Day: Tuesday 7/8/14
Review by: JohnnyKassab
Genre of the Day: Alternative Rock
The Venue. At first glance, Common Ground just looks like a construction site smack dab in the middle of our great state’s capitol. There are metal fences and bright orange neon signs everywhere to help with that visual. As soon as you are inside the deceptively boring walls of Common Ground, you are staring at a sea of concert goers of all types. Since the festival was held in Adado Riverfront Park, there are slight rolling hills throughout the venue which made for interesting foot traffic.
The Stages. Since this festival lasted for only the evening portion of the day, there wasn’t much need for more than 3 stages. The stages seemed to have unmentioned ranking that I could determine just by who was on each stage. The Sparrow Stage was the smallest stage & was reserved for those that are local and/or have less major appeal. The next step up was the GM Pavilion Stage, which hosted some of my favorite artists, including Say Anything. Without question, the biggest and best stage at Common Ground was the Auto Value Stage. This stage took up a considerable chunk of the park and was host to the more widely-appealing artists, Brand New is a great example of this.
The Performances. Now, I am a huge hip-hop fan and that’s primarily what I listen to. I went to the Alternative Rock day of Common Ground because I liked Brand New and Say Anything in high school, but haven’t listened heavily to them since. I was thoroughly impressed by how captivating their performances were, from both bands. Due to traffic and terrible scheduling on my part, I wasn’t able to catch much of any other performance. I did get to see the end of Circa Survive’s performance, although I didn’t get any shots of that. Another artist that impressed me was Kevin Devine and the Goddamn
(can I say that on this website?) Band. I think that Kevin Devine was a perfect fit for the Sparrow Stage; the Sparrow Stage was a large cement bowl with stairs leading downward carved into the park and it made for a more intimate experience, there wasn’t even a photo pit! Say Anything destroyed the GM Pavilion Stage with performances of their classics from …Is a Real Boy all the way up to some of the songs of off their newest addition Hebrews. Brand New sealed up the night, which was quite appropriate. With flowers blooming on their mics and mesmerizing lyrics, Brand New had every female fan’s attention within a 2 mile radius.
I’m going to preface this section by saying that I have no experience with photography.
Day: Friday 7/11/14
Review by: JohnnyKassab
Genre of the Day: Hip-Hop/Rap
The Venue. As you can see from the previous post I made regarding Tuesday’s Common Ground line-up, I was already used to the layout of the festival and navigated it a lot easier this time around. This made for better opportunities for pictures as well faster transitions from stages, all insuring better coverage of that event. Arriving earlier on in the evening gave me a chance to really soak in the venue while the sun was still out, and I actually like it very much as far as festival venues go; tons of free space, easy layout to find your way, and concessions were plenty as were restrooms.
The Stages. Amongst the three stages mentioned earlier, the same format stood for the Friday line up. Meaning, each stage had a different caliber artist than the other and each stage had an artist performing at the same time; the Sparrow Stage with acts such as L Soul and Ill Natured, GM Pavilion Stage with bigger yet not mainstream artists like Taylor Gang’s Chevy Woods and Machine Gun Kelly, and the Auto Value Stage hosting the mainstream large scale artists such as Ace Hood, Juicy J, and Big Sean. I didn’t know any of the artists at the Sparrow stage, but I checked out L Soul when I passed by. One thing about L Soul that peaked my interest in his music was the fact that unlike most rappers, he is sporting another artist’s merch on his shirt. The thing that makes this interesting is the fact that Bring Me the Horizon is a hardcore rock group, which is odd for a hip-hop artist. All in all, he had a good set.
The Performances. As I mentioned earlier, I am a big hip-hop fan. Going to this show was almost too good to be true. Seeing Big Sean is as close as I can get to witnessing a performance from a rapper that’s made it out of Michigan without having to pay for high-price Eminem tickets (Remember, I am still just a college kid). With the way the line-up was scheduled, and due to my diverse taste in rap music myself and another DJ from the station were bouncing between the Auto Value stage & the GM Pavilion stage. With the way Common Ground utilize the park, stopping by the Sparrow stage from time to time was made easy, thus making it easier to experience the whole of Common Ground without stressing about missing any 1 performance.
I’m going to preface this section by saying that I have no experience with photography.
Day: Saturday 7/12/14
Review by: Music Director Anthony Spak (@Spakdaddy)
Genre of the Day: Indie Rock
Saturday evening I attended Common Ground. This was my first time at the festival as well as my first real outing with media credentials. Could I handle it? Would I crack under the pressure? Would I get a chance to sing alongside Governor Rick Snyder during Dr. Dog? I had to go and find out.
The first band I caught was The Orwells. The gritty, young Chicago garage rockers were billed to play at seven o’ clock at the GM Pavilion Stage, but took their time before starting. As the minutes passed by, young fans in the crowd waited eagerly for the band to begin. After a twenty minute delay, The Orwells finally took the stage. Singer Mario Cuomo was the last one to arrive, wearing a worn-down, white “wife beater” tank top and finishing off a cigarette. As the band kicked into their opening number, Cuomo flicked the butt down onto the stage below his feet and began to sing in his signature low growl, somewhat reminiscent of Glen Danzig’s signature low growl.
The Orwells have made a name for themselves by turning out two albums worth of rowdy, Chicago-style garage rock over the past few years. Their live show did not disappoint, as the band delivered a solid set of quick and catchy rock n’ roll originals from both albums, 2012’s Remember When and their recent breakout Disgraceland, released earlier this June. The group was tight musically, with drummer Henry Brinner thumping away at his beautiful, banged-up vintage Ludwig Vistalite and lead guitarist Dominic Corso laying down sharp, hot licks.
