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The Hold Steady Holds Down the Fort at That Tent

Is the Hold Steady’s Boys and Girls in America suddenly part of the school curriculum in the States? Yesterday (June 16), the last date of their American tour, the New York City collective kicked off their steamy Bonnaroo set in style. “Stuck Between Stations” had hundreds tuning in, singing along against the dusty air, and someone was spinning an open water bottle overhead just when frontman Craig Finn spoke-sang, “tired of the dehydration.” Not even a sun squelcher of a day could stop Finn, a cultural ambassador of a songwriter, from name-checking American poet John Berryman, the Mississippi River, and Sal Paradise, a character in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

Finn looked ecstatic throughout the freewheelin’ gig, for the rock historian let his hair down to jump around the stage, gesture wildly and mouth lyrics away from the microphone right after those words were sent through the speakers. “This one goes out to all the old school people out there,” Finn said, before kicking into the punchy country licks of “Cattle and the Creepy Things,” as people sang along. “There is so much joy in what we do up here,” added Finn.

Native Sean Wellock, 19, saw the Hold Steady perform at the Black Cat in Washington, D.C. He tore two tendons dancing there, and when the band invited the crowd onstage, he went. Was it worth losing the tendons? “No doubt,” Wellock said. “Without question.”

They didn’t offer the same invitation to the That Tent, but it would have been a bit dangerous — there were just too many people doing their civic duty, pumping fists and shouting their approval at the new American anthems. ALEX DIMITROPOULOS