Was this past weekend's first-ever Incuya Festival a success?
The meticulously-planned two-day event went off without a hitch.
If you speak with those who actually anted up for a wristband and attended on either day (or both), chances are they’ll report they had a grand old time rocking and rolling in the home of the Cavaliers, Indians, and (hapless) Browns.
That’s because the weekend-long festival featured over twenty-five acts on two stages, all appearing at staggered times so as to facilitate crowd movement from the “Lake Stage” to the K&D “City Stage” on Malls B and C…overlooking the Rock Hall itself (between Lakeside and St. Clair to the north and south, and E. 6th and Ontario to the east and west).
The lineup was musically eclectic and diverse, with local acts and up-and-comers Bahamas, Robert Finley, Kitten, Ezri, Seafair, and The Modern Electric gracing the Lake Stage on Saturday, Aug. 25 and established hit-makers The Revivalists, Awolnation, and New Order headlining the City Stage that night.
The Malls made for a great location, just minutes from downtown in the shadow of the newly-built Hilton and old-school architecture of the 8th District Court of Appeals and Cleveland City Hall. And if you had the inclination to wander anytime during the 1:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. party, your micro-chipped wristband allowed for easy exit and readmission upon your return from Four Corners Alley, Rocket Fizz, or Jacob’s Field.
You got your dollars’ worth if you shelled out for VIP privileges: Incuya featured secluded, gated-off areas outside the Global Center for Health Innovation that kept you cool and pampered. There were cushy chairs, a porch swing, big-screen televisions with a live-stream of the concert, and indoor restrooms with AC. “Foodland” and “Market Place” had local vendors with chefs, food trucks, artists, and craftsmen and women hawking their wares. And if you wanted to get your Jenga on or indulge in a little foosball or corn hole, you didn’t have to fight over the equipment.
Early on sunny Saturday, Aug. 25, the rapper Ezri dropped rhymes over the beats of a turntable emcee who contributed the requisite (if clichéd) “Yeah! “Yeah!” He played up the autotunes while talking to hometown fans.
Alt-rock/soul songstress K. Flay (that’s Illinois-bred Kristine Flaherty to you) dazzled with a 4:30 p.m. set that blended bits of heavy guitar rock, hip-hop, and R&B. In a step up from Ezri, K. Flay—in a black “83” jersey—played keyboards and had a live guitarist and drummer helping out.
The talent level only increased as the day went on: The Revivalists had a couple capable guitarists, two drummers, a booming bassist, a saxophonist, and (substitute) organist/keyboardist on duty. The New Orleans ensemble also had charismatic frontman David Shaw, who repeatedly ventured into the pit to mingle with onlookers and dole out high-fives while belting “It Was a Sin,” “All in the Family,” and hit “Wish I Knew You.”
Effectively blending soul with Southern rock, The Revivalists came off like a modern-day mixture of The Black Crowes, Chicago, Hall & Oates, and The Doobie Brothers. Slender Shaw sang so powerfully his custom shades flew off at one point. Eventually, he undid his ponytail and shook his Kenny G curls to the bodacious beats.
L.A. alt-rockers Awolnation were up next, capitalizing on a dusk performance time by shuffling older songs like “”Kill Your Heroes,” “Sail,” and “Not Your Fault” (from 2011’s Megalithic Symphony) with more recent (and new) tracks from 2015’s Run (“Hollow Moon / Bad Wolf”) and this year’s Here Come the Runts (“Passion,” “Seven Sticks of Dynamite,” “Miracle Man”).
Vocalist Aaron Bruno looked a lot like a late ‘70s Dennis Wilson (Beach Boys), what with his deep tan, surfer-dude locks, and pineapple shirt. But he sang like nobody’s business, swerving from dark and ferocious to sweet with equal ease. During “Table for One” he passed out carnations, noting that he was making up for the prom he never attended.
But mostly Bruno kept his eyes out for “the greatest f#@cking dancer in Cleveland!”
Southpaw guitarist Zach Irons (who moonlights in Irontom) supplied jagged riffs, crunchy chords, and a bit of AC-DC’s “Thunderstruck” over drummer Isaac Carpenter’s brutal beats and Michael Goldman’s deep bass.
Headliners New Order rose to fame as Joy Division in the post-punk late ‘80s, taking on the new moniker (and EDM sound) upon the death of singer Ian Curtis. Guitarist Bernard Sumner became the go-to vocalist for the pulsating tunes on 1983’s Power, Corruption & Lies, 1985’s Low-Life, 1986’s Brotherhood, and just about everything thereafter.
The Manchester group’s popularity waned a little following the sale of Tony Wilson’s Factory Records, but Sumner and company soldiered into the ‘90s and ‘00s with the same spirit that spurred them on in postwar England.
“I’m told we haven’t played here in twenty-nine years!” said Sumner early on.
“What’d we do wrong?”
Nothing…besides skip Cleveland all that time.
But Bernard—joined by founding member Stephen Morris on drums and longtime keyboardist (and Morris’ better half) Gillian Gilbert on keys—made up for lost time by zig-zagging through New Order fare like “Singularity,” “Regret,” “Crystal,” “Your Silent Face,” and “Subculture” with passion and precision as video screens flickered behind, silhouetting them in the night.
A shockwave of recognition surged through the audience when the percolating electronic drums and synthesizers of “Bizarre Love Triangle” bubbled forth. The nostalgia quotient increased later with “Perfect Kiss,” “True Faith,” and “Blue Monday.”
Sumner strummed a Gibson SG guitar while Bad Lieutenant buddy Phil Cunningham ground on a Gretsch. Original Joy Division / New Order bassist had a falling out with his pals some time ago; he was replaced here by Tom Chapman—whose four-string rang on “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”
Thunderclouds loomed during New Order’s performance, but the only precipitation was a light, short-lived drizzle.
Here’s hoping Incuya makes it back next summer. This was, after all, the same mall where Bruce Springsteen sang for Barack Obama.