Sound on Sound CT hosted its inaugural event at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Connecticut in September. The festival was jam-packed with big-name headliners – including Stevie Nicks, The Lumineers, Zach Bryan, and Father John Misty, but hit some serious road bumps along the way – from sound issues, to cluttered walkways, and more on Day 1. However, the festival implemented fast and successful improvements for Sunday, and brought a day full of music and good vibes before unfortunately the night ending early due to the quick onset of hazardous weather conditions that brought lightening filled skies to Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds’s headlining set.
Saturday, September 24th
The Ohio-based folk band brought good vibes to a sunny festival day, playing all their best songs, from “No Sleep” to “By and By,” and everything in between. You can tell that the boys have fun onstage and let their energy bounce off each other, simultaneously seeming incredibly chill yet excited. They exude a sense of confidence that makes the set flow easily, and ultimately offers a enjoyable, carefree experience for festival goers.
Zach Bryan’s set goes down as the most disappointing of the entire weekend – but to no fault of his own. His performance was doomed by the start, he first came on stage right on time, only to have to walk back off due to Caamp running overtime on the main stage directly next to Bryan’s. From the crowd, you could hear remarks like, “Who are these guys?” as fans gestured towards Caamp on our right. Dedicated fans had driven upwards of 8 hours (one couple told me they came all the way from Ohio just to see Bryan perform), and could be heard muttering ‘Who are these guys?’ as they gestured towards Caamp on our right. When Bryan finally returned to the stage, sound issues on the Sunset Stage caused piercing ear pain among photographers and barricade riders. Attendees cried, “Turn down the bass!” and “Turn up the vocals!”. Bryan once again departed, waiting for the crew to fix the sound.
Finally, Bryan eased into his set, playing his beloved tracks “Heading South” and “Something in the Orange.” When his set finally seemed to be in a good groove, he stopped about five songs in. His 55-minute set turned into a 20-minute performance, which was received with much devastation and demise from fans who came to the festival solely for Bryan’s performance. Among his hardcore fans, it’s doubtful that any of them will return to the festival next year. Following the festival, Bryan commiserated with fans before wrapping up his statements with a promising tweet, “show in Bridgeport soon, love you guys, always.”
You can count on The Lumineers to bring a heartwarming performance to every show, rooted in the connection between loved ones and music that hits you deep in your chest. Their set was the most personable of the weekend, as they use a catwalk to perform in the crowd. Per usual, drummer Jeremiah Fraites kicked off the appearance by rising up from below the catwalk, and singer Wesley Shultz kept the energy going by later coming down in the crowd to sing “NEVER REALLY MINE” with fans. A gorgeous sunset provided the perfect backdrop for the set, surrounding Shultz’ silhouette with gradient orange and yellow skies. The band played all their classic hits, including “Stubborn Love,” “Ho Hey,” “Ophelia,” and “Cleopatra,” while mixing tracks off their latest album BRIGHTSIDE throughout the set.
Stevie Nicks was personally the most anticipated set of the weekend, as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is one of my all-time top albums having grown up on singing their songs with my dad and sister. Being there with my sister, this set was especially special. Stevie Nicks still holds all her magic from the 70s, gracing the stage with strong vocals and glittering outfit accents. Her set was incredible, holding both some of Fleetwood Mac’s and her own greatest hits – “Gold Dust Woman,” “Dreams,” “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” “Landslide” – and a Tom Petty cover of “Free Fallin’” backed by old photos of the two of them on the screen. Nicks’ closed out Day “Rhiannon” off Fleetwood Mac’s 1975 self-titled album. To see Stevie Nicks was honestly well worth the daytime hassles, given I’d camped out and had an amazing view of her set.
The only downside of her set was due to the structure of the festival. The VIP section took up the entire front part of the stage, so there it was impossible to get a close viewing spot for GA attendees. To prioritize securing good spot for Nicks’ set, I had to skip Father John Misty’s performance – one I had been especially excited for after missing his New York show a few nights prior. While the festival prided itself on no overlapping sets, the structure made it difficult to actually see back-to-back performances from a desirable spot as they continuously switched stages. I had hoped to still hear FJM’s performance from the stage directly next to us, but the sound didn’t carry over well, and they didn’t live stream the video to the screen at the main stage.
Sunday, September 25th
Noah Kahan was a pleasant start to my Day 2 experience, playing a flawless set with no technical or otherwise issues. Kahan’s recent single, ‘Stick Season’ has been setting high anticipation for his upcoming album of the same name, and fans lit up when he ended his set with the popular track alongside “Young Blood” off his 2019 album, Busyhead.
The Head and the Heart
A show to check off the concert bucketlist. Cloudy skies set the perfect setting for the Seattle-based band, and a slight drizzle came over the crowd during their beloved song, “Rivers and Roads,” which rather than damping the experience, felt absolutely exhilarating and healing.
Gary Clark Jr.
The festival came alive during Gary Lee Clark Jr.’s soul infused set. The rain held off as the Austin-based musician brought some highly-appreciated blues, rock, and hip-hop to Sound on Sound. While some fans flocked towards the barricade, listeners trickled all the way towards the back, leaving plenty of room for dancing to his joyous set.
You could have fooled me if you told me Brandi Carlile was the headliner of the whole fest. Her set was energetic and perfectly executed, drawing one of the largest crowds of the weekend. Having been relatively unfamiliar with her before the show, I was pleasantly surprised both by her showmanship and the number of songs that I found myself recognizing throughout her set, namely “The Joke.” I left her set wanting to see her again – the perfect outcome of a live music experience.
The National delivered another highly-anticipated set, with those along the barricade having waited all day to experience the exuberance of frontman Matt Berninger, who later got in the crowd to sing with dancing fans.
Luckily, their set brought enough energy to serve as a closer the weekend, as Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds set got cut short after playing through a lightening storm that ultimately caused the festival to send attendees home early.
Sound on Sound CT is a festival ripe with potential. With a killer lineup and a prime location, the possibilities seem endless. However, like with any inaugural event, there’s a few kinks that need to be worked out. For starters, Day 1 was a logistical mess, with sound issues on the Sunset Stage and chairs stacked on top of each other, making it difficult to watch the sets and move throughout the festival grounds. The chaos of chairs and blankets also posed a safety hazard, with no clear exit plan in case of an evacuation or emergency. Leaving the parking lot after Stevie Nicks’ set on Saturday took nearly an hour, which was exacerbated by faulty scanners that allowed people without parking passes to sneak their cars into the lot.
By Day 2, the festival took elaborate feedback from attendees into account and came back with notable improvements, most noticeably – painting walkways along the grass and limiting chair space to designated areas to ensure that there was standing room by center stage, enhancing the overall safety & pleasantries of the event. Attendees also complained about the outrageous lines for food and drinks on Saturday, with some people commenting on the festival’s Instagram page and Twitter that they waited over an hour for a beer. Additional food trucks were added for Sunday and successfully cut down these brutal wait times. While the quick changes made for Day 2 were commendable, poor weather ultimately was the festival’s worst enemy. Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds set was cut short by inclement weather, sending festival goers home early. Though unfortunate, the weather was of course out of the festival’s control, and actually held out for longer than expected – original forecasts projected a wash-out, but fans got to enjoy a full day of music with just sporadic drizzles before the headliner took the stage.
Despite this years challenges, Sound on Sound CT still holds a lot of potential, and they’ve demonstrated that they’re able to listen to feedback and make changes to deliver the best possible experience to attendees. The festival has two learning curves for their return in 2023 – working out logistical improvements for the event, and regaining the trust of festival goers.