The second annual Sound on Sound Festival was held at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, CT on Saturday, 9/30, and Sunday, 10/1. The inaugural festival last year surely had its issues, lack of food and drinks, parking issues, sound problems, and overcrowding, just to name a few. Sponsors pledged that they heard all the complaints and vowed to make this year’s festival better. I can say they unequivocally succeeded.
The festival grounds were fantastic, with plenty of places to sit, great sightlines to the stage, near-perfect sound and lighting, tons of food and drink options, and easy-to-locate bathrooms. Mother nature threw a wrench into the plans with historic, torrential rain the day before the festival. Organizers moved back the Saturday start time, cut some of the early bands, and worked to make the grounds as safe and dry as possible, There were a few hiccups on the media end, however. The giant turntable stage was perfect for getting bands on quickly but was so high that you could not see the entire stage from the photo pit. The shots below were mainly taken from the crowd. Also, Alanis Morissette and Ben Harper only allowed a “limited number” of approved photographers to shoot them professionally. I was not selected, so all photos of Alanis and Ben that you see below were taken from a cell phone in the crowd and edited.
In my opinion, Saturday was the weaker day, musically speaking. After the rain delay, Deep Banana Blackout was the first band on, followed by Joy Oladokun. At this point, the crowd was very sparse as people were still finding their way in. The viewing areas began to fill in by the time Lord Huron took the stage and people were ready for some energy after a relatively subdued set by Oladokun.
Festival favorites Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats really got the crowd moving as the sun set with their unique brand of Motown-infused rock. Despite the mud and water, the grounds were filling up as Phish’s Trey Anastasio took the stage with his band. Their set kicked off with the high-energy “Set Your Soul Free” which showcased his incredibly talented band. The nine-song set featured 5 Phish tracks and kept the crowd moving the entire time.
Finally, it was time for the main event, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The festival grounds were packed, there wasn’t an empty spot in any of the viewing areas. The organizers promised a stadium-level headliner and they lived up to that promise. Due to festival time constraints, the band played a shorter set than a normal headline show. Apparently, one of my personal favorite RHCP tracks, “Parallel Universe” was cut from the setlist due to time issues. While the band was in top form, the inclusion of an “Intro Jam” and another instrumental jam leading into “Californication” was a bit frustrating. It’s not often the Chili Peppers hit the area, and I, for one, would have appreciated two more songs rather than the extended jams. That said, they hit with all the energy and musical virtuosity you could want from the RHCP, a great way to end Day 1.
Day 2 saw the festival gods smiling, sunny, warm, dry weather, perfect for a day of music. I was excited as I thought Day 2 had the stronger overall lineup, and it lived up to my expectations! The day kicked off right on time with Philadephia’s Snacktime, followed by outlaw country artist Calder Allen. While the day boasted a strong lineup, the pacing was a little odd, horn-centric Philly soul, followed by country, followed by the 90s alt-rock of Gin Blossoms. It seemed strange to have a band like Gin Blossoms play so early in the day while the crowd was still arriving. They began 10 minutes late due to technical issues and were told they needed to cut their set to finish on time. The upside is that it led to a great set of all hits. It was an unusual lineup for the band, guitarist Jesse Valenzuela was behind the drum kit, and Josh Kennedy, frontman for fellow Arizona band The Black Moods filled in on guitar.
The odd pacing continued as the rocking set from Gin Blossoms was followed by the electronic, hip-hop feel of Cautious Clay. Clay was then followed by my vote as one of the top performers of the weekend, Margo Price. Margo Price simply owns every stage she walks onto. Sliding effortlessly from the rock of “Been To The Mountian” to the country lilt of “Tennessee Song” to the smooth pop of “Radio”, it was fun to see the crowd fill in to watch as they heard Price and her band on stage. It won’t be long before she is playing much later in the day.
Mt. Joy had the tough task of following Price and put up a strong set. They were followed by, for me, the surprise of the weekend, Dispatch. I had heard of the band but never really listened to them. Frankly, they blew me away. I was hooked from the first song and loved their entire set. “Skin The Rabbit” and “The General” were two of the best songs played all weekend. In the only guest spot of the festival, Dispatch brought out the Snacktime horn section for the final song of their set.
Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals were next, kicking off with a gorgeous, acapella “Below Sea Level” into “Diamonds on the Inside”. It was a good set that felt a little short as it led into Hozier. Vocally, Hozier sounded amazing and his band matched him perfectly. Taking the stage as the sun went down, his set felt like a rock show with great lighting and high energy. The set ended with his breakthrough song “Take Me To Church” and left the audience wanting more.
While the crowd may not have been as packed as it was for the Chili Peppers, it was pretty close by the time Alanis Morissette kicked off her set. Alanis still has one of the great voices in music and it was on full display. The first eight of her ten-song set were from her monster Jagged Little Pill record, with “Uninvited” and “Thank U” rounding it out. “Thank U” was easily the emotional high-point of the night as the screen behind her scrolled through messages people left for her on social media saying what they were thankful for. Another poignant moment in her set was the classic “Ironic”. The video screen showed clips and photos from her 1995 tour that featured the late Taylor Hawkins on drums, as the song ended, a photo of Taylor lingered on the screen.
The final act of the weekend was Bridgeport’s own John Mayer. Mayer mentioned how he was born in a hospital about a mile away and that his father was a high school principal in town for decades. Mayer is truly an underrated guitarist and showed his talent during this solo acoustic set. He is extremely personable and regaled the crowd with stories throughout the night. While Mayer is undoubtedly a huge draw and a local boy made good, after rocking sets by Gin Blossoms, Margo Price, Dispatch, and Alanis, ending the festival with a solo acoustic set felt like a little bit of a letdown. I would have loved to have seen Mayer with a full band, or even have Alanis close the night.
Despite rain and mud, Sound on Sound 2023 was a great success. It will be interesting to see how this festival grows. The lineup this year felt a little random, I’d like to see there be a little more focus or a theme with the lineup as it grows. Overall, this was a really fun weekend that should have those who attended looking forward to next year!