2017’s summer solstice brought on the symbolic beginning of this year’s outdoor concert season with Kurt Vile and Julie Byrne coming to to Prescott Park in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The conditions could not have been more flawless, as the park would have been a hub of lain blankets and collapsing lawn chairs regardless of whether there was a concert going on. The beautiful weather brought on a conglomeration of serene crowd members within the oceanfront venue to view a pair of artists that emulated the yin and yang that a Portsmouth summer represents.
Julie Byrne kicked off the night with a set of somber acoustics joined by a mild synth and an appropriately charming violin. Her set’s mood could be defined by the crowd’s struggle to identify whether sounds of light winds and distant birds were from the adjacent shore or whether they were intentionally included in most songs. Conclusively confused smirks eventually determined that, no matter the derivation or intention of such sounds, the venue was a flawless space to appreciate Byrne’s art.
When Kurt Vile finally stepped up on stage, his distinctive demeanor and image as beacon of folk rock projected a unique presence. It was a presence characterized not only by the crowd’s acknowledgement for Vile’s skills, but by the two-way respect for each other’s contribution to the overall experience. Several songs in, Vile took a look around at the complacent faces sitting within that beautiful corner of the world. He approached the mic and sincerely confessed, “You guys are so lucky you live next to this…this body of water. I live next to a sewer.” The depressive shot at his Philadelphian origins was taken kindly by the audience who laughed in the reflection that they were leading blessed lives. Not many songs had distinct separation in popularity within the set, but they all remained captivating for the full hour and a half slot. As the last song winded down, a friend did well to explain the concert in one revelatory sentence, saying, “You know, they guy does not even have that great of a voice. But god damn, he is an amazing musician and a fantastic storyteller.”
Below is a sample of Julie Byrne’s music, along with Kurt Vile’s full set from Prescott Park.