While the music lineup has always been an important and highly anticipated feature of the Three Rivers Festival, in the last several years it has also served as the official opening act for the week's events. With a performance at Headwaters Park on Friday night before the more traditional opener, the Three Rivers Festival Opening Day Parade, one more day of entertainment has been added to an already packed lineup.
And that opener is pretty impressive. The Purple Xperience, an uncanny tribute to the music of Prince, is serving as that important first act in this year's festival. Hailing from Minneapolis and led by Marshall Charloff, the five-piece group formed in 2011, so it's no knee-jerk response to Prince's unexpected death last April. The act is a remarkable blend of music and Prince's signature dance moves, making the night one to remember.
"We had an opportunity to have a great band that night," said Jack Hammer, executive director of Three Rivers Festival. "I was planning for this show for over a year, and I think that's going to be a great night for us."
As is the case with most of the entertainment at TRF, local acts will open each national show. For Friday's show Good Night Gracie and The Meat Flowers will take the stage in advance of The Purple Xperience.
"A lot of people are familiar with Good Night Gracie, but The Meat Flowers provide a different style of music altogether. I think the lineup will really enrich the audience while providing a couple local acts a chance to appear on a ticket with a worldwide tribute show."
Also highly anticipated is the Rock of the 80s Tour on Saturday night, July 8 when Bow Wow Wow, The Motels, The Smithereens and headliners The Romantics take the Festival stage.
"This is going to be a great package show," says Hammer. "I think the under-addressed audience in this area is the fans of 1980s and 90s music, and that was something I really wanted to address with this show. And a lot of the shows now have gotten really expensive, but our goal is to make shows affordable and accessible to everyone. Our sponsors make it possible to keep the ticket prices down. The Purple Xperience is only $12 in advance and $15 on the day of the show, and the Rock of the 80s Tour is $15 in advance and only $20 day of the show."
Sunday's lineup includes Citizen Way with DJ Promote along with Jasmine Murray, Chris August and 7eventh Time Down while Monday, following the Waiter/Waitress Contest, Hell Came Home provides a raucous follow-up. More local bands take the stage during the week, with Trichotomous Hippopotamus and Brother playing on Tuesday and Left Lane Cruiser, U.R.B and Unlikely Alibi taking the stage on Wednesday for the Rock N' Reggae show.
Thursday's Heart & Soul Affair features the original Lakeside, the soul stars from the late 70s/early 80s, with regional soul star Ty Causey opening. The show closes with DJ Polaris providing a dance send-off for the night. The second Friday of the festival promises something entirely different when Zoso, a Led Zeppelin tribute, take the stage following openers The Union Project and Fuzzbox Voodoo.
"Zoso [are] one of the great Led Zeppelin acts," says Hammer. "They don't go up there wearing wigs and trying to imitate Zeppelin. They have the hair and the look and really look like Led Zeppelin."
Choosing The Union Project as one of the opening acts is clearly in response to their performance at this year's Down the Line where they covered the music of Deep Purple.
"[The] Union Project [are] one of the great bands coming out of Sweetwater," says Hammer. "We really love to highlight some of our younger bands, and we're really happy to have [The] Union Project and Fuzzbox Voodoo with us that night."
Closing out the week are Here Come the Mummies, an act that features local special guest Seth Cook as well as the Sweetwater All-Stars. Hammer expects the Mummies to be a special finale for TRF's music line-up.
"The Sweetwater All-Stars - if they don't make you feel like dancing, then you're not even trying - and Here Come the Mummies have a great following in this area. I first saw them when I was in radio, and I'm really looking forward to that night."
As usual, the music will take a little break while the Fireworks Finale takes center stage before the Mummies resume. It'll likely be the latest night of the festival, and Hammer says that he won't feel the full relief of the end of the week until he checks the papers the next morning.
"I always wait and hold my breath until I see that everyone got home safely the night before. We want everyone to come down here and have fun, but it's very important to us that everyone gets home safely. When I read the papers the next morning and know that, that's when I say 'Whew, it's done.'"
Although tickets for shows at Three Rivers Festival are already the best priced in town, Hammer says there are even more ways to save some money.
"There's a two-dollar discount for anyone with a Three Rivers Festival button," he reminds us. "But there's also the Admiral's Access membership which can be purchased at our offices or at the Embassy box office just as our tickets are. The individual membership is only $45 [and] provides access to all shows plus 16 free drink tickets. The family pass allows for access to shows for four people as well as 24 drink tickets. And there's a corporate pass available as well.
"The other great thing about the Admiral Access passes is that you can be allowed into the venue 15 minutes before anyone else. So you can take your pick of seats before the crowd comes in. It's just a great package, and one more way we're trying to make the shows more affordable for people to enjoy."