The rules stated that everyone over 21 could bring six 12-ounce beers. But I missed the fine print: They said six 12-ounce CANS, not bottles. My friend and I brought six packs of Red Stripe and Labatt Blue, respectively, bottles of course. Standing in front of a sign that read, in large black letters, “NO GLASS,” we weren’t quite sure what to do. All we knew for sure was the fuzz would take these beers, and we couldn’t let that happen.
If there are two actively touring bands that demand at least a six pack as part of the live experience, they are Wolfmother and Drive-By Truckers. On Friday night, April 20, they headlined the bill for the first night of Vanderbilt University’s Rites of Spring festival.
The event was held as one last party for students before the start of finals preparation. Held smack-dab in the middle of Vanderbilt’s beautiful campus, this was not your usual concert festival experience. As far as festivals go, it was pretty much what you’d expect at a well-off, private, genteel southern university. No government-sponsored grilled cheeses, no veggie burritos, no little kids in dreadlocks.
But they let you bring your own beer, which, naturally, was pretty awesome.
It’s no surprise bottles were outlawed, as it’s never a good idea to allow drunken people possession of glass projectiles. We should have figured as much, especially in light of the bands on-hand and the experience fostered by their music. Without rules, there’s chaos. Without rules but with people bringing their own beer in glass bottles and the Truckers and Wolfmother on-hand to do what they do, there’s a riot.
So we ducked behind a brown-brick academic building likely around since the campus’ founding. Standing in a shadow, pounding thick imported beer not intended for rapid consumption, on the grounds of an institute for higher education, one gets a very different view of the world. But there would plenty of time to ponder the Batmanesque feeling and we were on a deadline. We were outsiders anyway, not Vandy students, so fading into the scenery seemed to fit. And as any Drive-By Truckers fan knows, drinking three beers in 15 minutes before sprinting the show is simply doing your part for the band.
There may not be a more joyful American rock star than DBT lead singer Patterson Hood. He is always smiling, always getting after it, full of aw-shucks southern charm with a glittering Les Paul slung low. Supported by the rest of the Truckers, he can scream a line like “Hell no I ain’t happy!” and make it sound positively triumphant. While giving a rambling monologue about his mother marrying a trucker before singing “18 Wheels of Love,” he laughingly said, “I swear I can’t make this stuff up.” He could have been talking about the Truckers as a whole, claiming, in essence, “This is who we are, people. You don’t like it, get another band.”
Lead guitar player Jason Isbell was missing from the line-up, so there wasn’t nearly as much in the way of three guitars simultaneously soloing as usual. But the female bass player still had her bottle of Jack, and the band swigged in kind. Their show only lasted an hour, so the set was pretty bare bones, just the basics, cranked to ten, Telecasters scorching and the southern rock coming in hard. The crowd obviously dug the band, as we saw many a young man stonewall his girl in favor of concentrating on the music. All the pretty girls in their nice clothes had to wait on the Truckers to finish. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.
When the Truckers did finish, there were three more beers to be pounded before Wolfmother took its turn. Back off to our shadow and the beers hidden in the cooler therein. From our position we watched an exodus of sorts, many of those same pretty girls leaving after DBT, probably for the best in light of the band to come. Wolfmother is not to be taken lightly, though one couldn’t help but feel for the inevitable patsy stuck carrying two coolers behind a gaggle of five girls, missing out on Wolfmother, off to who knows where. We all have bills to pay.
As expected, Wolfmother came out and ripped everybody’s faces off. As this was a party in advance of finals, whatever student organization put the show together picked a perfect band to headline, a band whose music is catered to getting insanely wasted and blowing off steam. If you’re going to drink for the lion’s share of a day and enjoy some rock and roll, you could have MUCH worse than Wolfmother top it all off.
Andrew Stockdale’s solos meandered a bit more than usual, but Wolfmother did its hard rock thing and it did it well. The band seemed to dig the show, to dig the polite hard rock atmosphere. A polite hard rock atmosphere isn’t such a terrible thing, if you think about it, complete with a due course of crowd-surfing but no moshing. Everyone brought their own beer, everyone respected their neighbor, more than a few people were getting down with the 420 holiday, and everyone did their best to enjoy the quality of bands at the event.
Where I went to college, we had the dean’s son’s band and a good student band for our university-sponsored pre-finals party. At Vandy they get the Truckers and Wolfmother (not to mention Keller Williams, who also played that evening, and Amos Lee and the Roots, who headlined Saturday night). A good time in a good atmosphere with some great bands equals a great Friday night, even if we had to drink our beers in the shadows of an academic building on a beautiful college campus.
Sometimes, you have to do strange things for rock and roll.