Park City Song Summit Is a Vital Music Event: Recap + Photos – Consequence

To recast a quote from Park City Song Summit founder Ben Anderson, I don’t know if it’s going to work, but I know that there’s a need — and that it’s terrific fun.

Up in Park City, Utah’s Canyons Village over the “weekend” (Thursday, September 7th through Saturday the 9th), Park City Song Summit returned for its second full year. The event presents itself as a gathering place for artists and fans to not just enjoy music, but cherish the people behind it. Between sets on the main Canyons Amphitheater (a stage constructed at the foot of a hill betwixt a pair of ski gondolas), the intimate Songwriter Stage, the lawn-based Forum Stage, and downtown Park City clubs The Cabin and OP Rockwell, performers took part in a range of panels — dubbed “Labs” — to discuss art, wellness, and music history.

On the surface, the sheer range of experiences to be had at Park City Song Summit makes it an event worth attending. There’s not going to be many places where your day can consist of watching a trio of Adia Victoria, Celisse, and poet Caroline Randall Williams discuss the history of Black women and the blues before putting on a choreographed performance of poetry embodying “blues thought, prose, and the bodies of Southern Black women,” then head to see a collaborative performance with Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and Public Enemy’s Chuck D honoring the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, and close your night with the live debut of Eric Krasno’s (Soulive) new band King Canyon. That’s the kind of itinerary that would be legendary in certain circles; at PCSS, it was Friday.

And each one of those things were legendary. Celisse brought her powerful mashup of Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” and Nina Simone’s “Four Women” to the “How She Move” lab and stunned even fellow performers Victoria and Williams; “Representation matters, y’all,” the latter said through joyful tears. Watching DMC and Chuck D do some of the greatest hip-hop songs of all time while also trading praise and stories was literally once-in-a-lifetime. Even for a non-jam fan like this writer, watching King Canyon come together after never being in the same room and absolutely rip was utterly affirming.

Of course, the true jam-heads are going to be talking most about Bob Weir‘s headlining set with the Wolf Bros featuring The Wolfpack. Weir’s first set since the disbandment of Dead & Company, the group turned in fan-pleasing renditions of classics like the “Terrapin Station Suite,” “Friend of the Devil,” and “Weather Report Suite.” They also welcomed out the iconic Ramblin’ Jack Elliott for a cover of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” rising country star Brittney Spencer for “Looks Like Rain,” and songwriting great JD Souther for a take on Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight.”

Bob Weir and Wolf Bros ft. The Wolfpack

Bob Weir and Wolf Bros ft. The Wolfpack, photo by Ben Kaye

As is often the case with these types of collaboration-and-one-off-focused events, however, it was the late night show that really won the day. Celisse (who also “opened” for Weir with a knockout main stage set) led a Stevie Wonder tribute at Rockwell’s with guests like Spencer, the impossibly-voiced Danielle Ponder, Devon Gilfillian, Ruby Amanfu, St. Paul and the Broken Bones’ Paul Janeway, Cimafunk, Joy Oladokun, and more. Not only was it a uniquely fun concert, but the only chance all weekend to see the likes of Gilfillian, Amanfu, Janeway, and Oladokun perform with a full band (which included Brad Walker & The Hornstars, a trio that appeared so often across the three days that they were easily festival all-stars alongside DMC).

See, most of the artists in attendance weren’t there to play big shows. Amanfu had earlier sat with Joe Pug and her husband/collaborator Sam Ashworth on the Songwriter Stage for an “in the round” performance, an enlightening mix of storytelling and songwriting. Janeway’s only other appearance was for a taping of Pug’s Working Songwriter Podcast. Gilfillian performed an acoustic set during a biscuit-and-sausage-gravy catered breakfast showcase. Oladokun teamed with author and self-love coach Ruthie Lindsey for a meditation and movement seminar that brought at least two participants to tears.

These smaller moments ended up being PCSS’s most memorable — which is just as Anderson would want it. “If [an artist] were to say, ‘I can only do a lab, I can’t do a performance,’ I would 100% prefer that over, ‘I can do a performance, but I can’t do a lab,’” Anderson told Consequence ahead of Park City Song Summit 2023. Yes, you’re going to talk about how Ezra Miller for some reason was backing Matisyahu on percussion, but you’re going to remember Spencer, DMC, and Anders Osborne discussing their mental health and addiction recovery in a 1 Million Strong-presented panel. You’re going to remember DMC and Chuck D talking about the origins of their hip-hop legacies with Dopey podcast host Dave Manheim as much because of the incredible tales as how they turned those stories into lessons of confronting fears and manifesting your own destiny. (And because of watching Chuck’s jovial awe as DMC spit classic verses by other artists, and the pair’s aphorisms like, “The arts succeed where politics and religion fail” (DMC) or, “G-O-A-T, the goat: Go. At. It” (Chuck).)

When these Labs blended with performances, there was true magic. Oladokun’s acoustic mini-set while a bunch of strangers did flowing dance therapy together in a hotel meeting room was one of the most poignant moments I experienced. Seeing Grandmaster Flash demonstrate how he invented his Quick Mix Theory DJing technique by live-cutting beats associated with Notorious B.I.G. and Diddy was only topped by his impromptu mix of Billy Squire’s “The Big Beat” while DMC dropped a Hollis, Queens-themed freestyle.

Between all this, you could get yourself some oxygen or IV drips to help with the altitude and general wellness, bump into any of the artists walking around the resort grounds, and treat yourself to important-feeling conversations with new friends. It was those conversations — whether taking place in the cushy Forum Tent or the hotel hot tub — that took Park City Song Summit from feeling “cool” to feeling vital. Discussions about representation (like Victoria’s Labs) and wellness (like Oladokun and Lindsey’s) are things that may have started there in Utah, but want to follow you into the world — and into the music industry at large.


Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Grandmaster Flash, and Chuck D photo by Ben Kaye

There was a dichotomy in that, as some of these Labs were relegated to active restaurants, and the setting is an undoubtedly lux resort that has plenty of non-attendee residents. The balance wasn’t entirely perfect, especially the fly-by nature of the local talent-spotlighting Forum Stage, but as this is Park City Song Summit’s second location in just two years, bumps in the road are to be expected. Besides, if those individuals who perhaps most need to hear the kinds of discussions these artists were having are high-level industry folks like managers and agents, attracting them to a gorgeous vacation destination event isn’t an unwise way to go. And frankly, places like Canyons Village are the definition of self-care.

Park City Song Summit is doing something important, and it’s trying to do it wisely. There’s savvy in the way it’s put together, even if there are some kinks to work out in how it’s presented. But when you see how the artist react on stage to being given this platform for essential conversations, being treated to this wellness-first festival/conference/Summit experience, you can’t help but see its value. And whether you’re a deep music fan looking to connect with musicians on a new level or an industry worker looking to address unhealthy systems, you can’t help but hope that Park City Song Summit works.

Because events like this are definitely needed.

Photo Gallery – Park City Song Summit 2023 (click to expand and scroll through):

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