This year’s PYGMALION is in the books, and the music portion was exceptionally diverse and entertaining. The writing staff all saw different acts over the weekend and shared some thoughts on their experiences.
Lauren Mayberry at Rose Bowl Tavern
Lauren is a natural on stage, exuding a magnetic presence that instantly connects with the audience. This is especially impressive considering it’s her first solo tour. While she did apologize for the majority of her set consisting of new and unheard songs, these tracks were anything but filler. Each one was a catchy, well-crafted gem that left the audience wanting even more new material. But it wasn’t just her original songs that wowed the crowd; her covers of Madonna and Liz Phair were spot-on, adding a nostalgic yet fresh twist to the set. If I had my way, I’d love to hear her take on Kate Bush’s “The Big Sky” — I’d gladly shell out some serious cash for that experience. Overall, Lauren Mayberry is a multi-talented performer supported by an equally skilled band, making for an exhilarating set that wasn’t to be missed. (KL)
Ratboys at Rose Bowl Tavern
On Thursday, the first day of PYGMALION, I ventured down to Urbana’s favorite watering hole, Rose Bowl Tavern, where the atmosphere was buzzing with anticipation. Three awesome bands were on the lineup: Snack’d Out, Free Range, and the evening’s crown jewel, Ratboys. The show kicked off with local pop-punk favorites Snack’d Out, who energized the crowd with much-beloved songs from their recently-released debut album and even treated us to a brand-new track. Following them was Chicago-based indie folk band Free Range, embarking on their first night of tour opening for Ratboys. Their mellow, slightly twangy tunes served as a soothing interlude, a bit of a respite between two rockers.
Then came the moment we’d all been waiting for: Ratboys took the stage, and the room’s energy instantly shifted to a palpable excitement. This was their second PYGMALION appearance, the first being a successful 2017 set. They played numerous songs from their brand-new album, seamlessly blending them with a few old favorites that had the crowd moving and grooving. The Chicago-based indie rockers have a knack for storytelling through their music, and their set was a rollercoaster of emotions, filled with intricate guitar riffs and poignant lyrics. Their performance reaffirmed why they’re one of the most compelling acts in the indie rock scene today. (AP)
Carrie Sue and the Woodburners at KCPA
Carrie and the Woodburners kicked off PYGMALION at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts with a set that felt like a journey through time and emotion. The band’s vintage aesthetic was immediately apparent, thanks to an old-timey microphone that perfectly complemented their sound. This band is made up of three close friends (Carrie Chandler on guitar, Cody Jensen on ukelele, and Charlie Harris on upright bass) who also often work together, and you can tell the mutual love and respect they have for each other throughout the performance. They opened with “Tennessee Waltz,” a classic that moved an audience member to tears. Candler’s response? “We’ll pick it up now,” leading into a more upbeat number, “Love’s Gonna Live Here Again.” The setlist was a well-curated mix of covers and originals, including “Deep Elem Blues,” famously covered by the Grateful Dead, and “Get It” by Bella White from Nashville. Fans were also treated to a sneak peek of a new song, “Long Way from Home,” which Chandler revealed is about the Illinois River.
The band showcased their versatility with solos on the ukulele and bass, and they even gave a nod to their upcoming 4-song EP. Another highlight was their original song “Stepping Stones,” for which they’ve just released a video. The instrumental “Sour Apples” by Jensen added another layer to their multifaceted performance. Chandler’s vocal style, reminiscent of Loretta Lynn at the Grand Ole Opry, shone particularly bright on a melancholic tune called “New Kind of Blue.” The set concluded with a crowd-pleasing rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” leaving the audience on a high note and proving that Carrie and the Woodburners are a band on the rise. (DP)
Emily the Band at Rose Bowl Tavern
Emily Antonacci, frontwoman of Emily the Band, was ecstatic to bring her Peoria-based trio to their first PYGMALION gig at the Rose Bowl Tavern — a venue they’re no stranger to. Under the sunlit tent, their laid-back sound was the perfect match for the breezy Saturday afternoon. The setlist featured a mix of old and new, including a song Antonacci penned at age 12, and crowd-pleasers like “Zero Gravity” and “Boyfriend.” Antonacci and guitarist Cami Proctor showcased their harmonious vocals, with Proctor even introducing a melodica for a unique sound. The singer also gave shoutouts to fans wearing the band’s merch and shared her journey from student to musician in Champaign-Urbana.