It was Cuomo, with his groveling singing and oddball stage presence, who kept the crowd engaged, and proved himself to be a true showman, though an strange one. Cuomo seemed to be in a daze most of the time, often starring off over the stage towards the roof of the pavilion or towards the side of stage where spare amplifiers and other festival equipment sat idly. Then suddenly, a certain drum beat or guitar chord would sound and Cuomo would seem to return back down to earth. During one of these moments of reality, Cuomo hopped off of the stage and down into the area between the stage and the crowd where he allowed a few lucky audience members to run their hands through his sweaty, tangled hair.
Highlights from the set included driving renditions of “Let It Burn” and “The Righteous One” from Disgraceland, as well as a brief 30-second teaser of The Foundation’s Motown classic, “Build Me Up Buttercup”. This got a loud cheer from the crowd, who appreciated the young band’s tip of the hat to the state of Michigan and its rich musical history. As it turned out, the band’s initial tardiness came back to haunt them, as a large chunk of the crowd left their delayed set early to catch Dr. Dog on the Auto Value Main Stage at 7:45. I was among the early deserters, but was impressed enough with The Orwells to buy one of their cleverly-designed t-shirts that bring to mind the design of a certain Chicago basketball team….
Dr. Dog began their set promptly at 7:45 on the Auto Value Main Stage, opening with the ultra-hummable “Do The Trick” from their excellent 2012 album Be The Void. Dr. Dog is no stranger to big stages, having gotten their big break opening up for My Morning Jacket in the early 2000’s following the release of Toothbrush and playing powerhouse summer music festivals such as Bonnaroo and Coachella. All six members seemed comfortable on the main stage, especially the singing front trio of Toby Leaman, Scott McMicken, and Frank McElroy.
The highlight of Dr. Dog’s set was a groovy, extended version of “Heavy Light”, also from Be The Void. Usually a quick number under four minutes, the band stretched out into a noisy jam, dipped into a few moments of collective ambience, then dove back into the original structure with fervor. The entire song lasted nearly twice as long as the recorded version, but the crowd ate it up, not expecting such a long-formed interpretation. Other high points included beloved Dr. Dog oldies like “Heart It Races” and “The Rabbit, The Bat, & The Reindeer”, as well as a soulful version of “The Truth” off of their newest studio album, 2013’s B-Room. McMicken prefaced the song perfectly, saying, “We’re gonna slow it down on this one.”
Leaman, McMicken, and McElroy treated the crowd to an excellent blend of lush, Americana harmonies. The trio, who all also play guitars and bass interchangeably, sounded like a modern day version of a young Crosby, Stills, and Nash, with hints of psychedelia and other more modern indie rock influences sprinkled over top. Their vocal layering floated above drummer Eric Slick’s massive drum beat quite nicely, swaying the crowd back in forth with the music as a cool evening breeze blew over the crowd.
Of all of the sets I saw Saturday, Dr. Dog’s felt the most like an outdoor summer music festival set. McMicken put it best during a moment of between-song stage banter: “There’s zip lines and beach balls flying around…[this is] an incredible environment.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Immediately following Dr. Dog, beloved Michigan natives Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. began playing their blend of ultra-dancey pop songs on the GM Pavilion stage. The band opened with “Simple Girl” off of 2011’s It’s A Corporate World, proceeded to groove their way through 45 minutes of 80’sinspired synth-pop.
The fat bottom bass of multi-instrumentalist Jon Visger rattled the stage and the audience, challenging all in attendance not to shake their hips in time. Drummer Mike “Mikey” Higgins was an absolute machine behind the drum set, pushing out an impressive display of funk, rock, and dance rhythms, sometimes all in the same song. At a softer point in the set, co-frontman Daniel Zott asked him to “Kick it up, Mikey”, and Higgins followed, slowly growing a fragile moment into a massive, dancey climax.
Dale’s stage setup was a bit unorthodox, but was visually appealing; it looked really cool. Two glowing “Jr.” lights hung from each side of the stage, and two band members were each positioned underneath a light. Conventional household light bulbs were placed in front of each member, and they would all flicker in patterns, together or separately depending on the song, throughout the set. Above all of this, 80’s style arcade game animation played on a massive display ball that was positioned center stage. The lighting amplified the experience and further propelled the crowd to dance and enjoy themselves.
Highlights from Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.’s set included the Michigan anthem “We Almost Lost Detroit”, a brief teaser of the Madonna classic “Like A Virgin” and “If You Didn’t See Me (Then You Weren’t On The Dancefloor)” from 2013’s The Speed of Things, in which Zott sings “You’re supposed to/Surrender to the bass”, summing up the band’s full intentions.
Fitz and The Tantrums
Fitz and the Tantrums headlined the festival, taking the Auto Value Main Stage and 9:30. I fought my way up through the crowd and into the photo pit, where I was quickly pushed to the side (literally) by bigger, stronger, smellier “professional” photographers who were in no mood to let a college kid steal their shots.
After a long day of racing around Adado Park without food or water, I barely had the energy to snap off a few pictures amongst the thrusting elbows and knees of the aforementioned veteran photographers.
Shortly after ten o’ clock, I stumbled away from the festival grounds, limp, wounded, and hungry, having taken all the pictures I could take and rubbing up against as many sweaty old “veteran” photographers as I could possibly handle. As I left, I could hear the blasting soul and funk sounds of Fitz and The Tantrums filling the surrounding Lansing streets, a fitting end to a day of great musical variety.