Nirvana by a 'Riverfront'

By Jeffrey C. Larnard

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It doesn’t get much better than this for a music fan. The 2009 Newburyport Riverfront Music Festival had the perfect summertime festival vibe, taking place under warm, sunny skies; complete with blankets, coolers and red cups. Although the crowd probably still would have had a good time if the editors of The Daily Collegian had done a few songs, the performers of the day – Katie Herzig, the Sam Roberts Band, Eric Hutchinson and Fastball – only enhanced the festival.

The concert started at 2 p.m. with singer/songwriter Katie Herzig playing in front of a packed lawn. It was clear that most of the crowd had never heard of Katie Herzig, but her music has been featured on “One Tree Hill” and “My Sister’s Keeper,” among other movies and TV shows. Despite this, Katie managed a set that was pleasant and fit the laid-back vibe of the festival. At this point the concert still felt like a picnic, and the crowd had less energy than a La-Z-Boy convention.

Fortunately, the Sam Roberts Band was able to change that. A popular band in Canada, the Sam Roberts Band was next to take the stage. The band just looked like a rock band. From the energetic lead singer clad in tight clothes to the enigmatic guitarist, the Sam Roberts Band gave the audience a favorable first impression. Their set did not disappoint either, and a passion-drenched performance of “Them Kids” was particularly memorable. A throwback to an earlier era, the Sam Roberts Band is a lesser-known band that deservers recognition in an age where modern rock bands unfortunately sound very similar.

Even with the great performance by the Sam Roberts Band, it was obvious who most of the crowd had showed up for. When Eric Hutchinson took the stage, he looked more like the captain of Amherst College’s chess team than a performer. But he quickly erased any doubts, playing through his entire CD, “Sounds Like This.” Combining humor, musical talent and the ability to get the crowd to participate in his songs, Mr. Hutchinson is clearly a gifted performer. If you have not heard of him, he is an artist that you need to check out immediately. As he left the stage, a middle-aged couple whispered excitedly to each other, “He is the next John Mayer!”

Though Fastball had to follow Eric Hutchinson’s monster set, they took it in stride as they launched into their extensive catalog, including mega hits like “You’re an Ocean,” “The Way” and “Out of my Head.” The crowd was eager to participate in these bits of nostalgia, but much less so with Fastball’s new material. People who liked Fastball in the 90s may find something to like on their new album, but they are not likely to make any new fans with it.  Regardless, Fastball was able to close out a very successful day that seemed to have everything go right. Simply put, the festival was a small piece of musical nirvana.