When that thick summer heat hits hard come early June, there's a traditional tendency to flock to anything wet & cold in this town. In our city, that tends to mean you pack your cooler & call your friends. Park your truck at Riverbanks Zoo, suit up in a thick coat of SPF, & start the tedious task of blowing as much air into your tubes as possible before fighting the underbrush-covered trail leading to the heat-defeating waters of the Saluda River. As so many of my favorite faces in this town share my profession in public or private education, we're all on all kinds of summer vacation come that first weekend of June. And that inaugural trip down that blessed body of water always manages to start the summer off right.
Given that fact & my endless affection for bodies of water in general, I am all kinds of excited to attend the Congaree Riverkeeper's 2nd annual River Rocks Festival at Riverfront Park this Saturday, April 14th. Tickets are just $12 and can be picked up online in advance right here. All the proceeds go directly to helping keep our rivers safe & clean in the city-a job done well by the Congaree Riverkeepers, a local organization committed to keeping Columbia's natural resources safe and secure around these parts.
The festival runs from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm. It begins with a "call to service," where volunteers can earn a free pass into the fest for simply helping clean up a designated area of river nearby. Throughout the day, an array of family friendly events will take place in an effort to educate folks on the importance of maintaining the ecosystem our rivers need to survive & thrive. And then, around 3:00 pm, the live music starts.
One of my favorite memories from the summer of 2011 was being a part of a committed crowd, packed wall to wall in The Whig, singing the chorus to Shovels & Rope's "Boxcar." Folks who've never seen one another in their whole sweet lives became instant friends by that first chorus--the line "Hey, hey, cut the rope, there's no way I'm gonna let 'em get us both," all too apt to unite strangers in a spirit-soaked singalong, inside a bar that feels more like home than most living rooms I've ever visited. That's what Shovels & Rope does. It's who they are. Comprised of the truly talented Cary Ann Hearst & Michael Trent, an array of simple instruments meant only to emphasize the raw power that stems from the words & voices in the songs, & a rich Southern history hailing from Charleston, South Carolina-these two play every show with pure, unfiltered joy. And it's contagious. They make you feel fortunate to live & breathe, because every second of the songs they sing testify their own gratitude towards life & living it the best you can. Their new record will drop July 31st & is titled "O' Be Joyful." I can guarantee you'll want it the moment they hit that first endless note together in that very first song on Saturday. Shovels & Rope play River Rocks at 5:10 pm.
The last act to close out River Rocks is Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit. Early fans of Jason's will know him best as a crucial songwriter in the timeless tunes created by the Drive-By Truckers. Admittedly, that's where I first fell for his songs. One song I'm particularly tethered to after spending years at WUSC playing it for my own selfish ears & those of listeners with most excellent taste is "Decoration Day." Though it was written for the Truckers, it's an obvious ode to his own lyrical & musical talents. "Decoration Day" easily stands as one of the best songs in the Truckers catalogue & demonstrates Isbell's striking ability to tell the classic Southern tale. He sings of two feuding families drenched in pride & fight that is timelessly beautiful & heart-breaking. He performs now under the name Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, having called up a cast of well-versed musicians more than ready for the very necessary job of continuing to create songs that tell unforgettable stories of our South. Their new record drops today and is titled "Here we Rest." Isbell & the 400 Unit perform at 6:30 pm on Saturday.
Consider this your first chance at beating the heat that draws nearer to our city by the day. Consider it a celebration of things this town does particularly well: Rivers, Festivals, and Live Music. Most importantly, consider it a chance at preserving these things via supporting them by coming on out for a fine time at River Rocks Festival this Saturday, April 14th at Riverfront Park. One more time-get those tickets here.