Mississippi River Festival at Alton Amphitheater in Alton, IL - Loud Hailer Magazine (2024)

Mississippi River Festival at Alton Amphitheater in Alton, IL - Loud Hailer Magazine (1)

After 44 years, the Mississippi River Festival returns with performances from Larkin Poe, Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown, Fastball, and Feel.

TheMississippi River Festivaloriginally took place from 1969 to 1980 on the campus of Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, IL. During the span of the festival, they had performances from the likes of The Who, Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, and the Grateful Dead. This year, the festival was brought back to life in a new location, the Alton Amphitheater.

In today’s climate, putting on a successful music festival is not a task that should be taken lightly. With that in mind, it speaks volumes of the character of organizers Nick Bifano and Zack Johnson that they chose to take on the task of reviving this historic festival. It’s clear, in interacting with the organizers and hearing them speak from the stage, that they are rightfully proud of their hometown and have a great deal of reverence for the storied festival.

On Saturday, we are delighted to say that all of their hard work paid off, resulting in a really well-organized event in a beautiful location with a line-up that any festival would have been proud of. Many of the attendees we spoke to were from the local area and seemed truly delighted that this storied event had returned. For out-of-towners, such as Loud Hailer, this will definitely be an event that we mark on our calendars going forward and we already can’t wait to see who will be in the line-up for next year.

The one-day festival took place on the hottest day of the year so far, but that did not get in the way of the crowd flocking in to enjoy the lineup. We have waited a long time to seeTyler Bryant and the ShakedownandLarkin Poeon the same lineup, and the day was finally here. It was noticeable that the majority of those with VIP tickets forwent their reserved seats to secure a standing spot at the barrier right from the start so that they could be as close to the action as possible (we’d note that, given the temperature, this required a great deal of perseverance, a lot of sun block, and extra antiperspirant).

First to take to the stage was local band,Feel. Although they are a relatively new band, having only formed in 2021, they are certainly making a name for themselves rather quickly. They have already opened for the likes of Cheap Trick, 38 Special, Rival Sons, and Blackberry Smoke. They say that they take their musical inspiration from 1970s rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, The Black Crowes, and Humble Pie, which is clear to anyone from the moment you hear them perform.

The band consists of Garrett Barcus (vocals), Tyler Armstrong (guitar), T.J. Steinwart (drums), and Rodger Lenhardt (bass). The performance from this four-piece was a real shot in the arm and a great way to kick off the new phase of the newly revived Mississippi River Festival.

Playing an opening spot in close to 100-degree heat, they walked out on stage, counted off the opening track, and exploded into life. There’s a certain buzz that comes over a venue when a great band comes on stage and truly entertains and you could certainly sense that here. Watching the faces in the audience, you could see that Feel, without a doubt, grabbed the attention of those who turned up at open doors. It was also noticeable how many of those who weren’t already inside the venue or were at the concession stands came hurrying to the stage to make sure they could see who was making the music. As a result, the band had significantly more people in the audience at the end of its set than the start, which is always an indicator that you’re doing things right!

Garrett’s vocals were outstanding and Armstrong played like a man possessed throughout from both a rhythm and lead perspective. Add to this mix the power and swing of the rhythm section of Steinwart and Lenhardt driving them forward, and you get a band that manages to create a sound so powerful that you’d be forgiven for thinking there were more than just four musicians on the stage. We’re pretty sure that this is a band you’ll be hearing a lot more from in the future.

Next up wasFastballfrom Austin, TX. It’s rare these days for a band that’s been together for even ten years to have all of their original members. The fact that Fastball has been together for 29 years and still has all of its original members (as opposed to one of them touring with a bunch of session players while the others do stories in the press about what a d*ck that guy is!) is impressive. Not only are they still together but they are still writing and releasing great new music, releasing new album Sonic Ranch this year. Alternating vocals between Tony Scalzo and Miles Zuniga, they entertained the crowd which grew further during their set, the searing temperatures clearly not deterring anyone as more people gathered at the rail to get a close-up view of the Grammy-nominated Billboard-topping musicians. The crowd was clearly loving their performance as they played a mix of new and older tunes, closing out, of course, with “Out of my Head” and “The Way” which really got everyone going!

The area in front of the stage began filling up considerably over the next 30 minutes with the audience ready for a dose of Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown (TBS). If you’ve ever seen the band before, you know there’s no way you can possibly stay in a seat when these guys take to the stage. Looking at the number of TBS t-shirts being donned, their fans were in full attendance and ready to rock! And rock they did!

