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The Tiger reaches higher ground at the High Water Festival

Avery Mock // Senior Reporter
Hozier mesmerizes the audience as he sings “Jackie and Wilson.”

Charleston’s High Water Festival took place this past weekend, April 20 and 21, at Riverfront Park in North Charleston, South Carolina. Set on the banks of the Cooper River and lined by grand oak trees, the venue has been the perfect spot for the event since the inaugural festival back in 2017.

Seven years later, the festival grounds were packed once again. The crowd was bursting at the seams, especially excited for headliners Hozier and Noah Kahan, two artists who have climbed the Billboard chart this past year with their recently released albums, along with Kahan’s extended LP “Stick Season (Forever)” and Hozier’s new EP “Unheard.”

The festival began at 1 p.m. and continued until 10:45 p.m., with constant music in between. The two stages — Edisto and Stono — housed exceptional artists and bands, including the six performances I was able to watch in their entirety: Houndmouth, Fleet Foxes, Noah Kahan, Briston Maroney, The Flaming Lips and Hozier. The official 2024 lineup can be viewed here.

Festival attendees of all ages showed up and showed out with their outfits, ranging from boho-style kimonos to country cowboy boots to chunky metal belts.

Blankets scattered the lawn of Riverfront Park as music floated from the stage across the festival grounds. There was even an audience on the water, as boats anchored along the Cooper River to hear the live music.

Saturday afternoon, the sun was blistering. The first band I saw, Houndmouth, performed in the heat of the day. An array of mustachioed men led the pack of performers as they played hits like “Sedona” and “Darlin’.” Most of the energy, however, was sweating out of the crowd as well as the artists.

Later on, on the Stono stage, was an incredible performance by Fleet Foxes. The band absolutely crushed their set, using an array of instruments that give the band their unique sound, such as a cello, saxophone and mandolin. Hearing them live was an experience I wish I could relive again and again.

They played “Mykonos,” “Blue Ridge Mountains” and fan-favorite “White Winter Hymnal.” Lead singer Robin Pecknold was a delight, thanking the crowd about 15 times throughout their set.

Noah Kahan was a sight to see. With his stardom surpassing new heights weekly, it’s no surprise he electrified the crowd. Even with his calmer indie-folk songs, the atmosphere was one of a rock ‘n’ roll concert. Kahan is known for his facial expressions, especially his use of his eyes as he sings.

The Northern native was vulnerable yet absolutely hilarious, discussing his parents’ divorce and the fake holiday that the event fell on: April 20.

Kahan began his set with “Dial Drunk” and proceeded to play a multitude of songs from his new album “Stick Season (Forever),” including the much-anticipated “Forever” and tear-inducing “You’re Gonna Go Far.”

He also played “False Confidence” from his first album, a song he said he played back when there were only 200 people in his crowds. Kahan also played an unreleased song without his band, a slow and emotional piece titled “The Great Divide.” After doing the classic pretending-to-leave move before the encore, Kahan closed out the set with his iconic hit “Stick Season.”

If Saturday was sweltering, Sunday’s weather was very much the opposite. The afternoon consisted of a chilly rain and a lot of thankfulness for my poncho. Still, embracing the rain and the music, the gloomy day held some of the best performances.

On the Edisto stage, I saw Briston Maroney. In the middle of a downpour, Maroney lit the stage on fire with his performance. His out-of-the-ordinary stage presence and incredible live vocals kept the crowd’s attention. He played fan favorites such as “Caroline” and, of course, “Freakin’ Out on the Interstate.”

As the rain began to lighten up, the Stono stage was prepping for one of its most off-the-wall performances by The Flaming Lips. The band was set to play their entire album “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.” To go along with this theme, the band had four massive inflatable pink robots, similar to the album cover.

Furthering the offbeat atmosphere, lead singer Wayne Coyne began by singing inside a clear bubble. All in all, it was an interesting performance. Their songs are often unique, using different instrumental styles and vocal expressions to tell an odd story.

Staying in the same spot, we waited for Hozier. As soon as the Irishman stepped on stage with his band members and backup singers, the crowd went wild. Swaggering in at six-foot-six, the performer’s stage presence was better than one could imagine. With live vocals that surpassed even the excellence of his studio-recorded songs, Hozier was a grand finale to the festival.

He played almost every hit, but the energy was especially palpable when he played his first big hit, “Take Me to Church,” and his latest, “Too Sweet,” which currently has over 76 million streams.

Hozier began his encore with a speech about kindness, discussing the politically charged inspirations behind the song “Nina Cried Power.” Finally, Hozier ended the performance with the deeply romantic “Work Song.”

Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, the husband and wife duo also known as the band Shovels and Rope, serve as the curators of the festival. The band got its start in the Lowcountry and founded the festival to bring more artists to the local community and vice versa.

“As long as we’re privileged enough to have the ability to put this festival on, we will do the best that we can to make it a great experience,” Hearst said in a 2019 interview with Garden & Gun.

With 24 different food vendors, including Dank Dogs, Big Daddy Loco, Chaotic Coffee, Southern Roots Smokehouse, James Browns’ Famous Boiled Peanuts and Cosmic Charlie, attendees were able to get a real taste of Charleston.

Big-name headliners drew in a large crowd, which left some dilemmas for festivalgoers who wanted to enjoy artists along both stages. Grace Potter was an artist I would have loved to watch, but walking over to the Edisto stage would have meant losing an incredible spot for Hozier, a must-see on my list.

The High Water Festival has been home to incredible artists for years and has only become more loved as time passes. It’s fantastic to see how this small park in Charleston blooms into an electric atmosphere in the spring. If High Water is not on your bucket list yet, get ready to write it down for 2025.

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Avery Mock
Avery Mock, TimeOut Editor
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