a distance as I wandered around looking at vendors.

The main event of the day (for me) was The Subdudes at the dance tent. The crowd seemed a bit sparse when they started, but was decently rowdy and filled in a bit. The nice part was that I was able to get up pretty close and not be crowded out. It was a ton of fun; they hit a bunch of songs I knew and a few I didn't (both being good things in my book).

I had planned to catch Shawn Colvin afterwards, but after a couple of songs I realized I was way too wired from the previous band to sit still for solo acoustic. So, I did another lap of vendors and hit the road.


Overall it was a good festival; the food and vendors were numerous enough to provide a decent selection, but all were pretty standard (if you've seen one tie-die vendor, you've seen them all). They kept harping on being PC and environmentally friendly, which is understandable but does grind on you if you're more pragmatic. I know I wasn't the only one, as one person was a fellow wise-ass and wondered aloud why they had turned on lights that were strung up between trees… at 3PM or so with the sun blaring down. Sort of a waste of energy, no?! Ah, good times. Everything was “family friendly”, again to the point of annoyingness if you weren't there toting around kids. On the positive side, if you wanted to cart things in they didn't care (beer, water, food, etc.) so long as you didn't make a mess.

Will I go next year? We'll see, it largely depends on the lineup. The tickets aren't cheap (basically $100 for the weekend), plus whatever else you'll spend on parking, food, and vendors.

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