If you’ve been following Loud Hailer over the years, you’ll know we’ve interviewed Tyler and have caught TBS on a good number of occasions, but this performance just seemed to hit differently. The level of intensity and what seemed like just sheer joy to be performing, was infectious and from the moment they strode out onto the stage they had the audience in the palm of their hand. No wonder these guys have a song called “Born Rockin'” because even though it was written about Caleb’s son Cruz (more on him later), we swear Tyler was likely born wearing a Rolling Stones t-shirt and denim vest with a guitar in one hand and throwing rock horns with the other! Three or four songs into the set, as Tyler’s tech’ came out to hand him his pink resonator, a guy in the audience, clearly seeing him for the first time, said to his wife “Oh, a resonator, I hope he can really play that thing.” By the time the song was done, judging by the look on his face, he was in no doubt that, yes, he can really play that thing!

The heat didn’t seem to be any hindrance for this foursome. From the moment they stepped out onto the stage, you could see that they meant business. The smiles on both the band and the crowd’s faces showed just how much everyone was enjoying this set. The band brims with so much energy when they play that it always seems impossible to keep Caleb behind his drum kit for the duration of a set. During TBS shows, he can regularly be found perched on top of his kick drum or the drum riser, right at the front of the stage, or actually in with the audience, and this show was no exception.

Graham Whitford looked in his element as he often looked immersed in the music while also reciprocating the joy radiating from those at the barrier. He and Tyler have been friends and bandmates for so long now that they are at the stage where they finish each other’s sentences – instinctively taking turns to lay back into the groove when the other steps forward to play lead. Diego Navaira seems a great fit for the band. He has taken no time to settle in and sits right in the pocket with Caleb whilst also adding great backup vocals and all, it has to be said while looking like a very cool customer.

After a set filled with tracks from across the band’s catalog, the audience was breathless and in no doubt that they had just seen a truly phenomenal performance.

After a set like that, any audience could have gone home happy but, today, there was more great music still to come in the form of Larkin Poe. Like TBS, Larkin Poe are no strangers to us here at Loud Hailer but it’s impossible not to be captivated by this immensely talented duo from the moment they step out onto the stage. The guitars, the harmonies, the songs, those voices… these two really have something special here. As with Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown, it’s only a matter of time before they are performing in much larger venues making it difficult to get the kind of up close and personal experience that the audience was lucky enough to enjoy here in Alton. With this in mind, if you get the chance, you should absolutely make sure to get to a Larkin Poe show as soon as possible

The audience was fully engaged from the moment the sisters stepped out onto the stage and were dancing, swaying, and singing along throughout the entire set. As mentioned in the TBS comments above, it shines through in a live performance when artists are connected with each other and can seemingly read each other’s minds. You don’t get much more closely connected than sisters and the fact that they named their last album Blood Harmony tells you everything you need to know. Whether it’s in their writing or their performance on stage, the sisters accentuate each other’s strengths perfectly. Their deep love and respect for the blues shines through in everything they do, with Son House’s “Preachin’ Blues” a regular on their setlist and the blues infusing all of their original music, albeit with their modern spin on it. One of the things that makes them most exciting is that every album is an evolution and a step on their journey, and you’re never quite sure where that journey is going to take them next!

On the night, the sisters, with support from their excellent rhythm section in the form of Ben Satterlee on drums and Brent “Tarka” Layman on bass, put on as good a rock and roll show as you’re likely to see anywhere. As far as favorite moments go, there were simply too many to choose from, though special mention should be given to Rebecca joyously bouncing across the stage during “Kick The Blues” (the cardio is strong with that one, as she never misses a note) or Megan dragging every last inch of emotion out of that lap steel on pretty much every one of her solos.

As the day was beginning to draw to a close, you began to wonder, would we get to see Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown and Larkin Poe on the same stage? It was getting late, but surely it’s got to happen, right? And it did! If ever there’s a supergroup waiting to form, it’s this one! Can you imagine? Well, for one song, we didn’t have to imagine. It became a reality as they all came together to perform Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen,” with miniature rock star Cruz joining them for another guest appearance after having joined his dad briefly during their set. It has to be said that, despite the array of musical talent on show, whenever he ventured out onto the stage (sorry to say this guys), all the attention of the audience and the camera operators shooting for the big screens, went purely to that little rock star in the making. There’s just no competing with that cutie!

There are those who like to spin out the old cliché that rock and roll is dead. Well, let us tell you that, as long as there are the Larkin Poe’s and TBS’s in this world doing what they do, people like Nick Bifano and Zack Johnson are willing to put their time and effort into organizing events like the Mississippi River Festival, and fans willing to pay their hard-earned money to support these bands and events, it will never die.

It is incredible to think that it’s been so long since the last Mississippi River Festival, and we’re hoping this is just going to be the beginning. This was a great day with a fantastic lineup to kick it off the festival for its new run. We’ll definitely be watching closely to see what they have in store in the future.

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Mississippi River Festival at Alton Amphitheater in Alton, IL - Loud Hailer Magazine (2024)
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