Evan Stephens Hall is a little intimidated. The Pinegrove frontman is less than an hour away from performing the opening set on Panorama Music Festival’s main stage — a far cry from the tiny DIY spaces his Montclair, N.J.-based band started out playing.
Hall, a pair of ear buds draped over his shoulders, says he often listens to music before shows.
“I’ve been listening to Gillian Welch all day,” Hall says, gushing over the lyrics in the folk singer/songwriter’s 14-minute-plus “I Dream a Highway,” special to him because of the rhymes that gradually creep up in each verse. “I’m very much here for the rhyme that lands four minutes later.”
The poetry in Pinegrove’s own music is a big part of what makes the band special to so many. The six-piece’s songs tell stories that inspire singalongs at their live shows, and Saturday’s set was no exception.
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Hall says his music’s inclusive, emotional nature is what strikes a chord with fans.
“It’s mostly derived from experiences I’ve had but also imagined experiences and things that feel emotionally true,” he explains. “I aim to be honest even if it’s fictional.”
The 28-year-old singer and guitarist, whose raw vocals run from soft to shrieking, was born in New York but moved to Montclair with his family at a young age. It’s there he met most of his bandmates, playing in various groups that led to Pinegrove’s formation. He met singer and keyboardist Nandi Rose Plunkett while attending school at Ohio’s Kenyon College.
Pinegrove has been touring in support of their excellent record “Cardinal” since its release in March 2016. More recently, Plunkett has gone off on her own to tour solo as the synth-poppy Half Waif, leaving the band to get crafty about replacing her for a slew of dates.
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“It’s a hard puzzle — we’ve all had to make some compromises,” Hall says. “Whoever is available instrumentally speaking is gonna come in and do their thing. It’s a fun challenge in a way, it forces you to listen to the song and what the song needs.”
Luckily Plunkett was back with the band for the Panorama set. Her keys and vocals added to the full sound emanating from the giant stage, last stepped on by Frank Ocean the night before.
Pinegrove’s folksy sound definitely hits on nostalgia, and many have characterized them as “alt-country.” Hall says a year ago the label hurled at them was “emo.”
“I listen to all sorts of music and I don’t really write with a particular genre in mind,” he says. “It’s more like the type of music that we want to hear.”
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While Pinegrove will basically tour for the rest of the year, they’re just about finished with their third full-length record. Hall and co. moved to a house upstate near Hudson, N.Y., to record it.
“We’re producing it ourselves and recording it ourselves. All of it has been home recorded so far,” he says. “It’s just the way we like to do it. It’s a more intimate approach, I think.”
Pinegrove will be back in the city in December for two shows at Irving Plaza, a second added after the first sold out quickly. That’s a debt certainly owed to their extremely enthusiastic fans.
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