Sound on Sound 2023 Recap

Connecticut welcomed Sound on Sound....
Sound on Sound 2023 Recap
Sound on Sound 2023 Recap

Among the fifty states, Connecticut doesn’t get a lot of respect or attention. It’s not one of the big boys, instead always overshadowed by big brother New York State. It’s not the leading state in its region, whether that be New York’s Tri-State Area or Massachusetts’ New England. It doesn’t even have the ‘tiny state cache’ of neighboring little brother Rhode Island. Most outside of those regions would struggle to name a city in it after New Haven, or anything in it after Yale. Of course, it makes up for that by being one of the wealthiest states in the union – home of Wall Street suburbs such as Greenwich, not to mention corporations from ESPN to WWE to Cigna Healthcare. And for one weekend it was home to its own music festival, Sound on Sound, September 30th & October 1st at Bridgeport’s Seaside Park.

Sound on Sound

The second year of the festival (QRO 2022 recap) saw a number of changes to it – not surprising for a second year, or a festival that managed to fix major Day One problems before Day Two of its first year. The fest itself moved over in the sprawling park (that’s yes, by the seaside), switching to one stage that had the ocean as its backdrop. The grounds were expanded, but also divided, with not just a large VIP area in front of the stage and ‘lounge’ to one side, but also a ‘GA+’ area behind the VIP stage viewing area, and its own lounge next to the VIP’s. The divvied up festival grounds was a little weird (though that’s the way fests are going, and still nothing compared to the ‘always another level above you’ nature of the likes of Coachella…), but it enabled the festival to provide more upscale experiences, from a ton of fancy food stalls & trucks to shaded, seated areas – and the bathrooms were nice, even in the area of the hoi polloi, not just the porta-potties of old.

And Sound on Sound needed this all to deal with two issues relatively out of its control. First was that it was a hike to the festival from wherever you started walking, whether the distant parking grounds (even for staff) or the distant official ride share drop-off point; in either case, it was a twenty minute walk just to get to the grounds. And when you were there, one had to deal those grounds being soggy after the torrential rains the prior night (the ones that flooded New York City like had never been seen before). The festival had tried to dry up the grass as much as it could, and put solid walkways in key portions, plus there was gravel in the stage viewing areas, but it was not an event to bring your good shoes to.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

Indeed, that rain caused the festival to have to delay doors on Saturday, cutting the sets of four acts (the very first of which, JULAI & The Seratones, made up for by playing a noon set inside at Park City Music Hall). After it did finally start, the late afternoon saw folk performances by the likes of Joy Oladokun and Lord Huron, artists who’d fit in just over at Rhode Island’s Newport Folk Festival (QRO photos of Joy Oladokun at Newport Folk ‘22), leading into the bigger indie-folk of Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. Phish’s Trey Anastasio naturally brought the big jams down from Vermont, something else the festival leaned into. And the night ended with big-for-so-long, always-reliable-festival-headliner Red Hot Chili Peppers. Playing their first show in Connecticut in twenty years, the gang were as funky and wild as ever, whether on new songs such “Eddie” or iconic classics like the evening’s end, “Give It Away”.

Red Hot Chili Peppers
Margo Price

While Saturday might have had the bigger crowd due to the wide-spanning appeal of the Peppers, Sunday had more acts – and more locals. And yet more nineties, another main theme of the festival. Early on was that decade’s Gin Blossoms, who lead singer Robin Wilson joked, “I can confidently say that this is the best set we’ve performed at this time of day in years.” From there, things got sweeter with Cautious Clay (including a drum solo & a flute) and the appealing, down-home country of Margo Price. Admittedly, the day perhaps leaned too heavily into the easy listening, with the likes of Mt. Joy, the jah of Dispatch (who had reggae/ska covers of both “Beds Are Burning” and “Friend of the Devil”), and the smooth lap guitar of Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals. But there was a big, enthusiastic crowd for Ireland’s Hozier, who mixed between his own bigger, blues-ier feel and intimate emotion.

Mt. Joy

The nineties came to a peak at Sound on Sound with Alanis Morissette. That decade’s feminist alt-rock icon has aged well in every respect, and has been getting more & more respect, as was showcased in her intro montage, which included not just clips from back when MTV played music, but more recent instances of artists covering her (everyone from a contestant on American Idol to Justin Timberlake & Jimmy Fallon). Morissette herself was active on stage, moving around and often playing harmonica, while the strong female contingent knew the words – and not just to “You Oughta Know”.


But this Sound on Sound was special for its final artist of the night: John Mayer. Before the hit songwriter came out, Connecticut’s own Governor Ned Lamont came on stage, “Don’t worry, I’ll be brief…” It’s always fraught when a politician gets on stage at a music festival (as memorably mocked by Chris Farley in Black Sheep), but there was a reason behind this specific appearance, as Lamont was there to note/celebrate that Mayer was from Connecticut. Indeed, right from nearby Fairfield County, his dad having been a principal.

Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals

John Mayer came to Sound on Sound as part of his solo tour (QRO photos from days before), where it’s just him up there on the big stage with a microphone and acoustic guitar (as he described the next night on the post-strike return of Tonight Show with Jimmy FallonQRO Music on Late Night TV). To pull such a performance off, one has to be as much a storyteller as singer, but thankfully Mayer has long had the comedy chops to pull it off.


And in Bridgeport, he said he was trying to make a set befitting playing a mile from the hospital where he was born – “So, just address me as John…” He was up alone on the high stage, even noting how hard it was for the photographers who were working to get photos of him up there, stepping forward for a few moments so he could get a pic in the Connecticut Post, “My dad would really like to see that photo.” And his dad was a big – and specific – reason why he was up there, Mayer telling how when he was a kid, his principal father would confiscate prohibited Walkmans, and Mayer would get to listen to whatever wasn’t picked up after the end of the school year. Oh, and there was some music as well, Mayer also mixing between new songs such as “Shouldn’t Matter But It Does” (noting that the only way for a new song to become a stage staple is to play it a bunch) to his iconic breakthrough “Your Body Is a Wonderland”.

John Mayer

So, even if Connecticut isn’t the most famous state in the nation (even little ol’ Delaware has the current President…), for two days it had its own celebration, thanks to Sound on Sound.

Sound on Sound

-words: Ted Chase
-photos: Ed Satterwhite