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Review of HORDE Festival '98 at the Meadows Music Theatre, Hartford, CT on 8/4/97

The HORDE Festival pulled into Hartford, CT on August 4th for itís annual showing and managed to deliver some of what itís famous for, great jamming and new talent. This was my third HORDE and I must say that this year I left feeling somewhat disappointed overall. The jamming was delivered in spectacular fashion by Blues Traveler, Govít Mule, and Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals. The problem is that of the 9 bands on the bill only 3 could deliver on that promise, and they were the last 3 performers of the day. I was also disappointed in the seemingly too pop-oriented remainder of the lineup.

Alana Davis kicked off the day with a set that hinted at greater things to come. She possesses an enjoyable singing voice and still has a shy presence on stage. A sound mix that buried her vocals somewhere behind the drums didnít help much.

New Havenís own Smoke The Prophet, who had won an earlier Band To Band Combat show at Toadís Place, opened the festivities on the second stage. The band delivered a good set that displayed their many influences and talents. Mike Livingstonís lead guitar is what stands out the most here as he weaves in and out of the mix. The band was well-received by the crowd on this, their second HORDE appearance.

While no one could accuse Barenaked Ladies of being a jam band they at least deliver a spontaneous performance, making up songs on the spot and launching into odd cover versions that mock the biggest hits of the day. Their set included a medley of the love theme from the Titanic mixed with snippets of several songs from this weekís top ten. This band succeeds because they have fun on stage and theyíre able to read the crowd and react accordingly. Tonightís instant composition, "Thumbs-Up Man," was inspired by someone in the crowd who keep flashing a thumbs-up to the band during their set. They also succeeded in drawing the "modern-rock" crowd to the HORDE this year, maybe even more so then anyone else has in the past.

Next up on the second stage was The Getaway People, a band from Norway that uses rock instruments, loops, and samples to create a hideous aural assault that just defies description. I honestly donít understand why this band was on the bill at all, and I am being kind here.

Paula Cole was next on the main stage and delivered what must be her standard festival set by now. While there was nothing technically wrong with her performance, I saw her in Boston a few months ago and thought she was 10 times better then today. Todayís set seemed uninspired and just lacked anything to set it apart.

Catatonia, a Welsh band making their first major tour of the US, provided some relief with a fun set on the second stage. The band is very pop-oriented but in a pleasant sort of way. They drew a moderate crowd to the second stage, most of whom remained for the entire set.

My choice for the most promising set of the day was Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals. They didnít disappoint as they rocked their way through a mix of blues, rock, and reggae. Ben Harperís guitar talents are his selling point, even though people are surprised to see that he remains seated during most of his performance. He turned in some great playing and drew a dedicated group of fans who were clearly thrilled at this rare Connecticut appearance. Ben is a major draw in France and Australia but has yet to really crack the US market. His HORDE performances this year may change all that.

Govít Mule, the power trio led by former Allman Brotherís Band members Warren Haynes and Allen Woody, brought good old-fashioned kick-ass southern rock to the HORDE. As the headliners on the second stage the band had a prime spot to demonstrate their guitar-laden brand of high energy rock and roll. The only bad thing about their set is that it had a time limit to it. I could easily have enjoyed another couple hours of Govít Mule.

Blues Traveler wrapped things up with a set that was highlighted by their own brand of jamming, guitar and harmonica-laden rock. The band always impresses me with the energy of their performances and tonight was no different. I donít think itís possible for Blues Traveler to have a bad night because they just seem to enjoy themselves so much on stage.