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Concert Reviews:
Music, mood makes Mo Pop Festival launch an unqualified success

@graffonmusic, Facebook.com/Gary Graff on Music

Posted: Sunday, August 18, 2013

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STERLING HEIGHTS -- Walk Off the Earth's Sarah Blackwood had it right when she told the inaugural Mo Pop Festival crowd that "you guys have really awesome vibes here today."

Atmosphere and environment were indeed the stars of the show on Saturday, Aug. 17, at the Freedom Hill Amphitheatre, a flawless 13-hour affair in which everything cooperated -- from the bands to the weather to the fans, a transient 5,000 that showed remarkable openness to everything that was presented, a wide range on two stages that included plenty of indie pop, including Detroit groups Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and Jamaican Queens, with dashes of disco (Capital Cities), avant garde (Andrew Bird), reggae (Wild Belle), rootsy Americana (Old Crow Medicine Show) and token heaviness from Atlanta's Manchester Orchestra.

With an artists village, a craft beer garden, a vaudeville sideshow stage and a food truck court there was plenty of other attractions at Mo Pop, but any attendee was hard-pressed to drag themselves away from the music.

The day took on a festive vibe early, when Michael Vincze of the Mowgli's, whose father hails from Detroit, joined American Authors on the Harmonie Stage for their closing song, "Believer." Toronto's Walk Off the Earth started its Grand Stage set by commanding fans to come down front and crowd the aisles for a set that included covers of B.o.B's "Magic" and Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know" -- the latter performed by the band members playing one guitar together.

Walk Off the Earth was also joined by a couple of Mowgli's for its "Summer Vibe," while it and American Authors hopped on the Harmonie Stage with the Mowgli's during "San Francisco" -- which closed both the show and the Mowgli's latest tour and found a barefoot Vincze climbing one of the scaffolds on the side of the stage.

Capital Cities brought a disco flavor to the day with a seven-song Grand Stage set that included its hit, "Safe & Sound," as well as a cover of the Bee Gee's "Stayin' Alive." Manchester Orchestra, meanwhile, played with metallic ferocity on the same stage, debuting a new song called "The Ocean" along with favorites such as "I've Got Friends" and drawn-out "Everything To Nothing."

The day's rowdiest performance belonged to Old Crow Medicine Show, whose hootenany-revival mash-up on the Grand Stage rocked through "Carry Me Back to Virginia," "Alabama High-Test," the Vietnam flashback "Big Time in the Jungle," "Bootleggers Kid" and a romp through "C.C. Rider." "For a bankrupt city you're shakin' it like a bunch of millionaires," the group's Ketch Secor declared at one point, and OCMS kept the crowd shaking through a medley of its "I Hear Them All" and Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land," its Bob Dylan collaboration "Wagon Wheel" (joined by Edward Sharpe's Stewart Cole on trumpet), "Cocaine Habit" and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' "American Girl."

The Dale Earnhardt crew didn't disappoint, either, closing the Harmonie Stage with favorites such as "Simple Girl" and its cover of Gil Scot-Heron's "We Almost Lost Detroit" and previewing songs from its forthcoming sophomore album "The Speed of Things." The group's Dan Epstein noted that "it's good to be home. It's like one, big happy Detroit family" and even took a somewhat risky leap into the audience while also challenging Bird to a "whistle-off."

Bird did do plenty of whistling during his one-man performance back on the Grand Stage,, during which he looped his vocals, violin and guitar together on songs such as "Three White Horses" and "Danse Caribe" for a crowd that sat in rapt, recital-like silence until giving him a standing ovation at the end of his show. And the 12-member Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros finished the day with its own brand of tribal-style revival, with frontman Alex Ebert walking up the aisle during the opening "Man on Fire" and sharing the lead vocal load throughout the set -- with Jade Castrinos for several songs, Christopher "Crash" Richard on "Go Tell It To the Mountain (I'm On Fire)" and Christian Letts on "Child." The troupe was also joined by OCMS' Secor, as well as a fan playing whistle, for the gentle "All Wash Out."

The second year of a festival is usually one for fine-tuning and correcting mistakes. But after Saturday's successful launch, the 2014 Mo Pop -- assuming there is one -- will be hard-pressed to find areas that need drastic improvement.

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