New artists shine at Waterfront

For the past 20 years, Rockford’s largest festival, On The Waterfront, has celebrated the end of summer with a number of musical heavyweights, including this year’s Jethro Tull and Cheap Trick. With such emphasis on the big name headliners, many people tend to forget that hundreds of lesser-known musicians also perform during the three-day event. This year I decided to abandon my usual spot at the Great Lawn Stage and check out the smaller, but nonetheless entertaining side stages.

On Friday night, impressive newcomer Jennifer Hanson took the ComEd Country Stage. Even though the crowd was rather reserved, the singer/guitarist played an energetic set that featured several songs from her recently released self-titled CD. She demonstrated an interesting style that ranged from the twangy “Half A Heart Tattoo” to the midtempo, Sheryl Crow-like strummer, “Beautiful Goodbye.” Other highlights included the moving ballad “This Far Gone” and a bluesy rendition of Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay,” which spotlighted bassist Jerry Flowers on lead vocals.

The next night I needed a heavy dose of rock’n’roll, so I headed over to the WTVO Oasis to catch Theory of a Deadman. The Vancouver-based rockers infiltrated U.S. radio with hits like “Nothing Could Come Between Us” and “Make Up Your Mind.” Although the band sounded repetitive at times, onlookers still responded enthusiastically to each song.

Grammy Award winner Joe Nichols wrapped up the country stage entertainment on Sunday night. Over the past year, the singer’s popularity has multiplied exponentially thanks to a string of No. 1 hits off his debut album, Man With A Memory. Fans cheered as Nichols broke into the humorous “Brokenheartsville,” a “song for the exes” as he called it. He also put a new spin on a few cover songs, most notably “Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones.

Despite the many talented performers at On The Waterfront, Franky Perez and the Highway Saints stood out as one of the best. The blues-rock outfit hails from Las Vegas and has been touring from coast to coast in an effort to promote their new record Poor Man’s Son. A small, but loyal contingent of fans danced in the rain as Perez ripped through rockers like “Leave Me Alone” and “Cecilia.” The group closed with a faithful version of the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post” that showcased Perez’s extensive vocal range along with his band’s high level of talent.

Next year, consider stopping by some of the side stages Waterfront has to offer. You would be amazed at the number of talented acts that often go unnoticed.

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