The band’s chemistry was palpable; Proctor’s animated stage presence complemented Antonacci’s, while drummer Abbey Haste provided a steady rhythm. Before diving into “Brooklyn Lady,” Antonacci revealed the inspiration behind their tiger-tattoo-themed T-shirt, acknowledging fans in the crowd who sported it. The performance wrapped up with an unreleased track and the lively “Poison,” leaving the audience thoroughly entertained. Antonacci’s joy was evident throughout, affirming her decision to pursue music over academics. By the end, Emily the Band had won over the crowd, proving that a band with a simple name could deliver a complex and engaging experience. (SN)
Fiona Kimble at Rose Bowl Tavern
Fiona Kimble, a Champaign-based singer-songwriter with two solo albums under her belt, was a delightful addition to this year’s PYGMALION lineup at the Rose Bowl Tavern. Following Emily the Band’s energetic set, Kimble took the stage in a pink skirt and Harley-Davidson T-shirt, her pink-tinged hair and large guitar adding to her comfortable stage presence. Her music has evolved significantly since her 2015 debut, offering more expansive and atmospheric compositions. Accompanied by Florida-based keyboardist Kelsey Sharp, Kimble’s performance was a blend of robust vocals, throbbing bass, and dreamy atmospheres.
Kimble’s set included her own compositions as well as a bluesy cover of a Fiona Apple song, which she performed with palpable passion. While she’s not one for extensive crowd banter, her emotional connection to the music was evident. During her song “Valley of Worry,” she closed her eyes and swayed, visibly moved by the music. She also took a moment to express her gratitude for Sharp’s special energy, emphasizing the rarity of their on-stage collaborations. By the end of her set, it was clear that Kimble’s musical journey has been one of growth and deep emotional resonance. The full band came back out and concluded with Kimble’s brand-new single, “Are You Alright?” There’s an upcoming video for the song that will be released as well. It appears Fiona Kimble is back. (SN)
Claud at Rose Bowl Tavern
This vibrant trio Claud brings an irresistible blend of fun and charm to the stage. Their music is a delightful paradox — minimalist in its construction yet brimming with catchy, pop-infused melodies. The lead vocalist not only has a captivating voice but also knows how to use it, effortlessly hitting every note and conveying genuine emotion. The chemistry between the three performers is palpable, creating an atmosphere of good energy that’s infectious. It’s no wonder the audience found them so endearing; their adorable stage presence is backed up by genuine talent, making them a must-see act for anyone who appreciates clean, well-crafted tunes. (KL)
Haki and Dem at Rose Bowl Tavern
This ensemble is a harmonious blend of soulful R&B rhythms and electrifying guitar work, courtesy of C-U’s very own Paul Mock. The band exudes a sense of fun and personability that’s hard to resist. At the forefront are the incredibly talented singer, Jadah DeAnna-Nicole, and the charismatic “Haki” (Drake Materre), who not only plays the keys but also lends his voice to the mix. Their chemistry is off the charts, creating a dynamic stage presence that captivates the audience. And let’s not forget the “rizz” — that indefinable quality of excitement and flair — that each member brings to the performance. The only downside? The set was too short, leaving everyone craving more of their unique musical blend. (KL)
Free Range at Rose Bowl Tavern
Free Range delivered a captivating performance at the Rose Bowl Tavern as part of the PYGMALION festival, offering a unique blend of airy pop and Shoe Gaze Americana. The moment the lead singer’s voice filled the room, the crowd instantly hushed, captivated by the band’s soft-spoken country vibes, which were particularly accentuated when the slide guitar kicked in. Despite being a three-piece live act, their second song had such a quiet intensity that it seemed to suck the life out of the room. The band’s soft-spoken nature extended to their banter between songs, almost too subdued at times. However, they amped up the volume towards the end of their set, although the vocals remained delicately soft, creating an atmosphere of easy listening that left the audience intrigued. (DP)
