Maximum Ames Music Festival Concert Review: The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle and Kate Kennedy


John Darnielle, of The Mountain Goats, performs at First United Methodist Church on Saturday for Maximum Ames Music Festival.

Emily Benda

Walking into the First United Methodist Church in the midst of the Iowa-Iowa State game commotion Saturday night was oddly serene. The sunlight streamed through the stain-glass windows, highlighting the grand piano sitting at the church’s altar. A vast array of ages and personalities filed through the pews, anxiously murmuring for the anticipated performance of the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle.

Starting the show off promptly at 7 p.m. was opener and local artist, Kate Kennedy. Kennedy approached the stage with a humble sense of humor and a single acoustic guitar. Kennedy’s sound rang traditional folk with slight Patsy Cline influences. Her guitar strums were simple, as she occasionally factored in some light guitar picking.

Kennedy favored the pattering technique in most of her songs, singing phrases of her lyrics rapidly. Due to Kennedy’s poor diction and overuse of this practice, its effect was lost on the crowd.

While Kennedy’s performance was soothing and warming to the audience, nothing stood out. After a half-hour set, Kennedy graciously thanked the audience and cleared the stage.

Once Darnielle entered the room, however, the entire mood in the audience shifted from contentedness to an elated buzz.

Darnielle began his set with a quiet piano melody, but quickly followed it with a vigorous guitar-oriented song.

It was obvious Darnielle had a large fan base in the audience. When announcing his next song titles, a chorus of cheers and affirmative applause usually followed. His set consisted of a mix of easy listening and spirited indie folk, which kept the crowd engrossed in the music.

Darnielle established a connection to his listeners by sharing the stories behind his song writing and what the music meant to him. Chuckles and hollers from the crowd were constant, and there was not a song of Darnielle’s that was not met with enthusiastic applause.

Darnielle’s solo performance this year was his second time playing for the Maximum Ames Music Festival. Because of his Ames roots in his music career, Darnielle carried a local advantage and was warmly welcomed by the audience.

Overall the performances by Kennedy and Darnielle were well-received by the audience and offered a unique Saturday night experience for Ames residents.