High Water Festival 2022 is actually happening April 23 and 24 after a two-year pause, so City Paper just had to check in with its curators, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent of Charleston’s acclaimed folk duo Shovels & Rope, to hear just how excited they are. And bonus, S&R dropped two new songs, “Bleed Me” and “The Show,” on Jan. 19.
As usual, the High Water lineup ranges from rock to rhythm and blues to Americana, with Jack White and My Morning Jacket headlining. Part of the well-rounded lineup this year is California garage punk quartet Shannon & the Clams and the illustrious Mavis Staples bringing all the soul we can handle. All systems are go.
“It’s a treat for us to even be involved in something like this — we get to pick the artists and kind of curate the vibe, you know, like what we would want to have at a festival,” Hearst told City Paper last week. “It’s come to fruition three times, and we’ve had to take a couple years off, but I’m looking forward to that feeling again — standing there with Michael and people are coming in and it’s all going tickety-boo.”
“We didn’t want it to be overcrowded, and we didn’t want bands to be playing at the same time,” Trent said of their must-haves when it came to conceptualizing what an ideal festival looks like, and that’s been the blueprint for High Water since its 2017 debut.
Also essential to High Water’s format is bringing lesser-known acts to town along with bigger names so they can build audiences and get in with the Charleston music circuit.
“We’re not the young band in town anymore. We are like the old-timers,” Hearst said. “It’s our job to make sure that we are doing something to check in on our music scene and for us that means getting a few acts that might not necessarily have come our way, but maybe will come now.”
Trent and Hearst kept making records pretty prolifically when the music world got upended in 2020, releasing another Busted Jukebox installment last spring and compiling Manticore — a follow-up album to 2019’s By Blood — set to release Feb. 18.
The most recent batch of singles from the upcoming album were written before COVID, although the worn-out piano tale on “Bleed Me” and disassociated romance on “The Show” could be mistaken for quarantine tunes.
“We’ve been making a joke that all these intense songs were already written because we were already that messed up going into the pandemic,” Hearst said.
“The Show” is painfully tenderhearted as it observes the expanse wanderers will cross looking for each other, with Hearst and Trent’s bare harmonies traipsing between the glam rock refrains. And while “Bleed Me” sounds like one of those sad songs you hear in a movie when someone gives last looks, it’s actually written with their children in mind.
“It’s a love letter to our kids and about how it takes a lot of yourself to parent,” Hearst said. “Sometimes you feel like there’s nothing left, and then you dig down and find a little more. Then they fill you back up, and then they drain you again, and on it goes.”