The delightful Valerie June and her band were up on the River Stage in the 4:00 hour this afternoon. The crowd was at peak numbers, and the sun was at a comfortable height in the sky with the wind rolling off the Delaware cooling the park ever so slightly. Valerie June began the set with “Man Done Wrong,” a folksy jaunt from her 2017 album The Order of Time that set the tone for the rest of her set.
June was wearing a purple sparkling two piece outfit, and had decorated the stage with astral-themed decorations, like a full moon tapestry and star lanterns. Her band consisted of a full rock ‘n roll setup as well as a full horns section, including a trumpet, saxophone, and trombone. Together, the musicians flowed seamlessly between folk, rock, and soul.
June’s song “Smile” conjured echoing “oohs” and “ahhs” from the audience, who were hanging on to every line of her feel-good, folk lyrics. Her child-like high voice rang out over the whole audience, delicately and beautifully breaking at the far limits of her range. She introduced many of her songs with uplifting short stories; before “Rain Dance,” she said, “a lot of the time the weight of the world is on your shoulders and you don’t know why. So you go down to the river, and start chanting like a magical fairy wizard like this,” then she broke out into a song that may have well been an enchanting spell.
Before “Two Roads,” June wrapped herself in a sparkling pink translucent shaw. She stretched her arms out in front of her, obscuring herself under the veil, waving it about as if it was an extension of her own wingspan. She took special care to entertain not only the audience in front of her, but the one watching at home through the cameras stationed on either side of the stage.
Valerie June chose two covers for her XPoNential ‘22 set: Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” and Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World,” the latter of which she sang solo with only a banjo as accompaniment. “Do you believe we live in a wonderful world? Me, too,” she said.
The remainder of her set featured explosive instrumental sections from her talented band. “Working Woman Blues” from her 2013 album Pushin’ Against a Stone was a notable standout. “I been workin’ all my life, yeah” she sang, but she didn’t sound bitter; rather, she’s accomplished. “We all have an opportunity everyday to make the world sweeter or kinder,” she remarked as the set drew to a close.