Until a week ago, I’d never had an opportunity to go to a music festival, so you can bet that I was pretty stoked when I found out I was going to Merge 25.
I figured that it was going to be awesome, but it wasn’t until I discovered the lineup that I truly flipped out. Among many other artists, two of my favorite bands of all time, The Mountain Goats and Telekinesis were playing at the three-day festival spread out across venues in Durham and Carrboro. I attended on Saturday at Cat’s Cradle, and I didn’t know then that I was going to see one of the best performances of my life.
I was a bit busy helping out the Merge staff in the morning, but I did get the opportunity to see The Love Language, the North Carolina natives who certainly rocked it on stage. They played a bunch of fan favorites including “Heart to Tell” and “Calm Down”, but “Lalita” was definitely my favorite. Something that I’ve always admired about The Love Language is the amount of soul that they put into their performances. This was my first time seeing them live, and they certainly did not disappoint. Frontman Stuart McLamb puts his heart into every verse he sings and every chord he plays; it’s the kind of passion that inspires people to achieve their own greatness. The Love Language is an icon of the North Carolina music scene, and their sound makes me proud to be from NC.
Later in the day, I caught the very end of Caribou’s set, and managed to get a rather decent spot, dead center, but about eight rows back to see what we’d all been waiting for- Neutral Milk Hotel. I assumed that Neutral Milk Hotel live was going to be an amazing experience, since the filming and photography of their performances was prohibited. It must be pretty special, right?
Well, it was pretty special, to say the very least. I’d never seen them live, and I didn’t know what to expect. The crew feverishly raced to assemble Neutral Milk Hotel’s set in a reasonable amount of time after Caribou’s performance. The stage was littered with all sorts of horns, in an almost Beirut-esque ensemble. There was an accordion, and even saws. After the stage was readied in what I’m sure was record time (shout out to the Cat’s Cradle and Merge employees), Jeff Magnum walked out on stage alone, gripping his guitar. By the end of the first song, the whole band was on stage. They dived straight into “Holland, 1945”, a definite fan-favorite, judging by the volume that the crowd shouted the lyrics back at the band.
The setlist slowed down a bit after that, with favorites such as “Two Headed Boy” and “In An Aeroplane Over The Sea.” People were singing, dancing, and even a few were crying during the unreleased “Little Birds.” I’ve never been to a show where I’ve seen people more connected with each other. The crowd felt like a single being, with everyone intertwined by the shared experience of witnessing such a performance. I couldn’t imagine a better way to end my first festival experience.