The first night of the inaugural PromoWest Fest took McFerson Commons in the Arena District Friday with a killer lineup and all the beer and food you could ask for.
Having only two stages and eight acts, Columbus’s first musical festival threatened to be a dud on its first outing.
However, the festival’s overall setup ended up being my favorite that I’ve experienced. With a stage at each end of the McFerson Commons and no overlapping schedule, I was able to easily see every act that performed. Every band started promptly at their start time and finished the same way (except for The Flaming Lips). The festival organizers must have made their expectations clear because most of everyone who performed mentioned at some point that they were trying to fill their hour with as much music as possible, and there was no time for chitchat.
The schedule ran like a well-oiled machine until the last hour. The Flaming Lips finally took the stage 15 minutes late, but made up for their tardiness with an amazing amount of confetti and lasers that rivaled any light show.
Frontman Wayne Coyne seemed happy to be on stage with a suit made out of a kid’s stuffed caterpillar. With no less than 50 huge balloons bouncing throughout the crowd, the energy was palpable.
Too bad it didn’t last.
After playing “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt.1” about 15 minutes into the set, the energy seemed to be sucked from the venue. An unexplainable disconnect seemed to occur between the band and the audience, with people noticeably beginning to file out. Maybe it had been a long day for all of us?
The last half-hour of its shortened set was disappointing, but its incredible energy and stage productions at the start evened it all out.
Friday’s lineup was impressive overall. The crowd began filing in as the one-man band Banners took the stage at 4 p.m. for a half-hour set, followed by another half-hour set by local favorites Red Wanting Blue. When The Wombats took the stage at 5 p.m., the crowd had filled in considerably. The Wombats blasted through their 30 minutes with a tremendous amount of fun and energy.
The organizers also smartly designed the layout, making everything easily accessible. Vendors lined the sides of the McFerson Commons, but most of the food and alcohol was located in one convenient strip just up a side road.
I found the “cashless” wristband to be an overall winning concept. Just a tap of the wristband and my purchase was paid for. No digging around for money in my purse each time I wanted something.
Ryan Adams and his band The Shining were the penultimate performers. Opening the set with a rocked-out version of “Gimme Something Good,” they pulled the audience in and didn’t let go for the next hour. Managing to work in some banter with the crowd and even making up a song on-the-spot called “Cotton Candy” at the suggestion of someone in the crowd, Adams was an entertaining force of rock and roll.
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds welcomed the evening with an hourlong set of fantastic rock music. Gallagher, having previously fronted Oasis, kept the setlist mainly to his current band’s catalogue, but he did indulge the crowd by playing four of Oasis’s hits including, “Champagne Supernova” and “Wonderwall.” Closing out the show with a perfect rendition of “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” the crowd seemed pleased and ready to head into the night.
Fitz and The Tantrums spent their hour on stage tearing it down and building it back up again. With fierce vocals by Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs, the pop/neo-soul group kept the crowd happy and moving with one hit after another. Playing lively numbers like “The Walker,” “Moneygrabber” and “Out Of My League,” Fitz and The Tantrums cemented their status as one of the best live acts in music today.
Popular radio band, X Ambassadors, were granted an entire hour, however, I feel like a half-hour would have been more appropriate. Running through songs I recognized from movie trailers and fall TV drama promos, the crowd seemed unable to connect with the band. They barely responded to the lead singer’s incessant need for attention and constant begging for responses from the audience.
This weekend may be PromoWest Fest’s first year, but it certainly won’t be its last. I predict this will become the city’s new favorite summer tradition.