September 29th- Day 1
Forest Hills Stadium
The first ever "There's No Leaving New York" festival curated by the band The National, opened at Forest Hills Stadium with an enjoyable and eclectic lineup featuring their favorite bands and friends, exposing their fans to artists from a wealth of genres. The festival is in response to a memorable show that The National played at the venue in 2017, answering the question of what they could possibly do to top that experience. The first night of the festival surpassed all hopes in the eyes and ears of the eager fans who packed the stadium.
Enjoyable yet brief sets by Nashville-based gothic blues singer songwriter Adia Victoria and indie darling and Los Angeles native Phoebe Bridgers kicked off the late afternoon festivities under a beautiful fall sky. The crowds continued to grow as the shadows grew long and ambient pop band Cigarettes After Sex took the stage. During their second song, lead singer Greg Gonzalez asked for a medic to be sent into the general admission pit after noticing that people in the pit were pointing to someone who was obviously in distress. After a brief pause to address the situation, the band finished their melodic set.
A quick set breakdown lead to Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit taking the stage with "Hope The High Road." The Alabama-born, Nashville-dwelling Isbell was in fine form, smiling and engaging with the crowd and professing his admiration for The National. The hour-long set contained fan favorites that the crowd embraced like "Traveling Alone," "How To Forget," "Cumberland Gap" and "White Man's World." Paying homage to his time with the Drive-By Truckers, Isbell and company played "Never Gonna Change" much to the delight of the audience. Isbell, who has been sober for over six years, began "Cover Me Up" alone, with members of his band joining in on the anthem about sobriety until the raucous ending. His final song "If We Were Vampires" brought the set to a close on an ethereal note.
Darkness fell quickly and the anticipation for The National was palpable. Projected on the stage proclaimed the message "Please Stand By," grabbing the attention of all who packed in as close as they could to the stage. As the band stormed the stage, the audience erupted with cheers. Front man Matt Berninger grabbed the mic and in a smokey bath of blue light, kicked the two hour set into high gear with "Nobody Else Will Be There." Not shying away from politics and the current state of affairs, he mentioned what an exhausting week it was and even dedicated "Guilty Party" to Brett Kavanaugh. Berninger, ever the showman, engaged the crowd and played to the photographers, even leaning over the photo pit below and gently wranging a camera away from a surprised photographer. He turned it over in his hands before returning it to it's owner and noting the need to be careful with expensive gear, then advising the photogs below to "get an iPhone 10" as it is amazing. He tossed out quips to the crowd like, " We were here about a year ago and I was too freaked out to have any fun!" This set seemed to be a blast for the band and crowd alike with a memorable set list that featured tracks including "Empire Line," "Carin at the Liquor Store," "England," "Day I Die" and "About Today. " Phoebe Bridgers reappeared on stage to share the vocals on both "Sorrow" and "I Need My Girl" to commemorate her last night on tour with The National. The encore rocked with "Rylan," "Bloodbuzz Ohio" and "Mr. November" and culminating with a full on sing-along with the audience on "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks." Disappearing into the smoke and waving, The National left as stealthily as they arrived but leaving an impact on the minds, hearts and ears of all who attended.
Photo Credit: Christine Connallon