ShoalsFest 2022 Day Two at McFarland Park in Florence, AL

Day two of ShoalsFest saw performances from Billy Allen and the Pollies, Amanda Shires, John Moreland, Drivin N Cryin, and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.

After a stellar day one at McFarland Park, we crawled out of bed on Sunday, gathered ourselves, did some stretches, drank some coffee, and jumped in the car to see what day two had to offer.

First up was Billy Allen who was performing with The Pollies. It was our first experience of both Billy and The Pollies and it provided one of those magical moments you get at festivals sometimes where you think, “Who on earth is this?!” in the best way possible.

Billy Allen walked out onto the stage and proceeded to entertain the audience with his powerful, velvety vocals and stage presence. It was noticeable that a number of those who were ambling into the park at the beginning of the day quickened their pace and made their way directly to the stage upon hearing Allen’s voice drift across the venue. The Pollies, who we understand are well on their way to becoming a Shoals institution (if not one already) provided a great platform against which Allen’s vocals could soar. They are a fantastic rock and roll band and, as has been the case at previous ShoalsFests, a band for whom we immediately started trawling the internet for their back catalog. Fortunately, All The Best in downtown Florence had a couple of The Pollies’ albums on the shelf to help start the collection.   

Billy and the Pollies (along with the 400 Unit’s Jimbo Hart) have already collaborated on the great song “People Turn Around” which was released in 2020. Allen mentioned during this set that more new songs were on the way next year. Based on this performance, the new material can’t come soon enough!

Amanda Shires, the only artist other than Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit to perform at all three ShoalsFests, was next to take to the stage. She performed a set heavy on songs from her new album, Take It Like a Man, with good reason. Her latest release is a fantastic album and, in our opinion, maybe her best work yet. The songs highlight everything that is great about Shires, searingly honest lyrics carefully constructed with a beautifully poetic slant. The songs are sometimes delivered against a more traditional backdrop of acoustic guitars and piano but many include atmospheric electric guitar steeped in reverb and, of course, some ripping fiddle playing. Our favorite from that album, “Hawk for the Dove,” was the second song she played and it was great to watch Shires attack her fiddle on that song during the solo as though she was trying to break it in two to get to something inside. There was a great chemistry between Shires and her band throughout the set, with everyone on stage looking like they’re enjoying themselves. Isbell and daughter Mercy join Shires on stage for the last song “My Own Galaxy” which got everybody in the audience moving around.   

Those of you who are readers of our website will know that Loud Hailer has a special piece of its heart reserved for John Moreland. Recently, Moreland has been performing live with John Calvin Abney but for this performance, it was just him, a telecaster, those lyrics, and that voice. We mentioned on day one that John Paul White stunned the audience into a reverential silence when performing “I Wish I Could Write You a Song.” On Sunday, Moreland managed that feat for an entire set. You could literally hear a pin-drop across the site with everybody totally taken in by the beauty of his songs. Jason Isbell could be seen side stage taking in Moreland’s entire set, just as captivated as the audience. The quality of Moreland’s songwriting is simply on another level and watching him deliver his songs live at any venue is genuinely akin to a spiritual experience. However, watching him with friends at ShoalsFest on a warm Sunday afternoon with the sun just beginning to sink into the Tennessee River is an experience that will stay with us for a long time.

After Moreland, it was time to crank up the volume and Drivin N Cryin was more than up to the task. Wandering onto the stage, Kevin Kinney announced that this was “the first song from their first album” before the band launched into “Scarred But Smarter.” Formed in Atlanta Georgia in 1985, the band has a storied history and has had more than a few different members of its line-up including, of course, Sadler Vaden on guitar. The pairing of Kinney’s unique voice and smart lyrics against the backdrop of what is essentially a great rock and roll band gives Drivin N Cryin a signature sound that is unmistakable. People were ready to move around by this time on Sunday and the band definitely did their part to make this happen during their time on stage. Towards the end of the set, not only did Vaden join the band on stage for a couple of songs but Isbell as well. Understandably, this had everybody in the audience going crazy and that energy seemed to transfer to the stage as they kicked it up a notch making sure that everybody in McFarland Park (including Isbell and Vaden) was warmed up for the final set of the night.

If you want to see Jason Isbell truly happy, simply put him on the stage at ShoalsFest. Throughout the weekend, he could be seen beaming whenever he was on stage, and more than once he referred to this as his favorite weekend of the year. Given he and the 400 Unit were only headlining one night this year (last year’s festival saw them headline both the Saturday and Sunday nights), we imagine they must have been itching to get on the stage and perform. This came across in the performance with the whole band being on top form. It was a setlist drawn from across Isbell’s catalog and featured quite a few songs from his solo albums, Something More Than Free and Southeastern including one of our favorites “Different Days.” Perhaps inspired by the amazing Christone “Kingfish” Ingram’s set the day before, there was also a great cover of “Little Wing” which saw some fantastic solos/playing from both Vader and Isbell. Kevin Kinney then joined the band on stage for a performance of “Honeysuckle Blue” which has become a bit of a staple in the 400 Unit’s live shows after they covered it with Vaden on vocals for Georgia Blue. 

As the set moved towards its conclusion, Isbell noted that “I wrote this song for my dad who’s here at the show tonight,” before playing “Outfit” to rapturous applause from the audience. Prior to performing “Decoration Day,” Isbell also took time to pay tribute to the late Wes Freed, noting how special it was to him to see Freed’s art on the cover of the song which Isbell penned during his time with Drive-By Truckers. A great cover of The Allman Brothers’ “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” closed out ShoalsFest 2022, sending everybody home with a smile on their face.

The 400 Unit is one of those bands you watch and think that their interaction on stage seems almost telepathic. There is no voodoo at play here though – it’s simply a result of hard work, thousands of miles on the road, and thousands of hours on stage/in the studio together. When you pair that with the genius of Isbell’s songwriting, it makes it a joy to watch them perform. If you also add to that mix the magic that hangs in the air over McFarland Park for ShoalsFest and preempt their set with two days of music from other fantastic artists, you get something truly spectacular.

Great job ShoalsFest! Here’s to, hopefully, many more!

Check out our coverage of day one here.

Words by: Phil Walton
Photos by: Kirstine Walton

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About Phil Walton 84 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.