Ben Howard emerged meekly, sporting a black t-shirt, a pair of jeans, and a glowing smile, onto the Miller Light stage to perform during the Landmark Music Festival this Saturday. Holding his characteristic acoustic guitar, Howard sat in the center of the stage with his head bowed, closed his eyes, and began his set. He started with a track from his latest record, I Forget Where We Are, which was released in 2014.
Howard—a native of South Devon, England—is a demurely passionate performer; during his acoustic songs, he swayed back and forth with the echoing sounds of his vocals and the vibrations of his guitar. The beginning of his first song was completely acoustic (as acoustic as one can be at a music festival, at least), and presented a stripped-down, intimate look into Howard’s musicality. When the drums cut in halfway through the song, Howard, impassioned, began his signature belting over the synth, drums, and accompanying upright bass, and kept that same passion throughout the rest of his set.
Howard’s singing melded nicely with his ethereal electric guitar riffs that comprised the bulk of his performance. His love of music was made clear throughout the set, when at times he would turn away from the audience and engage with his fellow onstage musicians in the folksy, strong, echoing sound for which he is so well known. Howard was so focused on his music, actually, that he rarely looked to the audience. For the majority of the performance—in which his sophomore album was a mainstay—his eyes were trained on his guitar or his accompanying musicians. Perhaps this focus is what allows Howard to infuse his music with so much soul; the crowd was in the presence of an artist with a trained concentration and love of craft.
Howard’s set flowed effortlessly from start to finish, perhaps a reflection of the similarity of many of his songs. While at times the drum beats were overpowering and Howard’s wailing was lost in the many sounds created onstage, overall his soulful and folksy crooning dominated the performance. If anything, Howard’s music is too acoustic and stripped-down for a festival setting, which is a shame because his guitar playing and singing capabilities would be absolutely beautiful in more intimate environments.
All in all, Ben Howard performed a decent set. He showed passion in all of the right places, and his synth, bass, guitar and drum accompaniments acceptably translated a usually acoustic set to the festival stage. Perhaps the greatest advantage of Howard’s performance in a festival environment will be the increased exposure he will have to the festival crowd. Hopefully, Howard’s appearance will translate to a greater following for his more intimate and cleaner sounds, which can be heard both on his albums and in smaller performance settings; ultimately, this is where Howard shines the brightest.