After a blisteringly hot Cooper Young Festival, the weather for the Gonerfest opening ceremonies in the Cooper Young gazebo was just about perfect.
King Louis and Abe White rock the crowd at the Cooper Young gazebo for Gonerfest 14's opening ceremonies.
The talent, however, was less cooperative. Gonerfest staple King Louis was scheduled to open the show with former Manatees and True Sons of Thunder member Abe White on drums, leading into Memphis legend Greg Oblivian Cartwright. Instead, Cartwright—in town from Asheville, North Carolina where he's raising a brood of kids—opened up with some new songs in a more mellow mode, before being joined by Louis on drums for "Bad Man", "North Cakalacky Girl", and 'Hey Hey Mama". From there on, White, Cartwright, and King Louis swapped around in various configurations, calling out songs, (Louis' rendition of "Streets of Iron", a song he performed with Jay Reatard, has become a memorial tradition at Gonerfest) until the permit ran out. As Goner Records owner Zach Ives said, "There are no schedules in rock and roll".
Goner Records' Zach Ives and Greg Cartwright
At 9 PM, the party cranked up at the Hi Tone, where a mixed crowd of Memphians, and international visitors sipped the tasty Memphis Made Brewing Gonerfest beers: a Sessions IPA and the ever popular Gönerbraü. A man named Efe was in town from Toronto, Canada for his second Gonerfest. “One of the things I had to think of before coming was whether or not the political climate would effect it," he says. "Those kinds of things have far reaching consequences."
The Canadian wondered if the "Trump effect" had suppressed the number of international travelers coming to the festival. “Maybe people are bummed out," he said. "But I’m here. There’s a lot of bands from Japan, a lot of bands from New Zealand. Other people have mentioned it, too.”
But after last year's Gonerfest, Efe says he couldn't bear missing it this year. “It’s great. I wouldn’t be back if I didn’t like it! I love the aspect of discovery. Gonerfest has a mix of legendary bands—we know you know this, or, look it up—and a bunch of new bands that you look up on Soundcloud and go, holy shit, that’s awesome! That’s the most rewarding part. I hope they keep it that way. In America, you’re saturated with all these big music festivals, but it’s very generic, paint-by-numbers type stuff.”
The diversity of musical styles was evident from the beginning, with Benni, a new act on the Goner roster. The New Orleans-based keyboardist has played with several Goner-adjacent acts rock acts, but his debut album is all analog synths action.
By the time New Zealand screamers Blood Bags' put a cap on their set, Efe's turnout worries appeared to be misplaced, as the Hi Tone big room filled up.
Hi Tone crowd
Sweet Knives, the Memphis band made of some former Lost Sounds members, including Alicja Trout and Rich Crook, John Garland, and Jonny Valiant, played a blistering set of mostly new songs. The band was in rare form, and the crowd ate it up. Why doesn't every 14 year old cool girl in America have Trout's music in their playlists?
Los Angeles' Die Group kept the party rolling with the kind of chunky, muscular riffs that are Gonerfest specialties.
One of the most anticipated acts of the weekend was A Giant Dog, garage rock powerhouses from Austin. Singer Stephanie Ellis was all flailing limbs and piercing screams, grabbing the crowd from the first notes. The band had been hanging out with some folks from down under, so they climaxed their set with a spirited cover of INXS' "Don't Change".
“This is my first Gonerfest," she said later. "A Giant Dog has been together for nearly a decade. We’ve attended Gonerfest, and we wanted to play. We played the Hi Tone when there wasn’t anybody here. So this is our first Gonerfest, and it’s a damn fucking good one!”
Gonerfester crashing after the first full day of rock.