Ten Bands Worth Seeing at This Year's LaureLive

LaureLive, an event branded as Northeast Ohio’s first and only multi-day, multi-stage and multi-act contemporary music festival, returns on Saturday and Sunday to Laurel School’s 140-acre Butler Campus located at 7420 Fairmount Rd. in Russell Township. Note that there’s no parking on site. Rather, shuttles will leave from Ursuline College (Pepper Pike), Gilmour Academy (Gates Mills) and West Geauga High School (Chesterland).

Appropriate for all ages, the festival features kid activities including games, a “bounce house” and inflatables. Athleta will provide fitness activities throughout the weekend.

Last year’s inaugural event featured performances by acts such as Michael Franti & Spearhead, O.A.R., Elle King and Grace Potter. Franti returns to this year’s event, which will include performances by Grammy Award-winning singer-guitarist Gary Clark Jr., who’ll headline Saturday night, and the indie folk act the Head and the Heart, which will headline Sunday night. In total, 31 bands will perform.

"I was there last year, and it was a very moving experience," says Franti in a press release. In addition to performing, he’ll lead a Sunday morning Yoga session. "And this year, I am going to be putting together a special event that is dedicated to bringing people together in this time when we need it more than ever."

Here are our picks for the top acts to catch at the fest.

Blue October
4:30 p.m., Saturday

Led by volatile singer-guitarist Justin Furstenfeld, the alt-rock act Blue October has experienced extreme ups and downs since forming just over 20 years ago. Furstenfeld chronicles that rollercoaster ride in Crazy Making — The Words and Lyrics of Justin Furstenfeld, a collection of annotated lyrics for the songs in the band's discography. A couple of years ago, he toured in support of the book and played acoustic shows. Recently, he's turned his attention back to Blue October, which returned last year with its eighth studio album, Home, a collection of moody, mid-temp pop tunes that recall So-era Peter Gabriel. (Jeff Niesel)

Gary Clark Jr.
9:30 p.m., Saturday

Singer-guitarist Gary Clark Jr. released his debut more than a decade ago, but 2012’s Blak and Blu marked his major label debut, and he got a bigger push thanks to the marketing department at Warner Bros. Records. While Clark doesn’t play with the fervor of Hendrix and/or Stevie Ray, he certainly possesses some serious skills. More of a traditionalist than, say, someone like the Black Keys, he can play a bit of everything, including old blues classics, mellow ballads and gritty rockers. His latest effort, 2015’s The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, features simmering numbers such as “Star,” a song which finds him capably singing falsetto and evoking ’70s R&B, and the retro-leaning, Prince-like “Can’t Sleep.” The best thing about seeing him play live — you get to see just how well he can shred. (Niesel)

3:10 p.m., Sunday

Narratively speaking, Dawes started off as a folksy rock band with a penchant for twang and the introspective freeway song. On last year’s We’re All Gonna Die, a whole host of new sounds snuck into the studio and morphed the Dawes sound into something bigger, more anthemic. And the band pulled it off. Feeling very of its time, the album traverses some real storybook territory in its lyrics and in its music. Tunes like “One of Us” and “When the Tequila Runs Out” boast low-end dance rhythms, whereas the title track and “Less Than Five Miles Away” tone things down a bit and give melody and plot line a chance to breathe. We reckon it’ll make for an exciting live show, especially with all the older songs thrown in. (Eric Sandy)

Michael Franti & Spearhead
5:10 p.m., Sunday

Returning for the second year, Michael Franti & Spearhead should no doubt be on your must-see list. For our money, these guys threw down the best show of the weekend last year. Anchoring his set with a devastatingly uplifting “Never Too Late,” a song that featured extensive crowd interaction with time spent cheerily with wheelchair-bound fans in a separate handicapped section, Franti dished up the exact sort of thing you want from an early summer festival. We can’t recommend this set enough. And while his first few albums are essential, the guy’s still got it; the band’s still got it. Last year’s SOULROCKER made for great listening along the brightly lit waters of Lake Erie. You can’t keep Franti down! (Sandy)

