Clif Rhodes

High Water Music Festival is back and ready to make up for lost time

Music Scene Media
Apr 19, 2023
9 min read

by Clif Rhodes

After a two-year hiatus, the High Water Music Festival is back with a vengeance. The two day fest brought in a crowd close to 30,000 people to Charleston’s riverfront. With twenty-one acts across two stages, High Water aimed to make up for the time lost and the crowd was eager for it. Fans came out in droves, either to hop from stage to stage or with blankets in tow, ready to lay claim to a plot of land and take in a day or two of great tunes. For most, I believe the lure of High Water is how laid back it is. This fest doesn’t take place in the desert, you don’t have to worry about camping, and you can make it a family affair if you would like to. After two years away, the crowd was ready, the crew was prepared, and the stages were set.

The two day line up was stacked, and not just with huge names like Beck, Wilco, and Father John Misty. High Water showcased a variety of music from indie to bluegrass. Rest assured that no matter what your musical taste, High Water had something for you.

Acts like Tre Burt, S.G. Goodman, Sierra Ferrell, Wilder Woods, Madi Diaz, Palm Palm, and the glittery duo Lucius rocked the crowd until the sun started to set. Even local talent She Returns from War took to the stage and owned the crowd for a solid hour.

Angel Olsen delivered an amazing performance. Her velvety soft vocals and dreamlike sound were absolutely captivating.

Country music’s man of mystery Orville Peck brought his unique sound and flashy showmanship to High Water. Admittedly I am not a country music fan, but there is something about him and his band that is exciting to watch and the mask plays! The true stand outs of High Water were the acts that performed from golden hour into the night.

Guster brought their catalog of hits to the High Water stage. Performing songs from over a decade of alternative rock. It was clear that Adam Gardner and Ryan Miller still know how to captivate an audience.

Bully brought their refreshingly grunge style to High Water. Performing their high octane hits like “Days Move Slow”. A song with edgy guitar riffs, pounding bass, and aggressive drums. A few sound issues aside, Bully put on a performance that left the crowd on the verge of moshing.

The Bleachers pulled off the biggest surprise of the fest. A surprise so big people are still talking about it. The crowd was in awe when lead singer Jack Antonoff brought out Lana Del Rey. After the ear piercing screams of the crowd died down. The two performed a beautiful acoustic version of Margaret. Margaret is a tribute song written by Lana for Jack and his fiancé Margaret Qualley. The band then performed a rip roaring, crowd amping version of their hit Rollercoaster.

Father John Misty almost mystically appeared on stage for his set, performing completely silhouetted and delivering his chilling lyrics like a haunting evangelical sermon. Thrusting his body about as all the lights would kick on to the rhythm. It was a sight to behold.

Rainbow Kitten Surprise did not disappoint. RKS has skyrocketed from the small stage to the main stage in an insane small period of time. After seeing their performance there is no question as to why. They showed up ready to bring the energy and grab the crowd by the groin. They performed their hits “Its Called: Freefall”, “Cocaine Jesus”, and their newest single “Drop Stop Roll”. They had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hands. Delivering a performance the audience was still talking about the next day.

Wilco returned to High Water two years after they were originally set to perform. They did not disappoint. Jeff Tweedy, Patrick Sansone, Mikael Jorgensen, Nels Cline, Glenn Kotche, and John Stirratt showed why they are alt-rock legends. Delivering a performance for the ages and playing it up with the crowd the way only Wilco knows how. They knew what the crowd wanted to hear and served up all their hits.

The High Water show runners Shovels and Rope put on an amazing set. Carrie Anne Hearst and Michael Trent brought the crowd to their feet and had them singing to the rafters. Shovels and Rope performed songs like “Domino” a song with epic guitar licks, toe tapping drums, and visceral, bold lyrics. With songs like “O’ Be Joyful” Shovels and Rope showed their bluegrass roots, and the crowd ate it up.

Beck closed out High Water this year and a flood of fans filled the lawn in anticipation. He started his set acoustically. One man in a spotlight. A different approach than I was expecting but captivating nonetheless. He performed a personal favorite “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime” from the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soundtrack. He then asked the crowd to help him sing along to his rendition of Neil Young’s “Old Man”. To which we all happily obliged. He then brought the band out and quickly switched things up. He switched gears with the song “E-Pro” and did his signature sideways strut, hands in pockets. The move drove the crowd into a frenzy. For an hour and a half Beck slayed the audience with all the hits. “Devils Haircut”, “Odelay”, and “Black Tambourine” just to name a few. If there was any doubt in your mind that Beck put on an amazing live show, let me put that doubt to rest. Beck not only put on a great show, he put on an epic show, from the songs, to the lighting. It was a spectacular way to provide an explosive end to this year’s High Water festival.

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