Whether you had a good time at Riverfest largely depends on when you were there — the threat of rain lingered through most of the afternoon on Saturday, finally rearing its head in time to delay a set from The Joy Formidable which, when it happened, was totally worth the wait. (There was ample cloud coverage during Wiz Khalifa’s Saturday night set, too, but of a different sort.) President Clinton Avenue turned into a makeshift off-Broadway scene, with buskers, evangelists and vendors selling fidget spinners. Save for some muddy slopes and spongy spots on the lawn, most of the offending weather had cleared off in time for the afternoon sets on Sunday, when Morris Day & The Time and Amasa Hines brought the festival to a close in its 40th year. We’ve yet to get a report of the attendance numbers, but eyeballing the crowds this year in comparison to last year’s tells us the rain deterred plenty of potential Riverfesters.
Here Come the Mummies: Wow, for a bunch of guys dressed in mummy outfits, I was not expecting two openers that sounded like they could have been B-sides to Gloria Estefan singles, or lost tracks from the “Top Gun” soundtrack. Their set involved a captivating flute solo and an extended saxophone solo in which two musicians played a total of four saxophones — a solid 1:2 ratio of dude-to-saxophone. It was pretty difficult, on principle, to walk away from that in favor of catching Morris Day in time for his opener.
Andy Frasco and The U.N.: These guys are known to bring a party with them, and from the looks of Brian Chilson’s photos, that’s what they did.
Cody Jinks: While hundreds of kids in fringe tops and hot pants were doing the so-called milennial whoop Saturday night to some Cold War Kids and Moon Taxi, Cody Jinks was over at the Frio Light stage — to use an audience member’s words — “pullin’ a Waylon Jennings outlaw move.” Evidently, sound engineering problems plagued his set persistently, so Jinks went around and consulted his band members before pulling the plug on his performance altogether.
Moon Taxi: There is absolutely nothing objectionable about this band. And maybe therein lies the problem? That said, the two hundred or so kids gathered around them adoringly clapping their hands in the air would probably argue that there’s no problem at all.
Tank & The Bangas: Tarriona “Tank” Ball and The Bangas were the unanimous winners of NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest this year, and although they didn’t get nearly the dance party they deserved for their appearance in Little Rock — after all, it was 2:30 p.m. — the seven of them churned out a jazz set that was less “Quick” (their winning entry) and more an expanded jazz fantasy; half Phoebe Snow, half Esperanza Spalding, all Tank. Their style is largely narrative, like a 40-minute nursery rhyme told with the help of impressionistic flute solos. Tank enraptures with cartoonish sound effects, rapid-fire poetry and an unfailingly positive vibe; at one point, she gestured to individual members of the crowd, declaring, “I love you! I love you!,” and we believed her.
The Wildflower Revue: Despite reports of the same sound issues that plagued Cody Jinks’ set later on that night, a new lineup for The Wildflower Revue (Cindy Woolf of The Creek Rocks has stepped in for Bonnie Montgomery) filled out the stage nicely. We tore ourselves away from Tank & The Bangas set just soon enough to catch a downtempo rendition of “Ain’t No Grave,” the band’s closing number.
Cage the Elephant, Grouplove: After playing Memphis in May, Grouplove and Cage the Elephant kicked off the first night of Little Rock’s Riverfest on the First Security Amphitheatre stage on Friday. In the 7:30 p.m. slot, the indie act Grouplove had the large crowd singing along to popular songs like “Welcome to Your Life,” “Tongue Tied,” “Shark Attack” and a cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” Nirvana seemed like an influence of singer and keyboardist Hannah Hooper and the rest of the band.
Headliner Cage the Elephant, of Bowling Green, Ken., took the stage at 9:30 p.m. The band recalled Jack White’s sound. Lead singer Matt Shultz used the whole stage to run around to get the crowd riled up while performing. The band’s set included the songs “Cry Baby,” “In One Ear” and “Spiderhead.” The crowd was loud and wild.