Paramore's Art + Friends, a Nashville event by the emo pop band, was designed to serve as the hometown capper for a tour they began last May upon the release 2017's After Laughter. After more than a year spent lapping the world in support an album that saw the band largely eschew the grinding guitar sound in favor electronic nuances that run the gamut from playful to Radiohead-like introspection, founder and Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams decided there was no better way to close this chapter than by highlighting the Music City arts community largely unknown to outsiders who only come to town to visit the latest tourist trap rotop bar.
"It’s really about home for us," Williams told Billboard less than 24 hours before the mini-music festival kicked f on Friday (Sept. 7). "Not to say we aren’t ambitious, but this started as an excuse for us to throw an end–After Laughter party and invite the arts community here to join us in the celebration. To a lot people who have never been to our city, or might just be doing the typical tourist trip through town, Nashville is still about country music and honky tonks… and now there’s all the bachelorette parties. What we hope to fer is a glimpse into what’s happening in the further reaches Nashville. There’s a sort weird and artistically liberated scene people here who all support each other and inspire each other in different ways. I believe as the city grows, these types artists — both musical and otherwise — will be a big part keeping things interesting, diverse and inspired. Art + Friends is an event that calls to emphasize the idea that we’re more creative and more compelling when we act as a community."
Williams was especially thankful for the friends she has made within that community as the date the show grew closer. "There wasn't a whole lot time to plan but thankfully… everyone pulled together, and it feels like a really big DIY event. That fact alone gives me butterflies!"
As the crowd began to file into Nashville's Municipal Auditorium, it was clear that all generations Paramore's fanbase had come to witness the their homecoming. From those attending on what had clearly been a school day just minutes before, to a good portion those now old enough to be carrying both a child and a book to read in-between sets, they all rocked their glitter in the face late-summer Tennessee humidity to once more show their love.
What follows is a record Paramore's triumphant final concert before a long-deserved break, with Williams' take on the event's preparation, as well as a few words from Nashville-based acts Canon Blue, Bully and Coin on playing such a special night.
4:30 p.m.: I've made it to my seat just as opener Nightingal begins her set. As the singer-songwriter captivated the crowd standing in front the stage with her blues-infused indie folk. Frontwoman Alicia Gail grabs my attention by busting out a ferocious vocal on "Trouble," a song that the band used as their submission for NPR's Tiny Desk Contest earlier this year. It's easy to see why, as the slow groove allows Gail to let her inner Etta James out.
5:00 p.m.: I go check out the art portion the event. While some local retailers have been invited along, like Grimey's Records, which has vinyl from tonight's performers available to purchase, and Williams' own goodDYEyoung hair color line, there's more a charitable presence here than a creative one (save for Brett Douglas Hunter's carved wood portraits and concrete-and-paper-mache sculptures). HeadCount, which works with musicians to encourage their fans to head to the polls, is busy recruiting passersby to update the addresses they used on earlier voter registration cards. Outreach group Epic Girl is on hand as well to explain their identity courses that help at-risk youth through recognizing vulnerabilities.
5:15 p.m.: Liza Anne breaks into "Paranoia." A few more folks are here to witness the alt-folk singer play cuts from this year's Fine But Dying disc, as her mannerisms call to mind a Stop Making Sense-era David Byrne.
5:29 p.m.: "I have panic disorder, so this is a pretty wild job to have," the singer admits to the crowd. "If you have it too and managed to leave the house tonight, congratulations, we did it!" She then launches into "Panic Attack," featuring a chorus that pleads, "Oh God, is it over yet?"
6:00 p.m.: Canon Blue, an indie electronic artist on the local scene, has taken the stage. I'm not going to beat around the bush, and I'll just say here that tonight's performance is a revelation: the brainchild Nashville-based artist/producer Daniel James, the 2017 album Lasso Yo was a reintroduction after years stasis due to the frontman's bouts with depression.
Seemingly influenced as much by Nick Drake as Aphex Twin, as Canon Blue transitioned from "Beholden" to "Tame Birds," I noticed a group people begin dancing. (They were the first that I had witnessed to do so all night.)
6:27 p.m.: While more groups had begun moving as Canon's set progressed, it was the finale when excitement in the crowd really hit a fever pitch, as Paramore's Taylor York took to the stage for a surprise assist on guitar. James introduced him with, "Twelve years ago, I played my first show, with this fellow to my left playing guitar. He's gonna play our last song with us tonight." Together, they launched into "Chicago" f Canon Blue's 2011 sophomore album Rumspringa.
