Windjammer festival marks a beautiful moment in Baltimore music

August 31, 2015

Not one for trite banter between songs, Beach House singer and keyboardist Victoria Legrand captured the overarching feeling of Saturday’s first-ever Windjammer music festival with a question.

“Are you feeling the Maryland love?” Legrand asked the sold-out Pier Six Pavilion crowd about halfway through the band’s set. “You’re in Baltimore now.”

If anyone in the crowd failed to feel the positivity pulsating throughout the outdoor venue, we should pity their numbness. They failed to grasp the magnitude of the evening.

To appreciate Windjammer – a concept brainstormed by the talent on the bill, and a concert whose entire proceeds are being donated to the Living Classrooms Foundation and Kenny Liner’s Believe in Music program, the acts said on stage – was to appreciate a significant and inspiring piece of Baltimore’s music scene.

Chances are those types described above were few and far between, because the entire day felt like a joyous celebration of artists who have been increasingly championed across the world, but needed a hometown show that properly reflected how far they have come. Dan Deacon, Beach House and Future Islands – the night’s headliners – have toured relentlessly and released high-quality records since establishing Baltimore as their homebase in the past dozen years.

A culmination of sorts, Windjammer finally quantified the sum of the acts- years of determination and hard work on a local level. Everyone at Pier Six Pavilion was aware and proud of where the foundations were laid.

Windjammer felt overdue, but the timing was important. After the April death of Freddie Gray and the riots that followed, a dialogue began among Baltimore musicians about their roles in the city and what they could do to help. Members of Future Islands – along with local artists like Caleb Stine, Jana Hunter, Katrina Ford and others – collaborated with the students in the Believe in Music program to record “Believe in Baltimore.” Deacon and Beach House wanted to help, too, which led to the festival.
The artists addressed the underlying issues of race and class in their own ways. Deacon, a master of unifying audiences, had the crowd hold hands and raise their arms together, and asked everyone to remember that the homeless and less fortunate are human beings, and that they are often treated poorly simply for existing. Legrand similarly asked for cognizance of others.

Musically, the night felt special, too, with each artist showcasing the reasons they’ve been able to turn their niche art into full-fledged careers.

Future Islands closed the night with a triumphant, hour-long set that inspired let-it-all-hang-out dancing in the seats and lawn. After the synthpop act blossomed last year, driven largely by the breakthrough single ‘Seasons (Waiting on You),’ to see Future Islands in Baltimore remains a privilege. One of music’s most charismatic performers today, singer Sam Herring deployed his arsenal of meme-able dance moves – the full-body roll, the alternating kick-outs, the ‘Letterman’ two-step.

Future Islands have conquered some of the world’s biggest festival stages recently, including England’s Glastonbury, but the singer made it clear none of the recent success would have been possible without Baltimore. Herring also took the time to thank Deacon for inspiring the group to move from North Carolina to Baltimore years ago.

“Without Dan Deacon, I don’t know where we’d be,’ Herring said.

Beach House appropriately took the stage soon after the sun went down. The duo of Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally – with a touring bassist and drummer – played highlights from 2010’s ‘Teen Dream,’ 2012’s ‘Bloom’ and “Depression Cherry,” the group’s just-released fifth album. In the calm, open air, the songs sounded huge, just like the emotional wallop they often reveal. The band finished with recent single ‘Sparks’ against the soft glow of a red-orange backdrop, hypnotically meshing sound with sight.

Noting it was his first performance with seats in a long time, Deacon focused on songs from his last album, February’s ‘Gliss Riffer.’His set of electronically contorted, blissed-out pop songs felt like the clearest distillation yet of Deacon’s appeal, especially when he brought out a lively horns section for ‘Feel the Lightning’ and ‘When I was Done Dying.’

Other Baltimore acts played earlier in the day, including recent Beach House tourmates Romantic States, Bond St. District (the hip-hop duo of DDm and producer Paul Hutson) and post-punk duo Ed Schrader’s Music Beat. There were also DJ sets from Jason Willett, Matmos’ M.C. Schmidt, Book of Morrin, Big Party and James Nasty.

Windjammer was practically flawless, and one of the most beautiful nights for the city’s arts scene in recent memory. If the festival happens again, the only way to improve it would be to include even more local artists of color and varying genres to better reflect the eclecticism of Baltimore’s continuously thriving music scene.

The crowd on Saturday night already seemed ready for it, passionately dancing to James Nasty’s set of Baltimore Club classics before Future Islands took the stage. On so many levels, the night was Baltimore through and through – resourceful, charmingly loose, impressively artful and the type of fun that makes a smile impossible to suppress. For many reasons, we should hope it happens again soon.