Wildwood Revival – Fall 2014 – Review + Photos
Saturday was a long day. I had spent the previous night in Savannah catching Jason Isbell play an incredible (but painfully short) set opening for the legendary John Prine, stayed out on the town all night, woke at 8am to make the drive from Savannah to Macon to pick up my good friend and photographer, Bob Jones, and then head up to the Athens area for the Fall edition of Wildwood Revival, a beautifully curated boutique festival held on the Cloverleaf Farm in Arnoldsville. The next twenty-four hours would be a truly memorable Southern experience.
Built in 1859, the main house of the Cloverleaf Farm complex is a testament to Antebellum architecture; a sprawling Greek-revival mansion with wide rooms, high ceilings, and hardwood floors that echo the stories of the countless dinner parties that have taken place within its walls. Wide porches welcome guests and invite them back out to wander the surrounding pathways and gardens. The house has a commanding presence over the thirty-odd acres that make up the farm and is accompanied by a variety of out-buildings. Beyond those lie rolling fields, met by dense forests of pine and oak. It makes for an idyllic scene on any evening, but there was something positively magical in the air at Wildwood Revival.
The first Wildwood Revival was hosted earlier this year on a warm, mid-July evening. The few hundred guests in attendance were treated to sets from The Whigs, The Whiskey Gentry, The Deslondes, and others. Festival producers were pleased by the feedback from the Summer event, so they began working on a Fall event, with the ultimate goal to grow Wildwood Revival into a three-day event.
The lineup this past weekend included a headlining set from Langhorne Slim, as well as appearances from The Deslondes, Joe Fletcher, Patrick Sweany, T. Hardy Morris, Margo & the Pricetags, Joshua Black Wilkins, and the Grassland String Band. We were lucky to be in attendance.
Bob and I arrived mid-day and made our way to the camping site. Guests had various options for camping, the must exclusive of those being in one of eight large teepee’s located just outside of most of the action. The remaining guests that chose to stay the night camped in nearby fields but all on-site lodging options were just a short walk from the music. Our particular camping area was accessible by driving past a large, rusting barn that had accumulated years worth of broken down machinery and commercial farming equipment.
After getting our campsite set, we moved the car back to the designated parking area (not having cars constantly driving through the camping area was a huge plus) and made our way onto the farm. We were greeted by a cluster of clothing and craft vendors, all of them nestled closely to the main barn where the stage and bar were located. Campfires and seating areas dotted the outskirts of the barn, each already the setting for laughter-filled conversations and introductions.
Lunch was in order and our window of opportunity was closing fast, so we made our way to the dining area to see what options might be left. We eventually decided on tacos, complimented by Terrapin’s Golden Ale, served on draft in a Ball mason jar. Both meals were served in a service line format and guests were eating within no time after ordering.
Unfortunately, we missed T. Hardy Morris and the Grassland String Band but Joshua Black Wilkins was working the crowd up by the time we finished eating. His songs carried influence from Eddie Vedder and Steve Earl, moving from raw and rough to soft and sweet and then back again. After Wilkins’ set, unofficial poet laureate of Wildwood Revival, The Appalachian Hippie Poet, Mr. Bill Alexander, treated the crowd to various original works and acted as a perfect segue into the charming country-folk of Margot & the Pricetags.
Hailing from Nashville, TN and led by Margo Price, the group embodies traditional country music methods down to the last details. Timeless themes of drinking, dancing, loving, and longing are incorporated over lonesome pedal steel harmonies and bright, chicken-pickin’ leads. Margot, beaming from head to toe and dressed down in denim and a broad-brimmed hat, led the band through a set of beautiful original songs, some so new they required a “cheat sheet” as she bashfully admitted.
We took some time following her set to explore the rest of the compound, capping our tour off by exploring the interior of the home, which turned out to be one of the greatest perks of attending. The large porch on the back of second story of the home made for a perfect point to survey the festival, which was bustling with activity by this point, as well as to watch the sun start to set.
Joe Fletcher took the stage next, eventually being joined by Patrick Sweany for some of the most entertaining music of the evening. Fletcher’s music is strongly influenced by American roots artists, early Southern singer-songwriters, and the later soul and blues movements that would follow. I highly recommend seeing him live, though the same could be said for every act that graced the stage at Wildwood.
Dinner followed Fletcher’s set and Patrick Sweany began to play not long after the first guests were settling down with their plates. Pork, turkey, beef, and veggie plates were served stacked high with steaming sides of greens, mac n’ cheese, and black eyed peas. I was captivated by Sweany’s set as he moved between songs, keeping rhythm with a stomp box, and leading the audience through a ten-minute plus story in addition to his original numbers. It was around this time that I realized it would probably be a good idea to eat some food, as one cannot survive on craft beer alone, as much fun as that might seem.
The Deslondes set up energetically. They were greeted by a fervent bunch of cheers and hollers from the crowd, most of whom had inched as close to the stage as possible. Fresh off a set of dates with Old Crow Medicine Show, the band worked the crowd into a frenzy for what was definitely the most upbeat set of the evening. To close out their set, band leaders Sam Doores and Riley Downing invited a group of friends up for a raucous group sing-a-long. I have no idea what song they were singing, but I loved every minute of it.
The lights dimmed and Langhorne Slim sauntered to the mic. His performance was deeply personal, enchanting, and entertaining, and was a perfect way to close out a day’s worth of music at Wildwood. Guests huddled around the stage, exchanging conversation with him between songs, and the performance was one that makes events like Wildwood so memorable. One guest I met remarked how exciting it was to see him in front of just a few hundred guests, considering that he saw him in front of a few thousand a Bonnaroo years ago and has seen him open for a number of giant shows with acts like The Avett Brothers and The Lumineers.
Last call came shortly after Langhorne’s set and we retired to the campground for a fireside singalong under the stars. Guitars were passed around and some of the performers joined in to sing and play until past midnight.
Wildwood Revival was not only picturesque, but exceptionally produced with attention to detail and guest experience. I’m sure i will miss the days when it had only a few hundred guests, but I can’t wait to see it grow. We’ll make sure to update you when we know about the next one. – Sean Pritchard