Indie artist Faye Webster and Mass MoCA prove to be one organic pair

Faye Webster performs at traveling “Here and There Festival,” hitting the Berkshires for one eclectic day of music

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Caitlin Reardon/Daily Collegian

By Caitlin Reardon, Assistant News Editor

On Saturday, August13, traveling music festival “Here and There” hit the Berkshires’ Mass MoCA for a day of musical celebration. The festival, organized by musician Courtney Barnett, accumulated a handful of this generation’s most popular indie artists performing in the quaint, old factory town of North Adams.

The festival is booked in 15 locations across the U.S. with rotating artists as well as various social justice organizations to which a portion of the concert proceeds are donated. The seven acts at Mass MoCA’s lineup attracted an artistic and stylish crowd of all ages. The lush, green hill adjacent to the museum was peppered with colorful lawn chairs and blankets before a singular stage, overlooking the tall mountains behind it.

Such an idyllic setting seemed perfectly fitting for the event. One performer in particular, indie artist Faye Webster, enhanced the natural atmosphere with her cool energy.

At approximately 6:10 p.m., the 25-year-old musician from Georgia walked on stage in oversized, blue attire accompanied by her four-person band and a blow-up stone head statue with glowing eyes. Met with enthusiastic cheers from the crowd, the excitement was palpable as Webster began the hour-long set with “Better Distractions,” the opening track on her latest record entitled, “I Know I’m Funny haha.

 Although plagued with some technical issues at the beginning of the set, Webster did not let the mishap overshadow the performance. Keeping its cool, the band riffed on as Webster briefly exited the stage to situate the sound.

While Webster’s discography takes on a more relaxed and laid-back tempo, the band was as cohesive as ever. The electric guitar, soft percussion, bass, keys and pedal steel guitar melt into a sweet combination of jazz, country and alternative genres. This unusual style riding in tandem with Webster’s twangy voice is what makes her music so nuanced and fresh.

Her vocals effortlessly collided with the instrumentals, creating a balanced live sound that mirrored the easefulness of her records. Such charm translated into fan favorite, “Right Side of My Neck,” with the simplistic but versatile expression she and her band perform with. The song emanated a dignified coolness as each instrument had a purpose for being on stage. Individually holding a diverse style, the instrumentals come together cohesively as one for this slow jam.

What I loved about her performance was how Webster and her band demonstrated distinction in a subtle way, staying true to her own personal method. However, the band did not have any horns, a key element in some of Webster’s songs. I think it is essential that she adds a saxophonist to her live set, to provide a necessary warmth. This was a missed opportunity to pull the audience in deeper to her soulful fuzziness.

Webster performed all of her hits, including “I Know I’m Funny haha” which carried right into “Jonny,” a mellow love track with spoken narration. With a slower tempo than usual, Webster played around vocally with the general melody of the track. This impromptu flow of cadence, in conjunction with the spoken word narration about her fantasies with this Jonny character, radiated storytelling in its true form.

Webster’s choice to color outside the lines of the original track proves her willingness to produce an engaging show in her own minimalistic way. Her band also left room for a small jam session that built up in volume and intensity, further infusing drama into the song. These little details all worked to diversify the live version from the original while playing up the theatrics of the story.

Instrumental Pokémon song, “Lake Verity,” was explained by Webster as being a nice song that she sometimes listens to while taking a walk. She and her band played the track in all its trap-beat and dreamlike glory. The song itself is pleasant, but was choppily separated in the context of the music. While it may have seemed like a quirky idea, the decision to play this did not carry much relevance to the set and stuck out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of her performance.

Webster amped it up near the end of her set with “Cheers,” letting the band have its moment to shine in a traditional rock style. An edgy synthesizer and fun-sized accents of electric guitar heightened the energy, bringing the crowd to a sturdier, heavier tone. This choice near the end of the set was exciting. It gave an impression that even though Webster’s music is mostly quite soft, she and her band not only have the capability to rock, but can do so with conviction.

After introducing her band members, one of whom being her own brother on bass, Webster closed with “Kingston.” The rendition was fun and lighthearted as she let her audience fill in the gaps of a phrase. The eclectic instruments and playful inflections elevated the song, particularly through the wittiness of the drums. Her voice repeating the words, “Baby, tell me where you wanna go,” felt like a dream in itself. Such a closing was magical.

Webster truly stood out through her “Here and There Festival” set. Musicianship comes naturally to her, and that is clear when she steps on stage. Combining different genres, various stylistic instruments and meshing singing with speaking, Webster executed a strong performance that exudes a freshness of what music can be. Her unique take proved that music is able to hold its own contrasts within itself, blurring the lines of storytelling and sound in just one hour.

Caitlin Reardon can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @caitlinjreardon.