For Bethesda, rock festivals are a mother lode of like- minded music lovers — and a great place to gain new fans.
The folky Kent-based band, which has played Youngstown several times, exists in a narrow niche that widens at places such as Bunbury Music Festival. Bethesda will perform on a side stage at the Cincinnati rock fest this weekend, and they will fit right in. The headliners include indie-rock royalty such as The National, Yo La Tengo, fun., Cake, MGMT, Tegan & Sara, Belle and Sebastian, Tokyo Police Club and Devotchka.
Red Wanting Blue, the Columbus-based band with a huge following in Youngstown, also is on the undercard.
Bethesda is a unique act that combines the furious pace of Mumford & Sons with the storytelling and whimsy of the Decemberists. But they have a fuller and more lush sound than either band, plus the pristine voice of lead singer Shanna Delaney.
They’re not for everyone, but the six-piece ensemble is getting a boost from the renewed interest in modern folk and timeless Americana.
Eric Ling, rhythm guitarist-vocalist and founder of Bethesda, knows the value of performing at a national festival. His band started at the top of the heap last summer when it was accepted to play at Bonnaroo, and the benefits from that gig continue to pay off.
“For a band like ours, you can’t beat it,” said Ling. “A lot of people go [to festivals] to discover bands, and it puts you in the company of the best of the best. The people who show up expect all of the bands to be excellent. The festivals are very carefully curated, and if you’re chosen, it lets everybody know that you are in the same conversation [with the headliners]. You just can’t do that on tour or with local shows. People at the festival are excited. It’s an in crowd. They are careful listeners who are ready to accept new music. It’s a perfect situation.”
A festival slot also puts a band on the radar of the national press and makes getting plum gigs easier. Having Bonnaroo on its resume made getting accepted by Bunbury a snap for Bethesda.
The band will play at 3:30 p.m. Sunday on the Lawn Stage. It’s a lazy time of the day, but just fine for Bethesda, because the band has a visual and sonic quality that cuts through the haze. A typical phenomenon when Bethesda gets going is a rapid influx of folks, like moths drawn to a flame.
“At Bonnaroo, we started playing with about 10 people listening and ended up with about a thousand, and they were dancing and loving it,” said Ling. “People even made signs for Shanna by the end of our set. She was flying all over the stage, and they looked her up [on smartphones].”
Bethesda released its third album, “Reunion,” in April. After the summer touring season ends (it should be noted here that Ling and Delaney, who are married, are both school teachers in the Akron and Kent areas and get the summer off), the band will get to work on songwriting.
The rest of the band is Dan Corby, bass; Justin Rife, drums; Christopher Black, violin and keys; and Jesse Scaggs, lead guitar and banjo.
Red Wanting Blue is quite a bit beyond Bethesda in magnitude but still values the opportunity that Bunbury presents. The band, which includes Youngstown native Dean Anschutz on drums, has amassed a large and loyal multistate following over its 15 years and signed a recording contract a couple of years ago.
RWB has played its share of festivals, including the All Good jam-band weekend in southern Ohio last year. While it’s a compliment to get invites to such radically different festivals, Scott Terry, lead singer and songwriter for RWB, said the band prefers the indie-rock vibe at Bunbury and fits in better there.
Getting selected validates your work, said Terry — and also makes for some interesting tales. At one festival last year, RWB took the stage right after a then-little known act called The Lumineers (“Hey-Ho”).
I asked Terry if that means he can say the Lumineers opened for RWB. “I guess so,” he said with a laugh.
RWB has toured like fiends for years but is now focusing on larger cities and fewer shows. The band hasn’t played Youngstown for a year, but Terry said the city will always be on its list, and a show will be booked as soon as a suitable venue can be found.