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King Louie and The Stray Birds hit Gardner

John Brady
Grinnellians rushed to the stage to see King Louie last Friday. Photo by John Brady
Grinnellians rushed to the stage to see King Louie last Friday. Photo by John Brady
Grinnellians rushed to the stage to see King Louie last Friday. Photo by John Brady

Chicago, already one of the greatest cities in the United States, has in recent years brought about a tour de force of rap in the form of drill music. With the likes of Katie Got Bandz and Chief Keef, the genre has its roots in trap music, with less emphasis on electronic beats and more on brash and gritty hooks. King Louie, the main act gracing Gardner on Friday night, captured this vibe well.

Opening for the band was our college’s very own DJ Phyzikal, the stage name of Shaun Duncan ’17. Known for his earlier Gardner event, September’s Totality, Phyzikal succeed once again in turning the crowd up. He even spun for the main act, King Louie, and seeing a Grinnellian of our very own spinning for one of the hottest drill acts of the day was bomb.

King Louie’s set was lit. The King brought his entire touring crew on the stage with him, and although at the end of the day we were in the basement of Main, the hype-man onstage made the venue that much more hype. Given Louie’s popularity, there were many outside visitors, and judging by the prominence of snapbacks and bro-tanks, many of them were University of Iowa students. Watching a bunch of white boys push Grinnellians out of the way to bump to King Louie left a bad taste in some students’ mouths, but a core group of Grinnellians just to the right of the crowd held it down.

That didn’t stop King Louie from putting on a show. All concerts rely on the performer connecting with the audience. Drill music especially reaches peak when artists deliver their killer lines with the same hard attitude and crisp flow as their tracks—that’s when the crowd can really turn up. When it came to “Val Venis,” a track Pitchfork named one of the top 100 tracks of 2012, Louie spat on the mic as effortlessly as he did on the track.

“Haulin’ up and down in the foreign ride slow / King Louie banging like the folks in the moe’s / Prolly overdose if I take another dose / Can’t fuck with me you ain’t making no dough.”

Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the performance is how legit it felt. With the gunshots off the track blaring to punctuate the beats and King Louie’s entire crew on stage, I think it would be fair to say that Grinnell was in the trap that night. As if you needed further proof, at the end of the show King Louie actually took a selfie with the entire crowd. Much love.

Sunday night was perhaps the complete opposite of Friday in terms of musical style and atmosphere. The band The Stray Birds came to Grinnell to warm up Gardner with a blend of folk music and bluegrass. Coming from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the band is led by Maya de Vitry, whose deep register created a soothing lead vocal that serenaded the audience.

The Stray Birds brought folksy sound to Gardner last Sunday. Photo by Sarah Ruiz
The Stray Birds brought folksy sound to Gardner last Sunday. Photo by Sarah Ruiz

For a Sunday night, there was a decent number of people in the crowd of students who had strayed momentarily from their assignments to enjoy a performance heavy on the strings and light on the heart.

The Stray Birds even got the crowd dancing to a two-step number, prompting one Grinnellian to joyfully shout out, “I know a two-step!”

The group’s music ranged from jaunty and upbeat to slow cascades of nostalgic emotion. One of the songs that hit a nice spot between the two was “Best Medicine,” in which Vitry sang, “If the body is a temple, the soul is a bell / and that’s why music is the best medicine I sell.”

The Stray Birds also forged an emotional connection with the audience. The band shared anecdotes before and after many of the songs, and in one touching moment Vitry shared how she had spent time busking and playing at music festivals for a long time before she came to this moment. It was a poignant retrospective for the night and set the tone to one of reflection and serenity.

Like all great bluegrass bands, the group’s most resonant songs came in the form of love songs. During the song “Dream In Blue,” the Grinnellians in the crowd stood still and zoned out to the soft melody of the song. If you looked closely enough, you could see them reminiscing on their past and current lovers.

“I left home on account of you / always loving someone new / I dream in blue / I gave my time, dollars, and dime / I left home on account of wine / Making me believe your mind / I gave my time,” Vitry sang.

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