Catching up with James after the show, he told Billboard, "Taylor and I have known each other for a very long time, and he played guitar for me at my very first Canon Blue show when he was 16. I recorded a lot my last record at his studio and he’s been an incredible support for my music from day one. Having him on stage was a really meaningful full circle going back to that first show all those years ago."
He added that this was his first show in six years, and that Arts + Friends provided a "familiary yet-strange" acclimation to the stage. "What I loved about what Paramore put together for the night was that it was uniquely Nashville," he said. "It was about gathering the local community artists, organizations and friends and having a one-f experience. It created a really intimate and personal atmosphere that you don’t normally get at festivals or arena shows, which I loved."
6:50 p.m.: Bully has hit the stage, and they are taking no prisoners. Hands down the most aggressive band on the bill tonight, lead singer Alicia Bognanno had appeared in several promo shots featured across Paramore's various social media accounts, although she wanted to make it clear to Billboard that she played no role in creating tonight's festivities.
"I have to imagine that it took a lot work to pull all this f," Bognanno told us after the show. "Everyone involved just did such a great job promoting all the local bands and artists that were going to be here. We're really lucky to have Paramore here to support the local community."
6:55 p.m.: Bully are holding nothing back, transitioning from "I Remember," the first track on their 2015 debut disc Feels Like, to fan favorite "Sharktooth" seamlessly. Also not holding back? The tech in charge running the fog machine. I don't know if it's the ventilation in this building or what, but the auditorium is quickly beginning to look like the prom scene from Carrie.
7:26 p.m.: It can't be stated enough that Bognanno has one the great voices in rock today, and if hard rock still had the commercial appeal that surrounded it in the mid '90s, she'd be a household name. She has spent Bully's entire set stalking the stage like she owns the joint, until she finally ends up singing atop an amplifier inches from the front line the crowd. There are no hands rising up toward her during all this, however, as it's pretty clear that she's the alpha in the room. When Bognanno hits her last note, she turns and exits without a glance back at the crowd. The band follows quickly behind her, and there is a slight murmur throughout the crowd. The move feels oddly aggressive on a festive night.
"Usually when we're done playing, we will just leave the stage immediately," she explains to Billboard. "Someone had forgot to tell the sound engineer when to start playing the house music, and I guess we should have done that beforehand, because I'm sure the crowd was wondering what the hell was going on."
7:55 p.m.: I'll say this for Coin, the indie pop band who have to follow Bully's blistering performance: they don't shy away from the challenge. Opening their set with "Growing Pains," their single from earlier this year, has the crowd reacting like someone has thrown a bucket cold water on them. The sudden change in the atmosphere may have a whiplash effect on some. The music feels overproduced and manufactured when compared to what came before, but it's undeniably fun.
8:07 p.m.: Chase Lawrence is signing the final words "I Don't Wanna Dance" when I realize the guy in front me has been pogoing for a legitimate twelve minutes straight. Again, a much different feel than Bully's set.
When we caught up with Lawrence later to ask him his thoughts on the night, he told us, "I'm so thankful for Paramore recognizing and nurturing art in Nashville. I didn't realize how much it would feel like a family reunion. I love where we're from."
8:21 p.m.: The band breaks into their 2016 hit "Talk Too Much," and I finally realize that I do in fact know these guys after all.
9:15 p.m.: Paramore is four songs into their set, and I can't help but wonder why Hayley Williams always seems to be forgotten when people make their lists the great performers today. Watching her tonight, she's holding court like Chrissie Hynde at the top her game, or Tragic Kingdom-era Gwen Stefani. She's also the most prolific Tennessee-based entertainer to use a megaphone since Jimmy "the Mouth the South" Hart left Memphis wrestling.
9:45 p.m.: After a short intermission for a set change, the band returns to perform an acoustic set, starting things f with a cover Drake's "Passionfruit." They follow this up by announcing a few songs later that their performance "Misery Business" will be their last for awhile, as they're going to be taking a very long break from performing it live again. Williams explains that while the single from their second album Riot! helped the band break away from the rest the Warped Tour crowd over a decade ago, "We wrote a song that now, as a 29-year-old woman, I don't know that I'd use the same language. Calling someone a whore isn't very cool."
10:55 p.m.: The show ends with Paramore performing the closing song from After Laughter, "Tell Me How," making this the first night that the band had ever performed it live. This rendition the song also means that they managed to play the album in its entirety, if not sequentially. It's just one more moment in a night full them that makes tonight special for Williams.
Williams explained to us, "Nashville is home. It always has been… but for the lifetime this album and this particular time in our lives we were able to really dig into our community. It’s like we’ve re-rooted ourselves here, as grown folks."