Every summer the Utah Arts Festival draws in nearly 80,000 attendees for many reasons. For some it’s the 160+ local visual artists and their one of a kind creations, and for others it’s the 100+ performing artists, whether it’s local music, dance, or comedy shows that just seem to help take the edge off reality. And for many, it’s simply the good beer and carefree atmosphere in the heart of downtown SLC, a summer ritual held near and dear to Utahns.
But after the booths close and the sun sets, everyone gathers around the main stage to end the night with the headlining acts. Now in its 41st year as a festival, the small but mighty staff at the Utah Arts Festival brings in world-renowned talent such as 2016’s Beats Antique– an amazing feat considering adult day tickets ($12) are fractions of the cost of one ticket to a headliner’s show.
This year’s festival hosted many talented new and returning acts such as the Saliva Sisters, Samba Fogo, Alan Michael Band, Repertory Dance Theatre, Ririe-Woodbury, Joe McQueen Quartet, Bboy Federation, and the Will Baxter Band, but on Saturday night one artist in particular stole the show–RJD2. Rather than a floor full of instruments and band members, this one-man show used only a collection of records, impressive DJ skills and an array of complicated equipment to create a unique sound.
Described as indie electronic, RJD2 was formed by Ramble Jon (RJ) Krohn in 2002 with the release of his debut album “Deadringer,” and has gone on to produce, arrange and record 12 albums and several singles, including the opening credits theme song to AMC’s award-winning TV show, Mad Men. No genre is off the table as RJD2 samples folk, soul and old school hip hop to create a bricolage of musical genius.
Promoting his new album “Dame Fortune,” RJD2 gave an energetic and intriguing performance on Saturday night, June 24. Swiftly moving to grab records and make adjustments to the sound board, all eyes were on Krohn. Despite the noisy venue and it’s spirited energy , RJD2 seemed to be entranced in his work, his concentration breaking only to address the audience between sets. Festival goers gathered to the stage, fascinated by Krohn’s palpable passion in his music. Switching from fast paced songs to easy-going slow jams, RJD2 seemed to control the movement of the audience keeping transitions flawlessly natural. Contrary to many electronic DJ sets (beset with ravers so jammed packed there’s no room to breathe let alone dance), the ambiance was easy-going and all inclusive. The combination of mood lighting, fun music, and the ever so slight fear of spilling your drink in the heat of the moment, made for an enjoyable evening, and another memorable year at the Utah Arts Festival.