Shaky YouTube video of Sufjan Stevens performing a haunting “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” at MusicNOW in Cincinnati is what first put the festival in the back of my mind. (That and the city’s historic Memorial Hall as an unmistakable backdrop.) The take is from 2007. Bryce Dessner, who sits in with Stevens in that clip, started the festival in 2006. (Right, it’s now in its fifth year.) Unlike most multi-day music happenings that attempt to roll quickly through abridged sets like well-oiled nostalgia machines, MusicNOW encourages collaboration and risk. This year’s three-day installment included a lot of that. It took place Tuesday (3/30) until last night (4/1) and included performances from Joanna Newsom, Robin Pecknold, St. Vincent, yMusic (performing a commission written by Annie Clark), the amazing saxophonist Colin Stetson (he gets weirdly black metal with his tones), and a solo Justin Vernon. Well, Vernon wasn’t exactly solo — he was joined by Bryce and Aaron Dessner. And Annie Clark. We couldn’t make it, but Chris Glass could. He has the beautiful photos to prove it. We’ve also video of Pecknold performing what sounds like a new song.
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