UTAH ARTS FESTIVAL, LIBRARY SQUARE, Thursday-Sunday

The Utah Arts Festival is one the best community celebrations our state has to offer, and one of my favorite weekends each year. And the reason for that always changes. Some years, I'll discover a new visual artist or two among the dozens of booths lining the grounds at Library Square and the City-County Building. Other years, I'll run across someone performing spoken word, or a group doing some street theater or dance, and gain a greater understanding of art forms that are pretty foreign to me. And EVERY year the first thing I do when I get the festival guide in my hand is check out the music lineup, because the festival is always strong at booking a great mix of local talent and touring headliners that deliver a range of sounds as diverse as the visual artists' works filling the fest.

This year, the name that jumped out to me was Sunday night headliner Jason Isbell. Anyone who regularly reads my stuff knows the regard I have for the young singer/songwriter. The songs he wrote during a six-year stint with the Drive-By Truckers helped make me a fanatic of that band, and his solo career since has included a series of ever-improving albums, including the recent release of his fourth, Southeastern.

Isbell's work always veers between rock, country and folk, with a literary bent in his lyrics that shows off a remarkable talent for evocative imagery and heartfelt sentiment. Southeastern is a more personal record than any of his previous albums, arriving as the first he's put out since tackling a drinking problem and getting hitched to his occasional musical collaborator Amanda Shires. As such, it's also a bit more optimistic a collection than past Isbell albums, and tunes like "Songs She Sang in the Shower" and "Flying Over Water," "Stockholm" and "Traveling Alone" are bound to be favorites for Isbell fans for years to come.

The new Isbell album has garnered him media attention beyond any he's ever enjoyed before in just the first couple weeks after release; check out a recent New York Times Magazine story and an NPR "All Things Considered" feature to hear more about this  young talent.

If you've never seen Jason Isbell, be sure to wander over to the Amphitheater Stage on Sunday at 9:45 p.m. And check out this performance of another one of his new songs, "Elephant." Below, you'll find more of my music recommendations for this year's Utah Arts Festival.

 

My music recommendations for the 2013 Utah Arts Festival:

Thursday, June 20

King Niko, pop-rock, 8:30 p.m., Amphitheater Stage

Holy Water Buffalo, rock, 9:15 p.m., Park Stage

The Iguanas, New Orleans funk and soul, 9:45 p.m., Festival Stage

Friday, June 21  

Paul Jacobsen & trhe Madison Arm, 2:30 p.m., Park Stage

Matteo, world-folk, 7 p.m., The Leo

Y La Bamba, world-folk, 9:45 p.m., Festival Stage

Salt Lake Electric Ensemble, 10 p.m., The Round

Saturday, June 22

Juana Ghani, gypsy-folk, 7:45 p.m., City-County Building

The Steeldrivers, bluegrass, 9:45 p.m., Festival Stage

Mark Dago, hip-hop, 10 p.m., The Round

Sunday June 23

Bullets & Belles, folk, 3:45 p.m., Park Stage

MINX, pop-rock, 5 p.m., Park Stage

Jason Isbell & 400 Unit, 9:45 p.m., Amphitheater Stage