Although they were playing on the mid size Rockdelux stage I didn't expect so many people to be waiting expectantly for Jason Molina and his Magnolia Electric Co to begin in the still scorching evening sun as the festival began it's second day.
Many associate this man, and his previous work as Songs Ohia and alone under his own name, with melancholic folk rock and painfully bare acoustic balladry, the kind that you would expect to work best in a dark bar on a cold night. But this set was surprisingly one of the most uplifting of the day. Molina and the band were sprightly, injecting a rallying vitality into the songs.
I'd been having a rough day, arguments, communication breakdowns with the locals, a thin sagging mattress in a stuffy hostel room. So when Molina sang "Please remember me for the man I tried to be, and not the man I was" I felt things coming back together, the tension melted. Although the arrangements are gritty, country influenced affairs for two electric guitars, bass, organ and drums there are no big rock n roll tricks to hook you, it's all about the man's poetry. The bass plugs simple lines to fill out the sound, as does the organ. The drums are only flashy when the lead guitar reels out a brief glistening hook. They would all surge as one, giving a sense of unity behind the songs. Molina's voice is a fine thing, he hails from Ohio (correct me if I'm wrong) but I often hear a Scottish lilt, it sounds like something that blew down from the highlands to be born in the mid-west.
It's an uplifting experience to stand amongst a thousand people who are there to hear a man bare his soul. Not hiding anything, not posturing or dressing his life "full of goodbyes" as anything but what it is. He makes cutting observations about his ability to commit, to run away and to hurt without wallowing or lamenting, which is a hard thing to do. Just beside me were a group of Spaniards who were obviously big fans, they would erupt with excitement at songs I hadn't heard before and shout "Yayson!" whenever they could. One of them attempted to throw his sombrero onto the stage, but it fell short. A security guard solemnly picked up the hat, but before he could confiscate it Molina asked for it and wore it for the next song before tossing it back.
These things sound like your average festival events, but the lack of self-seriousness in the hat gesture and the sports fan bellowing concurrently went against my expectations of the band and seemed strangely appropriate. Magnolia Electric Co. don't sing for the aesthetes (of which there were many around), and they don't sing for the common man, they don't even sing for someone in between. This atmosphere, and the feelings I had which have mutated into these words, elevated the set to something more than just another show at a very busy festival. It felt like there was some real communication going on, everybody there valued the experience. Perhaps it was because people hadn't got so drunk yet, there was a window of opportunity open for some understanding to take place. Something beyond the "I know this song!" or the "this is so loud!" excitement that takes over after a certain hour.