Around 12,000 people flocked to the 54th Three Rivers Arts Festival this past Friday, but I can safely say that the reopening of the Point State Park fountain had nothing to do with it. Although the reintroduction of waterworks was certainly a welcome sight to the area, which had been dry for the last four years, the real pull all came from the evening’s musical headliner. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros promised, and delivered, a summer festival-worthy performance that drew a crowd from a larger radius and a younger age group than the festival usually experiences.
While the free and open nature of the concert certainly didn’t hurt, Edward Sharpe’s mostly teenage-to-college-age fans are so fervent that they would be willing to shell out a small price for the band, playing Pittsburgh for the first time. The 10-person ensemble makes hits out of ‘60s-style jangly rock, touting a communal, free-love aesthetic and directing a heavy dose of positive energy into easygoing, catchy tunes like the excellent “Man on Fire” and “Up From Below.” They’re festival regulars at Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and Coachella, and for good reason— front man Alex Ebert, along with singer Jade Castrinos, know how to engage their audience, no matter how large.
Three Rivers Arts Festival, for once, felt like a “legitimate” festival, the sort you travel across the country to attend. Local band Donora were a pitch-perfect pop-rock opener, bouncing up and down with their audience, many of whom were quite familiar with the lyrics to the group’s hook-heavy songs. But Edward Sharpe and his merry band of musicians were the musical saviors of the night (and looking the part, too). Although Ebert generally takes the lead vocals, while climbing into the audience and literally reaching out to his yelling fans, Castrinos’ songs are often standouts, such as the gospel-tinged “Fiya Wata.” The two-hour performance took material from both the band’s debut and last year’s Here, as well as the recent single “Better Days,” which sounded much more lively than on its recording.
Some of Edward Sharpe’s onstage antics can seem kitsch at times – handing the microphone to concertgoers to talk about mortality, for one – but they rarely degraded the vitality of the show. The best moments of the performance often rode on the shoulders of the musicians rather than the singers, such as when band members whipped out trumpets for solos. Whatever the band did, whether Ebert moved into reggae-esque sing-talk territory or gave another band member the spotlight, the audience followed along. “Home,” their most well known hit, marked the beginning of the end of their set, but also the pinnacle moment that the crowd showed up for. There are songs, and then there are showstoppers, and “Home” was made for outdoors, drop-all-inhibitions sing-a-longs, the sort that Pittsburgh dearly needed for its own festival. And so it received.
You can watch the just-released video for Edward Sharpe's "Better Days" below.