A soulful second day at Hinterland

A lineup centered around folk, bluegrass, and soul filled the second day of the Hinterland Music Festival on Aug. 3.


Roman Slabach

The lead singer for St. Paul and The Broken Bones strikes a dramtic pose at Hinterland music festival on August 3, 2019 in Saint Charles, Iowa.

Lauren Arzbaecher, Arts Reporter

Two Iowa-based bands opened the second day of the Hinterland Music Festival.

Des Moines native Adam Bruce kicked off the afternoon with an energizing bluegrass set. Bruce described living in the Midwest and the influences on his music style, which he describes as “prairie soul.”

“I think it is sort of inspired by Iowa and the Midwest,” he said. “There are a lot of different genres that are coming out of the state and out of the region, and I think they are all sort of characterized by heartfelt, direct songwriting, plainspoken messaging, and this feeling of space in the music.”

Roman Slabach
Jacob Wessling sits on top of a shipping container that doubles as a merchandise store at Hinterland music festival on Aug. 3 in St. Charles, Iowa.

From one local musician to some others, the next to hit the stage made up the Maytags, a modern soul group based in Des Moines. The band released a new album titled Meriweather at the end of June, and trumpeter Andy Poppen said creating the album was a bit different from the members’ usual process.

“This last album was sort of a new [writing] strategy for us, where we sort of sequestered ourselves in a house by the lake and spent about a week with varying rosters of the band cranking out about 15 songs,” Poppen said. “It was a little bit more collaborative than it has been in the past, and it’s always been very collaborative, but this was all of us in the same room from the very beginning of each song.”

About half the performance featured songs from Meriweather, luring the crowd in with the band’s signature of jazz, funk, rock, folk, and other genres. Lead singer Dustin Smith grooved along the stage, crooning each song with a grin.

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Then came two artists who have both played in Iowa City in the past year, John Moreland and Ron Gallo. Moreland, who performed as part of Mission Creek Festival this past spring, kept things simple with a set solely accompanied by acoustic guitar, second guitarist John Calvin Abney adding harmonica on a few songs.

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Jason Isbell sings and plays guitar at Hinterland music festival on Aug. 3 in St. Charles, Iowa.

Gallo woke up the crowd with punk rock, the band members’ stage presence as edgy as their unapologetic sound. In their signature rambunctious style, which was showcased at Blue Moose in March, they made each song a spectacle, to the crowd’s delight.

All the way from Saskatchewan, Canada, the Dead South brought fast paced, foot-stomping folk that had everyone clamoring for more. The members told the cheering crowd this was their last performance before heading back home, and as such they were going to “give it everything we’ve got.” The Dead South was followed by another Canadian performer, Colter Wall, who’s low, gravelly voice could persuade almost any listener that he is the next Johnny Cash.

The second-to-last performance of the night was by St. Paul and the Broken Bones, which won the crowd over with a funky brand of soul, punctuated by the group’s first-rate brass section. Frontman Paul Janeway was a vocal powerhouse, showcasing masterful belting, falsetto, and everything in between, all wrapped up in a multicolored sequined cape. A fearless performer, Janeway ended the performance by moving through the crowd to deliver the last song from the balcony of the control center in the middle of the crowd.

Roman Slabach
The band St. Paul and the Broken Bones performs at Hinterland music festival on Aug. 3 in St. Charles, Iowa.

Finally, the headliner for the night arrived, Grammy-winning artist Jason Isbell and his band, the 400 Unit. Isbell’s songs cut quickly to the point, his opener, “Anxiety,” focusing on dealing with anxiety and all of its emotional repercussions, a more serious topic not typically not tackled in the Americana genre. Each song gave concise commentary on the human experience through sharp lyrics and elaborate musical compositions as Isbell brought the night to a raucous close.