Shoals Fest 2021 Day 2 at McFarland Park in Florence, AL

Day two of Shoals Fest was all about reunions, bringing old friends together on one stage once again to round out a great weekend.

Day two kicked off under a literal dark cloud as you could see weather apps popping up notifications on the phones of most of the audience warning of heavy rain and potential thunderstorms. As a result, The Pine Hill Haints took to the stage on Sunday against what looked to be a wintry backdrop created by the white tarps that the crew had used to protect the gear on stage. The rain, fortunately, held off (other than for a few sprinkles) though and the band ripped through an energetic set to get everyone in the mood for the day to come. Though the band has been together for over 20 years, we’re embarrassed to say that it was our first experience with The Haints. They definitely didn’t disappoint and it was a real treat to hear their punk-tinged take on roots/bluegrass music. Definitely a band we’ll be looking out for next time they roll through town.

As Slobberbone frontman Brent Best stepped onto the stage, he told the crowd he’d had no intention of ever going on the road again and that there was nothing anyone could say to get him to travel out of state… But then he was told, “Well… it’s going to be you, Centro-Matic, The Truckers, and Jason Isbell” and he thought, “Well shit…” The band launched into their opener, “Man of Note,” and the intensity never waned throughout the rest of their set. Even Patterson Hood couldn’t contain himself and made an unplanned jaunt to the stage to sing some backups during “Gimme Back My Dog,” prompting Best to mention that he thought the crowd had been going crazy because he’d nailed the transition to the chorus before he realized it was because “sasquatch” had run onto the stage! As the sun broke through, the band finished up their set and the crowd showed their appreciation for a great set.

There were numerous Centro-Matic t-shirts and banners on display in the audience and fans made their way to the lip of the stage to watch the Texas-based four-piece ‘led’ by Will Johnson. Their band had played their farewell show in 2014 but you would never have guessed from this performance. As they made their way through an 11-song set, you could tell this was a gang of four friends who had played so much music together that they knew each other and the music they had created together intimately. It was a great set which also included an additional member in the form of Isbell, who sat in for the whole set, again just there for the music and keeping himself off to the side of the stage/in the background as he did throughout Amanda Shires’ set the previous day.

As daylight turned to dusk it was time for Drive-By Truckers to take to the stage and that they did in a cacophony of light and sound as they opened with “Lookout Mountain.” If anyone looked as happy as Isbell over this weekend it was Patterson Hood. Between songs, he told the audience that this had been one of “the best days of my entire life.” One of the reasons for this, he noted, was that he was getting to welcome his dad David Hood to the stage to play with the band during a cover of Eddie Hinton’s “Everybody Needs Love.” He also spoke about the first time he’d met Isbell: “He was so f**king gifted and talented” before welcoming him out to the stage to play with the band on “Heathens” and “The Day John Henry Died.” 

The crowd was still buzzing as Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit took to the stage for the final set of the weekend and the band again drew heavily from Reunions, but changed up the setlist from the previous night. Most notable was an enthralling performance of “Elephant” with just Isbell and Derry deBorja on the stage. It was amazing to watch the whole of McFarland Park stand in silence watching Isbell play that song and it was a testament to the way great songwriting can impact people. It was clear by simply looking into the eyes of some members of the audience that this was a song that connected with them on a deeply personal level. As the set drew to a close, Isbell noted that there was a song that he had received many requests for before launching into “Never Gonna Change” followed by a cover of the Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac classic “Oh Well.” Both tracks gave the band, and particularly Isbell and Sadler Vaden, the opportunity to stretch out a little and have some fun trading guitar licks. To close out the weekend, Isbell welcomed Hood and Cooley from Drive-By Truckers to the stage to do “a couple of the old songs” in the form of “Outfit” and “Decoration Day.”

Isbell commented towards the end of the show that there was a genuine sense of the artists and the audience both feeling and giving love. This wasn’t just a musician spinning a line from the stage, it was true. There is something genuinely special about Shoals Fest: the artists, the location, the audience, and that extra intangible that is sometimes just in the air. It was there in 2019 and it was definitely there over these two days. Isbell has put together a show that shines a spotlight on this beautiful part of the US and its rich musical heritage. This year, by virtue of the bands that were booked to play, it felt like he also gave us the chance to crawl inside his head and put together some of the big puzzle pieces that made him the musician and songwriter he is today. 

As the audience filed out of the venue everyone knew they had just been a part of something special and most, if not all, will have been leaving with a few new friends – we certainly did.

We can’t wait to see what’s in store for Shoals Fest 2022!

In case you missed it, you can check out our coverage of day one of Shoals Fest 2021 here.

Words by: Phil Walton
Photos by: Kirstine Walton

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About Phil Walton 54 Articles
Phil grew up in the UK and loved listening to and playing music from a young age. He moved from the UK to Chicago in 2011, falling in love with the city and its music scene. He enjoys nothing better than spending time with musicians, whether it be watching them perform, talking to them for the website or reading their autobiographies.