Head and the Heart
8:10 p.m. Sunday

Since forming at a Seattle open mic in 2010, the Head and the Heart has burrowed a cozy nook between folk, indie rock and pop. As part of its festival run that features slots at Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, the six-piece band finds its way to Laurelive with tunes built for swaying, star-gazing and open roads.  Their trio of vocalists — Josiah Johnson, Jonathan Russell, and Charity Rose Thielen — weave lush folk harmonies and sing-a-long choruses over violin licks, frisky tambourines, bright pianos, and the occasional banjo pluck.  H & H’s latest album, Signs of Light, took a turn towards Mumford-pop after the group signed with Warner Bros., but was followed up by a collection of rougher, unreleased demos on this year’s Stinson Beach Sessions – the band’s reminder that it certainly haven’t lost its roots.  Though singer Johnson is on a health-related hiatus, expect some laid-out jams from the rest of the team to ride into the summer sunset (Lawrence Neil)

The Mowgli's
2:45 p.m., Saturday

An L.A.-based indie rock act that plays a mix of West Coast pop, garage rock and Laurel Canyon folk, the Mowgli’s have slowly acquired traction since forming back in 2010. “Freakin’ Me Out,” the first single from the band’s latest album, last year’s Where’d Your Weekend Go, features call and response vocals and a vigorous mid-song guitar solo. It's a snappy tune that sits well with the other snappy tunes in the band's ever-growing catalog. Even if you’ve never heard the band’s music before, it’s bound to sound accessible. Expect them to be a crowd favorite. (Niesel)

8 p.m., Saturday

Since 2002, Bolt and singer-guitarist Bear Rinehart and his brother, guitarist Bo Rinehart, have toured and recorded as Needtobreathe, a Christian rock band that has garnered a substantial fanbase over the time period. The band's albums all deal with religious reckonings of some sort, but that theme runs stronger on this last year’s Hard Love, an album of shimmering pop tunes that feature anthemic choruses and soulful vocals. Hot off opening for Faith Hill and Tim McGraw on their Soul2Soul the World Tour 2017, Needtobreathe comes to town with some serious momentum behind it. (Niesel)

The Revivalists
5:30 p.m., Saturday

The Revivalists sport a groove-based sound (see music video below), one that certainly carries New Orleans DNA, but one that also builds on itself with every turn in the melody. Guitarist Zack Feinberg clearly has some Allman Brothers in his approach to the instrument, and his riffs often lead the band deeper into funk throwdown territory. Songs such as "When I'm Able" and "When I Die," a great pairing from 2014’s City of Sound, work splendidly in the live setting. (Sandy)

Shivering Timbers
12:30 p.m., Saturday

Akron’s Shivering Timbers features husband-wife duo Jayson and Sarah Benn with former street drummer Daniel Kshywonis. Former Akronite and friend Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys liked the innocent lullabies that the Benns composed for their young daughter so much that he came on board to produce their first album, 2010’s We All Started in the Same Place. Vacillating between thoughtfully-embellished folk ballads and infectiously groovy blues rock, songs such as “The Mopping Floor,” “Crooked Old Man” and “Nose Nose Nose” emulate Jack White’s whimsical revival of roots music. The band’s music should translate well in the festival setting. (Bethany Kaufman)

St. Paul and the Broken Bones
6:45 p.m., Saturday

Birmingham, Alabama-based St. Paul and the Broken Bones may have formed in 2012, but their sound reaches back to big band, ’60s-era soul with tremendous success.  Contemporaries of revivalist Southern-fried rock and soul acts like the Alabama Shakes, the Dap Kings and Black Joe Lewis & the HoneyBears, the group features singer Ben Janeway, a country kid who gives off middle school math teacher vibes but drops jaws when he unleashes a soulful, gravelly, powerhouse vocal instrument.  Janeway causes a listener to double- and triple-take to make sure he isn't Otis Redding or Al Green, riffing over rumbling organs, jangling percussion, and a booming brass section.  Give their NPR Tiny Desk Concert a listen to get a taste of what their gripping, rollicking live performance might be like out in the green fields of Russell Township. (Neil)

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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