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Hinterland Day 1

by Sarah Poultney

Across the street from a cornfield waving softly in the breeze stands the welcome sign to the town of St. Charles, Iowa, a typically unassuming little spot just twenty-five minutes outside of Des Moines. This weekend, however, the sign is surrounded by a sea of tents, touting flags, totems, and fairy lights. Tumble down a hill covered in knit blankets and backpacks, and you’ll find yourself standing before the Avenue of the Saints, a name to match the sweet music that flows from the festival’s lone stage. This weekend, Hinterland brought to that stage a series of performances from musical powerhouses, delivering on promises of an amazing weekend to fans coming from all over the globe.

Jade Bird, Hinterland Music Festival.  Photo by Sarah Poultney

Jade Bird, Hinterland Music Festival.
Photo by Sarah Poultney

Hinterland Music Festival returns for its fifth year this weekend in St. Charles, Iowa. The festival is young in comparison to festivals such as Lollapalooza, but it still boasts an impressive and promising lineup. The festival mainstage is the aptly named Avenue of the Saints Amphitheater, which will feature performances ranging in genre and fame fitted perfectly to the festival-goers tastes. Festival organizers report that this year’s attendees hail from thirty-four states and nine countries.

London-based singer/songwriter Jade Bird strolled onto the stage with a lightness to her step and cheerfulness in her greeting that drew the audience right in. While her bright attitude matches the playful tone of much of her work, the red-themed outfit she sported onstage matches closer to the darker words of her songs and the aggression found in her gravelly voice. While based in the U.K., the young artist’s music can be best described as a brash rustic Americana.

Nathan Stocker of Hippo Campus Photo by Sarah Poultney

Nathan Stocker of Hippo Campus
Photo by Sarah Poultney

Next up is Hippo Campus, an Iowa City-favorite hailing from Minnesota. The band came on stage dressed head to two in the quintessential garb of any true indie band: retro shirts advertising paint companies, sunglasses, baseball caps, and overalls. They doled out their relaxing indie and electric pop tunes lead by Jake Luppen, lead vocalist and guitarist, and Nathan Stocker, lead guitarist and vocalist. When Nathan took a moment to thank the crowd and mentioned he hoped to cut a song later in the set, an enthusiastic fan screamed: “Play it anyways!”

Six-time Grammy Award-winning Kacey Musgraves filled the crowd with pink cowboy hats, bedazzled fashion, and pride of all kinds as she took the stage with a band clad in blue jumpsuits and rainbow sweatbands. She took a brief moment to get the crowd ready for her set by requesting they put “two middle fingers up in the air.” Musgraves’ music, of course, has some classic country feel to it, with tracks such as “Velvet Elvis.” It also brings with it a sort of accessibility and openness that many fans of Musgraves do not find elsewhere in the country music world – a band member supported several pride flags and Musgraves performed her songs “Rainbow” and “Follow Your Arrow.” The beloved cowgirl finished off her set by firing off pink and white confetti as long-time fan Katie proclaimed that she thinks Musgraves’ is “something more than country music.”

Hozier-Byrne.  Photo by Sarah Poultney

Hozier-Byrne.
Photo by Sarah Poultney

To top off the evening was fan-titled “bog man” Andrew Hozier-Byrne of Ireland. The singer is currently on tour performing songs from his highly acclaimed second album “Wasteland, Baby!” His tour comes with duets with fellow Hinterland performer Brandi Carlile and sparkling solos from band members at this year’s Bonnaroo. The crowd’s volume rose to near-deafening as the 6’5” singer/songwriter took the stage, a fan in the front waving a sign that said “Hozier pic w/ the Fae King.” Hozier started off the night by saying that the Iowan countryside reminded him of home a bit and that as his fans well know he had the desire to just vanish into the nearby forests. Hozier’s music transported the crowd with its barely contained passion, lust, and perhaps even love. The soulful alternative tunes ranged from “Nina Cried Power” to the sickly sweet words of “Talk.” After a powerful send-off with “Take Me To Church,” he returned to the stage to softly ask the audience if they’d like one more. His performance of “Cherry Wine” with no backing back was a gentle but powerful goodnight as he whispered to the singing audience “you all sound beautiful.”

Photos by Sarah Poultney