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Cincinnati CityBeat

Review: The National's Homecoming Festival Made Me Fall in Love with Cincinnati Even More

By Ashley Moor,

The National

After leaving the Homecoming Festival on Saturday night, I think I can officially call myself a Cincinnatian.

Despite the fact that I’ve been living in Cincinnati since November, I had never fully felt the pride of calling the Queen City my home until I was walking (floating, actually) back to my car after the National’s second performance on Saturday night.

Many of the earliest memories I have of being in Cincinnati involve the National. I remember, over a decade ago while still in high school, walking through Over-the-Rhine to pick up tickets to see the National for the first time. At barely 18, I remember feeling so grown up as my friend and I drove from my small town just north of Dayton all the way to Cincinnati to pick up tickets to see our favorite band.

Growing up, I had no concept of musical hometown pride — my hometown doesn’t really boast any famous native sons or daughters. Our only claim to fame is a festival dedicated to mum flowers (you know, just adorable small town shit).

Though it was the National’s second time hosting the Homecoming Festival in their hometown, it was my first time seeing the National since that aforementioned venture to see them in Cincinnati over a decade ago. Since I saw them last, the National have released four stellar albums (five if you count the album they released right after Homecoming Fest).

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bigger fan of the National’s older albums. My favorite albums are Boxer and Alligator by far, and my love of those albums probably has more to do with my own personal nostalgia attached to them than anything else. One of the sweetest parts of the National’s performance during Homecoming Fest was looking around to see an entirely new generation of National fans scream-singing the lyrics to the band’s newer songs with the same spirit I once had sung the lyrics to “Mr November.”

At least to me, the one major difference between the National generations is the more mainstream acceptance of the “sad dad” aesthetic. A decade ago, being sad was only reserved for ~real~ indie rock enthusiasts. Now, it’s a badge of honor many wear proudly. The National has found a more mainstream audience in recent years, thanks to some high profile collaborations and the growing appeal of their discography. (On a side note, it’s been great to see the Swifties fully embrace the National, and vice versa).

Much of the appeal of Homecoming Fest for me was the opening acts, including Patti Smith, Pavement, Snail Mail and The Walkmen. On Friday, during her set, Patti read Allen Ginsberg poetry before launching into some of the favorite songs from my youth (my little sister’s name is Gloria, so you can imagine how often I heard “Gloria: In Excelsis Deo” growing up). I especially adored when her manager called her to the side of the stage after performing her first song to let her know that her fly was down — and she told the audience this much to laughs and a shrug from her. She’s old (76), or so she says in defense of her open fly — but her energy and spirit are far more youthful than many people decades her junior. After her set, she joined the National on stage to perform the band’s song “I Need My Girl” — and, as you might’ve guessed, it was simply magical.

The next day, Pavement (a major musical influence for the National) took to the stage for what they teased *might* be their last show. The best part of that show was watching the National’s lead singer Matt Berninger jam out to “Cut Your Hair” from the wings. There’s something so special about seeing your musical icons jam out to their musical icons, you know?

By the time the National came on stage both days, the electricity in the air was palpable. I know that a big draw to this festival for many was the fact that the National was performing two beloved albums from front to back — High Violet on Friday night and Trouble Will Find Me on Saturday night. Personally, I felt that High Violet , with its anthemic fan-favorites like “Bloodbuzz Ohio” and “Terrible Love,” was more fun to hear front to back than the more somber songs on Trouble Will Find Me .

Between songs, the National managed to sprinkle in a story here and there about growing up in Cincinnati — enough to make me feel bonded to the band who had formed much of their musical genius in the city that I love with all my heart.

While singing the lyrics to “Bloodbuzz Ohio” on Friday night with hundreds of festivalgoers, a realization of the power of hometown musical heroes hit me: It wasn’t that the National felt the same thing I felt at some point while writing their music — it was that they felt what I’ve felt while sitting in the same bar or walking down the same street. A shared sense of place makes the National’s music that much sweeter for Cincinnatians.

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