SIOUX CITY | It’s difficult to say what people expected after a 25th anniversary featuring Aretha Franklin. But if this year’s Saturday in the Park was meant as a sample of future directions, it worked. Sort of.
More eclectic than past events, the 26th featured everything from country’s new darling Kacey Musgraves on the main stage to rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot on The Abe stage.
For those missing a bit of the past, Big Head Todd and the Monsters returned and brought a familiar vibe.
The wild card? Kongos, a South African-born band of brothers who tested a number of cuts from its upcoming CD, “Egomaniac.” The stop was its first on a world tour. While bassist Dylan Kongos and drummer Jesse Kongos took the lead on most songs, it was the musical surprises from accordionist Johnny Kongos that really pleased.
Giving the band an identity unlike any this side of the Avett Brothers, he added flourishes that pulled their rock/pop songs out of the ordinary. He got a couple of solos, too, and did a great job on the keyboards.
Ripping a page from CeeLo Green’s SITP playbook, Kongos had a couple of not-meant-for-kids offerings that freely used words heard less-amplified elsewhere in the park. “Autocorrect,” one of those new works, had a strong beat and an electronic undertone but it may not have been the best piece to preview at the park.
A barefoot (in the park) Dylan Kongos had a good way with the crowd even though many of his band’s songs relied on repetition. “I Want to Know” used the title hook more times than you’d care and “I Don’t Mind” wasn’t far behind.
The audience loved “It’s a Good Life,” a song for the not-so-good days in life, and “Come With Me Now,” a number that was used for WWE’s “Extreme Rules.”
Kongos’ version of “Come Together” may have been unnecessary but it did let their stage manager show off his impressive rap ability.
Big Head Todd, meanwhile, found its groove with old favorites like “It’s Alright” and “Rock Steady.” Lead singer Todd Park Mohr showed off his guitar skills throughout the afternoon and introduced a fine new song, “New World Arisin’,” that fits nicely in the band’s arsenal. A cover of “Fly Like an Eagle” helped extend the day’s reach.
While a huge crowd gathered at the Abe to see Sir Mix-a-Lot, it might have been better to put him on the main stage, just to avoid the traffic jam. (Those hovering at that stage said he was a big hit. I’m going with their assessment, since I was parked at the bandshell.)
And Musgraves? By the time she got on stage, it was so cold this could have been called Saturday in the Parka.
Luckily, she had a warm presence that offered yet another color in this coloring book of musical styles. Working on a stage filled with neon cacti and magenta streamers, Musgraves was more user-friendly than her pal Miranda Lambert. She’s more akin to Alison Krauss and k.d. lang, able to reap the benefits of country without limiting her options.
She sang from her Grammy-winning “Same Trailer Different Park” and her most recent, “Pageant Material.” Both have some of the best lyrics in the business – no matter what the genre.
Although she has a sweet voice, she had sharp words laced in those bouncy beats. “Pageant Material” and “Biscuits," her first two, set a great tone that probably surprised those not expecting something this country. “This Town” and “Step Off” let her speak more honestly than most politicians.
A game changer, Musgraves definitely turned SITP 180 degrees. Now, the question is, are others willing to see the event head in her direction?