Erika Buiter – Staff Writer
Pork ‘n Bands 2018 drew in community members and college students alike at the Fruited Plain on Saturday, September 29, 2018. Pulled pork, provided by Covenant CRC, kept stomachs full, and smaller bands like “The Hiccups” and “The Second” warmed the crowd up for the big attractions, like The Ruralists.
On paper, the Ruralists are on odd group. Titus Landegent (drums) is a kindergarten teacher, Laremy De Vries (electric guitar) owns the Fruited Plain, Luke Hawley (vocals, guitar) is an associate professor of English at Dordt, and Jake Miller (bass) is an engineering technician. But when they come together, the Ruralists draw crowds.
The Ruralists took the stage in the Back Back of the Fruited Plain, a bare bones black room with a garage door open to the chilly air, a raised stage, new electrical work, and eclectic décor. Above Hawley’s head was a chandelier and track lights shining pink and blue light; behind Miller was a broken piano hanging on the wall. The crowd, wearing coats and stocking caps to keep the chill out, filled the room right up to the stage.
The title of their opening song was drowned out by the cheering crowd. The Ruralists play with an energy that mostly produces great music, and sometimes, great mistakes. Hawley’s voice has a tendency to stretch sharp. At the start of the song dedicated to his daughter, they had to restart three times. Their chords often stumble into dissonance, but they always bring it back down to earth. Listening to a recording of the Ruralists is relaxing—listening to them live is an experience.
“Sky Full of Birds” brought a call for audience participation, and the Ruralists got it. The song has a quick beat, perfect for jumping up and down. College students passed around a tub of ice cream, sharing spoons and dancing, proclaiming it an “ice-cream rave.” The crowd sang along to the chorus, “Aren’t we more than our lonely old hearts?”
The Ruralists followed “Sky Full of Birds” with “Eggs,” their number-one single. It’s been described as “The filthiest Americana you’ve ever heard” by ANR Factory and features Hawley as “a lead vocal with a big natural vibrato and a cynical smirk,” Chill Filtr writes. Listening live, it’s a head-banger of a song—and the crowd didn’t hold back, jumping up and down to the beat.
After racous rock ‘n rolling, the band took time to thank all of the smaller bands that played and remind the crowd of the upcoming bands, as well as to acknowledge the new and improved Back Back, before moving into a new, slower song.
“Right‽” is more ballad than rock ‘n roll, but still has the jaunty guitar strains that are characteristic of Ruralist songs. It begins like a crooned prayer, with lyrics “Dear God, it’s complicated” before Hawley’s vocals go on to describe the circulatory system. It’s a weird song, but it’s a slow song, and the quietness of the beginning is offset by a rollicking middle that you could still slow dance to if you wanted to. It asks the question, “How do you do the right thing” over and over again, before going into a simple, chromatic melody that seems almost off before it rights itself. It makes you dance and it makes you think.
The Winter Wayfarers took the stage after the Ruralists, but despite their more cohesive set of songs, the crowd dissipated when the Ruralists left. Their high energy, earnest desire, and down-to-earth nature is part of what draws in bigger crowds for them. The other part is that they create an experience when they play. There’s something about standing in a cold, black room with a crowd of jumping 20-somethings that gets your heart racing. Pork ‘n Bands brought together delicious food, amazing bands, and that sense of Northwest Iowan community, making for an all-around great event.