Snack’d Out at Rose Bowl Tavern
Snack’d Out brought a high-octane performance to the Rose Bowl Tavern, showcasing tracks from their new album and adding fresh layers to their sound with the inclusion of a keyboard player and a saxophonist. The band’s announcement of their new record was as straightforward as it gets: “We put out a new record. That’s it.” Their set was a rollercoaster of energy, with the crowd fully engaged — though not quite reaching mosh pit levels, a few enthusiastic fans came close. A memorable moment came when the band referenced Harry Potter, quickly followed by a candid critique of J.K. Rowling, keeping the atmosphere both lively and unfiltered. All in all, Snack’d Out delivered an electrifying set that left the audience buzzing. (DP)
Sweetmelk, Lollygagger, and Belles-Lettres at Gallery Art Bar
On Friday, day two of PYGMALION, I headed out to Downtown Urbana’s newest cool kids hang-out spot, Gallery Art Bar, to see some bands play. Nestled among the eclectic mix of art installations and local murals, the venue itself was a visual treat, setting the stage for an unforgettable night of live music. The night’s roster was a smorgasbord of talent, featuring Belles-Lettres, a new band with well-known local musicians, Chicago punk thrashers Lollygagger, and local legends Sweetmelk.
Belles-Lettres kicked off the night, and man, did they set the mood. Their dreamy instrumental pieces were like a sonic tapestry, weaving through the air and perfectly matching the Gallery’s video projection and psychedelic ambiance. The visuals and the music melded together in a way that was almost transcendental. This set was a wonderful start to the evening, and I’ll be checking them out again for sure.
Next up was Lollygagger, a trio of wild boys who brought the house down. I’d never even heard of them before, but let me tell you, I was blown away by their impactful riffs, tight synchronicity, and stage presence that could rival seasoned pros. “Come say hi, we’re really nice,” said singer and guitarist Matthew. And indeed, they were — approachable, down-to-earth, and just as excited to be there as we were to have them. If you’re into punk with a side of thrash, you’ll want to catch these guys the next time they roll through town.
The night ended on a high note with Sweetmelk, killing it as always. This band is like the comfort food of the local music scene — always satisfying and exactly what you need. They never fail to please, with their killer melodies and punk charisma that can turn even the most reserved audience member into a head-banging enthusiast. It was an amazing finale to an incredible evening, leaving us all buzzing with that post-concert high that only live music can give. (AP)
Josh Spinner at The Canopy Club
Starting with “Sunshower,” Josh Spinner and his band played an upbeat and jazzy melody that gave the audience a groove and bounce. It was a good time at the Canopy Club as Spinner dropped exciting news of his new songs. He played through his songs — old and new — giving the audience a reason to dance and listen.
The crowd was pushed toward the stage around Spinner and his band. Some people had drinks. Some people interacted with each other. Some people swayed. Some people quietly listened to the infusion of indie rock and funk. Everyone was listening and cheering them on. (NK)
Venus Overdrive at The Canopy Club
Champaign-Urbana alt-rock band Venus Overdrive played at the Canopy Club on Thursday to help kick off the festival. The show was short but high-energy and blended some classic sounds with new material. Think Green Day’s core guitars and drums meets Bikini Kill, with some Jessie J sprinkled in. A relatively new local band that already has a regional following, Venus Overdrive played their first show at the Siebel Center for Art & Design on the U of I campus during August of last year. In February they played in Allen Hall as part of the Allen Hall Bands showcase—the same place where another festival participant, Rose Marshack, spent a good deal of time as a young student between punk shows. The band is a regular in town, appearing at the Rose Bowl, the Rat’s Nest, and the Greenhouse, and often billing with Daisy Chain. (KM)
Nicole Kim, Sal Nudo, Kerrith Livengood, Derrick Philips, Kathleen McGowan, and Alejandra I. O. Pires contributed to this article.